|So you want to have a litter of puppies for Sassy’s sake
or the kids’ education or the vacation or holiday fund?
Don’t – unless you:
consider all the potential pitfalls to breeding,
are willing to guarantee the health of the puppies,
are prepared for the daily care and socialization of
can deal with the emotional impact of problems and of
parting with the puppies,
will carefully screen potential puppy buyers,
can withstand the financial expenses that occur if Sassy
has trouble whelping or a pup gets sick or a buyer can’t
keep the pup he bought.
In other words, unless you are prepared to do the same
things a responsible breeder would do,
Getting the litter on the ground is only half the battle.
Although many litters are born without trouble and
puppies trot off to new homes with nary a glance
backward, responsible breeders do everything they can
to make sure the pup not only gets a good start in life,
but has a lifetime commitment to keep it healthy and
safe. Although the best plans can go awry, they do not
leave the fate of their pups to chance.
Backyard breeders have a different perspective. Whether
they are producing pups for money or to give Sassy or
the kids the experience of birth, they usually approach
puppy production with a carefree attitude. If a pup dies, it’
s too bad, but that’s life. If it has worms or fleas or
mange, that’s life, too. And if that last pup or two doesn’t
sell by three months, well, it’s off to the shelter.
Responsible breeders consider every aspect of puppy
production to be important. After taking care to whelp
healthy puppies to be sold as pets or show dogs, they
treat each litter with care and concern for their physical
and mental development, provide initial socialization and
housetraining, and carefully screen prospective owners.
Responsible breeders are those who carefully select a
mate for Puffin or Princess; make sure she’s hale and
hardy before breeding; and get her checked for hip
dysplasia, eye diseases, deafness, or any other breed-
related genetic abnormality. And they make sure the
male selected to father the litter is just as healthy.
All breeds – mixes included – suffer from genetic
abnormalities. Some of these abnormalities can be
detected by x-rays or through blood tests or DNA
screens. Skeletal malformations such as hip dysplasia,
elbow dysplasia, and loose kneecaps (luxating patellas)
can be detected by x-ray. These joint deformities can
cause painful arthritis in later years, can be passed on to
offspring, and may lead to expensive surgeries and the
emotion trauma of euthanizing a young dog that is
afflicted beyond repair.
Since the idea of purebred dog breeding is to produce
puppies that will grow up to look like a particular breed,
dogs with a disqualifying breed fault should not be bred.
At times, this may mean foregoing a litter with a bitch for
faults that seem to be minor but can lead to diffusion of
breed character. For example, a too-tall American
Eskimo Dog might produce pups that look more like
Samoyeds; an Akita bitch without the characteristic
curled tail might produce pups with equally unacceptable
tails; a white Boxer is likely to be deaf or to produce deaf
Dogs with minor faults should only be bred to mates that
can correct those faults. For example, if Sassy’s teeth
alignment is off, she should only be paired with a male
with perfect teeth. Or if she’s a bit small or large for the
breed standard, she should be bred to a dog that is the
Since temperament is also inherited , even if Puffin is a
perfect physical example of the breed, she must have the
typical breed temperament in order to be a good
candidate for breeding. A Cocker Spaniel should be
happy-go-lucky, sweet, good with children, and relatively
responsive to training. A German Shepherd is allowed to
be aloof with strangers and protective of the family and
territory, but should be responsive to training, good with
children, and never exhibit viciousness. An Alaskan
Malamute can be aggressive to other animals and
domineering to other dogs, but she can never be
aggressive to people and should be responsive to
Dogs that are very shy or fearful, dogs that are
domineering, and dogs that have an atypical energy level
for the breed can pass these characteristics along to their
pups. Thus familiarity with and attention to the breed
standard is critical in deciding if Princess should be bred.
Finding a stud dog
Easiest place to find a stud dog is in the neighborhood,
but easiest is rarely best, especially since you want the
stud dog to be as healthy as your bitch, to have a good
temperament, and to be a good example of the breed.
Best place to find a stud dog is through the local dog
fancy. Your veterinarian can likely provide a telephone
number of a breeder or a kennel club contact, and you
can begin the search. If there is no suitable male locally,
you can contact the breed’s regional or national club for
Be prepared to travel a bit if your breed is not well-
represented in your region.
Most bitches cycle every six-nine months, depending on
breed, health, and other factors. The search for a mate
should begin months before the cycle is expected so you’
re not scrambling at the last minute.
The heat or estrus cycle begins with a swelling of the
external opening to the reproductive tract and lasts about
21 days. There is a bloody discharge for the first week or
so, although you may not notice if Puffin cleans herself
well. When the discharge becomes clear, the fertile
period is imminent – usually from day 10-day 14. After
the fertile period, the heat winds down until the discharge
and swelling have disappeared.
A bitch may be cranky as her heat cycle approaches.
She will not accept a male until the days when she is
fertile; until then she may fight him if he tries to breed.
Some breeders take advantage of advanced reproductive
technology to pinpoint the exact days when conception is
likely to occur and have their bitches tested for hormone
levels and reproductive system cell structure.
Pregnancy – or not
Once the breeding is done, there’s nothing to do but wait.
Pregnancy lasts 61-64 days; puppies can be detected by
x-ray or ultrasound about halfway through. There are
some telltale signs – increased appetite, weight gain,
nipple enlargement – but they could apply to a false
pregnancy as well as the real thing.
Although the number of accidental breedings and the
proliferation of strays in some cities suggests that canine
reproduction is a snap, producing a litter can actually be
a hit or miss proposition. If it’s too hot, if the stud dog is
under stress, if either dog has low thyroid or a systemic
infection or is poorly nourished, the attempt may fail.
Some bitches will undergo a false pregnancy after an
unsuccessful breeding and will go to great lengths to
make it seem as if they are proceeding through a
pregnancy. Some false pregnancies resolve without
medical attention; others need veterinary assistance.
Both pregnant and non-pregnant bitches can also
contract pyometra, an infection of the uterus. A telltale
sign of pyometra is a foul discharge from the vulva four to
eight weeks after the fertile period of the heat cycle.
However, if the bitch’s cervix (the connection between
the uterus and the vagina) is closed, no discharge
escapes and the bitch can be deathly ill before the
disease is suspected and diagnosed.
Treatment often involves surgery to remove the uterus,
but in some cases, the disease can be cured without this
drastic step. Early intervention is best; if a bitch becomes
lethargic and loses her appetite in the weeks after her
heat cycle, a veterinary exam is in order.
Costs before whelping
It obviously isn’t cheap to produce a litter of healthy
So far, costs include
hip, elbow, and knee x-rays as appropriate for the breed;
blood and DNA tests for various diseases as appropriate
for the breed;
obedience classes to make sure Princess is well-
socialized and is trainable;
a stud fee or promise of a puppy to the stud owner;
travel costs if the stud is some distance away;
fertility tests if desired;
x-ray or sonogram to see if the breeding was successful.
Beyond the financial costs are the emotional and ethical
issues involved. Puppies are not craft projects or
widgets, they are living creatures. Therefore, the decision
to breed is a serious one involving not only proper care of
the bitch but also puppy care and socialization;
responsibility for placing each puppy in a good home;
and help for puppy buyers who run into problems with
health or training of their new family member. Breeders
must also be prepared to take back any puppy that
doesn’t work out, and to keep it or find it another home.
Birth is a natural process, so many dogs are left on their
own to bring puppies into the world under the bed, in the
closet, or in a cardboard box. There’s no heat lamp to
warm the puppies and no watchful midwife to monitor the
progression of labor, make sure Sassy will clean the
pups, and determine that the pups are breathing and
Responsible breeders mark the due date on the calendar
and prepare a whelping area or box several days ahead
of time. The whelping area should be large enough that
Sassy can stretch out to nurse puppies, and not so large
that the blind and deaf puppies will be unable to get to
the milk bar.
The bitch’s temperature drops below 100 degrees within
24 hours of whelping, so breeders check temperature
frequently as the due date nears. They also watch for
dripping nipples, a sign that milk is filling the breasts.
Each puppy has its own placenta, which the bitch
removes by licking that also stimulates the pup to
breathe. Inexperienced bitches may need help to cut the
umbilical cord, clean the pups, get them breathing, and
make sure they begin to nurse, so breeders stand by
with towels for cleaning and rubbing puppies and place
them at a nipple to get started.
Puppies are usually born head first, but can be turned
around in the birth canal. Breech puppies are harder to
push out and bitches may tire while trying. Some
breeders keep a uterine stimulant on hand to help with
labor; others make a trip to the veterinary clinic for
assistance. A normal whelping can go quickly with
puppies arriving at half-hour intervals or can take several
hours with as long as three or four hours between
Some time after all the puppies are born, the bitch will
pass the afterbirth. If she does not get expel this tissue,
she can become infected, leaving her litter to be tube fed
until she is healthy.
The first weeks
Puppies cannot hear, see, regulate their own body
temperature, or defecate on their own when they are
born. They need to be kept warm and clean and to be
handled daily to get accustomed to human scent and
attention. Heat lamps are often necessary for adequate
warmth. Mom will stimulate them to defecate and urinate
by licking their bellies, and, in the manner of wolves, she
will clean up the mess. As a result, she may have
diarrhea for several days following whelping.
Pups are little more than squirmy, blind, deaf parasites
for two weeks. They may squeak and whimper as they
sleep or crawl about, but they cry only if they are cold,
hungry, or in pain. They need daily handling if only to
move them from one spot in the whelping box to another
while clean papers are put down. Eyes open at about two
weeks and ears at about three weeks. Pups can
generally stand at 15-16 days but cannot do more than
stumble about. Ability to control waste elimination
develops at about three weeks and regulation of body
By four weeks, a miracle has occurred: pups may be
eating gruel at this point and moving around with
increasing coordination. They pay attention to toys,
attempt to play, and have increasing periods of activity.
By five weeks, they may be weaned or almost so and be
ready for rudimentary housetraining and socialization. In
good weather, housetraining is made easy by putting the
puppies in an exercise pen outside after meals and
keeping the whelping area clean. Puppies should be
handled purposefully every day, with attention to ears,
toes, coat, and teeth. They can be brushed with a soft
brush or rubbed with a soft cloth to stimulate skin and
prepare for a lifetime of grooming and handling.
By six weeks, puppies are climbing out of the whelping
box, playing vigorously with littermates, enjoying toys,
and seeking human attention. This is the time to
introduce new surfaces to walk on and new areas to
explore, and to put tunnels, boxes, and lots of different
toys in the exercise area.
Six weeks is also time for the first visit to the veterinarian
for worming (roundworms can be passed from Mom to
puppies) and initial vaccination.
Although puppies can leave Mom by six weeks, it is best
that they stay together for another 10-14 days to learn
how to get along with other dogs and to translate that
awareness to a developing relationship with humans.
Puppies removed from the litter too early often develop a
range of behavior problems from extreme shyness to
aggression, depending on the underlying genetic code.
By seven weeks, a breeder knows which puppies are
most dominant and submissive, which are most attentive
to people, which are most curious or adventurous, and
which have the best potential as future breeding stock,
etc. and can match them with a family. For example, the
responsible breeder of a guardian breed would choose a
mild-mannered puppy for the first-time owner of the
breed, an attentive puppy for a future in the obedience
ring, or a dominant puppy for an experienced owner who
can handle a challenge.
Puppies enter a fear period at eight weeks of age, and
most experts suggest that they go to new home between
the seventh and eighth weeks or wait until 12 weeks
when the fear period has passed.
Choosing new owners
Responsible breeders interview potential puppy buyers
whether the pups are an accidental mixed breed litter
being sold for next to nothing or purebred show dogs of
champion stock. A minimal interview includes such
Are you aware of and do you intend to abide by the dog
laws and regulations in your community?
Do you have a fenced yard?
Are there children in the family? How old are they?
Are there other pets?
Do you plan to take the pet to at least two sets of
obedience classes for good manners?
Do you intend to get involved in obedience, tracking,
therapy work or other dog jobs?
These questions are not intended to pry or embarrass,
they are meant to help place the best possible puppy in
Responsible breeders ask for references, check with
apartment managers, spend time with the whole family,
observe the kids around the puppies, and require that
pet-quality puppies be spayed or neutered. They have
contracts that protect the dog, the buyer and themselves
and offer to take the puppy back if the buyer can no
longer keep it – no matter the age. Many responsible
breeders also microchip or tattoo their puppies for
permanent identification and withhold the registration
papers until the pup has been spayed or neutered.
A breeder’s contract spells out the expectations on all
sides. Because careful breeding can do no more than
reduce the potential for genetic abnormalities, the
contract generally offers some compensation for the pup
that develops a debilitating genetic health problem. The
reparation may be a free pup from a future litter or a
refund of money upon proof of diagnosis. The contract
may also require sterilization of the pup or place it on
limited registration, an AKC category that allows the dog
to compete in breed shows but does not allow
registration of offspring. Other potential clauses include
requirements for annual veterinary visits and appropriate
care, attendance at obedience classes, return of the pup
if the owner can no longer keep it, and confinement of the
dog behind a fence.
Time, costs add up
Costs in time and money continue to add up. Initial cost
of a whelping box (plans are available for building your
own) and heat lamp are amortized over several litters – if
you can stand the emotional and physical drain of
breeding, whelping, and placing multiple litters).
Other costs are
Veterinary attention – and a possible Caesarian delivery
– if whelping goes wrong;
Vet visits for vaccinations and worming
A portable exercise pen to keep puppies safe outside the
Microchip or tattoo
Time also adds up, time to clean the whelping box
several times a day, socialize the puppies, talk to
potential buyers and contact their references, and visit
the vet clinic for initial vaccinations or emergency trips
with Mom or pups. And it doesn’t end when the pups go
to new homes, for buyers frequently need help with
housetraining, obedience training, and understanding
and coping with normal puppy behavior.
Raising puppies is not as simple as one-two-three.
Things can go wrong at any step of the way, so
contingencies must be planned and money and time
must be available to give the pups the best start at
building a bond with a human family, a bond that can last