The Principles of Dog Breeding
April 2007

Golden Retriever Mom and Puppy Litter Picture

What is a Dog Breeder?

In simple terms, a breeder of an animal is the person who owned its mother at the time she whelped; or the person in whose care the bitch had been placed either by way of hire, loan, or other arrangement.

What is Involved in Dog Breeding?

The breeding of dogs is carried on by many thousands of men and women for pleasure and profit. To many, the production of puppies having the good points of their parents means everything, and the sensible breeder will study closely any bad point that the breeder's bitch might possess so that by judicious mating with a dog showing pronounced superiority in the point or points that the bitch lacks she will eventually be productive of more or less perfect offspring. The experienced breeder knows as a result of the breeder's experience at the various Championship Shows what points in a dog are fashionable and are required by the judges. The breeder will take steps to mate his/her bitches with dogs that will tend to reproduce the points needed. The novice will be well advised to consult an experienced breeder before mating the bitch. Defects which are not obvious to the owner are only too apparent to the expert.

White Puppy Picture

Fashions in attire are always changing, and so in the doggy world fashions in conformation have undergone radical changes from time to time. To get a type of dog absolutely true to the one demanded by fashion, in-breeding has been carried on to an alarming extent.

If one studies the pedigree of any well-bred animal, one can soon trace in-breeding to a greater or lesser extent. A certain amount of in-breeding can be very useful in order to attain certain desirable concrete characteristics. The owner that possesses a stud dog that conforms in every way to the existing standard of fashion is a lucky individual, and it behoves that individual to see that his/her dog is only mated to bitches that promise to perpetuate all the better points of the sire.

In almost every breed there are latent Mendelain characteristics that in-breeding causes to make their appearance. They are often deleterious and undesirable.

Mendelism, a branch of the study of heredity, is concerned with facts and theories centred upon the discoveries made by Gregor Mendel from his experiments on plant-hybridization announced in 1865. The essence of the Mendelian hypothesis is that certain characteristics in plant and animal remain by themselves (unit characteristics), and will not blend with other unit characteristics.

For example, a tall pea bred with a dwarf pea gives a generation of tall peas - there are no dwarf or intermediate individuals - and tallness being apparent is called the dominant character. But when these tall peas are inter-bred, the offspring is not uniform but possess individual characteristics, dwarf and tall in definite ratio; for every dwarf pea (and this, self-fertilized or inter-bred, remains dwarf through all generations) there are three tall peas, but only one is pure, and when self-fertilized shows pure, tall progeny. The other two are impure, and when inter-bred yield mixed generations of tall and dwarf in the proportions just stated, 3 - 1, one pure tall, two impure tall, one pure dwarf. Dwarfness has been latent or implicit even in the first tall (hybrid) generation - it is the recessive characteristic.

It is stated by authorities on breeding that if the animal is pure through and through, then in-breeding itself will do no harm. If there are no undesirable characteristics present, then in-breeding will accentuate and fix the desirable. If there are faults, then in-breeding must of necessity be harmful. The wise breeder discards all individuals likely to convey mischievous characteristics, no matter how good they be in themselves. There are well-known strains of Terriers that are physically perfect and yet they are extremely nervous and uncertain in temper. This recessive characteristic can be traced back through generations to a very popular sire of his day.

Chow Puppy Picture

There are certain characteristics, such as turned-in eyelids ( Entropion ) in Chow-Chows, that are invariably passed on; and it is held that one should not breed with a Chow even if he has been successfully operated on to relieve this condition, as the defect will invariably be passed on to a large proportion of the offspring.

At What Age Should A Bitch Be Mated?

It is usual to mate bitches at the second oestrum cycle, as they are too young to have puppies by a mating at the first. The flat-nosed varieties, however, are usually mated at their first oestrum cycle, as the passage of puppies before the pelvic bones have "set" makes matters easier for the mother at subsequent whelpings. A veterinarian should always be consulted to determine the best time to mate a specific breed.

During a given oestrum cycle, it is the custom to mate a bitch twice, with one day's interval between the matings, but this is not necessary and is merely subscribing to an old-fashioned fallacy which has been passed on from father to son. A bitch is "on heat" three weeks, but she will not allow a dog to touch her during the first week. The mating is usually arranged between the tenth and fifteenth day, but any time after this is usually satisfactory. The gestation period of a bitch is from sixty to sixty-three days, but puppies can be born before this period and live, whilst many bitches have been known to carry their puppies five and six days over the time. Many bitches die annually during or from the result of labour and delivery (parturition) - from exhaustion, from protracted labour caused by unusually large puppies, from infection caused by a placenta or puppy being retained in the womb of the bitch, or from big litters where skilled veterinary advice is not called in.

What Should Dog Breeders Do Before Mating a Bitch?

Responsible breeders know that it is necessary to see that the bitch is in good health before considering mating her. Mating should not be undertaken until the bitch and the stud have both undergone complete health checks by a qualified veterinarian.

The type of health checks vary from breed to breed and knowledgeable breeders know what type of tests need to be done, with the most common tests including but not limited to testing of the joints (hip dysplasia), the eyes (progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, and other breed specific diseases), and for brucellosis (a canine venereal disease).

What Special Care Should Dog Breeders Give To A Bitch After Mating?

To be a successful breeder it is necessary to see that the bitch is in good health at the time of parturition. A certain amount of special attention is necessary. Three weeks after mating a vermifuge should be given, especially directed against round worms, for it has been shown by German investigators that the mother can infect the puppies in utero, and it is desirable that the mother should be free from intestinal parasites of this nature when "carrying".

Daily exercise is necessary, and it is left to the good sense of the owner to know how much to give. The ordinary habits of the bitch should be interfered with as little as possible. She should not be tired, and during the last few weeks she should be allowed to please herself how far she walks or how much exercise she takes.

During the first four to five weeks no special alteration need to be made in the diet, but after this period the meals should be smaller and more frequent. Rickety puppies are seldom seen now. This is due to the increased knowledge of dietetics possessed by the masses. It is a good point to give a mixed diet with plenty of meat and fat, but not too much starchy food. A small quantity of cod-liver oil can be given with benefit, as this oil is rich in vitamin D, so necessary to the body in order that the lime salts in the food may be absorbed from the bowels.

Pug and Puppy Litter Picture

Some breeders in the past also administered soluble salt of lime with good effect, and stated that puppies from bitches that have received this addition to their diet always possess good bones. It is necessary to examine the bitch's skin from time to time in order to treat and check any skin disorder such as mange. If a bitch is affected with sarcoptic mange she will pass it on to her puppies, and this will cause such discomfort that the puppies cannot rest, and accordingly do not thrive. This attention is especially necessary with Greyhounds that have been in racing kennels. A bitch may continue to be washed up to the seventh week, but if the animal is clean in its habits and has a bed that is frequently changed, there should be no necessity for an excessive amount of washing. It is a good plan to wash the stomach and breasts a few days from the bitch is due.

What Are The Signs That A Bitch Is Ready To Whelp?

As has been stated before, the bitch carries her puppies from sixty-two to sixty-three days, and as the time draws near an experienced breeder can tell when a bitch is going to commence whelping. A bitch having her first litter will be very uneasy for hours before the actual operation takes place. She will wander about, looking here and there for a nest, scrape up or even tear the blankets that may be in her pen or whelping box, and will be generally uncomfortable. If she can, she will select a quiet spot away from everyone.

As labour approaches she is more restless, pants, and may even cry out. She licks herself and constantly looks round at herself. If everything goes "according to plan" she will strain several times, and the "water bladder" will appear and burst, allowing a quantity of clear fluid to escape. The first puppy should soon follow. If the straining continues for some time and nothing happens, it means that things are not going as they should. The pelvis or even vagina may be too small to admit the passage of the puppy. A careful examination of the vagina should be undertaken to find out if the puppy is coming "right and straight". To undertake this examination, after careful cleaning of your hands put on surgical gloves, apply a small amount of lubricant, and use one finger only to very gently insert into the bitch's vagina.

What Happens During Whelping?

One hour may be safely given after the first expulsive effort is seen, especially with a bitch having her first litter; but it is unwise to allow longer, especially if the straining is severe, and skilled veterinary advice should be immediately called in.

Bitches of the larger breeders may take all day over whelping, but as long as the puppies arrive at regular intervals there is no need for alarm. Some of the small breeds sometimes do not possess sufficient strength to expel the puppies. In these cases it is necessary to administer some drug to contract the womb, but this should only be given by a skilled person and after examination has failed to reveal any abnormality in the passage or position of the oncoming puppy.

Cases where there are good labour-pains and yet no puppies appear are usually due to malpresentation of the foetus (fetus), and this requires putting right before the puppy can be born. The prompt removal of the "offending" puppy will mean that the remainder will be born alive and well, even if the first one has to be sacrificed; but to leave the mother hoping that matters will right themselves will only mean that all the puppies will be dead, and there is a good chance of losing the mother as well.

What Happens After Whelping?

Pug and Puppy Litter Picture

The mother will not usually leave her bed until every puppy has arrived, and one can tell by a manual examination of the abdomen if any puppies are left. After producing, say, six puppies, the bitch should be offered a little warm milk to drink. Providing the parturition has been normal (delivery of the puppies and a placenta for each puppy), the bitch may be given her ordinary diet; but in order to produce a plentiful supply of milk, plenty of liquids should be available, especially milk. By degrees the quantity of food may be increased.

For the first ten days or so the mother is very attentive to her offspring and will only leave them for very short intervals. A bitch may rear from five to ten puppies quite easily but the number that she can successfully rear depends upon her type and condition. A very small type of dog will not rear more than four or five, whereas a large dog such as a Bull Mastiff will suckle and bring up ten or more. If the puppies are not getting enough milk they will not be contented, but will be constantly pulling at the mother and uttering plaintive cries. In cases like this it is wise to keep the stronger puppies and destroy the weaker ones or to obtain the services of a foster-mother. Puppies are weaned and taken from their mother by degrees at the sixth or seventh week.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Breeding?

Bitches which are in "season" acquire a remarkable ability to escape, and go off - sometimes for miles - in search of a mate. They will go to any length to get away and often stay away all night. Unfortunately, it is frequently only after the lapse of many precious hours that the owner discovers what has occurred. The breeder has no definite knowledge that mating has taken place, although the breeder might well believe it, nor does the breeder generally know the breed of dog responsible.

The breeder's anxiety, then, is directed towards adopting some immediate steps to counter the damage, and if the breeder is wise he/she will waste no time attempting to manage it him/herself, but will go at once to a veterinary surgeon. The problem is to kill all spermatozoa which have been deposited in the vagina, and whilst they still are in that cavity they can be reached. But it so often happens that considerable time has elapsed since the act of coitus, and then the spermatozoa may already have entered the womb. The uterus must therefore be irrigated, and this is where skill and a strong sense of surgical asepsis are required. To pass an instrument through the mouth of the womb is no easy matter, even for a surgeon, and if the most scrupulous cleanliness is not observed of both instrument and solution, then the results may be very grave. It is not advisable to give directions for the carrying out of this task because it is felt that amateurs should not (in their own interests) attempt it.

What Is In-Breeding?

In-breeding is the breeding together of animals which have the same parents or ancestors.

Heredity is bilateral; that is to say, the offspring inherits the hereditary tendencies of both its parents. But in consanguineous breeding the mated animals have practically the same ancestry, and so share many family characteristics in common. By in-breeding, these characters are intensified and strengthened; but the bad or undesirable characters become fixed or intensified equally with the good ones, and it is only by the most careful selection of parents that the desirable traits are sorted out and perpetuated in the offspring.

In-breeding is practised to secure uniformity of essential features and characters such as colour, coat, type, etc. The result of constant and careful selection of individuals upon these lines is to concentrate and stamp, upon the family or strain, those qualities which are most highly appreciated by judges and exhibitors. If a fancier - without any thought as to suitability from the standpoint of health and vigour - mates together close relations, the breeder cannot achieve such good results as would be achieved by the person who scientifically studies the question.

Some people believe that strength and stamina cannot be obtained by in-breeding, and yet numerous breeders of racing greyhounds and racehorses ignore such an idea. They know and value certain strains for different properties; thus, if they have a strain which is deficient, say, in speed, they will cross it with a very fast strain so as to impart speed into the progeny, and then build up on those lines. A common notion is, indeed, that consanguineous breeding necessarily results in loss of breeding-power and constitutional vigour. In some cases it may have done so, but in others it has proved exceedingly beneficial. But is it probably true that many of the failures have been due to abuse rather than to use of the method; in other words, due to errors of judgement by breeders.

A strain is something which is established, therefore it cannot come except by in-breeding. Those fanciers whose names have become household words have won their fame by successes which probably could only have come from systematic breeding of the products of their own studs. They have a strain, and the strain is known by their name, and although they may deny the value of in-breeding, it is strange how the characteristics of that particular strain could possibly be perpetuated unless they practised it.

As has been previously indicated, one can in-breed defects as well as points of merit; one can in-breed disease equally as well as one can in-breed health and strength. Outwardly, one or both parents may appear in perfect health, but upon careful enquiry it might be elicited that the grandparents had some inherent defect of health, or weak resistance to disease. Such a trait would reappear in the grandchildren, and should both sexes of the latter share the same defect, then this would be greatly magnified and strengthened in subsequent offspring of their union. All of which goes to prove that is the breeder who practises in-breeding will only go to the trouble of delving deeply into the past histories of grandparents and great-grandparents, the breeder will be able to eliminate all the undesirable members from his/her scheme of operations. The selection of parents possessing an abundance of good attributes could then be made with a reasonable prospect of success.


This information has been prepared as a service by The information contained in this article should in no way be construed as a substitute for veterinary care and advice.

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