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Thinking about breeding? Think about this...

Having a dog in the home can be a wonderful experience and breeding a litter of puppies from your dog may at first thought seem an attractive proposition. However, before giving in to the temptation to do so there are a number of factors which should be considered.

Behind the bright and shiny image of cute puppies there is a dark side that many of us do not see and of which we remain blissfully unaware. The following statistics represent a single year (2004) in the UK: 10,149 stray dogs were destroyed by local authorities (Dogs Trust Stray Dog Survey), 7,025 dogs were destroyed by the RSPCA (RSPCA Annual Review. p.15). If you add to this the unknown number of stray and unwanted dogs that are destroyed by other welfare organizations and veterinarians the stark truth is that, in the UK alone, at least two dogs are destroyed every hour, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. Could one, or more, of these be a puppy, or the descendants of a puppy, that you were responsible for producing?

Why breeding a litter might seem a good idea

"We would like another dog just like Daisy or Ben" - The only way to guarantee that one dog will be exactly like another is by cloning. If Daisy is bred the puppies that she produces will, at most, be only 50% of Daisy - the rest of their genetic make-up being dictated by the sire. With puppies from purebred dogs of the same breed their superficial physical characteristics may closely resemble those of the parents, but temperament, health, and personality may be totally at variance with either, or both. An experienced breeder will study pedigrees exhaustively to gain knowledge of the ancestors of the dogs he/she plans to breed, and even then some unpleasant surprises can crop up. It is far more difficult for the amateur breeder to unearth any potential health or temperament issues that may be hiding in their dog’s lines. The breeding of mongrels or non-pedigreed dogs is even more fraught with peril as there is no way that their antecedents can be reliably traced. Added to the above considerations of temperament etc., the chances of any pup from mixed-breed parents looking like the dam or sire are slim. Also, it is impossible to estimate what size such puppies may be and this can have serious consequences for a small bitch with a large dogs in either her or her mate’s background.

If you really want a dog as close as possible to the one you currently have it is far wiser to go back to her/his breeder in the hope of a repeat of the mating that produced your dog, or a mating of close relatives. If you simply want to bring another dog into your life then go to a local rescue or breed-specific rescue. You are guaranteed to find more than sufficient homeless, rejected, unloved ones of all ages to choose from.

"My friends say that my dog is the best example of the breed they have seen and should therefore be bred"
- Are these friends experts in the breed? How many examples of the breed have they seen? Are they specialist show judges? Do they have an exhaustive knowledge of the Kennel Club Standard for the breed?

An ethical and responsible breeder will use only outstanding dogs and bitches in order to improve the overall quality of the breed. This excellence, and consequent breed-worthiness, is usually assessed by their success in the show ring or in working trials where they are judged by experts against others of their breed or group.

In the UK alone, at least two dogs are destroyed every hour, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

"I would have no trouble in placing the puppies as all my family and friends want one" - Are they all willing to place a substantial deposit on a puppy? Are you certain that they would be exceptionally good owners? Do they have all of the qualities that you would wish to see in a puppy owner - patience, kindliness, tolerance, good humour, perseverance, etc. Do they have a lifestyle compatible with dog ownership? Do they have the financial resources should expensive veterinary treatment be required? Will they be committed to training and exercising the dog? Do they have the space, inside and outside for a dog? Do they realize that the cute pup will grow up quickly and this dog will be their responsibility for the next 10-15+ years? Are they likely to give up when the going gets too hard, or the novelty wears off, and either sell the dog on to who knows who or leave it lonely and miserable in the backyard deprived of exercise and companionship? Will you ensure, by contract, that any pup/dog will be returned to you, no matter it’s age or problems, should the owners no longer be able to keep it, or will you fail to keep in touch with your purchasers and let it go the pound or rescue to join the many others desperately needing a new home before their time is up?

Suppose you have six potential puppy buyers and your bitch whelps 10+, how will you go about finding good homes for the surplus? Are your friends particular about which sex they want? Will you be able to find good homes if your bitch whelps all males or all females. What about those friends that were looking forward to black pups and all the whelps are brown? If your dog does not have a traceable pedigree you will have no idea of what she might produce. If the pups look nothing like the dam or the sire, will your puppy buyers still be as eager to purchase?

It is strange how often some enthusiastic would-be puppy owners disappear or have a change of mind once the litter is on the ground and they have had time to consider the full implications of owning a dog. Can you afford the time and money to look after, feed, train, clean up after, vaccinate and worm growing puppies that you cannot find homes for? If not what will you do? Take them to a pet shop or to the pound where they might be lucky enough to catch someone’s eye? In both cases you will have no control over who purchases them and they could perhaps end up in an uncaring home and/or being bred from themselves by the ignorant or going to a puppy farmer, or becoming a sad statistic in the ‘dogs destroyed’ column of a survey.

"My bitch is very healthy and it seems unfair not to let her have pups" -
Bitches have no physical or psychological need to bear a litter If she never has pups she will not feel sad or unfulfilled as she has no idealised dreams of the patter of tiny paws and the joys of motherhood. It is ‘fairer’ to have her spayed and thus avoid all the health risks associated with entire bitches.

As for ‘healthy’, it is not good enough that your dog appears to be fit and well. Nor is it sufficient to have a general veterinary check-up. A potential breeding dog or bitch needs extensive, and expensive, health tests that can be carried out only by specialists. Most breeds have breed-specific problems and these must be tested for to minimize the chance of passing them on to any offspring. Such tests may include hip and elbow x-rays and scoring, heart testing by a cardiologist, eye testing by an opthalmologist, thyroid testing, blood testing, and testing for other traceable inherited conditions according to the breed requirements. Even if the bitch and dog test clear there is always the chance that something nasty lurking, unsuspected, in the background may make it’s appearance in your litter. Also, prior to mating both dog and bitch need to be cleared of any venereal infection.

"It would be nice for the children to experience the ‘miracle of birth’" - Birth is a messy, bloody, painful, exhausting, and stressful affair. It can also be heartbreaking. Do you really want your children to witness some of the things that experienced breeders have to deal with such as stillborn or malformed pups, puppies with their abdominal organs protruding through large hernias, seeing the bitch eat not only the placenta but perhaps one or more of the pups as well, the bitch rejecting the pups, the bitch getting aggressive with ‘spectators’ or killing the pups because she is so stressed, the bitch actually dying during delivery or being whisked off to the vet for a Caesarian and not knowing if she will return? Are you aware that between 2 and 2.5% of all puppies are stillborn, that between 12 and 33% of all puppies will die before weaning age, and that 66% of all puppy deaths occur prior to birth, during birth, or during the first week of life? (Jackson. p. 130-131) Of course, this would undoubtedly be educational for a child, but not a particularly pleasant experience. Renting an edited video or DVD of the birth process might be a better option.

Can you yourself deal with the less ‘nice’ aspects of whelping? Could you handle the death of your bitch and/or the death of some or all of the puppies? Could you cope with having to cull malformed, unviable pups? Would you recognize the signs that indicate an emergency Caesarian is required? Do you know all about Uterine inertia? Breech birth? Retained placenta? Retained puppy? Eclampsia? Metritis? Mastitis? Do you know how to revive newborns than have great difficulty in breathing? Are you familiar with the technique of tube feeding pups that are too weak to nurse? Are you sure that your knowledge of canine anatomy and behaviour, whelping, and the raising of puppies, is extensive enough that you will recognize a problem before it is too late?

"We can make some money by selling the puppies" -
Wrong! If you do it properly not only will you not make a profit you will be fortunate not to make a loss.

Where does the money go?

  • Costly health tests prior to mating.
  • Stud fee.
  • Proper nutrition for the pregnant bitch.
  • Whelping equipment.
  • Vet checks to ensure that the pregnancy is developing normally and that the pups are viable.
  • Time off work so that your bitch is not alone just prior to the birth and so that you are there to help take care of the puppies for a few weeks afterwards. If your bitch dies during or after whelping then you will have to be with the pups full-time to hand-feed and stimulate their bodily functions until they are weaned.
  • Milk replacement for orphan pups, or if the bitch has no milk or refuses to feed the pups, is expensive, especially for a large litter.
  • Funds set aside for medical emergencies such as a C-section.
  • A high quality diet after whelping to enable the bitch to feed the pups properly.
  • Weaning food.
  • Food for weaned, fast-growing, pups.
  • Vaccinations.
  • Worming.
  • Routine vet checks on the health of the pups and the dam.
  • Cleaning materials.
  • Advertising when the promised homes fail to materialize.
  • Registration and other paperwork.
  • Sufficient financial resources, or insurance, in order that you can cover any court imposed costs should one of your pups develop what might be considered a ‘fault’ under the Sale of Goods Act and the owners decide to take you to court to recover their veterinary expenses plus a little something for their own pain and suffering.

"Ben has a lot to offer as a stud dog and it would be good for him to mate" -
Has he? Would it?

What does he have to offer that is so special that it cannot be found in any of the top stud dogs of his breed? The owners of good bitches can pick and choose the best stud for their bitches from among the cream of the studs anywhere in the country. When they can select from sires that have proven their ability to pass on their good qualities to their offspring why would they want to use Ben? The only way to get good bitches is for Ben to prove himself an outstanding example of his breed in the show ring or at working trials. Of course, you can always let him mate the second, third, fourth rate bitch belonging to your neighbour, which will no doubt result in second, third, fourth rate puppies.

And what about those puppies? You, as stud owner, have no rights over their welfare or future. Will it not bother you if the puppies that your dog was instrumental in producing do not find good homes, or end up in rescue, or passed from owner to owner, or are used as breeding machines, or join the legion of strays foraging for a living, or are picked up and used as bait for fighting dogs, or are destroyed simply because no-one wants them?

Once a male dog has covered a bitch then it is quite likely that he may start to exhibit undesirable behaviours. Aggression towards other males is a real possibility. He may become far more territorial. His sense of his own importance may become inflated making him less amenable to commands and more difficult to control. When he scents a bitch in season he will be even more likely to whine, howl, go off his food, become moody and irritable, and seek to escape. He will be inclined to mark inappropriately, and the smell of stud urine is rather powerful to say the least.

If you are worried about his frustrations then have him castrated. This will remove the hormone-driven urges but will not alter his personality.


It is hoped that this article has provided you with some food for thought. If it has not convinced you that breeding your pet dog is not such a good idea then, please, before you proceed, visit your local rescue/shelter/pound/dogs home. Look at all those dogs, some of them have been abused, some neglected, some simply no longer wanted. They have ended up in cages facing the bleak prospect of a lonely death. They, once, were all cute puppies. How can you be sure that any puppies that you will be responsible for producing will not have to endure the same fate?

Dogs Trust. Stray dog survey 2004. Dogs Trust Online
Evans, J.M. & White, Kay. Book of the bitch: a complete guide to understanding and caring for bitches. New ed. Dorking, Surrey: Interpet Publishing, 2002.
Giffin, James M. & Carlson Liisa D. Dog owner’s home veterinary handbook. 3rd ed. New York: Howell Book House, 2000.
Harris, Beth J.F. Breeding a litter: the complete book of prenatal and postnatal care. New York: Wiley, 1993.
Jackson, Frank. Dog breeding: the theory and the practice. New ed.. Marlborough, Wilts.: Crowood Press, 2000.
RSPCA. RSPCA annual review 2004. RSPCA Online.
Tomita, Richard. The World of the Boxer. Neptune, NJ: TFH Publications, n.d..
Turner, Trevor ed. Veterinary notes for dog owners. London: Popular Dogs, 1990.

Your comments and views:
Dogsey Veteran
Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 11,213
11-06-2005, 10:42 PM
Brilliant, what every dog owner considering breeding should know. Really invaluable information!
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Almost a Veteran
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 1,117
11-06-2005, 10:47 PM
Superb article SB!! Extremely informative.
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bluemerle lover
Dogsey Veteran
Joined: Apr 2005
Posts: 22,635
11-06-2005, 11:11 PM
Shadowboxer that is an excellent inview on people thinking about breeding well done to you very very intersting read
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Joined: May 2004
Posts: 49,483
Female  Diamond Supporter 
11-06-2005, 11:32 PM
A very interesting and informative article, it certainly makes one think more carefully about breeding. Thank you Shadowboxer.
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Dogsey Junior
Joined: Apr 2005
Posts: 74
11-06-2005, 11:39 PM
Excellent article.
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Dogsey Veteran
Joined: Apr 2004
Posts: 12,864
13-06-2005, 05:06 PM
Informative and interesting. In no way condescending, just plain and simple facts.
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Dogsey Veteran
Joined: May 2004
Posts: 12,203
14-06-2005, 08:54 AM
Thanks SB, that was a interesting and very valuable.
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Dogsey Veteran
Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 8,387
19-06-2005, 05:03 PM
Brilliant article....
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Joined: Oct 2004
Posts: 27,511
Female  Diamond Supporter 
20-07-2005, 03:55 PM
Excellent piece of writing.
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