SO YOU WANT TO BREED A LITTER?

Let’s imagine that you have a bitch of breeding age, you love her to bits (of course you do) and think having a litter might be fun....... Well, yes, it can be. Huge fun, a big learning curve, rewarding, full of ‘ahh’ moments...... and very possibly exhausting, scary, expensive. Oh yes, there are 2 sides to every coin!

Time to take a close look at what’s involved and there are several questions you should ask yourself before you start.

Why?
Why do you want to breed? Perhaps your bitch is a terrific worker, perhaps she has a brilliant temperament, perhaps she’s superbly constructed? Do you have people waiting for her puppies (seriously waiting? Not every ‘ooh I’d love a pup from your bitch’ turns into a forever home). Are you ready to keep a pup for yourself? If the answer to neither of these last two questions is ‘yes’ then stop right there and think again. Don’t breed because it’ll be good for the kids to see a litter being born - they can get sex education elsewhere, not at the expense of your bitch. Don’t breed because you think every bitch needs at least one litter ‘to mature her’ - that’s simply an old wives’ tale. Don’t breed to make money - you’ll come a cropper!

Who?
Your Bitch: There’s no such thing as the perfect dog or bitch and while we all like to think that we have the best, it pays not to be ‘kennel blind’. In order to choose the right mate for your girl you need to understand what her faults are as well as her good points. To begin with - is she actually of sufficient quality to warrant breeding on from? That’s never a given - you do need to look at her objectively, then answer as truthfully as you can. If the answer is yes, you need to find a dog who will complement her and can hopefully improve on her in areas where she’s lacking. Obviously she must have a good temperament and also be of good ‘breed type’. Does she fit (in my case) the Border Collie breed standard? Health requirements are hugely important and I don’t just mean the basic eye test and hip score. Have you had all the available tests (including DNA tests where applicable) for your breed carried out with favourable results? Check the Kennel Club’s website to see what’s available for your own breed and always do more, never less than the minimum required, to reduce risks as much as you can. These tests can be expensive when they’re all added up, but honestly, would you want to buy a puppy from someone who didn’t care enough to do them? Someone who wasn’t bothered if their pups inherited diseases? Of course not and you don’t want to be that breeder either!

The Stud Dog: When choosing a stud dog, if possible ask your bitch’s breeder for guidance - they’ll know their lines best and should be able to point you in the right direction. Be prepared to travel to the best dog. Don’t just choose the lad up the road because he’s handy and never choose a dog just because he’s winning at your sport without taking all his other points into consideration - health checks, temperament, construction. I’ve driven a round trip of 16 hours to a stud because he was right for that particular bitch of mine and other breeders have done the same to use my boys, some even going to the expense of importing frozen semen. If you’re going to do it, do it to the highest standard you can.

When?
When will it be convenient for you? It takes time and effort to successfully raise a litter so you must be prepared to invest both. If you compete with your bitch, her show schedule also needs taking into account and when everything does fall into place - will she come into season when you think? Bitches don’t read the same books as us and there’s a chance your girl’s cycle won’t do what you expect. Planning ahead is important at any time of year but as autumn approaches, it’s vital - Christmas puppies are to be avoided and you have to take into account 9 weeks gestation plus 8 weeks in the nest. If you do end up having pups ready to go around Christmas, be prepared to keep them until the holiday season is over so there’s no chance of them being bought as presents. Running on several boisterous ready-to-go pups for an extra however many weeks isn’t for the faint-hearted, but they’re your responsibility!

How Much?
What about overall cost then? Health tests for your bitch (and later on her pups), stud fee (include travel costs), correct feeding for mum and puppies (before and after the birth), registration fees, advertising if you have more pups than bookings, possible vet fees, whelping box with some form of heating and several changes of bedding, puppy pen and toys, starter packs for new owners, the list goes on…… Be prepared to make a financial loss, rather than any profit, since the former is as likely as the latter, indeed it’s to be expected with your first litter.

The Short and The Long Term
When it comes to care of your pregnant bitch there’s a wealth of advice available from books, online and from experienced breeders. Setting up the nursery needs careful forethought; feeding your bitch and her pups demands nutritional expertise. Neither should be done by cutting corners or costs. The majority of whelpings go according to plan thankfully, but be prepared for considerable expense - and worry - if your bitch needs veterinary assistance. There are so many things that can go wrong with a single birth, never mind multiple births. I’ve had to pay for a C-section in the past and on other occasions have had to step in and assist a bitch with a difficult delivery. Mostly we have success, but sadly sometimes a whelp won’t survive, which is utterly heartbreaking.... Even more heartbreaking is a pregnancy which results in no viable pups or one where you lose your bitch. Could you deal with that?

The weeks following on from birth are hugely important and labour intensive if you’re to send well reared, well socialised puppies out into the world and that’s what every breeder should aim for. Have you properly vetted prospective new owners? These are your puppies and it’s up to you to ensure to the best of your ability that their new homes are loving, fulfilling and forever. Once your pups are in their new homes, are you prepared to be there for them for the rest of their lives? A responsible breeder will offer advice when needed or take pups back however old they are, or at the very least be closely involved in rehabilitation and rehoming should that ever become necessary. No matter how carefully you vet new owners, things don’t always go according to your hopes and that’s when your commitment to your puppies will be tested. ‘A dog is for life’ applies to breeders as well as owners! Happily the vast majority of carefully chosen new homes work out brilliantly, but when things go wrong it can mean sleepless nights and heartache for you and sometimes terrible distress for the dog you bred, while you work towards the right resolution.

To Sum Up
Do I sound downbeat and discouraging? Possibly, but what I want is for you to consider extremely carefully before embarking on breeding even a single litter. If you can hand on heart say you’ve taken everything into account, planned carefully to ensure the health and well-being of bitch and pups, taken all possible care to ensure permanent, loving homes for those babies, you’ll do, and I wish you all the luck in the world. There IS a good side to breeding after all. More than good - it can be ‘take your breath away’ wonderful!

Breeding for the right reasons, having taken all the right, responsible steps, can and should be the most amazing experience. The joy of seeing your girl’s precious cargo safely delivered, all lined up at the milk bar contentedly murmuring, is simply incredible.... as is watching that superb, loving bond develop between your puppies and their owners over the years. However, if you aren’t prepared to invest the time and effort, now and in the future, walk away from the idea right now.

Sheila Gay © 2014

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