Breeding” is another one of those “dog terms” that is used 95% of the time incorrectly! The dictionary defines “breeding” as; “produce young creatures” or “keep animals so as to produce young ones from them” This means that anyone that owns a female dog, from which they obtain puppies, is a “breeder”.
So for the purpose of this article let us assume that by “breeding” we are referring to the mating of two dogs resulting in a litter of puppies. This is a simple statement. From this statement we then have to ask ourselves a very simple question: WHY DO YOU WANT TO BREED YOUR DOG?
Of course, the answer is not nearly as simple! I know that asking 10 people this question could result in 10 completely different answers. As a dog owner of many years and a supporter of animal welfare societies I know that most of the answers provided can be countered with a standard response pointing to the enormous number of abandoned, neglected and euthanized dogs annually. A visit to your local animal shelter will provide a chilling and sad reminder of the reality of the dog breeding problem in many countries around the world.
Simply put: we have too many dogs!
Dogs are not the same as people. They do not have the psychological baggage that humans carry around. Dogs act on instinct and training. They do not “need” to have a litter of puppies. They do not need to have a piece of sausage with their supper. They are at the mercy of their owners, who incorrectly believe that dogs need the same things that humans need. A good point to remember that is extremely important when owning a dog that most people do not take into account is this; A dog’s life is only as interesting as you (as an owner) make it to be!
SO, LETS LOOK ONCE MORE AT THE QUESTION: WHY DO YOU WANT TO BREED YOUR DOG?
Answer the following quiz honestly to determine if you should breed your dog: (“Dog” in this case referring to male or female)
I would like to breed my dog because… ( yes/no)
1) I believe that I cannot obtain a suitable dog from a welfare society or animal shelter.
2) I believe that I cannot obtain a suitable dog from a recognized breeder.
3) I would like my bitch to have a litter of puppies to teach my children about life.
4) I think every bitch should have at least 1 litter.
5) I think that sterilizing my dog would be cruel.
6) I would like to have a litter of puppies to sell.
7) My dog cost a lot of money and I would like to recover my investment.
8) I can do what I want to with my dog.
9) My breed of dog is very popular so I am taking advantage of the situation for financial gain.
10) I think it would be fun to have a litter of puppies around the house.
To put it quite simply, if you answered “YES” to any of the above reasons you should NOT breed your dog!
In my opinion there is really only one good reason to breed your dog and that is:
My dog is a wonderful example of his/her breed and closely conforms to the required breed standard. I would like to breed it to an equally high quality specimen with the objective of producing offspring that more closely conform to the required breed standard while at the same time attempting to eliminate undesirable traits.
If this is your reason for breeding your dog then we must assume the following:
a) Your dog is a recognized breed registered with the correct authority in your country.
b) You are the registered owner and have a registration certificate from the authority as in “a” above.
c) You have a copy of the recognized breed standard and are familiar with, and understand, the requirements. You have also attended an official breed seminar on your selected breed, presented by a experienced breeder, qualified in some aspects of judging the breed.
d) Your dog does not have obvious or disqualifying faults.
e) You have exhibited your dog at breed shows licensed by the correct authority.
f) At the above shows your dog has competed against other dogs of the same breed and achieved some success, preferably points towards achieving champion status.
g) You are prepared to accept responsibility for the puppies that you breed. (this could mean euthanizing deformed or unsuitable puppies, accepting unwanted puppies, coping with illness, providing correct veterinary care, registration, training and a host of other duties)
WHAT IS BREEDING ALL ABOUT?
I will attempt to provide a very basic picture of the fundamental concept of breeding.
There are many books on breeding that can provide in depth information on all the aspects of dog breeding , written by experts on subjects such as genetics, breeding problems, coat pigments, diseases, breeding misconceptions etc. etc. The subject is one of enormous complexity, with additional anomalies for different breeds. Anyone interested in breeding their Saint Bernard, or any dog for that matter, should buy, and read, a good book on dog breeding.
Included in this site is a comprehensive practical guide to Breeding, Whelping and raising puppies.
There is simply so much information available that it would be extremely irresponsible for anyone to embark on a breeding program without some theoretical knowledge of the complexity of their undertaking. Of course, anyone can put a dog and bitch together and have a litter of puppies, but hopefully if you are reading this then you have accepted that there is only 1 good reason for breeding and you are prepared to put in the required effort to achieve success in your breeding endeavor.
To provide a systematic flow to my breeding information we will have to look at the following:
a) The importance of genetics
c) Line breeding
d) Out crossing
e) Time parameters
f) Evaluating results
THE IMPORTANCE OF GENETICS
Let us look at a simple analogy; most people today have some experience in working on a computer. Similarly most people do not really understand the internal mechanisms (hardware) driving the computer, nor do they understand how the software programs interact with the hardware to produce the results that we all take for granted. However, software programs have many parts that are “hidden” by the program writers. This is because the user does not need to know all the information used to write the program. (Genetic code) As the user practices and becomes more experienced, they start to use information not readily seen or used by others. Some users will attempt to perform tasks on their computer for which it does not have the correct hardware or software, and of course will be unsuccessful. For example; if you only have a black printer, you cannot print color pictures. With software, your computer may actually have the required program but without the correct knowledge you may only access it by chance or accident.
So, how does this relate to breeding of dogs? Simply put, if you are trying to breed a brown and white dog, but the parents only have the genetic code (program) for black and white, you will be unsuccessful! If you are trying to breed dogs with a short nose, at least 1 of the parents must have the program (software) for short noses to provide any chance of success. In Saint Bernards, if you are trying to breed a short hair dog, at least 1 of the parents must have short hair! (Hardware) A grandparent, sibling or other relative with short hair is of no use to you!
Some traits can be hidden and accessed after 1 or more generations (software programs) while others have to be present every time (color printer). The more experience and theoretical knowledge you gain the sooner you can successfully operate your computer. The longer you work with your computer the more you will know about its software and hardware. Similarly the longer you work with a particular breed the more knowledge you will acquire about the hardware and software of that breed. Thus when you look at a pedigree you will be able to visualize the individual dogs, their qualities and perhaps additional information such as their dominant or recessive traits, what they passed on to their progeny, or other useful info.
To sum up this information we need to accept a few simple rules:
1) Good dogs are bred from good dogs.
2) You cannot achieve a specific trait in your puppies if that trait is not in the genetic code of the parents.
3) Trying to correct a fault by breeding that dog to the opposite will not produce a medium result; e.g. breeding a long nose dog to a short nose dog will not produce a litter of puppies with medium noses.
4) An average bitch bred to an average dog will produce some puppies better than herself and some puppies worse than herself.
5) Similarly, two good quality dogs bred together will produce the same set of results, but the average quality will be higher and the best puppy at least as good as the parents, but more likely better.
6) Your chances of breeding better dogs will be higher if you start by using good quality dogs in your breeding program.
7) A “lucky” good puppy bred from poor quality parents will be unlikely ever to produce a puppy as good as itself!
To summarize: If you are planning to breed with your Saint Bernard, buy the best bitch that you can afford. Exhibit her at breed shows to obtain other opinions regarding her quality. If she proves to be a good quality specimen, evaluate her good and bad traits objectively to determine which traits you would like to keep and which you would like to improve.
Now objectively evaluate the stud dogs available using the same criteria for good and bad traits, and select the stud dog that will meet your objectives set when evaluating your bitch. Never double up on faults, as this will result in failure every time. Unless you know the breeders and their dogs, you can only obtain this information by first studying the required breed standard, and then by attending shows to exhibit your own bitch and to observe the available stud dogs! There are no shortcuts. One of the common mistakes that many bitch owners make, is to try to shortcut the work required by simply using the top winning dogs in their breed program. This method does not take into account the minimum fundamental requirements of matching the bitch with a suitable stud dog , matching pedigrees, history of offspring and many other essential requirements. See the following information to assist you in selecting a suitable stud dog for evaluation.
This is one of those doggy terms that causes the average person to act human and offended! Remember, we are talking about DOGS and not humans. In dogs we are breeding for uniform results that conform to an internationally accepted breed standard. Saint Bernards in Germany should look like Saint Bernards in South Africa which should look like Saint Bernards in Denmark and so on and so on! In order to breed successfully the breeder needs to have some sort of objective. A simple picture in your mind that shows you what your ideal Saint Bernard should look like is a good start. Obviously such a picture cannot be formed randomly. It would need some sort of foundation which could come from books, seminars, attending shows etc, but must be based on the requirements of the breed standard. ( See the articles on FIT FOR FUNCTION and GAURDIANS OF THE BREED ) It is vital that you have an objective to start with. This picture in your mind, or a book or whatever represents the ideal Saint Bernard to YOU. This is called TYPE. This does not really mean that you can establish your own type. You would have developed this picture from other sources, so it would likely be a combination of various parts of Saint Bernard put together to form a “whole” dog. So, you have now formed a picture of your ideal head, legs, tail, eyes, ears, markings, and put all these together to form this picture of the ideal Saint Bernard.
How do you breed a dog that has the traits that you require for your ideal Dog? Remember what we discussed earlier in 2) above; you need to have your desired traits in the genetic code of at least one of the parents to have any chance of your puppies acquiring that trait. Even if one or both of the parents have the desired trait, how can you be sure that it will pass that trait on to its offspring? This is where things start to become complicated. Basically speaking, if the ancestors show the same trait through a few generations then it is likely that the bloodline is “dominant” for that trait. Using dogs from that same bloodline would give your puppies a better chance of inheriting that required trait than if you used a dog from another bloodline, perhaps exhibiting the required trait but not necessarily dominant for it. So using dogs that are closely related in your breeding program will give you the opportunity to “fix” certain desirable traits in your future generations. This type of breeding is usually not for the novice, since the breeder requires information on a number of generations of ancestry, and not only that of the sire and dam. Using brother to sister, father to daughter, mother to son etc are considered inbreeding. The level of relationship is not clearly defined, simply because the genetic makeup of two puppies in the same litter could be very different. If this difference were to be extrapolated over only 3 generations you could have a litter brother and sister further apart genetically than, say, a father and daughter.
Line breeding is essentially the same as Inbreeding, but with less closely related dogs. It is usually the term used to avoid offending the humans because it sounds better and since the average person has no idea what it means, they do not equate it to somebody marrying their cousin! It is the preferred method of breeding for most serious dog breeders. It produces the required results at a slower pace than Inbreeding, but also is less likely to take the breeder in the opposite direction to what was planned, due to doubling up on faults instead of desirable traits.
Out crossing is the use of two unrelated dogs in the breeding program. This method usually has the effect of producing dogs with more vigor and stamina in the first generation. However, the gains achieved through Out crossing are usually temporary and will not necessarily be present in the second, third or subsequent generations and so are a “stopgap” for the breeder who is looking for short term results, and perhaps only interested in winning at shows instead of actively and positively influencing the continued development of the breed .
Inbreeding requires knowledge of pedigrees and the actual dogs in those pedigrees. It has a number of pitfalls but does assist the breeder to more quickly establish required traits and thereafter produce uniform litters. Evaluation of each litter is important to ensure problems are picked up quickly and eliminated where possible.
Line breeding is essentially the same but achieving the desired results takes longer, because the relationship of the parents is usually a bit further apart than for inbreeding.
Out crossing could provide immediate gains but progeny will not be consistent and any benefits achieved will not be permanent.
Please note that these explanations are an oversimplification of the breeding areas discussed. As mentioned at the beginning of this subject, you should buy and read some good books on the subject before you start your breeding program.
A Saint Bernard bitch will start her first season after 8 to 10 months and in many cases even later. Thereafter she will come into season approximately every 6 months.
The cycle will continue for 21 days.
Successful mating usually takes place around the 14th day of the cycle, but can occur between the 3rd day and the 18th day in individual bitches.
Gestation period is usually 63 days.
Puppy weights vary between 300g to 1100g, but an average healthy puppy will be around 650g.
Average litter size is about 6 to 8 puppies.
Saint Bernard bitches should not be covered before 22 months of age.
Saint Bernard dogs can be fertile from 12 months but should be used only from about 15 to 18 months of age.
Puppies should not leave the litter before 8 weeks of age.
See article on Breeding and whelping.
If you are breeding for the correct reason then you should have some system for evaluating the puppies you breed. Keeping a puppy from the litter is the best method. The puppy should be trained and exhibited at shows and the entire cycle repeated as previously discussed. Of course, if you can sell your puppies to show homes that will follow your recommendations on raising and training the puppy then the results obtained could assist you in evaluating the success of your breeding program.
You should keep as many records as practical to monitor the progress of your breeding program. Compare your statistics with those of other breeders, not only in your country but also from other countries.