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Successful Breeding Program Management

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156 – March, 2015

by William Given

Despite anything you may have heard to the contrary, highly successful breeding programs do not simply just happen. They are developed, sometimes painstakingly so, often reflecting many years of dedication and effort. To be successful, one of the first things that a breeder must ask and answer honestly is, “What am I trying to accomplish?” This question is just as important to the breeder that owns one dog as it is to the breeder who owns 50 dogs. But how does one effectively answer this question? First, you need to create a mental picture of what you think would be the perfect dog. Once you have this image fixed in your mind, write down the list of traits that make your perfect dog “perfect.” This should answer the question as to what you are trying to accomplish. The next step would be to establish a set of well-defined goals for the breeding program.

Unfortunately, many breeders simply rely on luck. Goals will serve as a reference point allowing the breeder to evaluate their efforts. These goals should be well-defined and concise, as poorly defined goals will not positively contribute to any breeding program. If so, one could simply breed any bitch to any dog. Although setting goals for one’s breeding program may seem a daunting task, the task can often be simplified by first critically evaluating the bitch. A simple, but effective, place to start is by asking yourself, “Knowing what I know now, would I still breed this bitch?”

This is probably one of the most difficult questions for the breeder to answer honestly because the vast majority of bitches are acquired as puppies or young adults, thus there is an emotional bond built from years of loyal companionship. It is imperative that the evaluation be based on fact, however, and not emotion. If the answer is no, simply do not breed her. But if the answer is yes, further analysis is warranted before the final decision to breed is reached.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this bitch? By listing the bitch’s traits into categories, the breeder will not only be able to evaluate whether the bitch is worthy of being bred, but also to what type of dog she should be bred. But what traits are important? There are no hard rules to answer this question. The breeder must, as thoroughly as possible, list what traits they are trying to acquire (and maintain) and which traits they want to avoid and then evaluate how their bitch measures against those standards. Also, classify the traits as primary and secondary. Primary traits are ones that the breeder deems essential. Secondary traits are traits that are nice to have, but may not be absolutely necessary.

Primary Traits

Concentrate first on the primary traits, which should include traits that are highly heritable, such as conformation. While conformation flaws do not mean that a dog will not perform well outside of the show ring; flaws such as hip dysplasia can certainly place limits on a dog’s ability and longevity. A good rule of thumb on trait heritability is structural traits (conformation) are more heritable than functional traits (reproductive), which are more heritable than behavioral traits (working a scent). Because of this, a breeder should be more critical of traits with high heritability indices, such as conformation.

Secondary Traits

Secondary traits are those that often have little impact on success in the show ring. Does the bitch come from a pedigree with reproductive concerns, such as poor milking ability? Secondary traits that could be important, depending on your breed, could include nose strength if you also participate in tracking, birdiness or range if you hunt, instinctive response if your dog herds, or balance and speed if you compete in agility or coursing.

Technically, traits such as coat color and markings are examples of secondary traits. However, a breeder must be careful not to totally dismiss these traits. Do not forget the mental picture of your perfect dog. Quite often, it is these characteristics that provide you with the finishing touches to what the breeder is hoping to produce.

Once a breeder has created the list of the strengths and weaknesses of their bitch, the next step is to identify a very small, select group of potential sires. While the decision can sometimes be difficult, the breeder should already be half-way there. Using the list of strengths and weaknesses of the bitch, you select two or three traits that you desire to improve. If the bitch is only slightly weak with respect to reach and drive, select potential sires that are particularly strong in that area of conformation. Consider stud dogs with rock solid toplines if your bitch is a bit weak in that regard. You are trying to offset just a couple of weaknesses in the bitch by choosing a stud dog that is especially strong in those traits. Additionally, the bitch’s strengths should offset any weaknesses the stud dog might possess. One of the biggest mistakes a breeder can make is not being prepared and then feeling pressured to make a selection based on convenience. Breeding your bitch to the “good dog” across town will likely get you a litter of puppies, but certainly not the quality of puppies with the pedigree you really want. As a breeder, it is important to strive to produce quality puppies with pedigrees that sets you and your breeding program apart from all of the others in your breed.


Proper management of the brood bitch does not begin when you first notice she is spotting. You must take the time and proactive steps necessary to prepare a bitch for breeding every bit as much as you would for a long hard run of summer dog show circuits or for agility, coursing, herding, hunting or tracking events. Before being bred, the breeder should make every effort possible to ensure that the bitch is in ideal health. Prior to breeding, the brood bitch should be current on all vaccinations. It would be wise to make certain that she is free of infections and has no parasites. So a trip to your veterinarian for a pre-breeding physical exam might be in order. It is also a good idea to request health status certification on the stud dog from his owner. Brucella canis is relatively uncommon these days but it remains a serious threat. Bitches that contract canine brucellosis experience a much harder time conceiving and commonly abort their puppies during the later stage of pregnancy. The disease can totally destroy years of dedication and hard work.

It is important that the breeder make certain their bitch is in optimum physical condition prior to breeding. She may be a bit soft and require an increase in the amount of daily exercise she receives in order that she possess evident muscle tone while at the same time maintaining a slight degree of body fat. The brood bitch should be maintained on a quality diet and fed an amount where the calories consumed roughly match the calories burned. If you have your bitch in prime physical condition prior to breeding, all of her body systems will be functioning in a manner that will help to ensure a successful conception and a healthy litter.

Timing the Breeding

For as long as humans have been breeding dogs, breeders have searched for a method to accurately predict the optimum time to conduct the breeding. Vulvular enlargement, pro-estral bleeding, flagging of the tail, willingness to stand, swabs of the vaginal wall and arbitrary day timing have all been utilized. However, none of these methods are accurate enough to provide certainty in timing a breeding. The traditional timed breeding method is still widely utilized and achieves an approximate 92% pregnancy rate. The most common approach to timed breeding is to breed the bitch on the second and fourth day after she is willing to stand and accept the stud dog. However, current knowledge of canine endocrinology allows for more accurate estimates for the best time to conduct the breeding.

The reproductive cycle of the bitch is composed of four phases. They are proestrus, estrus, metrus (diestrus), and anstrus. Each phase can be distinguished, although not always easily, by means of physiological or endoricinal events. The most important of the endocrinal events is a measurable rise in the bitch’s progesterone level. It can be used to more accurately predict ovulation. Bitches may ovulate as early as the third day of spotting or as late as three weeks after. The fact that fresh dog semen can live and remain viable in the bitch’s uterus for approximately five days is Mother Nature’s way of ensuring that most bitches get pregnant.

Unlike fresh semen, however, fresh chilled extended semen remains viable for about three days and frozen semen for only one day. Therefore, if artificial insemination (AI) is going to be used, breeders must choose to use a more sophisticated system than the traditional timed method to increase their chance of success.

Your veterinarian would be of great assistance in determining the correct day for breeding. Testing of the bitch should begin on the fifth day of bleeding. Blood samples should be drawn every couple of days until hormone level changes signify that ovulation is pending. Once the first noticeable increase in progesterone is detected, the breeding should be scheduled four to six days later.

Conducting the Breeding

Every breeder has two fundamental choices for breeding their bitch. The two choices are (1) a natural breeding and (2) artificial insemination. The natural breeding of dogs can be incredibly simple or it can be intensely frustrating. Stud dogs vary considerably in their willingness to breed. Some may be ready as soon as they get the first scent of the bitch and others may require psychological encouragement or manual assistance.

Because a bite or escape attempt can seriously injure the stud dog, the bitch may need to be restrained during a natural breeding. A bitch that is aggressive or highly reluctant to be bred should be evaluated to ensure timeliness of the breeding. The vast majority of reluctant bitches are simply in late proestrus as opposed to true estrus. It is important to remember that most stud dogs are much more willing to breed before the bitch is, so we cannot use them to gauge. Ideally, copulation will result in a tie. During this time, the stud continues to ejaculate, depositing his semen in close proximity to the cervical opening of the bitch. A good tie and to prolonged ejaculation that results, increases the chance of successful fertilization.

While natural breedings have long been considered the most effective method by canine reproductive experts, AI does offer some unique advantages and is currently experiencing a dramatic increase in popularity in the purebred dog breeding community. This is due in small part to the advancements made in AI technology. The significant factor contributing to the increase is likely the personal demands that breeders place on themselves to breed their best bitches to the top winning dogs, regardless of distance. Additionally, many owners of quality stud dogs prefer AI, even if they happen to own or co-own the bitch, because AI significantly diminishes the possibility of injury to their highly prized stud dog.

Artificial insemination is not a particularly complex or difficult procedure and can be performed utilizing fresh, fresh chilled extended or frozen semen. The fresh semen AI process requires the collection of the semen from the stud dog followed by the prompt vaginal insemination of the bitch. Although it is not a necessary step in the process, some canine reproductive experts recommend that the ejaculate be evaluated to ensure the motility of the sperm. Like a natural breeding, the fresh semen AI requires that the stud dog and the bitch be housed together or at least in very close proximity.

In contrast, fresh chilled extended semen is collected from the stud dog, processed and refrigerated for several days until needed. The major advantage of fresh chilled extended semen is that it allows semen to be shipped from practically anywhere in the world directly to the owner of the bitch. This allows breeders more economical access to the highest quality males possessing the breed characteristics they seek. Since it is much less expensive to ship a vial of semen in a cooler than to ship the bitch to the dog, the use of fresh chilled extended semen has increased dramatically over the past decade.

Today, the vast majority of AI breedings utilizing frozen semen are conducted because the stud dog is no longer alive. And when breeders are using frozen semen, most breeders are also working with veterinarian reproductive specialists. Working with a veterinarian reproductive specialist is highly recommended because (1) the reduced viability of the frozen sperm and (2) the costs associated with the process. Semen worthy of cryogenic preservation is often very expensive, in many cases it is several thousand dollars per vial.

Considering the extremely high price tag associated with using frozen semen and the reduced viability of the sperm, the breeder might opt to have the veterinarian reproductive specialist perform a transcervical insemination or an intrauterine surgical insemination. Both of these procedures significantly increase the costs of breeding but both offer a greater chance of conception than would a simple vaginal insemination.

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Posted by on Mar 16 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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