From the Field Editor

By Phyllis Walsh

The Responsible Breeding of Field Dogs

This may seem like an unusual article from the Field Editor but I think that it is a topic that needs to be addressed. Many people have a nice bitch with titles and good lines so they want to breed her in order to continue competing with a dog related to this special dog. Rather than discourage you from following suit and doing this, I would like to review all of the factors that you must consider whenever you breed a dog. In addition, if you are breeding a dog for competition there are other factors to consider as well. Breeding isn't for everyone. There are high moments and there is also heartbreak. It's great when everything works out well, but that isn't often the case. There are bitches who don't survive the whelping, puppies that don't survive, puppies with problems, and whole litters with problems. This is above and beyond the common problems our breed suffers from. If you do not produce a healthy, sound pup then you do not have a dog that can be a good family pet, no less a competition dog. Ask anyone who had a few litters and they will tell you of the problems they have had when breeding, whelping and raising a litter to age of placement. No one is exempt from problems that might occur.

For those of you who are newcomers to breeding dogs this article will provide some guidelines for you. Most of you are members of GRCA, therefore remember that you agreed to a Code of Ethics when you joined or renewed your membership. This will provide a basis for all that you may do. In addition, some of you are also members of other clubs that have a Code of Ethics. Pull them out and review them for they will spell out the ethical behavior expected of all members. If you have been breeding for a while, this article may provide some new information for you, or you may have ideas that I have not expressed. If so, please contact me.

I have broken down this topic into 4 general areas, the bitch, the stud dog, the Contract of Sale and placement of the puppies. These are all things that you must consider before you ever get two dogs together to breed. I will leave the care of the litter to others to address, for this is not a "how to" article, but more an "I am thinking about breeding my bitch and need to know what I should consider before I decide to breed" article. Breeding quality puppies that are healthy and sound, and have talent is a combination of art and science which must be pursued by a person who realizes the depth of responsibility they have undertaken. The breeder must stand behind each pup that he places and his responsibility runs the gamut from health and temperament to ability to do the job the pup was purchased for. People who want to train a pup as a hunter or to compete in field trials or Hunt Tests will hopefully purchase some of your pups. However, the remaining pups are sold as pets and placing a pup in a pet home is just as demanding as placing a pup in a field home.

1. The Bitch

A bitch that you choose for a breeding program must meet the following requirements:

Pedigree

A sound pedigree containing many dogs with field, show or obedience titles. The dogs with the titles have proven that they can do the job. Untitled dogs may be wonderful but their abilities haven't been put to the test. The pedigree should have many different dogs listed and not represent the pedigree of an inbred dog. One thing that helps me when I review a pedigree is to run an inbreeding coefficient on it to see if there is any inbreeding in the background of the Golden. A pedigree may look like it is well put together, however, unless you study pedigrees like I have for the past 25 years you may not know what is behind the fifth generation of the dog. There are many computer pedigree programs on the market that can do an inbreeding coefficient. They will also allow you to go back and review ancestry for as many generations as you wish. These programs often come with a breed database, which should include well-known dogs of the breed. You can add any dogs not already represented into the database. You will see these software programs advertised in some of the well-known dog magazines, such as the Gazette or the Retriever Field Trial News. The program I use is from Compuped. You can download a trial version from their web site so you can try the program out before you buy it.

Health and Soundness

The Bitch must also be healthy and free from all health problems, including low thyroid and skin allergies. She should also have clearances stating that she is free from hip problems (OFA and PennHIP) and eye problems (an exam by a Veterinary Ophthalmologist and CERF), and have had a screening for heart problems (SAS) from a Veterinary Cardiologist who states that she is free from any hereditary heart defects. I mention both OFA and PennHIP because they each give you some different information. OFA can determine arthritic changes, but PennHIP determines the degree of hip laxity, which is the initial problem, that results in arthritic changes. If you are breeding a dog that had an OFA at 2 years old it might not be evident that the dog has laxity in the hips because of the positioning of the hips in the x-ray and it may be too early to determine that there are any arthritic changes. However, PennHIP will determine hip laxity at an early age. Remember, we are breeding the canine athlete and they must be sound, because the exposure a field dog has for injury, and arthritic changes is far greater that the couch potato Golden that loves to sleep on the sofa, and whose idea of exercise is getting up for dinner.

Conformation

Be honest about your bitch's shortcomings and strengths. Remember, you are breeding to the standard so use it to evaluate your dog. Many field dogs are small, light of bone and substance and have longer legs that the standard calls for. The breed standard is written to consider an athletic dog, capable of maintaining stamina for a day's hunt, so use this as your guideline. It is wonderful to see a dog with field titles that is also a fine representation of the breed standard. Balance is key to having a good moving dog. Look for flowing lines, and equal angles in the shoulder and hip. Equal angles contribute to good flowing movement that is energy efficient. The lack of balance is often a contributing factor to a lack of stamina because the dog must work harder to get to the same place than a balanced animal does. Lack of balance also puts stress on certain parts of the dog's anatomy depending on the particular problem in movement and this increases the dog's risk of injury. If it is a balanced animal it should be able to be divided into 3 even sections, one behind the shoulder, one for the mid-portion, and one from the stifle to the rear. This is not just a standard for athletic dogs it is also a standard for athletic horses, as it allows for good angles for moving joints and a nice strong back. Don't forget feet, for without good feet the dog will have problems down the road, nice round feet with the proper strong arches and pasterns are always important for the dog that is to live its life as an athlete. There is a saying, "If you don't have good feet you don't have a horse". This is true of any animal that is to be an athlete.

Temperament

The bitch must possess the classic temperament the Golden is famous for. This wonderful temperament is the reason so many Goldens have earned the respect of the many pet owners who choose them for their friends. Do not shortchange the breed by producing puppies that do not have the gentle nature and patience that the Golden is famous for. Every Golden is an "Ambassador" of the breed so it is important that each one you produce possesses a "Golden Disposition".

Field Ability

This is an extra. If you were breeding Goldens for any other purpose this might not be a factor that you would consider, however, anyone who has ever seen a Golden retrieve in the field will be impressed with the true ability of a dog of this breed. It is spectacular to watch. I am still amazed that a Golden sent for a difficult mark 300 yards away can get there and pick up the bird, often with only a short hunt. I would not be able to run through cover almost over my head for 300 yards, not really seeing where I am going, then find the bird easily, so I am amazed that they can do this. Along with this ability comes intelligence, trainability, and a rock, solid ability to be able to withstand the stress of training and competition necessary if a pup is to become a good competition dog.

2. Selection of the Stud Dog

The dog selected as the sire for the litter must also meet all of the criteria outlined for the bitch. On top of this his pedigree, conformation and ability should be in balance with the bitch's, therefore you must evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of this dog in comparison to that of the bitch. If both the stud dog and the bitch have the same weaknesses you will be compounding them in the puppies that result from the breeding. Compare his pedigree to that of the bitch. Put them together with the potential stud dog as the sire and your bitch as the dam. If you do this breeding will it be an out-cross breeding, a line-bred breeding or will you be producing inbred dogs? A dog that is line-bred has a mom and pop that share some of the same ancestors. If these same ancestors appear over and over then this breeding will probably produce in-bred puppies. This is where I find a software pedigree program to be helpful. The pedigree of a prospective breeding may not look like it is a close breeding but when you run an inbreeding coefficient on the pedigree you find out that it is closer than you think. Look at the ancestors of the prospective litter. Do you know about the qualities these dogs possess? Some of these traits will be passed down to the puppies, both the desirable and the undesirable traits. Don't let the factors that the dog is the top competing dog of the day and his location is close to you be the deciding factors when choosing the stud dog. Saving money by picking a stud dog close to you should not be a consideration.

Look at the performance of the dog. Does he have the qualities you want in your pups. If he lacks certain qualities and she also lacks them than you will be compounding the problem. One last thought, breeding may look good on paper, but it does not necessarily produce the puppies you thought it would. Take this into consideration because you may be disappointed when the puppies actually arrive.

On the other hand, after evaluating the puppies over time, if this breeding produced fine specimens of the breed with ability to be competitive you may want to repeat the breeding in the future.

If you are reading this article and own a dog, please be advised, breeding him is not a way to make easy money. Evaluate the bitch along the guidelines stated above and be sure that she is complementary to your dog before you agree to a stud service. Remember, if your dog is known and she is not, and if there are problems with the puppies or they lack promise, your stud dog will likely be blamed. Do not risk his reputation lightly.

There should be a contract for the stud service and it should address the possibility of what happens if no puppies result from the breeding. Some owners of stud dogs consider the service the object of the stud fee. Often they will give you a repeat stud Service (several breedings during the cycle) at the next cycle if no puppies result in the first stud service. Other stud dog owners do not take a fee unless a live puppy results from the breeding. Also inquire about fees for boarding the bitch at the stud owner's premises for the duration of the breeding. Some stud dog owners charge a fee for this and other's do not.

3. The Contract of Sale

Each puppy should be sold with a Contract of Sale. In some ways this is also known as "the guarantee". Needless to say you can't guarantee that the puppy will be free of health or structural problems. You can only spell out what you will do if anything does occur. However, you can guarantee that both the sire and the dam are free of hereditary diseases, and other health problems and have the necessary clearances (OFA, PennHIP, CERF, SAS). You must also provide a health certificate by a licensed Veterinarian that states that the puppy is healthy and appears to be free of problems as the time of examination. Many people breeding Goldens do not provide a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian. In fact, a veterinarian has never examined the pups prior to sale. These breeders only provide a certificate of inoculation and a worming record, and they usually give the shots themselves. By following this practice they may be in violation of consumer laws that govern the sale of pets in the state in which they reside and the Code of Ethics of the clubs they are members of.

If a puppy has certain heredity defects and the owner meets stipulations required by the breeder, some breeders agree to replace the puppy or refund the purchase price. These stipulations can include returning the puppy with the defect to the breeder before the purchase price is returned or the puppy is replaced with a puppy of like value. Years ago, when I first got into the sport of purebred dogs (almost 40 years ago) I specialized in German Shepherds. My mentor was very helpful when we bred our bitch for the first time. She advised us to require that a puppy be returned if it was defective before it was replaced or money returned as a condition of the contract. The reason for this was that very few puppy owners would part with the puppy they loved so the breeder had a replacement clause that would rarely have to be honored. I would just like to caution those of you that are thinking of this as a condition of your contract that this practice appears to be quite unethical, and really negates the purpose of the contract. You are not standing behind the puppies that you produced if you narrow the window of opportunity for people to request replacement for a puppy with a defect by requiring that they return their beloved pet in order to receive a replacement puppy or a refund on the purchase price.

What about the dog that doesn't make it in its new home but it is a perfectly healthy dog? Will you help to place it in another home or take it back? Do you have the resources or connections to do this? This also a factor you must consider before you breed the dog, for we all have the goal of keeping Goldens out of animal shelters.

Purchasing Contracts are usually addressed in the Code of Ethics of the dog clubs you may belong to. There are also consumer laws in different states that address the purchase of a puppy. Be sure that you familiarize yourself with these laws and Codes of Ethics when you develop your Purchase of Sale Contract so that you are in compliance with them. Also remember, it takes a long time to develop a good reputation, but it can only take one incident to destroy that reputation.

4. Placement of the Puppies

This breed is so popular that is not difficult to sell the puppies that result in the breeding. Screen prospective buyers to be sure that they will give the pups the kind of home each deserves. Also find out what the purchaser is looking for in the pup they will buy. This is in essence the puppy's "job description" as it is your job to insure that the puppy's activity level and abilities match its new owner. Placement of the right puppy in a particular household will help to ease the stress that all new owners feel when they acquire a pup. Observe the behavior of the litter as they grow and their personalities emerge. You will soon get an idea about the position each pup has in the pack order, and the level of prey drive, confidence, focus and stubbornness each one possesses. Also test the puppies when they are 7 weeks old using the standard behavioral tests. Puppies for fieldwork should also be tested for birdyness and persistence. Be aware that you will continue to hear from most puppy purchasers even after they take the puppy home. They will have all kinds of questions and will hopefully call to get help from you before little annoyances become major issues.

As I stated in my introduction to this topic, breeding your bitch because she is a wonderful, talented dog is nice in concept, however there is a lot of knowledge you must have before you can undertake this task. If you are inexperienced or lack the necessary knowledge but still want to go ahead and breed your bitch have a mentor who is experienced in this breed guide you. If you do not want to pursue this endeavor responsibly than you best purchase your next dog and leave breeding to those who will make the kind of commitment to the breed necessary to do this job well.


This article is the result of a letter I received as the Field Editor from a Veterinarian who purchased a puppy for the field. This puppy developed hereditary problems and the breeder would not stand behind the puppy.

This article originally appeared in the Golden Retriever News, official magazine of The Golden Retriever Club of America.

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