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Show quality vs pet quality dogs: what’s the difference?

If you’ve ever reached out to a breeder about getting a puppy, one of the questions you might be asked is if you want a pet or a show dog. If you’re not familiar with these terms, the question might confuse you, so I’m writing this blog in the hopes that it can help you understand what’s going on.

First things first, let’s define these terms. Whenever a breeder talks of a show quality puppy, this means that this puppy has what it takes to compete in the show ring. A pet quality puppy, on the other hand, may not have attributes that can make him a dog show winner. (This is not to say that something is wrong with him or that he does not conform to the breed standard; it’s just that in the eyes of the breeder, the pet may not have winning qualities.)

As you can see, these terms are very subjective and may be largely based on the breeder’s opinion. This is why if a breeder ever uses these terms, you should ask what he means by these.

Having said these, here are five things you should know about show quality and pet quality puppies.

  1. Show quality is not an entirely accurate term, unless the puppy in question has actually joined dog shows and won them. It would be more accurate to refer to this puppy as a “show potential” – meaning, one which in the breeder’s opinion has the qualities to become a dog show champion. A breeder who claims his puppies are of show quality is just making a claim or stating a personal belief – there is no guarantee that this puppy will wow everyone in the show ring.
  2. You won’t know a dog’s attributes at birth or in the earliest months. I find it very laughable when breeders claim that a newborn or a two-month old will become a dog show winner. At this age, you can’t even see this dog’s bite or dentition, its full height, and other important attributes. In my experience showing miniature schnauzers, it is usually around the 6th to the 8th month that I am able to decide if a puppy has what it takes to become a dog show champion (and even then, that is just a guess.) Dogs mature differently. Some dogs that may look plain at first may grow up to be of star quality, while the puppy that may seem to have all the great traits as a youngster may end up being oversized or having some other serious fault.
  3. Show dogs have different grooming requirements from pets. If you get a show quality miniature schnauzer with the intention of joining dog shows, you’ll have to strip the dog’s coat from the very start, as mini schnauzers are required to have a harsh, wiry coat when they join conformation shows. Shihtzus, yorkies, and poodles would need to have their hair grown and presented accordingly. But you have no plans of joining conformation shows, though, then you’re spared of these burdens.
  4. Ideally, only show dogs should be used for breeding. That’s because they have been ascertained by licensed judges to be of correct structure and of proper temperament, making them qualified to be breeding stock. (In fact, this is the very reason that there are conformation shows – to determine which dogs are considered to be of breeding quality). Pet dogs, on the other hand, should not be bred from, unless the breeder is absolutely sure that they are of breeding quality. This is something that every reputable and responsible breeder should take to heart.
  5.  The show quality/pet quality conversation does not look at the health dimension. In other words, regardless of how beautiful that show dog looks, you should still go through the process of making sure that it is healthy. Research on the health issues of dogs (which varies per breed) and ask a veterinarian for help if you’re not sure about what you’ve observed.

In the end, you shouldn’t be swayed by labels such as show quality or pet quality. What is more important is that you do your homework and find out as much as you can about the dog you’re planning to get, especially its health and temperament. Ask breed experts, read books and articles, check out the breed standard as published by the kennel club. This will help you make an informed decision and rise above the breeder jargon as you pick your dog.

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