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Dedicated dog breeders must become relative experts in many areas if they wish to produce sound, healthy dogs. These areas include:

  • Feeding and nutrition
  • Housing and kennel management
  • Mating
  • Whelping
  • Basic genetics
  • Disease control
  • Understanding of the problems within their breed.

All of this is in addition to attempting to breed the next world-beater for the show ring!

Healthy, beautiful dogs that are sound in temperament and body are the aim of all dedicated dog breeders. The end result is often a compromise of various factors, including economic ones, but where soundness impacts the dog's quality of life, we must make honest attempts to decrease the incidence of any problems. Breed clubs should incorporate any available testing that can reduce the incidence of disease or improve soundness within the breed.

The more we know of all the factors affecting our breeding stock before breeding a litter, the better equipped we will be to find solutions to potential problems and reduce the number of unsound dogs being produced. This has benefits for all, but particularly for the dogs.

Why breed a litter?

Before you breed a litter, you should know why you are doing so and have goals in mind for what you wish to achieve. A responsible breeder aims to produce a litter for better construction and temperament and a sounder dog.

You should understand the basics of genetics to give you some idea of how different traits or characteristics are inherited. In contemplating a litter, you should consider the ‘breed worth’ of the parents and their overall breed soundness. When breeding dogs, we are constantly trying to create better and hopefully sounder dogs.

What is breed soundness?

The breed soundness of an individual dog is determined by assessing several areas:

  • Physical soundness: this relates to construction and health. Is the animal able to cope with the demands of ordinary life, as well as stresses of heavy work in specialised areas if required? Health can refer to organ or system health, such as reproductive health, as well as areas such as heart function or joint health
  • Mental soundness: this refers to the temperament, ability and aptitude of the animal to be of benefit in its chosen field. Different temperaments are required for the numerous fields of activity (or relative inactivity) that cover the wide range of dog types and diversity of use. For example, the keenness to work that is admired in the working and utility breeds would be rather overpowering in many toy breeds.
  • Genetic soundness: this is reflected in many physically obvious attributes, as well as on cellular and hormonal levels, which may be less obvious. Recent developments have resulted in many more conditions being termed genetic in origin, however the means to readily remove these conditions from a breed are often not yet available.
  • Breed type: before considering breeding, you should assess whether your dog or bitch is typical of the breed, that is, whether it looks like the breed should look. To improve the quality of stock within your kennel, any dog or bitch used to produce a litter should be above average.

By Dr Karen Hedberg, BVSc, practising veterinary surgeon and Chair of the ANKC Canine Health Committee.