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To Breed or Not to Breed?

Waterfowl Magazine June/July 1992

Debra Folsom

There are many myths about dog breeding. Some people think that a bitch should be allowed to have a litter before being spayed, or that a litter will help calm down a dog a with hyper temperament. I believe there are only two good reasons to breed your dog. The first is that you and your family would like to raise a litter of pups. The second is that your dog has several desirable characteristics that you feel would be beneficial to and complement the breed, if passed onto his or her offspring. 


Several dog owners neuter or spay their dog as soon as it is old enough for the surgery. Many of the qualities that make a dog an exceptional hunting dog and companion don't show up until much later in life, when the dog is three or four years old. Once the dog is altered or fixed, the option of breeding is gone forever and you will never be able to have a pup, out of what maybe the greatest dog you ever owned! It might be worthwhile to put up with a few heat cycles until you are sure you don't want to breed your bitch. Bitches generally come in season twice a year. With a fenced kennel run to confine the bitch when she is in season, you can probably manage quite well. You can also board your dog at a kennel for the duration of her heat, which usually lasts about three weeks. If you hunt alone or with someone that also hunts a female, it is usually not a problem to hunt your bitch during her season.


We usually don't recommend neutering a male unless he has some sort of behavioral problem. If a dog is aggressive with people or other dogs, you may consider having him neutered. Aggressive nature is a very undesirable quality in a hunting dog. I have also heard favorable reports from some dog owners that neutering will sometimes help calm down a very hyper dog and help the wanderer stay closer to home.


If you decide to breed your dog there are several factors to consider and many plans to make. It is best to breed a dog in it's "prime", which is from one to eight years old. When a dog is nine or ten years old, whether it be male or female, it is a little late to start thinking of getting a pup out her. Many people don't think of replacing old "Shep" until he can't hunt like he used to and his years are numbered. By then it is probably too late.


The gestation period of a dog is 63 days, give or take a few. Except for the last four weeks, the bitch should be able to hunt and partake in her normal activities. The pups should be at least seven weeks old before they are ready to go to their new owners. This means that you will need to be home without weekend leave for approximately two months. The pups and dam will need regular feeding, cleaning and the temperature of the whelping area maintained at an optimum level, regardless of the season. You will need a whelping box in an area where the bitch can be confined and away from distractions. A garage or enclosed building, preferably with a dog run where the bitch can relieve herself will work best. Bitches with puppies eat and drink a lot and need to go out to air frequently.


If you have a wonderful bitch and would love to have a pup out of her, but don't think two months of puppy sitting is your idea of an exhilarating experience, you may be able to lease her to a reputable breeder or friend, who would raise and sell the litter. The fee to you for leasing your bitch could be a puppy or the equivalent price of a pup. We have leased many bitches in our breeding program and it has worked out very well for both parties. Of course all the particulars of who will be responsible for what expenses etc. must be decided. The lease can be registered with the American Kennel Club. Some people like the experience of raising a litter, but don't have a good market to sell the pups and place them in good hunting homes. You may be able to work out a deal with a kennel owner or breeder to pay you a flat fee for the pups and market them for you. Although you may get a little less for the pups, you will be relieved of the problems that can occur dealing with the public, and worrying whether all the pups will sell.

Before deciding on whether to breed your dog or not you should have his or her hip conformation radiographically evaluated by a veterinarian. Although a dog cannot get an O.F.A. (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) rating until the age of two, your veterinarian can determine by a preliminary hip x-ray, if the dog is dysplastic or not. Even the most athletic of dogs can sometimes show disappointing signs of hip dysplasia when x-rayed. It is also desirable to have the dog's eyes evaluated by a veterinary ophthalmologist for hereditary eye disorders. The certifying registry for eyes is C.E.R.F. (Canine Eye Registration Foundation). They recommend dogs be examined annually.


If you have a bitch, the sky is the limit in selecting a stud dog. I think you should breed your dog to the very best dog that is feasibly possible. Hunting dog magazines and the internet contain several advertisements for breeders and stud dogs. Many of these people are professionals and are experienced at making breeding arrangements and getting your bitch bred. Of course it is most desirable if a stud dog that meets your criteria can be found close by, and you can drive your bitch up and drop her off at the kennel. This eliminates the cost of shipping the bitch air freight and the problems involved with scheduling, airport pickup arrangements etc. 

It is most desirable if a stud dog that meets your criteria can be found close by, this eliminates the cost of shipping the dog.


It is best to pick an experienced stud dog and experienced kennel manager to send your bitch to, to ensure the best chances of a successful breeding. We like to mate the dogs two or three times over several days so that you have the best chance of catching the bitch when she ovulates. Some of the top stud dogs can now be bred to, by having their fresh or frozen semen shipped to you. A veterinarian then can artificially inseminate your bitch with the dogs semen. These techniques have been developed extensively in the last few years and are resulting in many successful breedings. 


If you have a male you would like to breed, finding a bitch may be more of a problem. It is best if a hunting companion or close friend has a nice bitch, and you can convince him of your dog's fine qualities as a prospective mate for her. You also may be able to lease a bitch from a friend to breed your dog to, and raise the litter yourself. If no one is impressed enough with your dog's wonderful qualities to consider using him as a stud, you may have to actually buy a bitch to breed to him.


Many people think it is wrong to breed dogs just for the money, and that is probably true. On the other hand, what other job would you put two months of work into, seven days a week for little or no financial compensation? I believe you should breed your dog to the best dog possible and charge a good price for the pups. It is not worth the work and effort to breed poorer quality dogs, with poor pedigrees, for little or no money. To do it properly you will be out of pocket a fair amount of money for a stud fee, veterinary expenses, a whelping box, vaccinations, advertising and plenty of premium quality dog food. Good quality retriever pups should sell for $600 to $1000 depending on the area you live in.


Breeding a good litter of pups can be a rewarding and satisfying experience. Raising a litter of pups is more work than you ever could imagine, with many unexpected problems that you never anticipate. It is all worth while when the new owners drop buy or call to brag about the wonderful pup you sold to them. I've even had them call to tell me the dog made his Field Championship, and that somehow made twenty-five years of midnight trips to the whelping kennel in my pajamas, worthwhile!



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