My dog Lucy has been battling a severely crappy hip and consequent bilateral osteoarthritis for years (well, given the innate crappiness of the hip, she’s probably been fighting it her whole life, but I just discovered it about four years ago.) While she’s still a happy and active dog, her bad luck in the genetic lottery has meant a premature end to a just-starting-to-be-promising agility career, a lot less hiking than she’d probably prefer, more doctor visits and a lot of pain that I really wish she didn’t have to contend with. On the up side, as a result of her bad hip, she has gotten to a LOT more swimming (which is great for her joints and was a favorite activity of hers long before her diagnosis), she gets peanut butter in her food every night (to hide the Cosequin and Metacam that also goes in her food), and she’s gotten to do a lot of interesting training that we might not otherwise have pursued (I built her a set of cavaletti poles, which she thinks are terrific, and we spend a lot of time walking backwards up hills, doing fancy sit pretties and other core-strengthening exercises and standing on exercise balls. Fun!)
In addition to this, I’ve tried a lot of different therapies for her, depending on what’s been available in the different places we’ve lived. Lucy’s generally great for medical stuff and handling, and she enjoys both the attention and the general good feelings she gets from therapy, so this is another thing that’s pretty fun for her. In the past, we’ve gone to canine massage people (sports trials often have massage people, so sometimes I’ll just bring Lucy along when my other dogs are trialing so she can get a good rubdown.) We’ve also had good luck with chiropractic and cold laser (which I loooooove: my current vet just started employing laser, and I am so excited to get Lucy back to it.) And just last week, we started a new thing that combines Lucy’s love of the water and my love of trying things that might make her feel better: hydrotherapy! I am very lucky that my new job has a hydrotherapy center that can accommodate our personal dogs, so we’ll be going weekly for the foreseeable future; today was our second appointment. It was also the first appointment where I actually remembered to bring my camera along so I could snap some photos for this post. While none of these are good photos (low light + taking pictures through water and scratched plexiglass + trying to navigate in a small space while holding your dog’s leash is not a recipe for Ansel Adams-esque photography), at least they’ll give you a sense of what it will look like if you ever take your own dog to hydrotherapy.
While some hydro places just use regular pools and incorporate swim therapy, my vet has a pretty specific system in place. When you go into the hydrotherapy room, there are two giant boxes. One is surrounded in plexiglass and has a treadmill on the bottom: this is where your dog goes. The other box is where the water is stored, filtered and recycled.
There’s usually a ramp that leads up to the entrance to the box where the dog goes: my hydrotherapist told me that he’ll often squirt a line of spray cheese on the ramp to lure dogs up the ramp and into the box, but Lucy, former agility dog, was like, “Wooo, a ramp!” and ran right up into the dog box. After she was all the way in, we shut the door (which was plexiglass so she could see out and we could see in) and slowly started letting the water from the water box trickle into the dog box. I felt the water; it was the temperature of a very pleasantly warm swimming pool. They use pretty precise temps, sometimes calibrated to the internal body temperature of the dog; too cold and the muscles get stiff, too warm and the muscles get so relaxed that dogs can get sleepy and/or inadvertently hurt themselves. My hydrotherapist said that that moment, when the water starts to touch the dog’s feet, is usually when it becomes clear if your dog is going to enjoy hydro or not; dogs who are stressed by the experience tend to be REALLY stressed by that initial moment of unexpected water-on-feet. Lucy’s response was mostly kind of, “Huh, weird! Oh well!”
The water level is raised until it’s at about the dog’s middle chest: this will vary depending on the type of treatment you’re doing, but mid-chest is a pretty standard place to start dogs: it’s enough to provide some real resistance, but not enough to really scare the dog. Oh, and you might note that Lucy’s still wearing her regular harness and leash: at some places, I’ve seen them use slip leads to keep the dog going in the right direction, but my vet uses whatever the dog came in on, as long as there’s no issue with getting it wet.
When the water is at the appropriate level, they start the underwater treadmill. This is, understandably, a little weird for the dog, so this is the moment that you break out the treats and lure them into a straight line. As the treadmill moves, they kind of have no choice but to keep walking, especially if they want the yummy treat you’re holding, so most of them…just do (Lucy did.) Here’s a horrible, horrible picture of the underwater treadmill as Lucy walked on it.
To keep her from drifting off the treadmill to the left or right, they added pool noodles as guides on either side of her. Though the noodles were just floating in the tank with her, they worked like a charm: she didn’t seem to want to touch them, and they kept her moving in a straight line.
The hydrotherapist usually starts a new dog out with several short, slow sessions on the treadmill: today, Lucy did three two-minute sessions with the treadmill running at .3 mph, and as she gets accustomed to hydro, we’ll increase both the length of time she’s on the treadmill and the speed at which it goes. This didn’t seem like a huge amount of exercise for a dog who, after all, can still routinely go on a 2-3 mile hike without issue, but man, when Lucy got out of the tub and back to my house, she was exhausted: she went upstairs, climbed onto my bed and went into very deep, snore-y sleep for like five hours. But I’m getting ahead of myself: once our session was up, the water was drained out of the dog box and back into the water box, where all the fish skin and Lucyhair was filtered out and the water was held at a consistent therapeutic temperature until the next dog came in.
When she came out of the tank, we toweled her off a little bit, put her back in my car, and then I drove her down to the little creek on the property for a much more casual form of hydrotherapy (hey, she was wet anyway). She’s about to start coming to work with me twice a week for Adequan injections, so I wanted her to build up a nice reservoir of good feelings about coming to work with me before I start taking her in to get stuck with a bunch of needles.
So that was our hydrotherapy experience! As we continue to come back, her tolerance and strength will build and we’ll be able have another weapon in the fight against hurtyhip. Here’s hoping!
A few weeks ago, David (my partner of 9 years) and I got married. It was a small ceremony with only a few family members and close friends present. Since we had it at my mother’s house, there was no aisle, no bridesmaids or people to walk me down the non-existent aisle, no one giving me away (my father passed away a few years ago).
And no ring bearer.
My mother asked, some months before the wedding, if Dahlia was going to be in the wedding. She was joking. I knew this, of course. Because my mother loves dogs but she is not a dog person. You know what I mean?
But it got me thinking. Who was going to hold the rings for the wedding anyway? We could have given them to a friend or kept them on the mantle behind us. But then I thought more about Dahlia being part of the wedding.
David describes her as “part of the glue that holds us together” and it made sense to have her at least be involved in some part of the wedding. So I came up with a very simple solution.
We found a white ribbon and tied the rings around Dahlia’s neck. She looked pretty adorable. And she seemed to take her job seriously at first.
But also seemed to be rather happy about the whole thing. Anything for a bit of attention, right?
The plan was to call her to us and retrieve the rings when the time was right. But having dogs in a wedding is as unpredictable as getting your toddler to be ring bearer or flower girl. The beginning of the wedding involved Dahlia sniffing the floor for any treats that Teri (my mother’s dog) might have missed.
She finally settled down and I breathed a sigh of relief, though I did have a moment of panic that she’d start licking herself (she didn’t).
Then the time came. “Do you have the rings?” I called Dahlia’s name. She looked up at me.
And then she rolled over.
Yep that’s right. Her response wasn’t “Here let me bring you the rings like the well-trained dog I am!” It was “Come get them Mom!” Sigh.
I ended up having to go retrieve them from her.
She was equally as brilliant during the photo session. We did get one nice photo of the three of us inside.
But outside, well, we got more of the same from the wedding.
I suppose it at least made for a memorable day.
So now it’s your turn. Did you have a dog in your wedding? Or go to a wedding that had a dog involved? How did it go! Share your stories in the comments!
This entry is overdue. Julio’s one year anniversary with us was on July 7th. The time has flown by. When he first showed up in our yard, I didn’t even think of keeping him, but it didn’t take long for me to start aching to add him to our family. At the time, it seemed impossible. We were looking for a place to live, I was recovering from a broken leg, and we were basically broke. When we finally decided to give it a shot, someone told me, “Before you know it, you won’t be able to imagine life without him.” Those words ring so, so true. Mike and I have grown to love this dog so very much. It has been a roller coaster year full of love, learning, and adventure, and I think it’s high time I reflect on it.
Having a second dog has not been easy. When we decided to keep Julio, I just figured, “Having one dog is a bit of work. Having two dogs will be twice as much work. That’s not terrible.” Wrong! Having two dogs is way more than twice the work of having one dog! It requires additional dog food, additional toys, additional crates, additional everything. It also means more planning when we go on road trips. It means extra time spent on the daily routine. Keeping an eye on one dog who I’d raised almost from birth was never a problem. Trying to keep an eye on two dogs who are egging each other on and distracting each other, and one of whom has a questionable recall, is much harder. Gone are the days of throwing my dog in the car in the morning and going about my business with her tagging along.
Julio has been a challenging dog on pretty much every level. He came to us with no apparent house breaking. He will still occasionally pee in the house when he gets excited, or has had too much water to drink because ‘I’m a lab’. He chews on things. All things. From tennis balls to shoes to blankets. His favorite thing of all is dirty underwear. In fact, he just ate all the underwear in the hamper in the five minutes my boyfriend left it unattended. Julio is also an escape artist. He will go over, under, or through most fences if given enough time. He can slip a harness like a pro. He even opened his crate one morning and jumped in bed with us while we were sleeping. He is definitely not a dog you can leave unsupervised! That coupled with the fact that he’s ‘scary looking’ and tends to alarm other dogs with his boisterous, no-holds-barred play style makes it tough to take him out in public sometimes, something I never had to worry about with Herbie. In fact, if I walk them both together, people will actually cross the street to get away from us.
This has definitely been a learning experience.
I have learned that most, if not all, of Julio’s bad behaviors stem from his separation anxiety. He was dumped. We know that for a fact. We also suspect that he was basically ignored before that. He has been abandoned, and he’s such a people-oriented dog that I can’t even imagine how badly that hurt him. He is afraid that you will never come back. He is afraid that he’ll be alone forever. And he has good reason to believe this. Learning to deal with this anxiety has been an adventure all on its own. It is only within the last month, with the help of a close friend who has been an amazing dog sitter, that we’ve been able to leave Julio at home while we go away for long weekends of horse competition. Now, when we come home, we are greeted by a happy, relaxed dog. He is thrilled to see us, of course, but it’s more of an “I was wondering when you’d be back” than a frantic greeting by a dog who thought he’d been left forever.
I try not to compare and contrast Herbie and Julio very often, but it’s hard not to when they are such polar opposites. Having Julio has taught me how to dog proof a house (and a car), something I never had to do with Herbie. It has taught me how to explain things to a dog who has a hard time learning (Herbie is very trainable). It has taught me how to feed a dog who gains weight just by thinking about food (Herbie has always been fit and slender, and used to get ‘free choice’ kibble during the day).
I have learned a lot about myself, too. I have learned where the holes in my training are. Julio is a big, powerful dog, and I wouldn’t be able to physically stop him if he wasn’t listening to me. I have learned that I’m happier taking the extra time to take the dogs walking separately rather than together.
I have learned the importance of a leash. Herbie is trained to walk on a leash, of course, but she spent most of her early years romping loose around us.
It has also been a learning experience for Julio. And this is where the beauty lies. Julio has learned about love, affection, butt scratches, ear kisses, and morning snuggles. He has learned that the crate is a safe place where there is no temptation to do bad things. He has learned that people come back. He has learned about car rides and hiking. He has learned about rivers, oceans, and lakes, and swimming. He has learned about climbing mountains. He has learned about horses and cats and sheep. He has learned to play with other dogs. He has learned not to jump on people. He has learned that police officers and animal control can be our friends. He has learned that not all men are going to hit you. He has learned about bully sticks and marrow bones and Kongs.
He knows sit, down, stay, come, leave it, wait, and ‘go to your den’.
He still hasn’t really grasped the concept of fetch, though we are two thirds of the way there. “Mom throws the ball. I get the ball. I drop the ball somewhere and she throws it again.” Now he just has to learn how to bring it back to me!
It has been a struggle at times, and I have often wondered what I got myself into, but at the end of the day, it’s the very best thing we could have done. I don’t think Julio would have been easily placed, and I suspect there would have been a lot of shuffling from home to home if we’d let him go.
Plus he makes us so very, very happy. Herbie has always been Mike’s dog, even though I took her in before we were dating, but Julio has his eyes set on me. He would follow me to the ends of the earth. He is a complete snuggle bug and nothing makes him happier than laying on the couch beside me for hours while we watch movies. He is also Herbie’s best friend. They play relentlessly. He lets her be the boss she’s always wanted to be.
And when he looks at me with his big, brown eyes, I just melt.
My friend was right. I cannot picture my life without him.
This post is for people who are thinking about breeding their dog, but aren’t really sure whether that’s a great idea or how to get started if it is.
If you’re already deeply involved in a breed club or working endeavor, have two bowls’ worth of alphabet soup surrounding your dog’s name, know his five-generation pedigree and health test results inside and out, understand the tradeoffs in planning prospective matches, and have homes lined up three times around the block waiting for your puppies, this post ain’t for you. You don’t need to hear from me. Carry on with what you’re doing, godspeed and good luck.
If none of that previous paragraph made much sense to you… then sit down and get comfy, because we are gonna have a talk.
I’m going to start, as I often do, by laying my cards on the table. Like a lot of dog people, I’ve got a foot in both worlds. I’m heavily involved in rescue, strongly advocate adoption as a first choice for most pet homes (and many sport homes, for that matter, if you have the ability and connections to find a diamond in the rough), and believe that there are many, many wonderful dogs in rescue that are every bit as loving, sweet, and smart as any purebred in the world. Moreover, I hold a strong conviction that indiscriminate, ignorant, and commercially motivated breeders are actual evils in society. Such breeders produce unhealthy and unsound puppies whose lives are crippled by poor breeding, they cause grief to the families that buy those puppies, and they actually do, in fact, cause shelter dogs to die.
But I also have tremendous respect and appreciation for knowledgeable, ethical breeding programs that produce healthy, structurally sound, solid-tempered dogs with the character, instincts, and drives that make their breeds so special. I love well-bred purebred dogs. I really do. My next dog will be a carefully chosen performance purebred from the very best breeder I can find.
For me, these two positions are not in conflict. A well-bred show or performance puppy is not “taking the spot” of a mixed-breed shelter puppy (they’re aimed at entirely different types of homes), and a good breeder is not filling shelters with unsold puppies and cast-off breeding dogs.
What this means is that if you are reading this post, I am not going to automatically try to talk you out of breeding your dog. I don’t know you, and I don’t know your dog. Maybe your dog is awesome. Maybe she deserves to be bred, for the betterment of her breed and for dogdom as a whole.
But if she doesn’t, then I implore you to be brutally honest with yourself about that, because otherwise you run a very real risk of producing less-than-stellar puppies, being forced to consign some of them to less-than-stellar homes, and contributing to the preventable deaths of shelter dogs, some of whom may be your own pups.
Not all dogs — not even all good dogs — need to be bred. The point of this post is to talk about how to differentiate those that do from those that don’t — not only for your own knowledge, but as part of the system of signals that will tell other responsible owners and breeders that you’ve put due consideration into the decision, and that will inform educated puppy buyers (i.e., the ones you want) that this is a litter worth a look.
So let’s talk about some of the things you should consider when deciding whether to breed your dog.
1. Why Are You Breeding?
What is the goal of the proposed breeding? What are you trying to produce that is so special that it can’t be found in a sweet, healthy, adoptable shelter dog?
If the answer is that you don’t have a clearly defined goal — if you are thinking of breeding your dog because you want your children to witness the miracle of birth, or because you believe that a female dog needs to have a litter before spaying (which is a complete myth, by the way) — STOP. Don’t breed your dog. It’s not going to accomplish anything besides filling the world with another litter of puppies that doesn’t have any particular reason to be there, and you will be contributing to shelter overpopulation and the killing of adoptable dogs. Sorry to be so blunt, but if you’re breeding without a good reason that this particular dog, out of all the 70 million owned dogs in the U.S., needs to produce something special, that’s the truth.
If you want your kids to watch puppies (or kittens!) being born and growing up for two months, foster a pregnant dog (or cat!) and raise those puppies. Rescues are always looking for foster homes that have the capacity to handle pregnant mothers. They’ll be glad for the help, you’ll do a good deed, and the kids will get to witness the miracle guilt-free.
“I love Fluffy and she’s the nicest dog in the world” is not a valid reason for breeding, by the way. It is a valid reason to love your dog, absolutely. But there are tens of thousands of equally nice dogs dying in shelters every day. As long as “niceness” is not enough to save a dog, it’s certainly not enough to breed one.
Having said that, if you do have an answer to this question, move on to the next step. Note that I’m agnostic about what your answer might be; I don’t particularly care if you’re choosing to breed your dog because of his exceptional scent trailing abilities, because she has a supernatural death grip on the bite sleeve, or because his ear set and coat colors are the most beautiful you’ve ever seen. The specifics of the reason are much less important than that you have a reason that this individual dog contributes something special, distinctive, and clearly defined to the gene pool for her breed.
2. What Are You Breeding?
What I mean by this is: have you tested your dog appropriately for all relevant considerations in her breed? Have you had her hips checked? Elbows? Eyes? Heart? Markers for genetic ailments?
Every breed has its own unique health problems — some more than others, but every breed has something. (This is true of mixed breeds and crossbreeds too, incidentally. Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of doodle and poo breeders tell their puppy buyers that they don’t need to do OFA hip checks on their breeding stock because “hybrid vigor” means that labradoodles can’t be dysplastic. This is, bluntly, false. Any breeder who tells you otherwise is either ignorant or dishonest, and in neither case is that someone I’d want a puppy from.)
If you have not gotten appropriate health tests for your dog, do not breed until — at an absolute minimum — you have those results in hand.
Even then, do you know what her relatives have produced? If you have one dog that tests OFA Excellent, but both of her parents, all her aunts and uncles, and all her nieces and nephews came out as dysplastic, then that is probably not a dog that ought to be bred, because the chances of her reproducing her one outlier good result are much, much lower than the odds that her puppies will revert to the family’s average. If her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all died of the same type of cancer at age 5, again, that probably isn’t a dog you want to breed.
It’s unlikely that such an extreme hypothetical would ever exist in the real world, of course, but the point stands: if you don’t have any idea what’s lurking elsewhere in the family tree, it might not be a great idea to breed until you do.
Do you know the temperament traits that your dog is likely to pass on? Do you know what traits her relatives share, and what their progeny might have produced? Fear issues are highly heritable and are probably the number-one temperament reason I would suggest knocking a dog out of consideration for breeding, but they are hardly unique. Reactivity, aggression, environmental stability, even things like jumping style and fullness of bite — these all have genetic components.
Unless you have thoroughly tested your dog for a wide variety of character traits under a wide range of circumstances, and really know that dog inside and out, I would not recommend breeding. Again, this is where pedigree analysis can also be important.
3. The Value of Registries
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on this one because I think the value of having a dog with “reputable” registry papers (AKC, UKC, FCI, etc., — in other words, NOT garbage puppy mill registries) is pretty easily defined and black-and-white.
Having AKC (or UKC, FCI, etc.) papers does not mean that your dog is automatically a well-bred dog, much less a breedworthy one. There are any number of poorly bred BYB and mill dogs who “have papers.” So just having an AKC registration on your dog does not inherently serve as a stamp of good quality.
However, not having AKC registration closes a whole lot of doors. Most educated puppy buyers will stop there and go no further, because the lack of those papers is an obvious red flag that often indicates a particularly egregious puppy mill or BYB. Virtually all show and performance breeders will refuse to use your dog, or any dog descended from your dog, in their programs, because if they do, those doors will close for them, too. This pretty much forces your dog’s genetic contribution out of the mainstream pool.
If you are breeding and selling exclusively to working homes and sport homes that don’t care at all about AKC registration — military and police brokers, flyball homes, ranchers or farmers, and so on — then this need not be a concern. But if you’re already established in those markets, I don’t know why you’d be reading this blog post anyway, so I’m going to assume that you are not, in fact, already semi-famous as the best producer of flyball mixes across half the United States. And if you are not in that position, then the lack of good registry papers is effectively a slow death sentence for your dog’s legacy.
Personally I think that’s pretty crappy for a lot of reasons, but that is the world in which we live, so until the AKC and/or breed clubs change their rules and open their registry books, it is generally not worthwhile for the average person to breed an unregistered dog.
4. The Value of Training and Titling
Fundamentally, I think the value of training and titling a dog that you intend to breed is threefold: one, it gives you an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate and get to know your dog; two, it operates as a check against personal bias and kennel blindness by submitting your dog to the scrutiny of an objective, external judge (more or less); three, it signals to other people that you are serious and committed about whatever it is you’re doing, and that your dog is capable of achieving a certain amount of success in that endeavor.
Training a dog from zero to competition-ready is a long process, during which you will get to know your dog very, very well. You will learn what motivates her, what worries her, what demoralizes her, where her natural talents lie, where her innate weaknesses are, how she works under different types of stress in different environments. If you are honest with yourself, by the time you get to the end of that road, you should have a pretty clear idea of whether or not your dog is genuinely of a quality that makes her breedworthy. The more different sports you do, and the harder they are, the more you’ll learn.
Trialing forces a certain amount of honesty on you. If you think your dog is awesome, but you’re consistently bombing out in competition, then either something is profoundly wrong with your training and handling (or, possibly, the venue you’ve chosen, if you’ve done something as foolish as entering a working-line GSD in AKC conformation shows), or it’s time for a cold slap of reality. Maybe your dog isn’t all that. Maybe you need to step back and reassess whether you’re really being completely candid in your judgments.
And, finally, titling (or earning working certifications, which is pretty much the same thing for purposes of this discussion) proves to the world that your dog can do whatever it is you’re asking him to do. A lot of people will claim, either ignorantly or dishonestly, that their dog could totally do XYZ “if I wanted to.” But they have no proof.
Without the title, claims about what a dog could do are meaningless (and may even serve as a signal that lowers your dog’s credibility in the eyes of some, since that kind of empty boasting is commonly found among the least educated and least ethical BYBs). Even videos purporting to show your dog’s skills won’t convince a skeptical eye. It’s not hard to make a dog look better than he is if you can make the video on your own familiar training grounds, with your own familiar assistants in place of a strange judge, and with unlimited takes if your dog doesn’t put in a good showing the first time.
With the title, however, you have concrete proof to back up your assessments. Thus, titles primarily serve as a signal to owners of prospective mates that your dog is breedworthy, and to knowledgeable puppy buyers that this litter is of proven quality.
5. How Do You Find a Mate?
Unfortunately this is not a topic that I can really discuss in a general blog post, because I don’t know your goals and I don’t know your dog and I don’t know the spectrum of possible matches available in your breed. All I can really say here is that if you have the appropriate health tests in hand, you are active on the show or performance circuit for whatever it is your dog does, and you’re known to other people in the same breed, you should be able to get some decent guidance from sources better able to evaluate your options and goals.
If you don’t have the tests, aren’t on the competition circuit, and don’t have any real-life contacts in the breed, then that’s a pretty good sign that you need to step back and take care of those things before looking for a prospective mate. Responsible owners of desirable breeding dogs do not, in general, rush out to pair their dogs to whatever other dog in the same breed happens to own a functioning pair of complementary genitalia.
6. Are You Prepared For Complications?
Breeding is not a risk-free proposition. It doesn’t happen often, but dogs do get injured while mating sometimes. There are canine STDs. Pregnant mothers can have complications in carrying or labor; sometimes they die. Puppies may be born malformed, sickly, or just plain wired wrong in the head. They may get hurt in accidents, crushed if their mother rolls over on them, infected by communicable diseases, ill-treated by owners down the road.
If you are not financially and emotionally prepared to face all of the many, many things that can go wrong during the breeding, pregnancy, puppy rearing, and placements, then do not breed your dog.
7. Where Will You Place The Puppies?
I’m grossly overgeneralizing, but there are basically three types of puppy buyers in the world: (1) pet and casual sport homes who would be perfectly happy with either a purchased dog or a shelter dog that fits the general profile of what they want in terms of personality, size, energy, etc.; (2) pet homes who only want a specific breed, and might have preferences relating to size, color, or personality, but are not tremendously demanding about the quality of their puppy; and (3) specialized, highly selective homes who are looking for very specific traits and qualities (these are your Seriously Serious sport and show homes, working buyers, etc. If the dog cannot do a particular job at a very high level, these homes are not interested).
If you are marketing primarily toward homes in the first group, then you’re in direct competition with shelter dogs, and in my opinion you shouldn’t be breeding, because you are needlessly taking homes away from dogs and puppies who will die without them, and those owners would have been just as happy with a nice shelter or rescue dog.
If you’re breeding with an eye toward the second group, then it’s more of a gray area. Your puppies may still be in competition with shelter and rescue dogs; Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Chihuahuas, and many other purebreds inundate shelters across the country. The world’s not hard up for more of those. Unless you are producing special dogs in those breeds, rather than average pet-quality dogs, I don’t personally see a need to add to their number — and, on a more practical than moral point, it may be difficult to find enough homes for your puppies. On one end, you’ll lose some puppy placements to adoptable shelter and rescue dogs. On the other, breeders aiming for specialized goals will almost certainly have “overflow” puppies better suited to pet life than work, show, or sport, and you’ll probably lose some placements to those.
If you are marketing primarily toward the third group — which, in my view, is what any good breeding program should be aiming to do, since the goal is to produce dogs that truly excel in some endeavor — then it helps a whole lot to have spent some time establishing yourself and your dog in your region’s breed and training scene. It helps to have those registry papers and to have the titles and certifications verifying whatever claims you want to make about your dog’s conformation, athleticism, working aptitude, or whatever else. Without those things, it is likely that you will not attract as many prospective puppy buyers, and the ones you do get will not be as good.
Do you have a plan in place to connect your puppies to good prospective buyers? Do you have contacts in the local dog world who might be able to help? Do you feel comfortable screening buyers and deciding how to match individual puppies to homes that want specific traits? Do you have (or do you plan to use) a contract? Do you feel equipped to take back any puppy, at any time, for any reason? Do you have any safeguards (such as pre-purchase microchipping) that will enable you to find your puppies if a buyer breaks your contract and dumps your puppy at the pound?
If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then it might be best to hold off until you can get a little closer to “yes.”
…and that, all together, is my list of points to consider before deciding whether to breed your dog. It’s long, I know that. It involves a lot of work.
But the decision to bring new lives into this world — lives for which you will be responsible, and which have the potential to influence many, many others — is a weighty one, and not one to be undertaken without due consideration. If you’re not prepared for that, you definitely shouldn’t breed.
Whether you have a highly competitive sports schedule or just prefer a few weekend outings, all dogs should have a good sense of balance and a strong body to remain healthy and avoid injuries. There are several inexpensive pieces of equipment that you can use at home to get your dog in shape. Not only do these exercises build muscle and body awareness, but they are fun to practice with and also help to raise confidence as well.
As with anything fitness related, it’s a good idea to consult with your trusted vet or physical therapist before starting a conditioning program. Proper body alignment is very important too. Try to avoid your dog scrunching up their body – keep their neck and spine in straight alignment when doing these moves, and start off slow so they do not become sore.
1. Wobble Board
The wobble board is a great introduction to moving platforms under a dog’s feet. They are most commonly used in agility foundation training but are a fantastic way to increase body awareness and muscle tone for all dogs.
The basic idea of a wobble board is a non-slip surface (usually round or square) that is big enough for the dog to comfortably stand on with all 4 feet and move around on. An easy way to build one at home is to find some sort of wood surface (pre-cut small table tops at the hardware store work well for this) and cut a 2 inch diameter circular hole in the middle. Then all you need to do to have an adjustable height wobble board is to put a tennis ball under the board. You can use different sizes to make the wobble board easier or more difficult (small to large). River’s favorite is a small traffic cone filled with cement – that results in a fairly tall wobble board. If your dog is at all unsure about moving surfaces, start small and work your way up.
When first introducing the wobble board, give your dog lots of treats for just checking it out and putting one or two feet on it. Always give them an “escape route” and do not hold them by collar or leash to stay on the board; if they want to get off that’s perfectly OK, just try again. Once they are putting all four feet on the board and looking comfortable with doing so, start asking them for different behaviors like position changes, spins, and hand touches. Ask them to run off the board for a cookie and then back on. If they like to tug, play while having them stand on the board. You can put your foot underneath the side of the board to move it gently up and down as well – only do this if your dog is very confident, otherwise it can be a little scary for them to suddenly lose control of its movement.
2. Ladder / Cavaletti
Ladder work is extremely beneficial for hind end awareness. Most dogs, if they have never learned otherwise, have NO idea what’s going on back there! Using a simple ladder or Cavaletti poles is an easy way to make your dog think about where their feet are going. This in turn will help them move around easier in daily life and in any sports they do.
For this, you can use any regular sized ladder you have hanging around, a specially made ladder found at agility websites such as cleanrun.com, or just large diameter PVC pipes that are laid on the ground and spaced apart. To get a decent amount of extension when the dog is trotting through the poles, measure from their elbow to the ground and double that – place the poles that distance apart. Start with about 6 poles and work your way up to 12 or even more.
To do the cavaletti exercise, just slowly walk next to the poles and reward your dog for walking over them. If they are extra clumsy (like Owen as a puppy!), start with only two or three poles and walk slowly until they are carefully stepping over instead of just dashing through. Once they understand that concept, add a bit of speed and more poles until they are going through the entire line without hitting any of the poles with their feet. Reward and play at each end!
Do the same thing with ladders – start slow and reward for careful placement of the foot. Try not to reward “bunny hopping” through the poles because that doesn’t help them gain a better idea of their hind end; you want your dog to place each foot with thought.
3. Balance Discs
Balance discs are one of my absolute favorite pieces of balance equipment. They are fairly inexpensive so you can buy several and really have fun with it! Work on having your dog be comfortable with placing their front feet on the disc, one at a time at first, and rewarding heavily for staying on. If the disc is large enough, try having them put all 4 feet on or only their back feet if you have a smaller version. Placing two a short distance apart, so your dog can place their front feet on one and their back feet on the other, is also an excellent way to work their entire body.
This is such a great muscle toning tool – even just standing with two front feet on the disc really makes your dog work. Since River and Owen both tend to do activities that place weight forward onto their shoulders, I use the balance discs a lot for shoulder stretches and strengthening the front end to remove stress from the area.
4. Peanut Ball
I cannot take my dogs’ peanut ball out of its hiding spot without them wanting to jump on it IMMEDIATELY. This piece of equipment is extremely versatile and can be used with dogs who are just starting out on the road to fitness as well as your most seasoned canine athlete. We use ours several times a week to work on areas of weakness (like Frankie’s bad knees), general whole body toning, stretching, and balance work.
While you can certainly use a regular exercise ball for body awareness work, I highly recommend putting in the extra cash for a peanut ball. Purchase one that is large enough so your dog can comfortably stand on with a straight spine in order to avoid that “crunching” we talked about earlier. Make sure you steady the peanut against something so your pup doesn’t go flying off – leaning the ball against a couch, wall, or your legs works very well. You might also want your dog to wear a body harness so you can help to keep them steady until they gain enough strength to keep their balance while standing.
Similar to the balance discs, simple exercises like position changes are an easy and quick way to get a good work out on the peanut. Even just standing still on the ball engages their core muscles, and you can help to challenge their balance by carefully swaying the ball back and forth so they have to work harder.
A fit dog is a happy and injury free dog, so go out there and get started on some body awareness and balance work! These are just beginning ideas; you can take all of this equipment and do tons of different/challenging exercises. Making an appointment with a knowledgable physical therapist who can tailor a fitness program to your dog’s specific needs is an excellent idea. Custom conditioning lessons can sometimes even be done online with professionals. These exercises are also a great bonding time with your best friend, so have fun with it!