The classifieds are full of “rare” puppies for sale. Get them now before they’re gone because you won’t get the chance again. Of course you have to pay a little more, (probably a lot more) to get your hands on that rare dog, but what exactly are you buying?
Just how rare is rare?
Sadly, a “rare” dog is often the result of indiscriminate breeding practices – the intentional mating of dogs to produce a puppy that exhibits what the breeder then markets as a “rare” virtue – most often an unusual coat colour or markings that contravenes the breed standard and can even produce health problems.
Beware the Rare!
So why are health problems associated with some colour genes? It has to do with pigment, or lack thereof. Pigment affects entire body systems, not just hair colour. Yet some unscrupulous breeders will purposefully breed for these “rare” colours, without regards to the health of the dog, and market them as being rare.
Take the case of Doberman Pinschers, where white is not a recognized or acceptable colour. It’s not because responsible breeders decided one day they didn’t like white Dobermans, it’s because white Dobermans are true albinos, lacking pigment, and suffering from a number of ailments common to albinism that affect the entire body including internal organs and bone structure, not just the coat colour. Thus, the breeding of white Dobermans is discouraged by national breed clubs around the world. Yet some breeders will purposefully breed for Albino Dobermans, marketing them as being “Rare White Dobermans”.
But it gets worse than that.
Double merling, also known as the “lethal white gene” found in a number of breeds can result in eye deformities and blindness, and in some cases, deafness, and because of the diluted genes, it can affect internal organs and bone strength. Other diluted colour genes can cause Colour Dilution Alopecia (baldness) or Black Hair Follicular Dysplasia in some breeds.
In some cases, the colour and markings are not associated with genetic problems, but they are not accepted by the breed standard for showing or breeding purposes.
For example, colour faults can occur in Great Danes, from a brindle with the wrong base colour to harlequins with too much black. These are called mis-marked, and they are beautiful dogs that are every much as loving as their more correctly marked littermates. But they cannot be shown, and they should not be bred – and they should not be sold as rare, because they’re not.
Another example is found in Boxers, where 20–25% of all Boxers born are white. These are neither rare nor albino, but genetically a fawn or brindle with excessive white markings overlying the base coat colour. They shouldn’t be shown, they shouldn’t be bred, they shouldn’t be sold as rare.
Mismarks can occur in any number of breeds. They’re not rare, nor more or less valuable. They are just mismarked. The selling of these dogs as “rare” is just another pitch to make more money.
Acceptable, but is it rare?
Often it boils down to marketing, pure and simple. A colour may be perfectly acceptable, but not seen too often, so the breeder gets fancy with their words and sell their puppies as “rare”.
In the case of Golden Retrievers, the breed standard allows for colours ranging from light, blonde or cream coloured dogs to deep red dogs. Yet, lighter coloured Goldens are sometimes marketed as “White Goldens” or “Rare White Goldens”. Though they can appear white, there is no such thing as a white Golden Retriever, and this is just a marketing ploy to make the dogs appear rare and more valued. A lighter coloured Golden is just that – a lighter coloured Golden – neither white, nor rare.
Size Matters too!
And it’s not just about colour and markings that unscrupulous breeders market for.
They intentionally breed small dogs to small dogs of a specific breed in an attempt to produce a smaller version of that breed, or vice versa, a bigger version.
Large breed dogs are intentionally bred and marketed as “Rare Giant” versions of the original without regard to cardiac and orthopedic health. Likewise, there is an emergence of miniature, and even smaller, toy dogs hitting the market lately, where scaled down versions of the original are marketed as rare, manipulating breeds such as the Samoyed, Shelties, and Australian Shepherds. Imagine an Australian Shepherd that weighs 12 pounds (5.4 kg) when it should weigh 35 pounds (15.9 kg); or a Sheltie that stands 8 inches (20.3 cm) at the shoulder when it should stand between 13-16 inches (33-40 cm).
These are not true miniatures or toys, any more than they are a “rare giant” in the case of the large breed dogs, nor are any of these a breed unto their own, but are being produced through unscrupulous breeding and marketing practices. In some instances, the natural dwarfism that can occur in some of these breeds is being exploited and the genetic consequences of breeding these dogs as yet remains to be seen.
Don’t be fooled!
If you really want a smaller or bigger dog within a certain breed, talk to a responsible breeder – oversize and undersize occurs naturally in most breeds without being intentionally bred for and marketed as rare.
Breed to the Standard
Breeders should breed to the standard to preserve and protect the integrity of the breed. There is a reason certain colours, markings, and sizes were written into the standard in the first place, and you’ll get a much better dog from a breeder who breeds to the standard than one who breeds to the market.
Sometimes the breeder doesn’t know better. They have what they think is a unique feature and don’t realize the ramifications of breeding these dogs. Their lack of knowledge about inheritance factors should be a red flag as to whether they qualify as a responsible breeder. Most often though, sadly, the breedings are intentional so the breeder can charge more by marketing the dog as rare.
So next time you see an ad for a “rare” dog, think twice. Is it rare, or is it a genetic fault in the dog? If you’re not sure, then contact the national or local breed club for that breed, and ask! You can find links and contact information on each of the breed guide pages on this website, or through our breeder listing pages.
And if you really do want a “rare” dog, then look for a “breed” that is rare, not a version of a breed that is marketed as rare. There’s a huge difference between the two. The Canadian Kennel Club recognizes a number of rare breeds, such as the Barbet, Blue Picardy Spaniel, Black and Tan Coonhound, Finnish Lapphund, Komondor, Skye Terrier, and Lowchen, to name just a few of many.