Did the Breeder Call Your Pup a “Pet”? It’s Not an Insult

People sometimes feel slighted when they learn that their pup from a responsible breeder is considered “pet” versus “show quality.” No need to feel slighted! Good breeders love all their puppies and give each one the best of care. Here’s what to know about the similarities and differences between pet pups and conformation contenders.

Same Start in Life

All puppies in a carefully bred litter get the same care. They all get what’s called ENS, or early neurological stimulation. They all get socialization and time in puppy play pens. All the puppies in a litter have the same health-checked parents and excellent prenatal and early puppy health care and nutrition.

Most responsible breeders follow puppy-raising protocols such as Puppy Culture or Avidog to maximize the potential of their puppies. They want to give their puppies the best possible start in life and the best chance at being someone’s partner.

Cosmetic Details

So why are some puppies labeled as “pets”? Most often the reason is a small cosmetic fault according to the breed standard. Very often it is color-related. A Dalmatian puppy with patches instead of spots over the entire body is classified as a pet because he won’t do well in conformation showing (think Westminster). For a Corgi or Australian Shepherd, that cosmetic fault might be too much white on the head. None of those minor color disqualifications affect your pup’s structure or health.

They won’t stop your puppy from doing any dog sport. He can excel in agility, rally, dock diving, nose work, rally, tracking, tricks, or any other fun dog activities.

Oh, Boys!

A male puppy may be classified as a pet if he has a retained testicle. Ideally, both testicles have descended into the scrotum by the time a pup is 8 to 10 weeks old. Both must be down to show in conformation. Neutering these pups is slightly more expensive than a regular neuter since an abdominal incision is usually required but breeders often help to cover that extra cost. Some owners choose to have only the retained testicle removed, and others simply leave things as they are but stay alert to any enlargement of the internal testicle.

Shades of Quality

A very discerning breeder might classify a puppy as “pet” if body structure is not ideal. Again, these tend to be minor details that would normally go unnoticed – a slightly straighter rear leg or a tail carried a bit high. Remember, the breeder is thinking Westminster, or a possible future breeding prospect, and you are thinking hikes in the park.

I have had personal dogs who were pet quality who still participated in all kinds of sports and were wonderful companions. My “pet” Hokey had a retained testicle but went on to earn his Champion Tracker title – AKC’s most elite championship. I have also had show dogs who went on to do extremely well in conformation as well as performance. All of them have been beloved partners and companions.

Whether the pups they place are pet or show quality, the most important thing for responsible breeders is that their puppies go to loving “forever” homes where they are family companions.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, is a Cornell graduate and the first recipient of the Gentle Doctor Award. She is an award-winning veterinarian and writer.
Photo of Hokey by Ed Presnall, courtesy of Deb M. Eldredge, DVM