By Sue McCabe MAPDT UK & Dawn Cox
So you’ve decided to breed. Since so many people get the process wrong, have you really considered all the factors involved in producing a well balanced and healthy litter of dogs, puppies that will be much sought after and a pleasure to own. There are many questions that need to be answered before you make the final decision. Are you prepared to do all you can to be one of the few who get it right when it comes to breeding?
If money is one of your motives for example, the reality is that very few people who breed responsibly make much money from it at all. In addition, finding a trustworthy vet who is experienced to give advice on your particularly breed and its health issues, is crucial. Visitors to your home and members of the public should also agree that your dog has an impeccable temperament which is worth passing on. You will of course need to arrange a full health screen for inherited diseases, before you consider breeding. Raising a litter of puppies takes time and effort, ample space and specialist equipment (whelping box, disinfectants, puppy food etc.). The time of year you breed is important. Most responsible breeders avoid homing puppies during Christmas for example. Bad weather and seasonal factors which could affect housetraining and socialisation, should be taken into account. Having an experienced breeder present at the birth can help greatly should any emergency occur with either the bitch or her pups during whelping. So, all this considered, are you still keen?
In the absence of a well thought out socialisation programme as the puppies develop, all the pre-birth planning will be of limited use in achieving a healthy and well balanced litter of pups. Assuming your bitch is to be whelped in a comfortable, relaxed environment, ideally within your own home, let’s take a look at the stages of puppy development and what breeders should be concentrating on during each phase.
Neonatal Period (Birth to 2 weeks).
Puppies have very limited senses at this stage, although they can crawl and vocalize. Research has shown (Carmen Battaglia) that exposing the litter to mild stress can help adult dogs cope better with anxiety and improve future learning ability. Mild stress would include gentle handling and turning the puppies upside down, as well as placing them briefly on different surfaces including those which are cold and warm. In addition, careful touching of the mouth and gums can help puppies cope better with human handling during their adulthood.
Transitional Period (2-3 weeks).
Amazingly, it has been shown that even at this early age, puppies can learn from experiences both pleasant and unpleasant. Puppies have begun to hear sounds and their eyes have opened, although it will be a few more weeks before they can focus and see clearly. Because of these developing senses, now is the best time to expose your puppies to sights, sounds and smells of everyday life. For this reason, raising the litter in a busy room such as kitchen or living room is the best place to get puppies used to things they will be exposed to for the rest of their lives. CD’s are now available which not only have sounds from within the home environment, but also those from outdoors and these should be played at a low steady volume during and beyond this period of development.
Socialisation (3-14 weeks).
Fun and games can really start with the puppies during this period. Here are some ideas to help the breeder interact more, which will not only help with puppy development but will also help the new owners. Invite as many different people as you can find to play with the litter, including the new puppy owners. Encourage visitors to gently groom, handle and restrain puppies under your supervision. Provide a wide variety of suitable objects and toys to stimulate their senses and encourage exploration, for example cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, toilet roll inner tubes etc. Try to discourage puppies from using fingers and clothing as play things.
Allow mum to have the choice of being away from her pups whenever she chooses. This helps puppies to deal with frustration and to begin to cope without her. Now is also a good time to introduce a varied and suitable puppy diet which will help to prevent picky eaters and food intolerance later in life. Since food aggression issues often begin within the litter, there should always be a bowl for each puppy, plus several extra. Puppies from a good breeder can arrive at their new homes almost fully house trained. This is achieved by providing the litter with different floor surfaces on which to eat, sleep and toilet.
The puppies, along with the bitch, if she is comfortable with it, should be taken in your car for short visits to the vet for treats and cuddles. You can also take them to city and country environments and to regular play sessions at other people’s houses. The vaccination programme will not yet be complete therefore sensible steps need to be taken to protect your litter from disease whilst still giving them plenty of valuable early life experiences.
Hopefully, you will have selected suitable owners who understand the breed and are willing to continue with socialisation and training. Your homing contract, relevant breed details and medical history should be ready to hand over to the new owners on collection of the puppy. New owners should also be provided with a toy which the litter has played with, which smells familiar and will encourage play and interaction in the new home.
Remember with so many breeders getting it wrong, you will be much in demand if you succeed in raising a healthy, happy litter of pups. This article has given you some idea of the work involved so now you need to ask yourself again do I want to get it right?
Dawn Cox & Sue McCabe M.A.P.D.T