BREED OR NOT TO BREED
The dog overpopulation problem in this country is staggering. Millions of young, healthy dogs are euthanized each year because thousands of people are breeding dogs indiscriminately. There are simply not enough homes for all of the dogs that are born. If you are going breed your dog, you need to have only one real reason for doing so: because your dog is an exceptional example of its breed and deserves to pass its genes on. How do you know if your dog is worthy of being bred? It's not an easy question to answer, but here are some guidelines.
First, you must start with a quality dog from a responsible breeder. You must research the breed and learn about its problems as well as its qualities. Having a dog that is registered with a recognized kennel club (AKC, UKC, etc.) is not enough. Puppy mill puppies are often AKC registered. That, alone, means absolutely nothing. The AKC registers dogs in much the same way that your local department of motor vehicles registers cars. You can register your brand new Jaguar or you can register your old Pinto. The DMV only requires that the car be what you say it is -- Jag or Pinto -- which one doesn't matter. I've seen some horribly unhealthy, unstable and overall poorly bred dogs that are AKC registered. I've even seen two dogs, both bought from pet stores, that were NOT what their AKC papers said they were. One was a gorgeous, but terribly fearful, blue merle Sheltie that was registered as an Australian Shepherd. The other looked like a Malamute mix and was registered as a German Shepherd Dog. My guess is that when the pups were 4 weeks old (standard age to remove from mom and ship to the wholesaler) someone was in charge of guessing what they were and assigning AKC papers to accompany them. The blue Sheltie probably looked a lot like an Aussie at 4 weeks old.
I'm sure you've heard the terms backyard breeder and puppy mill. A puppy mill is a for-profit business that breeds unproved dogs, producing huge quantities of puppies, with making a fast buck their only breeding goal. A backyard breeder also breeds unproved dogs, perhaps with the intention of making money, but more often because they simply want to breed their dog and are not concerned with the consequences. If you purchase a dog from one of these questionable breeders, who are you then going to breed YOUR dog to? As soon as a quality breeder discovers the questionable breeding history of your bitch or sire, you'll be hard-pressed to find any willingness to breed. No one with a quality dog will let your dog get anywhere near it. So, you'll have to breed to an inferior example of the breed, further compounding the faulty gene pool for your breed. Breed two unproved dogs, and what do you get? More problems. Remember, one breeding pair of dogs in a single five-year cycle can potentially produce thousands of defective descendants.
Your potential breeding bitch or sire should be able to successfully compete in the conformation ring. Prepare and show your dog in the conformation ring to confirm that the dog meets the breed standard for height, weight, color, bone structure, etc. You should also start your potential breeding bitch or sire in the obedience ring early on. Work toward at least a CD (Companion Dog) title on your dog. However, depending upon the breed, you should also be training in field or agility or herding -- or whatever activity suits your breeds purpose. By this time you've learned a lot about your breed and even more about your particular dog.
While you've been showing and working your dog you've been waiting for your dog's second birthday to roll around so you can get OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Inc.) certification on its hips and possibly elbows. Breeding without OFA certification has resulted in an alarmingly high number of breeds being ruined by hip and elbow dysplasia. In the meantime, what has your vet had to say about your dog -- any allergies? eye trouble? thyroid conditions? Has your dog developed any health conditions that can be attributed to its genetic makeup? If so, think long and hard about what your dog can contribute to the breed.
How is your dog's temperament? There are specific temperament characteristics for each breed that must be clearly demonstrated before breeding is considered. Your young pup may exhibit solid signs of good temperament for his or her breed. However, it's important to wait until the pup has fully matured, with appropriate training for the breed, before assuming a stable temperament that is suitable for breeding. It is recommended that you wait until the dog is at least two years old before considering breeding. If your pup exhibits early signs of unsuitable temperament for the breed, for example, if you have an aggressive Golden Retriever or a shy German Shepherd, get it spayed/neutered. Whatever characteristics your dog has, physically and/or mentally, you will be adding these things to the gene pool of your breed. You have a responsibility to the dog, to potential purchasers and to the future of the breed to only breed the best of the best.
OK, so you're convinced you have the perfect dog. Now, what are you going to breed for? Companionship? Herding ability? Schutzhund? Obedience? Hunting/field work? If you do not have a breeding program worked out -- and a list of homes already waiting for pups -- abandon the breeding idea, or at least wait until your own breeding goals are clearly defined and you have selected a breeding pair that exceeds those goals.
Now -- the really big question. Who are you going to breed your dog to? You need to find someone who has gone through as much, if not more, than you have to prove that their dog is also exceptional and should be bred with yours. You must study genetics and the breeding history of both the bitch and the sire for several preceding generations. This will help you develop a fairly reasonable idea of what your dog and the other dog are going to produce. There are always surprises, but your breeding program will fail if you don't have some idea of what your breeding pair should produce. Never underestimate the potential for breeding failures, even with the best of breeding programs. It's not unusual to see only one pup out of an entire litter that represents attainment of all your breeding goals. Before you breed, make sure you've obtained firm commitments for adoption or purchase of all of the pups in the litter, not just the "champions."
Now, what happens if you breed your dog without going through all of this hassle? What are you going to do with the pup who has a bad bite, is too small or too big? Be prepared to keep a pup for its lifetime if you can't find a suitable home. Breeding "mistakes" are stockpiled in our local animal shelters, doomed to early euthanasia. Go to your local shelter and ask how many dogs of your breed were euthanized in the last few weeks. As many as half of all shelter dogs are purebreds. Are your pups going to end up there? Are the people who buy your pups going to breed indiscriminately and are THEIR pups going to die young just because they are homeless?
Breeding dogs can be a rewarding experience. Time consuming, expensive (few breeders ever recoup their expenses), heartbreaking and frustrating too. If you are sure it's what you want to do, do it right. If not, get your pet spayed/neutered and love it a lot. Altered dogs make outstanding companions. They also earn obedience and other working titles, so you need not abandon the idea of showing your dog just because you're not going to breed.
If you have any questions please call or write the national breed club for your breed. They are always happy to help you learn more.
Think about it!!
©1994 Deb McKean and "Germpod".