Finding the first female and male dogs for your kennel may be a stressful stage of starting your dog breeding kennel. Indeed, the founding breeding stock will be the very start of your very own bloodline and therefore should start the right way. This means buying a very high quality female dog, make sure all health checks returned positively, and finding suitable studs.
But don’t go faster than your angels can fly… Before finding your female dog and her mate, you need to properly study your dog breed and design a clear set of guidelines that will define your breeding program. It’s not the time to be broad and generalist; be very concise and measured. Have a vision (e.g. I want a fast-running racing dog) that is a proven consequence of physical traits (e.g. powerful long legs), so you know what to look for in potential candidates. If you want to envision something, you must know how to actually get there, otherwise you are leaving too much room for failure.
Clear Breeding Program & Objectives
The first consideration before going into any kind of activity, even more so with an ethical business, is to have a clear idea of what the objectives are for that endeavour, and what resources will be necessary to accomplish these goals. Many dog breeders don’t go into the business of dog breeding per se but rather become dog breeders as an outgrowth of an organic interest in dogs for showing, for service or as pets. Hobby breeders generally fall into this camp. The business of dog breeding is a sideline to the ownership of a breed that an owner fancies. A larger scale breeding business/kennel will require considerable space, equipment, and various expenses. Dog breeding, in general, takes time and patience in order to turn a profit. The larger the breed of dogs, too, the more space will be needed to house the dogs and the more zoning problems will be presented. It is helpful to already live in a place or have access to a place where a breeding business will be permitted — e.g. a more rural setting rather than an urban one.
The first choice will be in what breed of dog to specialize in. Some breeders do breed multiple breeds of toys for example, but it is easier to concentrate on a single breed at first. There are a few dog breeders with ambitious aims to create a new unique breed (or bring back an old one) but most will have the benefit of associating with an established registry like the American Kennel Club or the Kennel Club. There are 190 breeds of dogs recognized by the AKC and 218 breeds recognized by the Kennel Club. A breeder that focuses on a breed that is not common in a locale will be able to command a better price for puppies but may, also, have to pay additional fees for travel and the like to obtain a suitable stud.
Some very popular mixed breeds like Labradoodles or Goldendoodles are not recognized breeds but are popular because of claims like they are hypoallergenic (which is only partly true). Most beginning breeders should start out with dog breeds recognized by one of the major registries because more help and resources will be available and the market for the breed will be more defined. Designer breeds are not usually looked with much favor with established dog breeders and groups. (A Labradoodle breeder, for example, will likely get a cool reception from the poodle and Labrador retriever clubs and its breeders).
Network With Other Breeders
A person with a limited knowledge of dog breeding will need to approach the business with the idea to learn as much about the breed and breeding from those who know the business first hand. The best place is to check the local breed clubs closest and attend a few shows. Most dog breeders don’t mind sharing information. Join the local breed club—the membership fee is a cost of doing business and shows a commitment that other breeders will respect.
The idea is to develop an eye for the perfect specimen of the breed. Study the breed standard and start looking at dogs at shows with a critical and objective eye. Know what constitutes a disqualification and why. Often a disqualification is tied to a specific health issue that runs with a particular color or trait; train yourself to figure out these associations. Some breeds have clubs and events in many states, several times a month. A popular breed like poodles has affiliate clubs in almost all fifty states and Canada. If a breeder begins with a rare breed, the start up cost will be probably higher and should be taken into consideration in making decisions.
The breed clubs will usually have a list of their approved breeders. The AKC, also, will have a list. Take these lists and start a search for people who may have a dog that they would be willing to sell. Know that breeders may be cautious about selling one of their dogs to someone that is not known in the circle of breeders. It will take time and work to develop a good reputation in these communities. Some of the breeders may be a very tight-knit group while others more open to newcomers. Be willing to respect that breeders can be very protective of their dogs and not open to the idea of selling for breeding unless they are sure of the merit of the purchaser. A new breeder, in fact, can be viewed as simply competition for everyone else. These kinds of hurdles are just part of getting established and can be overcome with determination and strategy. It may take more time and money to obtain the first few dogs for a breeding program but more doors will be open as time goes on. It should be a goal to be on one of the lists of approved breeders someday.
Prepare a business plan (we’ve got a great guide in our bestseller, The Dog Breeder’s Handbook.) A reasonable goal would be to break even the first 2-3 years of business with a five-year goal producing potential champions, paying off initial equipment investments and begin seeing a profit. A breeding business is built on the two prongs of producing quality puppies for sale and by developing a reputation of having dogs which prove their merit in the show ring or in their working/sporting abilities.
Most dog breeders do not think about the following and just go with the flow, which is fine too. In establishing a new business, it is important to find professionals like accountants and lawyers. It may be necessary to incorporate or set up some accounting to keep good records. Most breeders do have a kennel or trade name that you may want to trademark. This fictitious name may need to be registered in the state even if the breeder is operating as a sole proprietor and not a corporation. Also, it is vital to find a good veterinarian. Other breeders or dog owners may be able to drop the names of some choices. The number of veterinarians will vary depending on the locale. It is important to have one close by in the event complications arise during whelping. A veterinarian that is available to handle a range of issues with dogs is a must-have for any serious dog breeder.
Main Features of the Founding Breeding Stock
Once you know what breed you want to work with and what dog breeders you do like the dogs of, it is time to start picking the right studs and bitches to form your founding brood stock. There are no hard rules and what worked for a famous breeder may not work at all for you; it’s a mix of pedigree analysis, timing, expert eye, common sense, and a little bit of serendipity.
What matters a lot is for you to widen your horizons and sample. If you only attend a couple of dog shows a year, you will only have a tiny sample of the breeders and dogs you may be interested in. Travel as much as possible and do not hesitate to discover new bloodlines because these first dogs, males and/or females, will be the cornerstone of your dog breeding program.
In a Brood Dam
The purchase of a brood dam should be the main expenditure. The best purchase would be a young bitch that has reached full maturity. Some of the giant breeds can still be growing even into their third year. It is important to know the breed. A fully grown bitch has qualities that are easier to assess than a growing puppy. Many very experienced dog breeders have difficulty picking out a puppy that will have show quality when it reaches full maturity. They can change very much in size, color, and looks between six weeks and a year. A puppy may be an okay bet if both of the parents are available to take a look at and/or the pedigree of the puppy is marked with many generations of champions.
In addition, temperament is easier to assess in a mature dog. Excessive aggressiveness and shyness will be more evident in a fully mature bitch. A bitch may look great on paper or in pictures on the internet but will lack the confidence and personality that sets show dogs apart. Of course, some of these qualities can be the result of the environment. If the owner of the bitch is the cause of bad temperament, that owner is someone to avoid doing business with.
On average, a purchase of a year old bitch is going to be a sound decision. At this age, the breeder will have time to acclimate the dog to new surroundings, find or buy a suitable stud, and make sure all the necessary health screenings and immunizations are taken care of. A first breeding can occur at 18 months to 2 years if the dog reached full maturity in a year. By this time the bitch should have had at least two heats. It is a common and medically sound rule to not breed during the first couple of heats. Ideally, the bitch will be purchased with all the health screenings recommended for the breed already completed (e.g. OFA hips, eyes, etc). The foundation bitch, of course, will be registered with one of the major registries and the more champions in the bloodline and the more dogs in that line available to see the better. A second bitch should be in the business plan so that a second litter can be bred while the foundation bitch nurses and recovers from the litter.
In a Stud
The first and main decision is going to be whether to:
- purchase the stud,
- contract for the stud, or
- breed the bitch via artificial insemination.
The decision depends on several factors including how much money and space is available, how many litters are anticipated in the future, location of available studs, and, of course, the breed of dog being bred. For some breeds, like English bulldogs, the only viable option is going to be artificial insemination since the males can’t physically get the job done most of the time. Other factors are highly variable and depend on the breeder’s individual circumstance. Some good stud dogs may be a good purchase for a couple of thousand dollars versus a $500 or first choice (or pick of the litter) stud fee. Hopefully, a breeder will be able to accommodate more than a few dogs at a location if serious about going into business as a breeder. A sound stud would be a wise and welcome addition to a breeder’s home and business.
Some breeders look for studs that share bloodlines with the bitch. This kind of line-breeding provides some insurance of the traits a breeder is looking for in the litter. The danger of linebreeding entails the threat of recessive genes being expressed in the offspring. This is another time when it is important to know the breed. Some recessive problems crop up in some breeds more than others. If there is a genetic test that can determine the presence of a carrier gene, the threat of inbreeding may be reduced by having the bitch or the stud tested. The cost of genetic testing usually is very small (a test from the OFA is under $100) compared to the damage some genetic problems can cause.
If possible, take a look at other dogs sired by the potential stud. Sometimes a stud will be picked in order to offset a trait that the dam may have. The strongest traits should be seen in most of the puppies. If the desired trait appears in the stud and shows up in some of the offspring, it may be a dominant trait that will be passed on. If there is information available on the genetics of the trait, a bit of research on the internet can be useful. Some traits like coat colors have been researched.
A stud contract should be in writing. A stud should have all the health clearances including a test for brucellosis. Many stud contracts will include a provision for a second mating. If this is the case, that should be in the contract. The stud fee should be in the contract. If the fee includes a puppy that needs to be provided in the contract. If the stud fee is a first choice of a puppy of the litter, the situation of a singleton litter should be discussed and provided for in the contract. There are several good forms that can be found online.
If breeding will be by artificial insemination, get as much information as possible on the sire and a copy of the pedigree. The AKC has special rules to follow in how to register a litter sired by artificial insemination. It is possible to register litters conceived through fresh or frozen semen. It is helpful to have a veterinarian to assist in the procedure.
Buying an Adult vs. Puppy
It may not be possible to purchase a mature dog for breeding. A mature dog with all the health clearances and good show potential may not be readily available or will cost a lot more than you can currently afford. Puppies may be an easier and more cost-effective purchase. Since they are not fully developed, their potential for future breeding or the show ring (or other competitions) is somewhat speculative. A good look at the sire and dam will help determine what potential a puppy may have. If they are both on-site, it is important to visit them and get an idea of what kind of dogs they are. A good temperament and good conformity in the dam and sire takes some of the speculation out of the decision to take a puppy. The health clearances of the sire and dam should be available for inspection.
In addition, the owner of the litter should be asked about breeding rights. Some breeders may try to limit by contract the breeding of certain puppies or litters of puppies. It is essential to be upfront that the purchase of the puppy is without such “strings” attached. The puppy should be registered with the AKC or able to be registered by the AKC and the required documentation needs to be provided at the time of sale. A written sales contract should detail what veterinary care the puppies received such as deworming and first shots. Proof of veterinary care should be provided.
The decision to pick a puppy means a wait of about 16-24 months or more before a litter will be possible. In that time a puppy will need to be taken care of properly, socialized, and trained. A puppy can be a real joy to rear and show before breeding is attempted. The health and growth of the puppy can be maximized with good nutrition and proper veterinary attention. A serious dog breeder usually is in for the long-haul anyway. Rare is the person who sets up a fully operable major dog kennel overnight.