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Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
There is nothing more disappointing for a breeder than having that one-in-a-million bitch he has bred or acquired not come through in the producing department. Unfortunately, quality falling way short of expectations, or no puppies at all, are the bitter disappointments that all breeders may face at one time or another.
There are many reasons why this may occur. Some of them are situations beyond what the average breeder can rectify on his own. Others are such that some good research and prior planning can help the breeder avoid.
A word of advice applies here. Never, as in never, allow your breeding program to funnel itself down to a single individual! This applies whether we are talking dogs or bitches. To the small breeder; however, one who has concentrated all his efforts in keeping and developing a strong bitch line, the loss of that sole survivor means the end of the road. It means having to start all over again from the very beginning.
In a limited breeding program, keeping a sister or closely related bitch in reserve, is critical. Even if your reserve may not live up to your actual first choice in quality, it is better to have something of the bloodline to try and go on with than having to write it all off as years of total loss.
Letting go of or spaying the bitch that produced quality for you to make room for the next generation is risky business. That next generation could easily be a total flop in the producing department or may not live long enough to fulfill its destiny.
Networking is a good way to avoid what I call hitting the breeding wall - where suddenly all that has been going so well seems suddenly to come to a stop. If you are working in tandem with one or more other breeders who keep the same bloodline, each member of the team should stay as close to providing the next generation as time, space and finances permit. It is always wise to remember that no one has control over accident, catastrophic disease or natural disaster.
When The Cupboard Is Bare
Death of the key bitch is not the only reason a breeder will hit an impasse. Failure to conceive - often for no apparent reason - creates the same dilemma. She may well be the greatest bitch that has ever came on the scene, but if she isn’t able to produce puppies at all, she is hardly of any value to a breeder.
Nutrition and environment can make or break the producing potential of a bitch. But do understand, neither all the vitamin pills in the world nor the most carefully planned exercise regime ever devised is going to make a producer out of a bitch that doesn’t have the genetic potential to do so. If a bitch doesn’t have the ancestry to draw upon, you can feed her dynamite and that isn’t going to have an iota of effect upon her offspring. However, a poorly-conditioned dam living life in an environment not conducive to the needs of her respective breed serves to mitigate the value of genetic excellence.
There are bitches that descend from constitutionally poor producers. A bitch line typically producing one or two weak puppies that take moving heaven and earth just to keep alive is treading in dangerous water. It also does give rise to the question of just how much good we accomplish in making heroic efforts to save every puppy born to a litter in spite of what the dam of the litter or common sense seems to indicate.
Just so I am not misunderstood, I am not advocating culling or putting down puppies that are poor doers. At the same time we must ask ourselves if working against what nature seems to have in mind provides us with the kind of animal that will be used to produce the next generation. Our humanitarian efforts may be working in direct opposition to our desire to improve the breed.
There are many other reasons for failure to conceive. Infertility can be the result of physical and emotional problems and both external and internal forces. When your breeding program is at stake there is no expense too great to pay to get the answers you need. Professional assistance has come to the rescue of breeders I have known who had decided theirs was a lost cause.
There is no point in making fruitless breedings over and over until the value days of a bitch’s producing years are gone when fertility experts may be able to provide solutions. An experienced veterinarian can often provide answers to the problems of infertility, but understand that not all vets are experts in this area. There are specialists who work in that area specifically and many of them have become experts in canine fertility problems.
These defects can be the result of hereditary or environmental influences. Looking into the background of a bitch will often give an indication of whether this is something the line itself is saddled with or a problem restricted to the individual.
A fertility expert will have good many questions for you before he or she can begin to work towards solving the problem. That means you doing as much homework as you can before your first appointment. Know what the frequency of misses and extent of infertility are in the lines you are working with. Know if your bitch has had an accident or suffered trauma of any kind.
Structural damage can realign reproductive organs in such a way that a bitch becomes unable to breed or conceive. Sometimes these injuries can cause the vulva to become lacerated, probed or irritated. This can result in infection of the cervix and uterus, causing temporary or permanent sterility. In many cases surgery can correct defects that left as they are would never have allow a bitch to produce puppies.
Immunization, Chemicals and Consequences
Sterility can be chemically induced as well. A great deal of controversy has surrounded the number and frequencies of vaccinations (immunization cocktails) given dogs from puppyhood on to protect them from contagious disease. In recent years, however, even the staunchest advocates of immunization and regular boosters seem now to have acquiesced considerably when it comes to frequency of these inoculations.
The fertility rate of dogs can be seriously compromised when they are exposed to farming and manufacturing chemicals over a long period of time. Even regular digging in a backyard rose garden that is heavily infused with chemicals can have adverse and long-range consequences.
There are a tremendous number of vermicides and pesticides in use today to ward off internal and external parasites. Here again, although no studies have proven conclusively that these products have adverse effects on fertility, neither is there proof that their constant and prolonged use does not affect canine reproduction. I think we must at some point ask ourselves just how much poison it takes to compromise the reproductive systems of our breeding stock.
I certainly am not advocating breeders cease using products that protect their dogs from internal and external infestations; only that care and caution be used in their application. However, voluntarily allowing the use of chemical contraceptives endangers our bitches for the sake of vanity. One of the first questions experienced fertility experts will ask owners of bitches experiencing reproductive difficulties is whether or not the bitch has ever been given contraceptives to postpone estrus.
These products regularly appear on the market and are geared to those showing bitches - particularly coated bitches or bitches that are prone to false pregnancies. Manufacturers of these products promise no adverse effects once the product is no longer used.
My own, and the experience of many other breeders, has proven that more often than not bitches who have been treated with these products very often experience great difficulty in assuming regular seasons and in becoming pregnant at all. It is also interesting to note that most of these products appear with fail-safe claims only to disappear from sight within a couple of years, never to be heard from again.
Personally speaking, I would never risk the producing potential of an important bitch in my breeding program by resorting to one of these chemical contraceptive measures for the sake of a few extra ribbons.
When a breeder’s hopes and dreams are pinned on a bitch and her current litter is best described as just puppies, the breeding has no more value than an out and out miss. Breeders do not mate a bitch to bring more puppies into the world. What distinguishes a real breeder is that every litter he produces arrives as part of a master plan.
Although it may come as somewhat of a shock to some, many breedings made by experts are not necessarily to have something to show the following season. Matings are planned to produce offspring that will hopefully enable the breeder to take the next step. That is, the current breeding solidifies or locks in certain qualities the breeder wants to be sure are there in strength so that what is produced will hold onto the desired characteristic when bred to bring in something that is not present in the line.
If the breeder gets something in that initial step that is good enough to show, fine. If the breeder doesn’t get the dog or bitch he feels he wants to show, also fine. The point of the breeding was not the show ring but making a dog capable of producing the dog the breeder feels will be good enough to show.
This probably sounds like sheer madness to the dog game modernist. If you aren’t sure you know who the modernist is, he is the fellow who breeds what he has, keeps what he gets, shows what he keeps, specials what he finishes and then starts the whole cycle all over again. The approach is a lot quicker and simpler than bothering with all that locking in, adding too, taking steps nonsense. It also avoids ever having to be disappointed.
There is a whole lot of thought and study that goes into what I call making good dogs. Some breeders have the knack of where to go with what, others do not. I think a part of the reason some breeders do so well consistently is that they pay more attention to what goes on at home. That is, they are primarily concerned at fixing, making repairs, stabilizing their own bitches at home and use the dogs they breed to as adjuncts to that plan. The less experienced are inclined to rely too heavily on outside influences - expecting the stud dog to wreak miracles.
In next month’s column we will take a look at three different scenarios to illustrate that difference.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.
This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.