advice from Wendy Dreyer
I consider breeding a huge responsibility and a joy. My greatest joy every year is a litter of healthy beautiful puppies and a matching list of qualified puppy buyers. I guarantee all my puppies to be of sound health and temperament and will take back any puppy for whatever reason. In fact, I have reclaimed two dogs of my breeding because they were obviously not thriving in their living situations. No dog of my breeding should ever end up in a shelter because I stay in touch with all my puppy buyers for the life of the dog, and intervene whenever there are behavior or training problems.
I even temporarily take back dogs in homes where there have been crises, just to give the family a chance to get things back together. I have two extra dogs here right now because the dad in the family had a heart attack and open heart surgery. Junie (18 mo) and Sissy (4 MO) are here until Tom is better and the stress is relieved. This means I have six dogs instead of four. So be it. I bred them, I want them here if they can't be at home.
First of all I make sure my dogs are the best of the best before I breed them. Most of my dogs are breed ring Champions, and are also trained in obedience and agility. Some are also trained in tracking and herding. One is also trained in flyball. Tess has five areas of expertise. Two of her children are champions and several more are competing. No dogs of poor quality are ever bred by me.
No dogs are ever bred before the age of two. Their eyes are checked at seven weeks of age and then annually for cataracts and other genetic flaws by a veterinary ophthalmologist and registered with CERF, Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Hips and elbows should be x-rayed and verified free of dysplasia, another genetic flaw which cripples thousands of dogs every year and breaks the hearts of pet owners. These X-rays should be sent by the vet to OFA, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, for clearance. OFA requires dogs to be two years of age. If you look up quality breeders in a breed club directory you will see the ads say "Eyes cleared annually, OFA good or excellent". We also, at least in my breed (Australian Shepherds), require full dentition (no missing teeth) and scissors bite (no overshot or undershot bites). So the ad reads "OFA good or excellent, eyes CERF cleared annually, full dentition and scissors bite".
Then you want to look at the dog's conformation, structure and movement. Does the dog you are thinking of breeding have structural faults? Each leg should be a straight pillar of strength from the shoulder or hip to the ground when observed from the front and rear. They should also have appropriate angulation in the shoulder and stifle for adequate reach and drive when observed from the side. This takes an educated observer. The toes need to face forward, not in or out. Facing out is called "easty-westy". Facing inward is "pigeon-toed". The rear legs also need to be a straight line of strength from hip to ground, not cow-hocked, or displaying other faults.
There are some really good videos and books available about structure and movement. The best is probably The New Dog Steps by Rachel Page-Elliot. Consult a local breeder for these finer points in structure. Go to a dog show and ask exhibitors to evaluate your dog's structure. Correct movement is breed-specific so you need to consult the breed standard (AKC) and another breeder about whether your dogs have the correct proportions and correct movement. Poorly proportioned dogs get joint injuries from just casual play, another heartbreaker. A friend of mine bought a golden retriever through an ad in the newspaper from a backyard breeder. She thought she could to agility with this dog. He has a fiddle front. This means his elbows go out, and his wrists turn in, and his toes turn out. Agility training will probably cripple him.
The next thing to think about after eyes, joints, structure, movement, dentition, and bite, is pedigree. What genetic anomalies lie dormant in Dog A and Dog B? Are there cataracts or dysplasia in the pedigrees? What other recessive problems are lurking? If so, how far back and at what occurrence? Is this a line breeding or an outcross? Line breedings concentrate flaws as well as the good stuff. Are you willing to take responsibility for the outcome? Are you willing to put down or keep flawed puppies? What about epilepsy? There are lots of genetic flaws and it is the breeder's job to try to eliminate them through a responsible breeding program. Only an experienced breeder can help guide a new breeder through this maze.
A while back I assisted at a whelping of black labs. Four of the eight puppies had open abdomens with distended intestines. Only one was dead. We had to put down the other three. It was heartbreaking. There was another puppy (5th of 8) who was incompletely developed. He was only 4 oz and had a cleft palate. We had to put him down too. So, out of eight we got three. The breeder kept one, a female. Her conformation and temperament were wonderful. She is smart as can be. She just turned two and Cathy had her hips x-rayed. She's dysplastic. She can never be bred. Her littermate brother who is now owned by the owner of the sire is doing well in the breed ring, but should this pedigree be bred? I don't think so. There have been so many problems, why continue this line and make things worse? It's all in the genes!
After all that, look at temperaments. Are these dogs temperamentally suited for breeding? Are they both wonderful representatives of their breed? Are you willing to keep and be responsible for all the offspring if you can't place them in good homes? Do you have an interview form for potential puppy buyers so you can determine which homes are responsible dog owners? Can you evaluate personalities of buyers and puppies for the best match? It's hard!!! I have a buyer questionnaire. Be sure to find qualified temperament testers when the pups are seven weeks old so you can best match puppy temperaments with potential homes. If the possible homes have children, be sure to require the children come with the parents to visit. You can tell a lot about a home by the behavior of the children. Be prepared to do home visits before and after the puppy goes home. I give handouts about training, suitable reading, UNsuitable reading (bad books to be avoided), toys, crate training, nutrition, housetraining, etc. I also give out a clicker training book, A Dog and A Dolphin [now called Clicker Training Start-Up Kit] by Karen Pryor, and two clickers.
So, breeding puppies and selecting puppy buyers is expensive and exhausting. Did I mention the $400 bill for a C-section? Do you have an experienced whelper helper? There is so much to know just to deliver a healthy litter so you don't lose the bitch and the entire litter due to inexperience.
Breeding a healthy litter and placing them in wonderful homes can be a rewarding experience, but the responsibility is not to be taken lightly, and it is not easy. You don't make any money at it. By the time you have raised the bitch, fed her the very best food, trained her, paid the stud fee, whelped the puppies, paid for first shots, fed them the best of the best food, maybe paid for C-section or mastitis if you weren't watching the bitch's teats carefully enough, you are just barely breaking even. If you show her, then you are losing money. Showing verifies her quality and substance and justifies breeding, but it is expensive. Why breed if you don't have the best of the best? There are already so many dogs in shelters! I have had my Aussies in the top rankings in the country, and get top dollar for my puppies, and lose thousands of dollars a year. The expenses don't come close to the income.
I haven't even touched upon the topic of raising the puppies. I could write a book about what is needed to raise a healthy, well balanced, emotionally healthy litter. Breeding is a lot of work and expense. If you don't do your homework you are adding to the problem of unwanted dogs instead of providing quality dogs to the gene pool.
Arboretum Australian Shepherds
27 Dunbar Road
Quaker Hill, CT 06375
Miracle of Birth Video Tape (www.woodhavenlabs.com/breeding/video.html)
Learn to Breed Dogs (www.learntobreed.com/)
Things to think about before Breeding (www.woodhavenlabs.com/breeding/breeding.html)
So You Want to Stand Your Dog at Stud (www.woodhavenlabs.com/breeding/stud.html)
So you want to use your dog at stud? by Danielle Campo (www.fix.net/~dogmag/sheltie/dogatstud.html)
The Cost of Breeding by Gail Fisher
Are you planning to be a "Hump and Dump Breeder"? from TerrierMan Patrick Burns.
All material copyright Stacy Braslau-Schneck. Reprints for non-commercial use, and with the author's permission only.
Would you, your training company, or your club like to reprint this? Please be sure to keep my name, business name, and the website URL with the article, and if possible, please send me a copy. See the Contact Page for email and mailing address.