- Considering what breeding dogs means
- Preparing for birthing emergencies
- Raising puppies to be good pets
- Finding proper homes for puppies and dogs
- Getting started with the bitches
- Making partnerships
- Understanding inbreeding, linebreeding, and outcrossing
Somebody has to breed dogs, or there wouldn’t be any. Good breeders have always existed, and with any luck they always will. They care about their breed and the dogs they produce. They put years of study and effort into breeding dogs who are healthy and temperamentally sound — dogs who closely match the standards for their breed.
Unfortunately, these breeders are the minority. All is not right in the dog world, and it hasn’t been for a long, long time. Consider these problems:
– Too many dogs are dying for want of a home — and not just mixed breeds, either. Shelters and rescue groups deal with plenty of purebreds.
– Too many dogs have health problems that can be eliminated through conscientious breeding.
– Too many dogs have inherited personality problems, such as aggression or shyness or even yapping.
– Too many dogs have personality problems caused by improper handling in the first weeks of their lives.
People who shouldn’t be breeding dogs cause these problems. If you feel drawn to breeding and care about dogs — your dog and all dogs — consider breeding very carefully. Educate yourself about your breed and the congenital health and temperament problems within the breed. Develop a plan for breeding and a plan — as well as a fund — for dealing with emergencies. Think about the time you need to devote to helping the puppies be born, caring for them, and socializing them. Also remember that you need to know how to find good homes for them. You can be a good breeder, but you have to work at it. You can’t take any shortcuts.
Be prepared to deal with the puppies you can’t sell and the puppies that may be returned to you. They are your responsibility, too. If you can’t say that you will do everything that a reputable breeder does, then you need to spay or neuter your dog.
Neutering, or at least making a decision not to breed your pet, is in the best interest of your dog and all dogs. It also makes your life easier. Spaying
are the everyday terms for the surgical sterilization of a pet — spaying for the female, neutering for the male. The term neutering
— or altering
— is also used to describe both procedures. See Chapter Preventing and Treating Diseases: Working with Your Vet
for more on these procedures.
What if you meant to spay your dog and you come home to find her mating with the dog from three doors down? She doesn’t have to carry the litter to term. Spaying can be done on a pregnant dog, and the sooner the better.
The point here is that you need a deep understanding of both dogs and the responsibilities of breeding them before you even consider getting into breeding. Pilots don’t jump into the cockpit and fly off into the wild blue yonder before they’ve completed the requisite courses and passed all the tests. Nor does the surgeon learn what’s required by hacking away at a patient’s liver. No one is allowed to assume those responsible positions without the extensive study that prepares them to do so.
Unfortunately, no courses of study or tests of knowledge are required of people who breed dogs. They just buy a female and, bang, they’re out of the starting gate. Uneducated and irresponsible breeders sell, give away, or simply abandon their mistakes with no thought given to what the result of their carelessness will be. Unsuspecting dog lovers are saddled with thousands of dollars in veterinary bills and chronically ill dogs because the people who bred the dog had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Nor, obviously, did they care.
If an investigation were done, probably very few instances of dogs maliciously attacking children could be attributed to dogs coming from responsible breeders. Some dogs have a more aggressive nature than others, and breeders who own and appreciate these dogs go to great lengths to make sure that their dogs go only to homes where they will be properly trained and supervised.
Bottom line: You won’t be able to produce worthy dogs of any breed unless you know what constitutes a top specimen. Even when you’ve mastered that part of your education, it’s only the beginning. This chapter is intended to give you an overview of how dog breeding works, but reading it does not qualify you to breed dogs. If you’re really intent on breeding dogs, you need more than this chapter before you begin. A good place to start is Breeding Dogs For Dummies, by Richard G. Beauchamp (Wiley).
But even if you becomes a master of the reading material on dog breeding, is mastering the tried-and-true methods a guarantee of any kind? Not at all. They are only the best-known methods, and they seem to work when intelligently applied. The only guarantee involved is that a person who embarks on a breeding program without sound knowledge is bound to meet with more failure than success. And if failure were the worst of it, these people would only have themselves to blame. In breeding dogs irresponsibly, you perpetrate your mistakes on an unknowing and unsuspecting public.
Breeders can increase their chances of producing dogs that live up to the standard of their breed in certain ways, and they can follow certain methods to avoid the pitfalls nearly every breed is susceptible to. This chapter gives you an introduction on how to take advantage of them.
What to Expect If You Decide to Breed
Breeding a dog takes time and money, especially for the owner of the female. Your dog and the dog you breed her to need to be certified clear of inherited problems such as hip dysplasia, deafness, and inherited eye diseases. Both dogs need to be tested for venereal diseases, be current on their vaccinations, be free of parasites, and be taking an heartworm-preventive medication. This clean bill of health costs money — easily into the hundreds of dollars.
When the male dog has all his health clearances, his job is easy. He gets to the party early and leaves the scene early. But after the coupling, the female’s job has just started. Her owner bears most of the costs, starting with the stud fee. But even before you can pay that, you have to find a stud dog. You’re not likely to find a suitable mate around the corner, or even in your town, which means you have to spend more money on transporting a dog.
Your dog will need high-quality food in significantly larger amounts than usual and possibly supplements, if your veterinarian recommends them, for the last few weeks of her pregnancy and the entire time she’s nursing. If the litter is too much for her, you’ll be hand-raising at least some of the puppies, and maybe all of them if she becomes unable to nurse. Above all, you have to be prepared to deal with a long list of medical emergencies that can threaten the life of both mother and puppies and can result in very large veterinary bills.
If your breed requires tail docking (trimming the length) or dewclaw removal (surgical removal of the vestigial “thumb”), you’ll need to pay for that, along with vaccinations and other health needs. And you’ll be paying for puppy food for the last three or four weeks you have the puppies (after they’ve been weaned). That’s assuming you can sell the puppies promptly — sometimes you can’t.
You’ll have to take time off work when your dog’s whelping, or giving birth, and you should take still more time off to socialize your pups to ensure that they become good pets for the people you sell them to. You need to expose your puppies to children, men, women, cats, and the normal noises of a human household. A litter of puppies is a constant mess-making machine: Your washing machine will be going around the clock, and you’ll be begging your neighbors for their old newspapers and towels within a week.
You’ll need a whelping box and hot-water bottles or a special heating element or lamp to keep puppies warm when they’re young, because they can’t regulate their own temperature well. When they’re up on those pudgy little legs, you’ll need an exercise pen to keep them safe and away from the many, many things those puppy teeth can decimate.
What if you can’t get the price you want for your puppies? The popularity of fad breeds means that, before long, too many puppies are around and prices fall accordingly. You may be playing Let’s Make a Deal with the last ones, or even giving them away. It’s not unheard of for desperate first-time breeders to drop off the remains of a litter at a shelter.
Ask a reputable breeder to help you determine what producing a high-quality litter costs. Chances are, you’ll find even more things in the expense column than are listed here — things such as ultrasounds to verify pregnancies or the cesarean deliveries that are common in some breeds. Litter announcements and advertising cost money, too, and hardly a breeder alive hasn’t dealt with a disaster that has wiped out an entire litter of dreams and left nothing behind but huge veterinary expenses.
Are you still interesting in breeding dogs? If so, read on.
A Dog-Breeding Primer
The business of dog breeding hasn’t changed much over the years: You breed the best to the best, and hope for the best. The ways of determining quality have changed a great deal, though, and will change even more as health screenings move to the chromosome level in the future.
Such progress would likely make the traditional owner of a working sheep or hunting dog shake his head. In the old days, if a dog didn’t earn its keep, it didn’t live long enough to breed. In some circles today, that’s still the bottom line, although more — but not all — of the less-gifted career dogs today find homes as pets, be they Greyhounds, Beagles, or Border Collies.
The importance of quality
Because few breeders work their dogs as a shepherd does his, they rely on other factors to determine which animals they should breed. They show dogs to have judges evaluate their conformation
— a measure of how closely they conform to the blueprint for the breed, called the standard
. Breeders may test their dogs’ working or hunting instincts in competitions that re-create the conditions of the real thing. They certainly have them tested for hereditary defects and consider temperament before breeding. High-quality dogs are produced through this selective process. For more on canine competitions, see Chapter Best in Show: Showing Your Dog
You want to breed your dog to the best stud dog you can find, and that means the best stud dog for your particular dog — one who is a good match for her pedigree, her conformation, and her temperament. The person who can best help you find such a dog is an experienced, reputable breeder with knowledge of your dog’s breed in general and her pedigree lines in particular. A better deal still is if you can convince this experienced breeder to mentor you through the mating, pregnancy, delivery, raising, and placing of the puppies. Everyone has to start somewhere, and good breeders know this.
If your dog is not of reasonable conformation, such a person may not want to work with you or allow a stud dog to breed with your female. It doesn’t hurt to ask, though, because breeding your dog to a quality stud dog is a much better way to go than breeding her to one that your neighbor, cousin, or co-worker owns. The latter may be your only option, however, if your dog is not of a quality that should be bred. This verdict means, of course, that you shouldn’t breed her.
Heat, mating, and gestation
Your dog should be at least two years old before you consider breeding her, because she needs to be more than a puppy herself to be a good mother to her babies. She should be in good health to withstand the rigors of pregnancy, whelping, and nursing. Her vaccinations should be current, and she should be clear of parasites and should be taking heartworm-preventive medicine. Tests for genetic defects in her breed should have come back clear, as should a test for brucellosis, a disease passed through mating that causes sterility in dogs. In other words, you need to be see your veterinarian.
The stud dog, too, must meet these criteria, and you should already have chosen him before your dog is ready for breeding. Females are usually sent to the stud for breeding. Some are shipped thousands of miles for just the right match.
Some breedings take place without the dogs ever so much as sniffing each other, thanks to frozen semen and artificial insemination. Some stud dogs have even sired litters after their demise! If the stud dog that suits your dog is too far away, discuss this option with the owner of the dog and with your veterinarian. This procedure is increasingly common, and the puppies are eligible for full registration with the American Kennel Club (AKC) and other organizations.
A female comes into season (or heat) for approximately 21 to 30 days every 5 to 7 months. Her heat begins at the first sign of bleeding and ends when she loses interest in breeding. The female does not become interested in breeding until a week or so after her season begins. Although your veterinarian can pinpoint when she is most likely to be successfully bred, the dog has a pretty good idea herself, flirting with the males and standing with her tail up in her best canine come-hither gesture.
The males don’t need that much encouragement. Her smell from the first day of her season has been driving them wild, and the only thing that has kept them from mating with her sooner has been her refusal to allow it.
As soon as the first signs of season appear, you should finalize arrangements with the stud dog’s owner and send your dog to the stud so she can be there when she’s ready to breed.
An experienced breeder can best handle your dog at this point. She allows the dogs to become comfortable with one another and, when the female is interested, does what it takes to get the job done, including holding the female for the male and even inserting the male’s penis into the female if the stud is inexperienced. Far from being embarrassed about such things, the experienced breeder considers it just another job that must be done to produce puppies.
The male starts to ejaculate soon after he starts thrusting, but the most sperm-rich semen is released after the action appears to have stopped and the so-called tie begins. The base of the canine penis swells while inside the female, locking the dogs together to give the sperm a chance to impregnate — and keeping competitors at bay. After the tie begins, the male turns away from the female so that the two are positioned rump to rump. This stage can last for more than a half hour before the swelling goes down and the dogs break apart.
If it lasts for more than two hours, call your veterinarian.
Pregnancy ranges from 58 to 70 days, during which you should follow your veterinarian’s instructions on prenatal care. A couple of weeks before her due date, you should prepare a whelping box — a place for her to have her puppies, placed in an out-of-the-way corner of your home. For large breeds, a plastic kiddy pool lined with layers and layers of newsprint works well; smaller breeds may use the bottom half of a shipping crate. The most important characteristic in a whelping box is that it can be easily cleaned.
Printed newspapers are messy, so try to get unprinted newsprint. Your local newspaper may sell — or give away — the ends of the giant newsprint rolls that go onto the presses.
Final preparations for long-coated breeds include clipping the hair on her hind end very short, to keep puppies from getting caught, and on her belly to make the nipple area neater. (Don’t worry about how awful she looks; she’ll lose even more fur on her own before it’s all over and look even more dreadful.)
Talk to your veterinarian one last time about what to expect. Ideally, if you’ve been working with an experienced breeder, he’ll be there to help you as your dog starts labor. He may suggest an ultrasound or X-ray to aid in predicting the size of the litter and identifying any potential problems with the delivery.
A day before the big date, your dog will probably lose her appetite and become more restless. She may dig in laundry piles; show her to her whelping box instead — you may need to be persistent, but she should have her litter where you can care for them best. Take her temperature: A dip to 99 degrees shows that labor is near. Make sure that you know where your veterinarian — or the closest emergency clinic — is and cancel all your plans, because the time is near.
Take the puppies and their mother to the veterinarian within the first day after the birth to make sure that everything’s okay with them all. If dewclaws are to be removed and tails docked, discuss these procedures with your veterinarian right away — these minor surgeries need to be done before the age of 3 days. While experienced breeders often complete these procedures themselves, a novice breeder should not even attempt it — have your veterinarian take care of it.
Another job in those first few days: paperwork. Send in litter registration so that you get individual registration forms back in plenty of time to provide to puppy buyers. Contact the registry for more information on what’s required.
The Principles of Breeding Dogs
Every foundation animal you buy, whether male or female, toy breed or giant, is the result of some kind of a breeding program. Breeding programs run the gamut from intelligent and conscientious to haphazard and irresponsible. Your stock should be a result of the former, and by this time you should understand why stock from a quality program is so important.
Every good breeder approaches her mission in a slightly different manner. You’ll find that, more often than not, experienced and successful breeders are adamantly dedicated to their own method. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that their dedication to a particular approach is a result of that approach having worked for them over the years.
Interestingly, all the various theories and breeding strategies can be categorized into three basic controlled breeding programs, which derive their names from the degree of relationship between the two dogs mated:
– Inbreeding: Breeding within the immediate family
– Linebreeding: Breeding among more-remotely-related family members
– Outcrossing: Breeding from the same breed but with no common ancestors within five generations
Inbreeding is, as many geneticists have proclaimed, a powerful two-edged sword.
Don’t attempt inbreeding if you don’t have in-depth knowledge of all the good and bad points of the individuals who stand behind the two animals being mated. Inbreeding can intensify desirable characteristics to the degree that the resulting offspring are highly dependable for producing the desirable qualities. However, inbreeding can also call forth catastrophic consequences.
Inbreeding increases the chance that a gene obtained from the one parent will duplicate (match) one obtained from the other. This is the case for everything — both what is desirable and what is undesirable. Often, harmful and sometimes lethal genes float around in the pedigrees of dogs within a breed.
Knowledgeable breeders are apt to know if and where these genes exist. They use the utmost care in bringing together animals in any mating that may reproduce these abnormalities. In some circumstances, experienced breeders intentionally make breedings that risk such results, but they always have specific reasons for doing so. Only carefully selected individuals from those matings are retained for breeding; all others are neutered and eliminated from the gene pool.
Inbreeding can be scientifically defined as the mating of individuals more closely related than the average of the population that they come from. In other words, what may be considered inbreeding in a new breed with a small gene pool may not be considered inbreeding in a long-established breed that has hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs in the gene pool to draw upon.
In layman’s terms, and for our purposes here, inbreeding is best explained as the mating of two directly related animals. Most dog breeders consider the following as inbreeding:
- Father bred to daughter
- Son bred to mother
- Full brother bred to full sister
One frequently hears people who are not familiar with intelligent breeding practices blame inbreeding for producing the health or temperament problems that exist in popular breeds. This assertion is seldom, if ever, true. Inbreeding isn’t the main cause of a preponderance of health problems in a breed. People who lack knowledge of a breed’s background do, however, create problems of this nature. If two dogs, closely related or not, who have a debilitating problem are mated, the chances of all the offspring having the problem obviously will be very high. Moreover, if the two animals who are mated are themselves free of the problem, but the problem runs rampant in the genetic makeup of their immediate ancestors, the chances of their passing it along are, for all intents and purposes, just as high as if they were afflicted themselves.
Scientifically speaking, linebreeding and inbreeding are the same. The intensity is all that differs. In other words, if inbreeding increases the chance that a gene obtained from the one parent will duplicate (match) one obtained from the other, linebreeding reduces but does not eliminate those chances.
Although inexperienced breeders should not attempt inbreeding, intelligent breeders are also aware that a pedigree made up of dogs who are related only by breed won’t ever provide any consistency or lock in any of the good traits that are necessary to maintain. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that even the accidental outstanding individuals can be relied upon to reproduce themselves.
Linebreeding, then, is the best way to concentrate the qualities possessed by certain outstanding animals in the pedigree without running the risks of inbreeding. The certainty of getting what is desired is not as great through linebreeding as it is through inbreeding, but neither is the risk of intensifying highly undesirable traits.
When no common ancestors appear within five generations of the two individuals being mated, the breeding is generally considered an outcross. True outcrosses are somewhat unlikely if breeders are working within popular bloodlines — popular meaning the bloodlines that are producing the kinds of dogs who are winning at the dog shows.
Outcrossing is the opposite of inbreeding. This method of breeding mates individuals of the same breed who, for all intents and purposes, are not related. This approach is less likely to fix faults in the offspring, but neither can it concentrate specific qualities with any certainty.
A certain look or style within a breed will become popular because it does well at the shows. Usually this style will emanate from a successful breeder’s line or be stamped by an especially dominant stud dog. Other breeders will invariably attempt to incorporate that winning look into their own line. They do so either by dipping lightly into the winning line by making a single breeding to it, or by heavily reshaping their breeding program around the line that is producing the winning look. As a consequence, the breed as it is popularly seen becomes influenced to a greater or lesser degree by a few dogs from the source that began the trend. Eventually, hardly a dog in sight doesn’t have at least a touch of the popular line somewhere, thereby making a true outcross breeding very rare.
Choosing Your Own Style
So which is the best way to go: linebreeding, inbreeding, or outcrossing? The following sections offer some thoughts.
The conservative breeder
Some breeders have a very clear-cut interpretation of the standard and stay within the lines that will produce that look and temperament, regardless of trends. Fads come and go, but these breeders stand by their linebreeding program that produces what they believe is correct and refuse to change hats even when that refusal slows the accumulation of those coveted blue ribbons.
Sticking by your line isn’t always an easy thing to do. The trends can become so all encompassing that your dog becomes what you may call odd man out — the only dog in the lineup that looks different. It takes the knowledgeable judge who has the courage of his own convictions to decide which style is really right for the breed and to reward it accordingly. These diehard breeders often weather the storms of unpopularity and are there waiting when the winds of change calm down. In a good many cases, these kennels prove to be where newer breeders find the foundation stock that sets them in the right direction.
Keeping an eye on the prize
Other breeders keep abreast of trends within a breed and adapt their lines to keep pace. They are attracted to the qualities of the dog of the hour and use him, or the bloodline that produced him, in their own breeding program. These same individuals often have an eye for those winning qualities and are able to pick the dog most likely to succeed from their own litters. Soon they are out and winning with dogs sporting the new look.
Usually a significant amount of outcrossing is involved in breeding programs of this kind. Reliability is not the long suit of the line. Outcrossing can be a hit-and-miss affair, but breeders who subscribe to this approach seem entirely satisfied with those occasional hits that come along, because often they’re big hits and account for highly successful win records.
Outcrossing for elusive qualities
Outcross breeding isn’t done only to follow a fad or trend. When properly employed, outcrosses can bring qualities to a breeder’s line that she sorely needs. Many intelligent breeders resort to occasional outcross breedings for very sound reasons. At times, a breeder’s line will generally satisfy the breed standard in all respects but one or two — say, for example, pigment and eye color. The breeder finds that, try as she might, those qualities remain elusive within the line.
The logical thing to do, then, is to seek out another line (one known to consistently produce good pigment and eye color) and make a breeding, or sometimes two, into that line. Often this breeding requires outcrossing into another line that doesn’t bear a close relationship to one’s own. The method is more apt to succeed if the outcross line is closely linebred, because the chances of its being dominant for the desired qualities are higher. The dog whose appearance (also called phenotype) is not backed up by a concentration of the genes for that quality (genotype) may not be strong enough to pass along that quality to another, stronger line.
Sex-linked characteristics: Finding the formula
In addition to inbreeding, linebreeding, and outcrossing, breeders have to factor in another approach. In some cases, the sexes of the individual dogs who are used have a great bearing on which characteristics are passed along. These traits are called sex-linked characteristics.
In some cases, for example, the male is best at bringing in the quality you need from another line. In other instances, the female is more apt to give you what you want. It’s almost as if Mother Nature is taunting you by giving you part but not all of the equation. Then it’s up to you to find the missing piece and come up with the right answers.
Breeders who set out to improve their line or correct faults, instead of simply accepting them as part of the territory, may need generations of dogs to do so. In the end, however, the persevering breeder usually accomplishes this goal.
Getting an animal good enough to show is one thing. Getting one good enough to carry on your breeding program or to take the breed one step farther along the line of progress takes time and perseverance, and often leads to great disappointment. However, the dogs who carry breeds to greater heights in the show ring, in competitive events, and as producers are usually the result of someone’s willingness to deal with all these setbacks.
Start with the Bitches
Absolutely nothing is more important to your breeding program than starting with a well-bred female of representative quality.
And now is as good a time as any to start using the term bitch rather than female. Everyone you deal with in the dog world refers to the two canine sexes as dogs (males) and bitches (females). If you want to work your way through elementary levels of your education in dog breeding, you may as well start using the terminology the pros use. And if you’re waiting for a pun or joke about this lingo, well, in this particular instance you’re going to be disappointed.
Why you don’t need to keep males
The hobby breeder who’s interested only in establishing a breeding program and setting a distinctive, yet representative, style needs to house only bitches. It’s absolutely pointless — in fact, counterproductive — for any beginning breeder to house males.
The male will seldom, if ever, be used on the mother who produced him or on his sisters or his daughters. (As already mentioned, on a rare occasion a very experienced breeder will resort to this kind of inbreeding, but only in special, well-thought-out circumstances.) If you can’t use him on any of the dogs in your own breeding program, what would be the reason for keeping him there?
If it’s for those thousands of dollars you think you’ll make on stud services, think again. Breeding dogs for profitable stud purposes is a highly specialized activity, best pursued after many years of successful dog breeding. To properly use a male, you have to go out and purchase the right female to breed to him. Doing so puts you right back at square one, with nothing to do but repeat the breeding over and over again. You’ll have lots of offspring, but nothing to help you carry on a breeding program. All the dogs will be bred exactly the same — too closely to breed to each other.
The pointlessness of keeping a male becomes even more obvious when you stop to realize that you have access to any top-producing male in the country. And you can use a different male with each breeding.
The importance of foundation bitches
Successful breeders around the world agree on two things: First, beginners must go to a successful breeder for their foundation stock. Second, it’s critical for the beginning breeder to buy the best possible daughter they can afford from the breed’s best-producing dam (the term for a bitch used in breeding).
You may ask why these knowledgeable people have advised buying a daughter of a top-producing dam rather than the dam herself. To quote Norma Hamilton, a world-renowned breeder of the Quailmoor Irish Setters of Australia: “Only the person who has taken total leave of their senses would ever part with the great producing bitch herself. It would be like giving away your sails and then showing up to compete in the America’s Cup.”
Without a doubt, your bitch is the cornerstone — the very foundation — of everything you will do as a breeder. Don’t even think of economizing in this respect.
Successful breeders also seem to agree that the foundation bitch doesn’t have to be what could be described as a “glamour girl” — one who has won yards of blue ribbons. Records seem to indicate that as long as her bloodline credentials are impeccable, and she’s well made and sound in all respects, her chances of being a noteworthy producer are very good.
If you can possibly arrange to do so, purchase two daughters of the producing bitch. They could be litter sisters or even half-sisters with different sires. There’s no better way to assure yourself of establishing a tidy little producing nucleus than through obtaining high-quality sisters. The possibilities of breeding them out and then returning to your own line with the offspring are endless.
Having both quality male and female offspring emerge from even your earliest breedings isn’t entirely unusual. But again, it’s not necessary or advisable to keep any of the males in-house, no matter how good they are.
When you breed a fine male
When and if you do breed that great male, have no fear — you’ll be able to make all sorts of breeding arrangements so that you will have access to him down the line when and if you have a bitch who’s appropriate to breed to him. Don’t sit up nights worrying about what to do if that one-in-a-million male comes along. And that’s what the chances are of your producing him in your first litters — one in a million, if that high.
You’ll have a line from here to Timbuktu waiting at your door if you have a top, show-quality male to place, with top meaning the very best. Trying to place the average, just-good-enough-to-become-a-champion male is not so easy. Average is easy to come by; tops is not. Furthermore, a male of only average quality is not one that others will seek out for breeding, nor should he be. The bull’s-eye is the only thing you’re aiming for.
Moving Outward: Making Partnerships
Working with bloodlines that seem to click, after a time you may find that you are coming up with a considerable percentage of high-quality, intelligently linebred bitches. In fact, you may be coming up with a few more than you can house properly but are afraid to let go entirely.
Breeding partnerships in Russia
No greater proof exists of the value of breeding partnerships than the breeders in Russia. Restricted by 70 years of communist domination, purebred dog breeders networked their breeding programs between partnerships of sometimes five, six, and seven breeders, many of them living in apartment complexes. All of them were severely handicapped by the lack of funds and the lack of nutritional supplements for their dogs. Even so, when the Iron Curtain was lifted, quality sprang forth as if from an underground stream.
You now face the small-breeder’s dilemma: deciding which to keep — the females who have proven they can produce for you or the females who have been produced and are one step farther along in your quest for improvement?
One solution is partnership. Working closely with a partner, even the most limited breeder can create miracles. Naturally, the partners must have basically similar goals in mind and agree on what constitutes the essence of the breed. Both partners must also be dedicated to setting type and maintaining it. And neither should be unduly influenced by win records or fads and fancies. The partnership is a marriage of sorts. Be sure to pick someone with whom you’re compatible.
A good many, if not most of Great Britain’s great show-winning dog exports to America were dogs whelped in the most modest of homes — in the kitchen behind the stove, so to speak. The dogs shared living quarters with their owners, and their exercise came from being put out in the garden several times a day and from taking walks around the block with dad or the kids.
It’s not how elaborately the dogs are kept — it’s how good they are that counts.
Establishing and maintaining type in this day and age isn’t easy. But then, it never really was, except perhaps for the few breeders blessed with the means to maintain those super kennels of the past. Can it be done today? Of course it can.
Small hobby breeders all over the world limit themselves to one litter a year or less. These small but important breeders are counted among the most influential in their respective breeds. Their influence didn’t come about in a day, a week, or a year. It took time.
So You Have Puppies: Now What?
If you want to increase the chances of raising your puppies right — and be reassured that your puppies are “normal” — knowing how puppies mature is helpful. As with children, growth stages each have their wonders and their challenges. The stages pass too quickly, so to get the most out of the puppy experience, clear your calendar of nondog activities and keep your eyes open.
All puppies look much the same when they’re born. You find size and marking differences, but they each come into this world looking something like a sausage, with tiny ears, tiny legs, and tightly closed eyes. Things start to change before long.
Although people have raised puppies for thousands of years, most of what we know about how people can influence a puppy’s development — and about developmental stages in puppies — goes back only around 50 years, starting with the work of John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller in the 1950s. From their “school for dogs” in Bar Harbor, Maine, came the basis of what trainers and breeders have been using to get the most out of dogs ever since. Animal Behavior (John Paul Scott, University of Chicago Press) is a fascinating, if dated, place to start a study of dog behavior. Fuller and Scott teamed up with Genetics and the Social Behavior of Dogs, also from the University of Chicago Press. Although they’re out of print, many libraries have these books, and a good secondhand bookseller should be able to find copies without too much trouble.
You can find more recent — and less academic — treatment of the subject in many subsequent books. Examples include Carol Lea Benjamin’s Mother Knows Best: The Natural Way To Train Your Dog (Howell Book House); How To Raise a Puppy You Can Live With, by Clarice Rutherford and veterinarian David H. Neil (Alpine Press); and The Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of the New Skete Monastery (Little, Brown).
Whelping and emergencies
Most dogs are natural whelpers and may not need your help at all. Many a dog owner has fallen asleep waiting for the big event only to wake up to a box full of puppies born, cleaned up, and nursing. If your dog isn’t quite so efficient, you have to release the puppies from their amniotic sacs within 30 seconds or so and help them to breathe on their own. Clean the fluid from their mouths and noses by supporting their heads and swinging them between your legs, stopping sharply. You can also remove fluid with a bulb syringe. Rub the puppy with a clean towel and put her on a nipple. Above all, keep the puppies warm.
If the mother doesn’t sever the umbilical cord, you may need to do that, too: Tie it off about an inch from the puppy with a thread soaked in alcohol and then snip with clean scissors. Dab the ends with Betadine to combat infection.
While many experienced breeders are sometimes as capable as any veterinarian when it comes to saving puppies, the novice breeder should not hesitate to get veterinary help quickly. You must take your dam to the veterinarian when any of the following occurs:
– She fails to enter labor 24 to 36 hours after her temperature dips to 99 degrees.
– She’s in labor, and more than four hours lapse with no puppy being born, especially if a dark green fluid passes.
– She seems very uncomfortable and is panting heavily.
– A puppy gets stuck while being delivered.
– She has a puppy, and 30 minutes pass without another puppy being born, yet she’s having strong contractions.
– If she doesn’t expel an afterbirth, or placenta, for each puppy. Retained afterbirths can trigger infections.
If in doubt about anything, call your vet. Your dam may need more help than you can give her, including a cesarean section. If everything goes well, clean the mother with Betadine while she cleans up the nest — eating the afterbirths is a normal part of the process.
An important after-birth problem to look out for: If your nursing mom becomes restless, agitated, and trembling, call the veterinarian and say you’re on the way. She may need calcium treatments for a condition called eclampsia.
Birth to 3 weeks
Puppies are pretty helpless at birth. They can’t see or hear and need their mother for everything. She is their source for food, warmth, and protection; they cannot even eliminate waste without her gentle licking to stimulate the process.
Newborn pups can crawl and right themselves when turned over, and they can seek out food by smell. They can also seek out the warmth of their littermates — they are unable at this stage to regulate their own body temperature. On the outside, this time seems quiet — puppies at this age sleep almost constantly — but a lot of development is going on inside their brains and central nervous systems.
Leave them alone, except for one thing: Handle them briefly and gently on a daily basis and subject them to the tiniest amount of stress in the process. Puppy-raising experts believe this little bit of stress — such as placing them on a scale — is as important as handling in the development of a confident dog.
Even this early in a puppy’s life, some temperament patterns are set. If you watch, you can already see which puppies will later become dominant with their siblings. These pups are the ones who push others out of the way at nursing time —frequent weighings will prove that the pushier pups will grow faster. Other pups are more wiggly, act nervous, or cry during handling. Be sure to note all these things.
Toward the end of the second week, the puppies start to open their eyes, although they see little more than light at this point. In the third week, the first teeth appear, and puppies start to hear. By the end of the third week, the sausages look like puppies, and they’re ready to start exploring the world.
What if you have a litter of black Labrador puppies? How can you possibly tell one from another enough to follow and record changes in the early weeks when personalities are not so obvious? Use this trick: Make little collars of rickrack, a decorative zigzag trim material available in fabric stores, using a different color for each puppy. You won’t have to resort to this tactic, of course, if you can note the puppies’ markings to keep things straight.
3 to 5 weeks
During this stage, puppies start relying less on their mother and begin to learn from each other. They learn to play and to eat solid food.
Even as all this activity is happening — a wealth of new experiences, overwhelming their new senses of vision and hearing — the puppies are learning the rudiments of canine communication and social structure. Puppies start to learn when to use their sharp little teeth and, more important, when they cannot use them. Their mother teaches them some of this behavior, using her teeth to correct but not hurt them. In play with each other, an observer hears plenty of cries and squeals as bites are delivered just a little too hard, and puppies learn to inhibit their bites, delivering them with a force that matches the situation. (When puppies don’t learn to inhibit biting from their mother and littermates, problems are bound to occur when they’re in their new homes.)
Although puppies are most interested in each other at this stage, you should be busy reminding them that there are people in the world, too. Make sure that their environment is always changing and continue to handle the puppies, making sure that each gets individual attention. Expose the puppies to both genders and to children as well as adults. If a cat lives in the house, even better — although do your cat a favor and let him choose his interactions. His mere presence is enough to expose the puppies to the existence of felines.
Start weaning the puppies after three weeks. Discuss with your veterinarian or mentor the type of soft food to offer the puppies, and help the pups get the idea by putting the food on your finger and helping it into their mouths.
Puppy pans — doughnut-shaped dishes with a low outer rim — are ideal for giving every pup a place at the “table.”
When puppies are eating semisolid food, the mother will quit cleaning up the nest by eating their waste — so the task of keeping puppies clean falls entirely to you now. About this time, the mother will start helping the weaning process by spending more time away from her babies. Understandably, she’s getting a little sick of them.
5 to 7 weeks
The biggest mistake you can make in this period is to remove a puppy from the litter and send him to a new home. This practice is probably based on the idea that weaning is the logical time for puppies to be sold — puppies can start on hard kibble around six weeks — but the research emphatically insists that this “logic” is wrong.
Puppies have a lot more learning to do during these two weeks, and they need to be with their littermates to do it. Think of this period as the time of more. Puppies can see more, hear more, and play more at this stage. They are starting to become more interested in the world beyond their enclosure. They are especially attracted to those funny two-legged dogs who have spent the last few weeks picking them up, talking to them, and petting them. Suddenly, they think humans are pretty cool.
This stage is when humans think puppies are pretty cool, too. Puppies are absolutely adorable now, with the softest fur and the cutest faces. They run with a rolling, bouncing puppy gait, tripping over their big paws at times. They roughhouse with each other and stalk their toys. They drive their mother crazy — she is interested in spending as little time with them as possible now.
They are still learning, but what a fun time they’re having.
Spend a lot of time with them at this stage, because their socializing is in full swing. Keep exposing them to the sights and sounds of life all the way up to the time they go to their new homes — ideally, after their seventh week.
Finding Proper Homes for Puppies
If you’ve done your job right, you have something truly remarkable to offer puppy buyers: fat, friendly, well-socialized puppies who promise a lifetime of good health and companionship. You want to be sure that the people who take them are worthy of such wonderful pups.
To find good potential owners, you need to be extra careful in screening homes. You mustn’t just accept money from the first half-dozen people who walk through your door. If you’ve been working with a reputable breeder, ask for her help in placing the puppies. Ask prospective buyers these questions:
– What is your living arrangement? You don’t need a house with a yard — some dogs, even large ones, do just fine in apartments. But you do need a person who’s aware of what a dog needs and is prepared to deliver it. Definitely say no to anyone who plans to stick one of your pups on a chain in the yard.
– Have you had dogs before? What kinds, and what happened to them? Wrong answers include “lots” and “they ran away,” “we moved,” or “he got hit.” Accidents happen to even the most conscientious of dog lovers, but a pattern of mishaps says a great deal about the way the prospective buyer treats dogs.
– Do you have any experience with this breed? What do you expect of it? You want to educate — and possibly eliminate from contention — anyone who isn’t prepared to deal with the reality of living with a dog like yours. Don’t sell to a person who isn’t prepared for the shedding of a long-haired dog or the activity level of a terrier, for example. Be honest with buyers about the drawbacks of the breed, and you’re much more likely to put your puppies in homes that will keep them, because they know what to expect.
– Do you have children? What ages? Some dogs, as with delicate toys, just don’t work out well with children. Still, be flexible. A thoughtful, gentle child could work out fine. Discuss your concerns and see what answers you get.
– Do you intend to breed your dog? Show your dog? Train your dog? Your pet-quality puppies — ones with obvious show faults, such as wrong markings — should be sold on contracts that require them to be spayed or neutered. (Some breeders have the surgery taken care of before their puppies go to their new homes.) People who are interested in training and competing with their dogs are people who plan to be involved in their pup’s life, and that’s the kind of thing you like to see. Look, too, for people who travel with their pets or obviously treat them like family.
Be cordial and informative, but be persistent. Check references, including calling their veterinarian. A person who has had numerous pets and doesn’t have a veterinary reference is another to cross off your list. Don’t be afraid to turn people down. Sure, it may not be pleasant, but you must do what’s best for your puppies. You’ve put a lot of effort into them, and you want them to live with someone who will continue to love and care for them as you have. You want your puppies to go to good homes, and the only one who has a chance at making that happen is you. So do your best.
If you are considering breeding your dog again, you need to skip at least a season to give her time to recover. In any case, one or two litters are about all you should ask of her if she’s to enjoy just being a member of your family. As soon as her motherhood days are behind her, arrange for her to be spayed, to give her the best chance at a healthy life.
Another reason to spay her quickly: If you keep a puppy, you may be positively shocked to find your girl pregnant again — thanks to her own son. Many folks have been surprised to find that their dog becomes pregnant, because the only male she’d been around was a pup from her last litter. “But that’s incest!” these people say, shocked. “Don’t they know better?”
Unfortunately, they don’t.
by Eve Adamson, Richard G. Beauchamp, Margaret H. Bonham, Stanley Coren, Miriam Fields-Babineau, Sarah Hodgson, Connie Isbell, Susan McCullough, Gina Spadafori, Jack and Wendy Volhard, Chris Walkowicz, M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD