Before breeding from your dog

Posted Tuesday, 3 February 2015

We have most likely all thought about doing this at some time. However, before you breed from your dog (either by letting your bitch have a litter or studding out your dog) please do make sure you research this subject thoroughly. Before you breed please be aware that:

In 2009 over 110,000 stray dogs were handed into rescue centres in the U.K.(1) This does not include the number of dogs actively relinquished to rescue by owners unable to cope or care for their dogs. Although apparently there are no official statistics for how many dogs are handed in to rescue centres, in the early 21st century this was considered to be in excess of 250,000 annually. Dogs which are taken into rescues and re-homed have at least a 10.1% chance of relinquishment back to rescue for behavioural reasons(2). It is likely that the reasons dogs are not retained in their home are some of the following:

1. Impulse purchases. New owners are not aware of how difficult puppies/dogs can be
2. People do not take responsibility for their own actions and give up dogs if they are difficult.
3. People do not train their puppy/dog. Research has shown that training a rescue dog significantly increases the chances of it remaining with the adopted family(2).
4. Poor breeding standards such as being reared outside of the home reduces emotional stability in the puppies leading to later behaviour issues(3).
5. The family who adopted the dog now have children and no longer have time for the dog.

Behaviour is not just acquired from the environment, it is also acquired through inheritance of genes and the way the genes respond to the environmental conditions. It is also acquired from parental experience. Did you know that rats which were exposed to trauma whilst exposed to a scent (aversion conditioning) became fearful of that scent? Not surprising you might say. O.K. so how about this? Did you know that when those rats fathered offspring, the offspring were fearful of the scent the first time they were exposed to it, even without any aversive conditioning?(4) So, in fact, they inherited fear from the father.

So, if you breed from fearful parents the offspring will most likely be fearful, even if they are not exposed to a fear inducing environment. Did you know the most common form of canine aggression is fear aggression?

Health Tests

Before breeding you should have the dam and sire tested for medical faults most common in the breed. For Dalmatians for example tests should be conducted for the following:
1. Baer testing to make sure both parents have full hearing in both ears
2. Ancestors free from epilepsy
3. Hip scores (to make sure the ball fits properly in the socket)
4. Check ancestors for stone forming (some lines are more prone to developing uric acid crystals)
5. Which colour genes your dog carries. The colour of the offspring is determined by which genes are carried by the dam and sire. If you have a black spotted bitch and a black spotted stud it is not guaranteed the litter will be black spotted. Only by testing the gene colour via blood test can you predict the likely colour of the offspring.
If both parents are free from medical defects you should also try to check further back. Just because the parents are free from medical defects does not guarantee the offspring will be due to recessive genes which may show up defects if both parents carry the same recessive gene.
You should also, if breeding a pedigree dog, check the Kennel Club’s Mate Select database
This database provides evidence of health tests and also shows how inbred the offspring of a given mating would be and can be searched by Kennel club registration number or full pedigree name. The more inbred the more likely to risk of medical defects are likely to be amplified and the more likely temperament issues will surface. Please see the above link for more information.



Both the mother and father (dam and sire) should have a good temperament. They should not be shy or fearful, nor should they be too bold. They should be relaxed, inquisitive and confident without being “in your face”. Both the mother and father should not ever show aggression either towards people or dogs. Unless they are bred for working/hunting and the offspring also destined for a working home, they should not have too high prey drive.

Early experience

Puppies MUST be reared in the home where they will be exposed to daily life such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines, telephones, visitors, children, elderly people, men, women etc. Pups should be handled gently from day one. They must not feel threatened or fearful. Their brains are being hard wired for their future. If their environment does not feel safe they will be wired to perceive threat and will become more fearful. If they experience pain, this will affect the brain wiring. E.g. If a child accidentally drops a puppy, the puppy’s brain will be wired to protect them from further danger so the pup will become more avoidant/fearful of children in the future. This hard-wiring period is more or less finished by the time they are 12-16 weeks old which means they must experience all that life has to throw at them before this time. Anything experienced after this time will be greeted with increasing levels of suspicion. Experiences should also be positive as negative experiences will be remembered and will most likely affect the pup’s confidence and emotional development.

Preferably the pups should be accustomed to car journeys with the mum so that they can register car journeys as safe. If not, the first journey the pup makes on its own in life would be more traumatic. This is why, in my opinion, so many pups have problems with travel sickness. Car travel = separation from mum and = trauma. The stress increases sensitivity to movement and the pup is car sick.

Your role as the breeder, is fundamentally important to the wellbeing of the entire litter and the people who adopt them. If you get this wrong you could find the puppies are returned to you. If you are a responsible breeder you will accept responsibility for this, this is what being a breeder entails. If you are not a responsible breeder and you don’t take the pups back they will likely be unwittingly sold on Gumtree for dog fighting bait, or sold on to people who may not care for them properly, or passed to rescue. Can you live with this? If the owner of the breeding bitch can’t find a home it is equally the responsibility of the sire’s owner to resolve such issues.

Expense of breeding

Before considering raising a litter you need to consider the cost of having your dam/sire hip scored and health tested. These costs can run into many hundreds of pounds. Hip scores requires the dog to be sedated and have X Rays. This should be done for all dogs bred, not just pedigrees. The mother will require a special diet so that the puppies can develop properly. Nutrition is extremely important in the development of the puppies and in the health of the mother.

Prepare for the birth. Like humans the birth does not always happen easily. There is no NHS for dogs so if the mother requires a Caesarean this will cost over £1500.00. You may think this can be offset against the cost of selling the puppies, but what if all the pups die? You are not guaranteed to have a large litter to compensate for these costs and, in fact, the more inbred they are the smaller the litter sizes. If you are inexperienced how will you know when all the puppies have been born? If a puppy is not born then the mother can quickly die from the infection. A vet must then thoroughly check the health of all the puppies and the mother after birth. The puppies will need to be wormed at 2, 5 and 8 weeks old before you sell to the new owner. Responsible breeders also most likely start the vaccination process at 7 weeks of age enabling the puppy to start experiencing the real world at the earliest possible time.
Going back to the example of a Dalmatian litter. If you are a responsible breeder the puppies will then be Baer tested at five weeks of age by an expert which is expensive and is likely to require a long journey to a specialist. It is not sufficient just to clap your hands to test hearing as the pups respond to the air movement and vibration. This test cannot show if a dog only hears from one ear etc.
So, as you can see, if you do this properly, to rear the best puppies is an expensive process. The expense may not always be recovered if something unexpected happens and you have a small litter or lose any of the puppies. Again, health tests reduce this risk.

When should I breed?

When you have done all of the above health checks and when you have a list of people waiting for puppies. Please do not breed speculatively. It is the practise of irresponsible breeding that is responsible for the huge numbers of rescue dogs in shelters, half of which are likely to be destroyed because they cannot be homed (according the the Dogs Trust stats). If you do not have a list you will sell to the wrong people. Those people who are impulse buyers who will not take proper care of your puppy and will then just get rid of the puppy rather than work with it. Please make sure the people who buy your puppy will train it! Trained dogs have a much higher rate of retention with their new owners. 

If, after reading this, you are prepared to do all of the above and probably more, then you clearly are a responsible breeder and I hope you go on and produce lovely litters. I really hope that those who are not prepared to do all of this decide not to breed. I must admit the biggest deterrent for me is that I am afraid I would not find anyone who pass my test to adopt! Then we would have 101 dalmatians :-)

2. Diesel et al (2008) Factors affecting the success of rehoming dogs in the U.K during 2005. Preventative Veterinary Medicine 3-4, 228-241
3. Gazzano et al (2007) The effects of early gentling and early environment on emotional development of puppies. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 110, 3. 294-304
4. Shape shifting genes: The surprising third side of the nature versus nurture debate. Jane Killion