Selecting Breeding Stock is the main component of shaping your program and it will make or break it.
It is a large part of what sets successful breeders apart from not-so-successful breeders.
Having a great Ideal Customer is important because it gives you direction, but that direction is manifested with the breeding stock you select.
Before we get started on the criteria for selecting breeding stock I want to share one of my breeding mantras with you:
“NEVER KNOWINGLY BREED PROBLEMS”
If you know that a breeding pair will create puppies that will have problems, then it is best for the integrity of your program to not breed that pair. Often it is super enticing to breed a dog with gorgeous or rare coloring, but remember, when that beautiful puppy goes home, if that family has mountains of vet bills or the dog has a terrible temperament, it doesn’t matter how pretty the dog was, it will never make up for all that hardship on the family.
Sometimes a litter you are breeding is a stepping stone to a litter you actually want to create, as in, you are keeping a puppy from this litter, Gen 1, because you are anxious to breed this bloodline to another dog and create Gen 2.
While these are all very important pieces in your program, and you should do these things, don’t forget that the puppies you’re producing will become someone’s dog, and, chances are, it’ll be one of their only dogs.
So while it feels acceptable that Gen 1 has some kinks you want to work out, this pup may be the only pup that this family has for 12-15 years and so it is the right answer to makes sure not to breed a pair—even as a stepping stone—that you know will have problems that extend beyond quirks.
You also run the risk, with unhealthy dogs, to constantly have to be talking with and coaching your new owners. It’s a considerable time suck, and one that often comes with a lot of anxiety, for you, them, and the dog. Not to mention the damage to your reputation and the cost of replacing a puppy for them, should it come to that.
Once you are confident that your new addition won’t breed problems in your program, you need to evaluate what the dog will do for your program. How will this breeding dog move you closer to your ideal dog and therefore how much closer will this breeding pair get you to satisfying your ideal owner?
As you continue to select stock that moves you closer to your ideal dog, you end up creating a signature bloodline that is unique to your kennel and will consistently bring you the type of puppy you are looking to produce. When you marry that to marketing to that ideal family, you have an unstoppable kennel program and will never struggle to sell your pups.
So how do we do it?
One of the biggest pains in the butt that you find when you talk with breeders is that many of the better breeders—when asked how they choose breeding stock—just say, “I just know” or “I have the eye,” but while that may work for them, they had to develop it over time, so I want to fast track that with a little bit of a process for you.
Here are the 6 criteria that you can use to start evaluating your breeding stock. There are many more criteria that you can add as you go, and some breeds and breeding goals will have additional criteria that are very important, but here is a simple, yet very effective, method for evaluation.
The 6 Qualities to Evaluate are:
- Mothering Ability
Health is obviously an important part of breeding, you would never want to be that breeder who is producing unhealthy pups, but what does it entail?
Basic health testing—selected by the parent club—will give you a starting place. These tests are very easy to accomplish and it’s a fairly cut and dry process. There is a list of things to test and then you go and test them. Most are pass or fail, but there is some subjective things you’ll need to make a decision on.
X-Rays may come back not as great as you’d like for hips, they are okay, but could be better. This is a situation where—if all other criteria on the dog are okay—then I would go ahead and breed the dog, but be very careful to select a breeding partner that will upgrade these hips for the puppies, it would be a bad decision to risk puppies having problems by breeding to a lessor mate. Remember, we can never knowingly breed problems and in a situation like this, ignorance is a choice. That isn’t always the case for health things though, some things we don’t have tests for.
There are also many parasites that can weaken the immune system. When you have a dog with GI issues it will be best for you to see if this dog is more prone to these issues or if he is just suffering right now.
Health is a category that is evaluated more as a black and white thing. You can go to the vet and if the vet bills are normal the dog is healthy, if the vet bills are high, things are wrong, the vet says there are problems, well then the dog isn’t healthy. If the impression of your kennel is that your dogs aren’t healthy, you won’t get very far, so this is a big one.
When you get health right, your program can easily grow and you won’t be apologizing to owners.
Structure is related to health, but it is separate. For example, a dog can pass his hip and elbow tests, but still move funny. A dog with a nice gait or who glides easily when running would be preferable to a dog who is inefficient in its movement.
You want to find a dog that is balanced both in the front and the rear, you don’t want a dog that is all chest and no butt, nor the other way around.
Depending on breed, some physical characteristics will be more important than others. For example, with pointing dogs, where the tail set is very important, as a low tail set will cause the dog’s tail to point backwards instead of up. But where do we start?
Breed standard is a great place to start, you’ll want to pick the breed standard you want to follow. Breed standards are usually dictated by breed clubs, but can vary from registry to registry. If you want to see an example of the difference registry standards can have, check out the English Bulldog on AKC compared with UKC, specifically what they are looking for in an undershot bite and muzzle length.
You may also notice that breed standards may be very different across oceans, so if you import a dog, that can be very different which can be great or terrible for your program, so just make sure you know what you’re buying. For example, with my shorthairs, the dogs out of Germany run about 2-4 inches taller and about 15-25 lbs heavier. Some of my dogs are greatly out of AKC standard because of this, but they are wonderful for what my ideal puppy buyer is looking for.
A lot of structure selection will be part of your style, but may also benefit your ideal dog and their lifestyle with your ideal puppy buyer. Will your dog need leaner, longer legs to better compete in your selected competition? Do you like more muscling in your dogs? Do you like longer ears?
In the beginning it can be hard to articulate what you like, although you may look at a dog and think “I love that” or “wow, I just don’t like that.” One of the best things you can do is evaluate other dogs in your breed by looking at pictures and when you love what you see, try to articulate what that is? Is the dog very balanced? Is the face squarer? softer?
If you find that you have an otherwise great dog for breeding, but they have a structural issue that isn’t a health concern, but isn’t the look you want, the best thing to do is pair that dog with a complementary breeding mate that has the look and style you want. I was able to breed out a less desirable pelvis tilt in a generation by pairing this female with a stud who has the hip tilt I was looking for.
It worked out great for my ideal puppy buyers because it made my dogs less “springy” and that made it much harder for them to scale fences which made my puppy buyers quite happy.
The structure of your dogs is very closely related to the overall look of your dogs. It’ll become a part of your brand, so take your time and really articulate what look you want.
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Temperament is often where your money is made, especially if you are selling to homes looking for the perfect canine family member. When people affectionately talk about this perfect dog from their past, I’m often amazed at how they discuss the temperament of the dog, despite horrendous health issues the dog suffered from.
“Oh we loved Lucy so much, she was the sweetest girl, went with us everywhere, he was my son’s shadow… She was on seizure medication for 6 years before she finally passed.”
And you know that couldn’t have been easy dealing with seizures and medication for six years, but her temperament made it all worth it.
Imagine how amazing it would be for that family when they buy their next family member from you and it not only has the perfect temperament, but doesn’t have the health issues.
Temperament is defined by AKC as an animal’s personality, makeup, disposition, or nature. They go on to acknowledge that temperament is genetic and, therefore—which is great for us breeders—is breedable and repeatable.
I know you may be thinking of Cesar Milan, and his whole concept of “all pitbulls can be sweet if you raise them to be,” but I’m not sold on that, puppies from mother dogs who have anxiety, have a greater tendency to have anxiety; confident mama dogs make confident puppies. A submissive breeder dog will create submissive offspring. If you have people-loving breeding pairs, the puppies will love people almost invariably. Temperament is extremely genetic.
I once had a female who was absolutely gorgeous, structurally sound, great bird drive, and very sweet with kids. She would never hurt fly—unless it looked like a bird.
Well this gorgeous girl had produced 3 litters with my kennel when I decided to cull her from my program. The dogs she produced were healthy and beautiful, but about half of them had a submissive urination problem. Which meant that nearly every time they were startled or excited they would pee all over the place, some would even do it will they were walking leaving this giant line of urine spanning across the floor. It was a nightmare and caused a lot of stress for the owners. It felt like endless cleaning.
I just didn’t know when I first started how hereditary these temperament issues were. This mama dog had mild submissive urination issues, when she was a little pup, but she grew out of it. I didn’t even consider it when I chose to keep her for my program. It turns out that not only is the submissive temperament highly genetic—and therefore the submissive urination, but the problem only got worse in homes with owners who had high anxiety or a short fuse. I have come to realize that my German Shorthairs are very empathic, they are very good at reading emotions, and so in the homes where the people are wound tight, they can really struggle.
In contrast, I realize that very little phases me with nearly anything, my emotional roller coaster is so boring that my kids affectionately refer to my feelings as my “feeling,” as in I only have one. Because we are such a calm, low key family, the submissive urination went away and wasn’t a big deal for us, it also helps that my dogs are primarily outside running the yard. But the lifestyle I lead is hardly the standard lifestyle of my puppy owners.
I knew it was time to pull her from my breeding program when I started getting that terrible feeling in the pit of my gut when I would talk about her puppies, I didn’t want to sell people her puppies because I didn’t want them to have these problems. So if you’re ever in a place where you dread placing a particular breeding dog’s pups, consider that maybe they should move on from your program and retire.
The biggest key in selecting a temperament that will work well for your program is to continually measure up what you have, to what is your ideal dog. If you consistently ask this, then you’ll really hone your signature bloodline.
Temperament can be one of the harder things to guarantee when you’re bringing in new blood, especially when you have to fly the puppy in, as it means you have to rely on the breeder to give you a fair assessment; the seasoned breeders will know their dogs and their puppies, so I generally try and give them as much information about the type of personality I’m looking for and I’ve been very successful using this method to get the dog in the litter that fits my breeding goals.
When you nail temperament for your ideal customer, the sky is the limit with your breeding program. People will endlessly line up for your dogs.
Drive is the desire a dog has to do what he’s bred for. It is a beautiful thing to watch. The bird dog naturally pointing birds, the livestock guardian letting baby chicks climb on him, and the guard dog standing between an unknown visitor and the children.
If your dogs are supposed to do something, they’ll need some drive in that area. I want you to be careful with drive though. More drive isn’t always better, rather, you need your drive to match the lifestyle of your ideal puppy buyer.
Dogs who have drive that goes unused are like kids who are misdiagnosed with ADHD when they’re just creative and busy.
My son, Hunter, is a great example, he’s 6, and he’s wonderfully gifted with an engineering mind. He’s a busy boy. Not a day goes by when he isn’t inventing something, yesterday I walked out on my porch and there was weed-whacker twine tied between to posts, he said he didn’t want the dogs using that side of the porch anymore. He planted one of the sweet potatoes in my pantry that had sprouted underneath the swamp cooler, where the overflow water drips out…now I literally have a sweet potato plant growing right off my porch. If I don’t send him outside he can get a little destructive in the house, stringing paracord between my couches, building lego towers to hold my kitchen utensils, and the like. If he can’t engage in his creativity, he can become a bit difficult to be around, he’ll pick fights with his sister, he can’t sit still very long, he doesn’t really understand the beauty of sitting silently while waiting.
It can be frustrating at times, but that’s only because he has high creativity. If he can’t engage his creativity he becomes difficult to be around, part of why I homeschool is to give him the outlet for his creativity, because I worry that teachers would just get frustrated with him and ask me to put him on ADHD meds.
Hunter is like a dog with high drive. Just like how allowing my son to explore his creativity channels his energy in a positive way and allows him to stay the sweet boy the he is, allowing a dog to channel their drive allows them to stay calm, relaxed, and not destructive.
The goal is to align the drive of your dogs with your ideal puppy buyers’ lifestyle. This way the drive of the dog isn’t driving your buyers crazy and making more problems for you.
Salability isn’t something you see on many breeding trainings, but I’ll tell you it makes things a whole lot easier.
I refer to salability as the likelihood that the puppies you have are going to be more sought after than the puppies that other people are producing within the breed.
Often times salability—when comparing dogs who are similar amongst the other traits—refers to traits of the dog that are genetic, but do not have any influence on performance.
The biggest example of this is color, another example is fur type, many breeds come in different length fur, hence the long, wire, and shorthaired varieties. Yet another example might be size, such as the toy variety or giant varieties.
It is helpful to know if there is a preference in the public that would make your puppies more desirable.
Color is something that people get particularly picky about when there really isn’t any reason other than aesthetics.
Some breeders think color isn’t an appropriate consideration when selecting breeding stock. The reason for this, as I’ve felt it myself, is they feel it cheapens the quality of your pups, because it feels like all they care about is color, not all the work you’ve put in.
As a breeder you are really proud of the dogs you are producing, you have worked hard to select a great breeding pair, you’ve done all the work during the gestation period and whelped the puppies, you’ve cleaned up poop for what seems like endless days, and then someone calls you and wants one of these perfectly designed pups, they tell you about their lifestyle and their hopes for the dog, and it is like music to your ears because it is EXACTLY what you are breeding for, they are your ideal owner! But then they ask if you have a certain color—and you don’t—you try to explain that what you’ve bred is perfect for their family, but they decide to pass on these pups because of color. I’d be lying to you if I said this wasn’t an upsetting ordeal.
The best advice I can give you in these situations is to blow it off. If you have a breeding coming up that will likely have the coloring they are looking for, you can tell them, they may be interested in waiting, otherwise it’s not a huge loss for you, just one customer. Chances are they really aren’t bad people, they just don’t understand how rude they’ve been.
It’s funny how in the world of Amazon Prime, Instant Downloads, and Cell Phone Service nearly everywhere, people get used to getting exactly what they want and right now. We know that animals don’t work that way, but try and have a little compassion and patience for these people, as they just don’t know any better.
Other breeders scoff at the idea of breeding for color, as they associate it with puppy mills and breeding just for quantity and quick sales. However, I think it is very important to consider. I believe it is important to know your priorities in breeding, so first, make sure you hit all the above criteria, then add color to the mix. I would say that I don’t breed for color, but I do breed with color as a consideration.
Let me give you an example of how I do this. If you didn’t know, in German Shorthaired Pointers, there are two colors, black and liver, and then there are two base coats, white and roan, and then there is a patching gene which creates a solid patch. The most popular coloring by far is liver with a roan base coat and some patching, but not the solid patch (solid patch dogs look like labradors, generally all one color).
Since I get so many phone calls from people requesting a liver roan colored dog, I knew it would be beneficial for my program if I had a liver roan stud who carried the gene on both sides. I poured over the internet for a year in an effort to find a kennel that had a breeding pair that I liked, meeting all my criteria, that had two liver roan parents, this gave me a high probability of creating pups aligned with my program, that were also what my ideal customer kept requesting. I waited two years for my stud to be born, but it was worth it.
He throws all liver roans when bred to females who carry the same coloring or recessive coloring. I often get a bottle neck in my waitlist of people looking for liver roan, so when I breed him to one of my females I can usually knock all those people off my list.
What you want in a breeder is out there, but sometimes it just takes more looking. If color will make your ideal owner happier or simply make it easier to sell your pups, then there is every reason to incorporate it into your planning and program design.
Never be ashamed of making your buyers happy.
The last trait I us is Mothering ability.
It is the ability of the mother to easily whelp her pups without complications or much assistance, her ability to produce enough milk for them, have patience with them, and to properly socialize them.
Whelping can make or break the entire deal of breeding. Breeding isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t have to be expensive, which is why money can be made, but it becomes difficult if you have to have C-Section to get the puppies. This creates a whole host of problems, not only is it financially difficult, but it also runs the risk of the mother not bonding with her puppies. The act of licking them and cleaning them up after they are born actually bonds her to them. When they are born in a cesarean she won’t have a proper count of how many puppies she has, nor will she bond to their scent in the same way.
If your breeding stock is prone to difficulties in the whelping process it will be worth breeding that out over the long term and getting breeders who do not need assistance, it is a lot less stressful for you and doesn’t require you to raise your puppy price just to cover vet bills.
Another consideration is litter size. The litter size is dictated by the female solely, it is how many viable eggs she drops during ovulation. So while she will dictate the size of a particular litter, litter size is genetic. It is a combination from both parents, so if you have a bitch who is producing large litters, her daughters will tend to produce larger litter. Just the same, if you have a stud that came from a larger litter, his daughters will tend to have larger litters. I often see breeders tout how their stud throws large litters, this really doesn’t make sense, since he has nothing to do with how many eggs are dropped, BUT if your buyers are looking for breeders that have large litters, this is relevant. Litter size is a worthy considerations in retaining breeding stock from your program and in your hunt for new additions.
Bigger litters are not always better. Beyond teats and each puppy getting their spot on there, larger litters tend to be born smaller, and are a bit harder to manage both for the mama dog and you. There is a lot more poop with a litter of 10 than a litter of 6. For me, the sweet spot is what you’re female can easily handle, in my shorthairs that’s usually 6-8. That size litter is so easy to manage for both her and myself. However, in my Ratties, I’m happy with 4-5 pups, the mom is little and 4-5 is very easy for her to manage.
Another consideration is milking quality and quantity. I used to breed dairy goats and naturally there was a lot of focus on the does and their quantity of milk, but also the butterfat. I noticed does that had higher butterfat, not necessarily more volume, tended to produce kids that grew a little faster and more robust.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you milk your dog and test the butterfat, but do notice how well the puppies are growing, are they getting that healthy layer of fat on them or is the mom struggling to keep up with their hunger. It is natural for the mama dog to lose some weight with a larger litter, but the puppies shouldn’t be affected overall.
If you have a bitch that continually produces hearty, fat puppies, she’s a keeper, and her daughter will be a good option for your next generation of breeders.
You also want to keep an eye out for patience and cleanliness, a mother dog is the puppies most important model for the puppies. When she models patience and cleanliness, the puppies will, too.
First-time moms are often like teen moms, they are confused, don’t have a lot of patience for their puppies, wean them a little earlier, and often have to be reminded to go take care of their pups. You can’t always judge the mothering ability by her first litter, so take her mothering ability with a grain of salt on that first litter, granted, she should never be overly aggressive or mean to the pups and she should grow out of the aloofness after a week or two.
If she is not the best mother on the first litter, but the whelping went well, the pups were healthy, and they came out how you wanted, I would certainly breed her again.
Mothering ability is very genetic, so if you find you have a female who is great for your program, but has difficulty whelping, sometimes the best thing you can do is get a great daughter from her and replace her. If your stud doesn’t improve the daughter, sometimes it is time to retire that branch in your kennel.
Mothering ability is harder to evaluate when you purchase dogs from outside breeders, which is why I prefer to retain females I’ve bred and bring in new blood through studs.
Well, there you have it, the six criteria I use to evaluate breeding stock: For a quick summary they are: health, structure, temperament, drive, salability, and mothering ability. Of course you can always add more that are tailored to your program, or that are subdivisions of these six.