Reality check: The lowdown on what being a breeder is really like
By Naomi Kane DOGS IN CANADA September 2007 Page 28/29/30/31
You’ve seen the gorgeous glossy puppy photos in magazines, the picture-perfect whelping boxes and X-pens, a proud mom dog in perfectly groomed condition gazing into the camera as her litter of nine nurses contentedly.
Yeah right! It’s time for a reality check!
Once you decide to breed dogs, all the glamour leaves the dog world.
Dog mating is not pretty. It’s silly, exasperating, messy and unpredictable. Expensive purebred dogs are not let out in the field to take care of everything themselves. Even if they are perfectly capable, breeders have to be there to supervise or to take the dogs to the vet’s office for various expensive tests and artificial-insemination options. You’ll do it again tomorrow, or the next day, and then the day after that. Then you’ll wait. There’s no way to tell if a bitch is pregnant until about four weeks later, so guessing and checking, fussing and feeling, poking and prodding makes no difference.
Pregnancy is when you feed the bitch’s bottomless pit, estimate how many puppies she’s having (while agonizing over whether she is or isn’t having any at all), make sure you have all your tools, set up your whelping box and try to encourage your bitch to go into it, which she may do for seconds at a time before going out to excavate a cave under your back deck.
About nine weeks after mating, your bitch will go into labour. No matter how prepared you are it typically commences when you decide that she isn’t ready today, and give up and go to sleep. She will do it according to the book; the one she wrote, not the one you read.
Whelping is bloody, gross, slimy and disgusting and will last until it is over. You’ll be covered in bodily fluids, your dear sweet dog will eat the placenta, everything will be wet and smelly, and you’ll wash several laundry loads’ worth of towels, rags and blankets. Each precious puppy – born limp, wet and slimy – must be dried, inspected, weighed and identified. When a pup takes its first breath, its body takes on firmness. The puppy is alive, wriggling and nursing! But don’t spend too long admiring because the next pup is on its way; you have to keep watch of your bitch (who’s started messing up the bedding so she could give birth onto cold, bare floor), and the first puppy that’s got buried under a towel.
Many hours later you will have a litter of puppies. You might have spent the hours assisting in delivery, or waiting and worrying about an emergency C-section at the vet’s office. You may have had to deal with malformed or dead puppies and you’ve only just begun.
The first three weeks are the lull before the storm. Puppies look like pudgy little slugs and get into the most amazing places considering their legs are nearly vestigial and they can’t see or hear. They will be nursing and growing. The breeder has to make sure the bitch doesn’t step on or lie on a puppy; weigh them every day to ensure each puppy is eating and gaining weight; check the temperature so that it isn’t too hot for the bitch or too cold for the puppies; clean the discharge that leaks from the bitch; make sure mom dog stays with the puppies long enough to feed them; and sit and watch each breath and movement with a sense of never-waning wonder as each puppy lives and grows. Unhealthy puppies are more work and cause more heartbreak. Sleep is something you’ll learn to value since you will get very little of it. Most breeders sleep in the same room as the puppies and keep one eye open all night long for the first two weeks or so.
While taking care of puppies you’ll also be taking care of puppy purchasers. One of the most time-consuming but important things a breeder does is educate people about their breed, which means never-ending phone calls. In between sleeping and phone conversations you’ll keep an eagle eye on every vital sign of the whole family and take endless pictures.
At 14 to 18 days, their eyes and ears will open, legs will start working better and little bumps will protrude on the gums. The little slugs have turned into little seals and begin travelling around more. Puppies wander around aimlessly and fall on their faces and tumble into each other. Your bitch will clean up anything the puppies eliminate, which is handy and gross at the same time. You will do the rest – clean up the bedding, cut puppy nails, feed mom dog again and again, and talk on the phone some more.
At three weeks old you can start introducing food. Puppies will walk through the food, lie down and pee in it, and your bitch will eat it all. She will also clean the food off the puppies, but not very well, so you’ll have to clean them up again.
Sitting in the whelping box at three to four weeks, having warm puppies climb all over you is so sweet. One tries to climb over your leg, another plays with your toes, and the one in your lap just peed. The puppies are sweet and snuggly, and haven’t got the strength in their jaws yet to use the teeth that are beginning to grow.
After they start eating ‘real’ food comes the never-ending supply of puppy poo. Cleaning up piles of poo will be an all-day all-consuming task. You’ll begin to dread sleeping because the little things will trample through last night’s deposits and be the first to greet you in the morning. After you get the puppies outside the pen and survey the damage, you’ll run the hot water, get the rubber gloves, the safe disinfectant and the garbage bag and get to work. Your entire puppy pen will be covered in newspapers, bedding and poop. After cleaning, you’ll feed the puppies with the food you had soaked overnight, which will end up all over the floor and the puppies and you’ll have to clean up again. Did I mention that you’ll need a supply of newspapers? Stacks and stacks and stacks of them.
In-between cleaning you’ll weigh each puppy a couple of times a week, take pictures, talk on the phone and start to enrich the puppy’s world. Puppies need to be stimulated, socialized and handled. They need toys, noises and places to explore. Watching puppies discover the world is a delight. Sitting in a whelping box with eight or 10 puppies at five weeks old is a trial. They pull on shoelaces, pounce on toes, scratch at faces and get close enough to bite your nose.
The weeks pass and before you know it, the time will have come to say goodbye to the little furballs and send them off to their selected, screened and approved homes. You’ve done your best to find good homes and owners where the puppies are going to be happy.
In some ways you can’t wait to be rid of the little monsters but it will pull at your heartstrings every time a puppy leaves. But at least you will get paid, right?
Just don’t do the math and you’ll be happy with the cash.
Breeding is a passion; you won’t get rich in the monetary sense, but you will be rich in dogs and friends.