Co-Own & Guardian Homes
What does it mean if a breeder offers co-ownership contracts for certain puppies?
This topic is related to paperwork and registration, so read this article for those details if you haven't already.
There is much confusion about the terms of co-ownership and guardian homes. People sometimes don’t like the idea of not “completely” owning their own dog. This is further complicated by misunderstanding the legal rights of dog ownership. The deciding factor for buying any puppy should be your relationship with your breeder, which we discuss more here. But this should explain the basics for whether or not you’d like to consider a co-own or guardianship.
When a breeder has puppies they believe will grow up to be a good representation of the breed, they will either keep the dog in their own home for their breeding program or find a home willing to show the dog and discuss breeding puppy has matured. Some breeders will sell puppies on Limited Registration, and if their owner shows their dog to their Championship and does all health testing, they will then re-submit the paperwork for Full registration. The breeder may or may not keep their name on the paperwork as a co-owner. You might add a co-owner to a dog if a child who wants to show in Juniors would need to be an owner of the dog to show them. A breeder might also want to show the dog in the Bred-By class at a dog show.
Other times, puppies are sold as a co-own, which means both the breeder and new family have certain rights and responsibilities with the dog. Co-own arrangements are similar to what people call “Guardian Homes,” and different people have different definitions. Typically, there is a division of who lives with the dog, who trains the dog, pays for regular maintenance, pays for health tests, and makes the breeding decisions. This might be done if the breeder wants to work together with another breeder to help a particular dog reach their potential and “share the glory” of its successes. Those details should be laid out clearly in the contract.
This type of agreement isn’t right for everyone but is generally mutually beneficial to both the breeder and the family. The breeder retains some rights to help guide the new family to make the best choices possible for the dog. Because corgis develop slowly, a breeder won’t know their strengths and weaknesses for certain until closer to 2-3 years. A dog may show promise as a puppy but not grow up to be considered a breeding quality. This benefits a family because it may be utilized in a breeding program if their dog matures nicely. If the puppy doesn’t turn out, the family still has a beautiful pet.
These contracts should also explain the breeding plans for the dog if they develop into a breeding quality adult. Typically, when purchased on a co-own agreement, the family will pay a reduced price for the puppy upfront. Still, the breeder will have the right to use the dog as a stud (in their own program or to other trusted breeders, how many times and in what manner determined by the contract), or, for a bitch to have a litter of puppies (with one or more given to the breeder, and an arrangement for who whelps and raises the puppies, who chooses homes, and who keeps the funds from selling those puppies). As you can imagine, these situations are made on a case-by-case basis and can be stressful when living creatures/family members and money are involved.
How is a co-ownership different from a guardian home?
There is no clear difference between the two terms. No co-ownership or guardianship will be the same, and a contract defines them that both parties agree to. In part, I think there has been a shift to preferring the term Guardian home because the idea of only “partially” owning their dog makes people uncomfortable. Guardian home is a much more feel-good term, but realistically, they aren’t much different. We’ve already discussed that co-own agreements are unique to each breeder, family, and puppy, so the differences you might draw between guardianship and co-ownership may be in the nuances of a contract and a preference for one term over the other.
At its best, Guardian homes are a mutually beneficial arrangement for both breeder and owners. Every breeder will have a personal limit for how many dogs they want in their household. Rather than creating a kennel where dogs may not get the same love and attention as a house pet, they entrust another family to live with and love a dog until it’s time to consider them for breeding. It means that dogs will get to stay with their forever family right from the start, and if a dog turns out not to be breeding quality, the family still has a beautiful pet.
These arrangements are often important for the breed's overall health - again if a breeder can only keep a limited number of dogs in their personal home, what happens if more than one puppy has a promise? What happens if the puppy they picked doesn’t turn out, but the sibling sent to be a pet is phenomenal? Having access to those genetics once their quality has shown itself can make a huge difference in the progress of someone’s breeding program. It is also a failsafe for when the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the proliferation of Guardian homes as a concept for pet buyers. I have seen a glut of breeders rely on Guardian homes as a means to amplify their production. I have seen horrific, exploitative contracts requiring bitches be bred up to 5 times or unlimited use of a stud dog. It preys upon families, who may see a $3,000-$15,000 price tag, and thank their lucky stars they could instead get a puppy for a reduced price or free. They may fall into the unwise belief that their pet would benefit from motherhood or want to get a puppy back, or puppies to provide their friends and family. But with unethical breeders, it’s not done for the betterment of the breed; it’s done so they can produce far more puppies and make far more money. It becomes a Pyramid scheme, and the families and puppies are at the bottom.
The biggest difference I have seen between ethical and unethical breeders utilizing Guardian homes/co-owners is the quality of dogs being used. They will breed anything with working parts for unethical breeders, so the more Guardian homes they can secure, the better. They essentially stop ‘selectively’ breeding - they will breed people’s pets rather than only breeding the very best representatives.