BREEDING DOGS HAS BEEN A PASSION FOR PEOPLE THROUGH MANY CENTURIES. Part art, part science and total devotion, breeding will show you all the best in the human-and-dog bond. It is exciting and challenging.
Breeding purebred dogs is also time consuming, expensive and, occasionally, heartbreaking. If you go forward, your underlying purpose should be to improve the breed—not just increase its numbers—and you must be prepared to accept full responsibility for the puppies from the moment they are born until the day they die.
The AKC always welcomes responsible breeders to the world of purebred dogs. What are some of the hallmarks of a truly responsible breeder?
Responsible breeders are always studying. Responsible breeders devote hours to learning as much as they can about such things as their breed, other breed specimens, health, behavior and training, and AKC rules. In short, they become canine experts. How can you go about becoming an expert?
First, study your breed standard. You’ll find a copy of every official breed standard in this book. Many parent clubs offer more detailed information on the standard, such as amplifications, illustrated standards, and other written materials.
Attend dog events. By looking at lots of dogs in your breed and studying the pedigrees of those you like, you will learn about different lines. For example, if you want a dog that will excel in obedience competition, you may want to find a line producing the attributes that contribute to jumping ability.
Become involved with dog clubs. Each breed has a national parent club, and there are thousands of local clubs devoted to individual breeds (called specialty clubs). If your interest lies in breeding a good dog for companion or performance events, there are clubs devoted to those sports as well. All of these clubs sponsor educational programs and events designed to help you increase your expertise. The AKC web site can help you locate these clubs.
Read, read, read! There are many books available about every aspect of the dog experience. There are books devoted to individual breeds, to many breeds, to health, to breeding and whelping, to genetics, to behavior and training, and on and on. There are magazines, too. The AKC GAZETTE contains informative articles on all of these topics. Most parent clubs also publish magazines or newsletters. For information on AKC materials or for a list of clubs, call the Customer Service Department at 919-233-9767 or visit akc.org.
Responsible breeders know their dogs. Every dog is the best dog in the world to its owner. But responsible breeders are able to step back from their love for their dogs and honestly evaluate the good and bad points. (In fact, many will tell you that their first dog, usually the one they loved the most, was the ugliest or clumsiest they ever owned!)
Why is such a detached point of view necessary? Breeding is a lot of work. Good breeders know that if they are going to exert all that effort, the result must be a better dog. To reach that goal, they need to recognize their dog’s flaws and find a mate that can eliminate them. Thus, they need to use every educational tool at their disposal.
One such tool is the breeder of your dog. This person should have an extensive knowledge of their breeding stock and your dog’s relatives; such information is invaluable. Use this resource!
The best way to make sure that you don’t suffer from “kennel blindness” is to test your dog against others. If you want to breed a better specimen of the breed, enter dog shows. If you want to produce a great obedience dog, enter obedience trials. If you want a great hunter, enter field tests and trials. If your dog is a success in these events, you’ll be more confident that you really can make a contribution to your dog’s breed and to the world of purebred dogs.
Responsible breeders condition their dogs. Good puppies start long before the breeding ever takes place. Both parents need long-term care—what dog people call conditioning—to produce the best offspring. This means regular veterinary care, screening for genetic problems, both general (like eye problems or canine hip dysplasia) and those specific to your breed, pre-breeding tests and, of course, regular exercise and good nutrition.
Conditioning also means maintaining your dog’s mental health. Anxious animals can experience fertility problems. And many breeders swear that the dam’s temperament affects the puppies—good puppies come from good mothers. Consequently, they avoid breeding shy, unstable, or nasty dogs.
Responsible breeders are devoted to their puppies. A responsible breeder is more than just a perpetual student. Add on nursemaid, nutritionist, nursery school teacher, and child psychologist.
During the first couple of weeks the dam normally takes care of the puppies’ needs, but you always have to be prepared for unusual situations such as a dam with no milk or an orphaned litter. Even when the dam is a good mother, you must provide a safe, very warm (at times as high as ninety degrees), dry place for the puppies and three or more times the normal amount of food and water for the dam.
Once the puppies begin to be weaned, they become loads of fun—and loads more work. All the normal cleanup, feeding, grooming, training, veterinary care, and playtime you put in for your dog needs to be multiplied by four or six or ten.
Responsible breeders place puppies wisely. It is your responsibility to make sure every single puppy goes to owners who will provide the kind of home for them for the next ten to fifteen years that you’ve provided in the first eight weeks. That means careful screening and asking lots of questions. It’s like being an adoption counselor.
Having learned all you can about your breed, you now know all the pros and cons of ownership. Responsible breeders know that the negatives are just as important as the positives. They know that dogs requiring lots of coat care or training time may not be a good match for someone who’s a workaholic. They know that tiny dogs may not fare well around a family of active small children. They know that a large, powerful dog may be too much for someone in frail health. They never sell dogs to people they believe will not be able to provide suitable homes.
Responsible breeders are also familiar with AKC rules and regulations concerning the sale and registration of AKC-registrable dogs. Before you even breed, you should contact the AKC to make sure you’ve got all the right paperwork, understand what you need to do, and are able to provide the right documents to your buyers.
There are also practical considerations. Breeding is not a profit-making activity. Some breeds are so popular that puppies may be easy to sell. Others are in such little demand that it can take months to find homes. Responsible breeders learn to ignore the financial realities in order to find just the right home for each puppy.
Responsible breeders are responsible for life. Perhaps the best part of being a breeder is having those great families you selected call you with news of puppy’s first tooth, first vet visit, first birthday party, first dog event, first win. It’s getting letters, holiday cards, and family portraits with your puppy smack in the middle. What’s not to love about being a breeder at these times?
But now can come the difficult part. It’s the fifteenth phone call asking how to cut toenails. It’s the nice young couple getting a divorce and neither one can keep the puppy. It’s the distraught owner calling from the vet with news of an unforeseen hereditary illness. It’s the devastated mother telling you that the dog you encouraged them to train bit their child’s friend.
Responsible breeders are there for all situations—both good and bad. They know that they were responsible for the birth of this puppy, and that also means they are responsible for the dog until the day it dies. They are willing to answer as many questions as they are asked, to provide resources and information, and are always concerned about their puppies. They are also willing to take a dog back at any point in its life. They never turn their back on a dog they’ve bred.
Oddly enough, responsible breeders know the best phone call is the one they receive twelve years later telling them that the dog died of old age, because they know they were responsible for bringing years of love and joy to someone else’s family.
Most dogs are chosen for breeding on the basis of their looks, but their genes are what really count. Genes are the fundamental units of inheritance. Each parent passes a set of their genes to their sons and daughters; which genes are actually expressed is left to chance.
Gene selection and mutation also influence the genetic outcome of a breeding. We guide the selection process by choosing a particular mating pair. This is the way the many diverse dog breeds developed from the domesticated wolf over thousands of years.
Genetic defects can occur in any breed and can affect any system in the body. Some genetic diseases may occur in many breeds (cataracts and deafness, for example); others occur in only one or a few breeds (such as Collie eye). Before you breed your first litter, you must learn all you can about the genetic problems that affect your breed.
Diseases that follow a dominant pattern of inheritance need only one abnormal gene. That is, if only one parent is affected, the condition will show up in each successive generation. Some individuals may be only mildly affected with the condition, making it difficult to detect. In such cases, the condition can mistakenly be thought to skip generations.
Diseases that follow a recessive pattern of inheritance occur in homozygous individuals, meaning dogs with two abnormal genes. Dogs with one mutant and one normal gene are heterozygous, and they are carriers of the condition. They appear normal but can pass the abnormal gene to their offspring. Recessive mutant genes can be passed through many generations before emerging in the offspring of two dogs that carry the same genetic mutation.
Polygenic disorders result from the cumulative action of a number of different genes. The exact number of genes involved and their individual functions are difficult to determine, and the pattern of inheritance tends to vary from family to family. Polygenic inheritance can sometimes mimic either dominant or recessive inheritance, and this feature may lead to erroneous conclusions regarding the type of underlying genetic abnormality.
Chromosomal anomalies—defects in chromosome number and structure—can also cause genetic diseases. Dogs normally have thirty-nine pairs of chromosomes (humans have twenty-three pairs) on which genes are located. Major abnormalities in chromosome number and structure can produce serious defects.
Whether you inbreed, linebreed, or outcross may have an effect on the incidence of genetic disease in the offspring. Inbreeding is the mating of two individuals that are related through one or more common ancestors. The closest form of inbreeding involves parent-child and brother-sister matings. Linebreeding, a form of inbreeding, usually involves mating more distantly related dogs. The rate of polygenic and recessively inherited diseases tends to increase with inbreeding because the chance that the two animals carry the same mutation is greater when the dogs are related. Outcrossing is the mating of two dogs of the same breed that are otherwise virtually unrelated.
Sexual maturity tends to occur earlier in small dogs and later in large dogs. On average, however, males become fertile after six months of age and reach full sexual maturity by twelve to fifteen months. Healthy stud dogs may remain sexually active and fertile to old age. Adult males are able to mate at any time.
Bitches have their first estrus (also known as season or heat) after six months of age, although it can occur as late as eighteen months to two years of age. Estrus recurs at intervals of approximately six months until late in life. During estrus, the female is fertile and will accept a male.
The bitch’s cycle is divided into four periods:
PROESTRUS—The female attracts males, has a bloody vaginal discharge and her vulva is swollen. Proestrus lasts approximately nine days; the female, however, will not allow coitus at this time.
ESTRUS—During this period, which also lasts approximately nine days, the female will accept the male and is fertile. Ovulation usually occurs in the first 48 hours; however, this can vary greatly.
DIESTRUS—Lasting sixty to ninety days, diestrus is the period when the reproductive tract is under the control of the hormone progesterone. This occurs whether or not the bitch becomes pregnant. False pregnancy ( pseudocyesis), a condition in which the bitch shows symptoms of being pregnant although she has not conceived, is occasionally seen during diestrus.
ANESTRUS—No sexual activity takes place. Anestrus lasts between three and four months.
Various forms of contraception are available for the non-breeding dog. The most effective is surgical removal of the reproductive organs, i.e., spaying the female or castrating the male. For a less permanent solution, oral contraceptives for canines may be used until the time of breeding. These products must be used carefully and under the guidance of a veterinarian to avoid severe side effects.
Strict isolation of a bitch in estrus will also prevent pregnancy, but this sounds easier than it is. Dogs can be very persistent in their drive to reach a fertile female. Pregnancy termination can be achieved in cases of mismating, but the use of appropriate hormones carry certain risks that must be discussed with a veterinarian.
If you do decide to breed your bitch, it is advisable to skip at least the first heat; she is still maturing and should be spared the stress of pregnancy and lactation. Most breeders also avoid breeding a bitch twice in the same year or during consecutive heats, to allow sufficient time for recuperation between pregnancies.
Breeding should always begin with excellent nutrition and management. The bitch should be in good condition, neither thin nor overweight. Some nutritionists believe that a steady weight increase for three weeks, beginning just before breeding, may increase fertility. However, this has not been proven.
A veterinarian should perform an examination at least one month before breeding, and update vaccinations if appropriate. The bitch should be tested and treated for internal and external parasites. Responsible breeders also test for brucellosis, an infectious bacterial disease that can cause sterility or spontaneous abortion between the forty-fifth and fifty-fifth days of pregnancy. Males should also be tested for brucellosis. To prevent transmission, these dogs should be kept apart from pregnant, whelping, or nursing bitches, and they should be tested for brucellosis at least twice a year.
Breeding management varies among individual breeders and breeds, but most dogs are first bred between the tenth and fourteenth day after the onset of proestrus. As long as the bitch will accept the male, mating every other day for a total of two or three matings is generally considered sufficient. However, signs of proestrus are not obvious in some bitches. To catch the peak fertile period, a veterinarian may need to perform hormone tests or examine vaginal smears under a microscope.
Bitches are usually less inhibited by new environments, and are therefore usually taken to the home of the stud dog for breeding. Breedings involving young males proceed smoother if they are paired with experienced bitches.
The male mounts the female from the rear and clasps her midsection with his front legs. Rapid pelvic thrusts follow, until intromission and ejaculation take place. After the pelvic thrusts cease, the male and female will not separate for ten to thirty minutes. Known as a tie, this results from a swollen section of the penis called the bulbus glandis. During the tie, the male may move around until he and the bitch are positioned rear to rear. Do not try to separate the dogs during the tie, because it can injure either or both animals. Sooner or later, they will part naturally.
Artificial insemination is a relatively simple procedure that can be used when natural breeding is impractical. It is performed by a veterinarian. Before breeding in this way, contact the AKC for information on properly registering the litter.
Canine gestation lasts approximately sixty-three days. Signs of pregnancy include an increase in appetite, weight, and nipple size. A bitch with false pregnancy may also show these signs. Pregnancy can be definitively confirmed by a veterinarian through abdominal palpation, ultrasound, or X-rays. Special feeding requirements of the pregnant bitch are described in the Nutrition chapter. This is a good time, however, to talk with your veterinarian about how to care for the bitch throughout pregnancy and whelping, and what to do in case of an emergency.
A few days before the bitch is ready to give birth, she may stop eating and start building a “nest” where she plans to have her puppies. Unless you have already accustomed her to a whelping box, she may choose your closet or another place you may find inappropriate for a delivery room. It is a good idea to build a whelping box well in advance so the bitch has time to get used to it.
A good whelping box is roomy and has low sides, so you can easily reach in. It should also have a small shelf running halfway up along one or two sides so the pups have something to crawl under to avoid getting rolled on. The box should be located in a quiet, warm, dry, draft-free place. Many breeders line the box with newspapers until after delivery because paper can be changed quickly and easily when it becomes soiled. After whelping, newspapers are typically replaced with soft towels or something that provides better footing for the puppies.
The bitch’s body temperature drops to ninety-nine degrees or less approximately twenty-four hours before the first stage of labor, when the cervix dilates and opens the birth canal for passage of the puppies. At this time she will pant, strain, appear restless, and perhaps vomit. Vomiting is normal at the onset of labor, but persistent vomiting may be a sign of illness.
The next stage of labor involves abdominal straining as the puppies emerge. A normal, healthy bitch doesn’t usually require human help during whelping, but you should be prepared to act in case of an emergency.
Each puppy emerges in its own sac. The bitch should promptly remove the sac, sever the umbilical cord, and lick the puppy to clean it and stimulate respiration. A placenta is delivered after each puppy, and the bitch may or may not attempt to eat it. Some people believe eating this tissue is good for the bitch; others disagree and believe it may cause a digestive upset. You may want to let your bitch eat one or two of the placentas, but not all of them.
Breeders should always keep track of how many placentas are delivered and ensure that the number matches the number of puppies, since a retained placenta may cause problems.
The breeder must take over if the bitch neglects to remove a sac or sever an umbilical cord. The sac membrane should be torn near the puppy’s head and peeled backward until the puppy can be gently removed. Then mucus or fluids are removed from the puppy’s mouth and nose, and circulation is stimulated by gentle rubbing with a towel. The umbilical cord can be tied with unwaxed dental floss, and cut on the far side of the tie about two inches from the abdomen. The cut end should be painted with iodine to prevent infection.
WHEN TO CALL THE VETERINARIAN
If something goes wrong, don’t hesitate to call the veterinarian for assistance. Signs of potential trouble include:
indications of extreme pain
strong contractions lasting for more than forty-five minutes without delivery of a pup
more than three hours elapsing between puppies, with or without contractions
trembling, shivering, or collapse
passing a dark green or bloody fluid before the birth of the first puppy (after the first puppy, this is normal)
if your bitch has not gone into labor by the sixty-fourth day of her last mating
It is an excellent idea to have a veterinarian check the bitch and her litter within a day of the delivery.
A newborn puppy cannot control its body temperature and must be kept in a warm environment. Chilling will stress the puppy and predispose it to infectious disease; overheating can kill it. The environmental temperature can be controlled with a well-insulated electric heating pad or a heat lamp. But make sure the puppies have a cooler place to crawl to if they become too warm.
The first milk produced by the bitch after whelping is called colostrum. Every puppy needs to ingest colostrum as early as possible after birth, and certainly during the first twenty-four hours of life. Colostrum contains a number of substances that are beneficial to the puppy, including immunoglobulins that protect newborns from the infectious diseases to which the mother is immune.
Occasionally, a bitch cannot or will not care for her puppies. In this case, it is the breeder’s responsibility to see that they are fed, stimulated, and kept warm.
The immediate environmental temperature should be kept between eighty-five and ninety degrees for the first five days of life. From the seventh to the tenth day, the temperature can be gradually reduced to eighty degrees; by the end of the fourth week it can be brought down to seventy-five degrees.
Newborn puppies must be stimulated to defecate and urinate after each feeding. Ordinarily this would occur as the bitch licks her litter, but orphaned puppies need human intervention. Gently massage the puppy’s anal region with a cotton ball that has been dipped in warm water. Observe the puppy’s daily habits, and stimulate only as necessary. For information on formula and feeding techniques for hand rearing puppies, refer to the chapter on nutrition.
Gentle body massage is also beneficial for any hand-reared puppy. Massage stimulates the circulation and thoroughly awakens the puppy. Stroke the puppy’s sides and back with a soft cloth. The best time for a massage seems to be when the puppies are waking up, while you’re waiting for the formula to get warm. Simple grooming, performed only when necessary, should also take place at feeding time.
Puppies should begin the weaning process at about three weeks of age. It should be a gradual process. Start with a thin, bland cereal mixed with formula. Hand-fed puppies may be removed from the bottle by about four weeks, and ground meat or high-quality canned dog food may be offered in addition to the cereal-formula mixture.
By five weeks, gradually switch to a high-quality puppy food. Some breeders add ground meat, mixed with evaporated milk diluted with equal parts water. In addition to the meat and canned food, introduce a good commercial dry or moist puppy food into the feeding program. All changes in food or feeding schedules should be gradual, to allow the digestive system time to adjust.
MORE TO LEARN
As you can see, breeding dogs is a complex, serious activity and should not be undertaken lightly. There’s much to learn before you even begin, and much more that your dogs will teach you along the way.