One of the very common things I hear is something along the lines of, “I don’t know why my dog has poor hips. He has his AKC papers and everything!” Or any variation thereof, relating to anything from appearance to temperament.

Having AKC papers means only that your dog is purebred. Sounds good, right? And it is — within reason, and as long as you know the limits of what that means. It doesn’t mean, for instance, good quality. A dog born with a throwback coat is still a purebred. A dog born with extremely poor hips? Still purebred.

One of my clients has the tallest golden retriever I’ve ever seen. He had hip surgery when he was less than a year, and the other hip was already so bad they couldn’t do surgery. His coat is thin, his head is long, he’s leggy. People regularly ask what he’s mixed with.

He wasn’t mixed with anything: he’s a purebred golden with AKC papers. What happens is that someone buys a pet quality show lab. (In a whole litter of show puppies, only 2-3 of them will be show quality.) That dog is super sweet, and they breed it with the neighbor’s super sweet lab, who hasn’t had its hips checked. Because that lab is young, no one knows that her hips are bad.

Puppies are born. A few of them have bad hips that won’t show up until they’re six years old, and one has extra long legs. That long-legged, bad hipped puppy is sold to a well-meaning family. When that dog is two years old, they decide that because he’s so sweet, they’re going to breed him to someone else with a lab.

Those people’s lab has minor anxiety issues, but nothing they think is problematic. More puppies are born, now slightly too leggy with poor hips and anxiety problems.

One of those puppies is bred to a dog who has minor aggression, which has never been addressed because the kids don’t play with the dog, and the people assume that guarding food and growling at anyone who takes it is normal behavior. Now we have all of the above AND aggression in the mix. In four generations, we’ve gone from a show dog to a poor quality dog with emotional issues.

I would estimate that 80% of AKC puppies are poor quality dogs. Dogs that were bred because their owners, not even necessarily aware of the breed standards in attitude and appearance, breed them because they’re sweet, because someone asks, because they need some extra money, or because they want their children to witness the miracle.

That doesn’t make them all poor quality dogs, of course — far from it! But it does mean that when you buy a puppy, hearing that it’s an AKC puppy only means there’s no other breeds in the mix — NOT that it’s a good quality dog. It’s up to you, then, to check out the parents and the puppies, and decide for yourself if this is a sweet pet dog, or a dog who might have some issues later in life. Don’t trust the papers — trust yourself!