Best Practices for Producing Healthy, Socialized Puppies

puppies sitting in a trailer


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Breeding dogs that produce quality pets has never been more important in the dog breeding profession. Crossing a healthy, high-quality sire and dam is a good place to start, though there are many other considerations along the way. 

Cole Gordon of Hidden View Farms in Lancaster, Ohio, says, “When someone comes to look at our puppies, we want the puppies to be socialized, friendly, outgoing, and active. We want the same characteristics in the sire and dam. If you have a backward female and the puppies spend the first six weeks with that female, that becomes their example of how to act.”

The same goes for Willard and Edna Herschberger at their Bernedoodles and Bernese Mountain Dogs of the Open Prairie kennel in Arthur, Illinois. “We regularly socialize the puppies,” Willard Herschberger says. “When I am cleaning the whelping area, the puppies are eager to help. We introduce them early to household sounds. They learn about the broom and vacuum cleaner. We acquaint them with adults and children.”

“Our primary focus is on producing healthy puppies,” adds Edna Herschberger. “We like to see newly born puppies that are filled out and healthy.”

Practicing good nutrition, having a quality water supply, adhering to vaccination schedules, staying on top of parasite and flea and tick prevention, and conducting health and brucellosis testing of breeding stock are high on the check list used by Gordon and the Herschbergers. 

“I find it amazing the positive impact that comes from practicing good basic pregnancy management, feeding a healthy diet and monitoring body condition, allowing moderate exercise throughout pregnancy, and adhering to deworming regimens,” says Andrea Hesser, DVM, DACT, a board-certified veterinary reproduction specialist who practices at Josey Ranch Pet Hospital in Carrollton, Texas.

Feeding a high-quality, complete-and-balanced food is especially important during pregnancy and when weaning puppies. As a breeder of toy- and small-breed dogs, Gordon feeds Purina Pro Plan Puppy Toy Breed Puppy to females when bred and to puppies as they are weaned. The Herschbergers feed their large-breed dogs Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Chicken & Rice Formula.

Gordon notes the importance of ensuring dogs have a fresh, sanitary water supply. “At our kennel, we use an automatic waterer with a nipple,” he says. “This constant fresh water reduces the risk of the growth of bacteria or algae. We also regularly disinfect our well using shock chlorination. Although we primarily use automatic waterers, we introduce puppies to drinking from water bowls and water bottles attached to a crate, as this is what they may have at their new homes.” 

“In general, it’s best to update vaccines ahead of time if you know your bitch will be due for vaccination around her estrus cycle, pregnancy or even into lactation,” Dr. Hesser says. “Rabies is a non-negotiable vaccine, and as a killed vaccine, we don’t tend to see a negative impact using this category of vaccine even given at the last minute. Being overdue for distemper, adenovirus and parvovirus combination vaccines may not result in any detriment; however, the veterinarian could check titers to ensure a bitch is protected for an upcoming pregnancy.”

Maintaining preventive medications for heartworms, fleas and ticks also is important. “Pregnancy should not change your normal preventive care management,” says Dr. Hesser. “Several oral heartworm preventives and topical and oral flea and tick medications have been rigorously studied for safety in pregnant dogs and their fetuses and puppies. Not all products are risk-free. Those that are safe for pregnancy should state so on the product label or insert.
“It is important to consider that a pregnant dog may exceed the weight range of her original preventive prescription. Should she fall outside this range, most veterinarians will provide single doses for the stages in which she will exceed her original weight range.”

Health and brucellosis testing of brood bitches and stud dogs is imperative before breeding. Taking advantage of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) health clinics when they are offered in your area makes it handy to test dogs for hip and elbow dysplasia, eye conditions, cardiac disease, Legg-Calve-Perthes, an inherited disease causing hindlimb lameness, and dental health related to having a full dentition or correct bite. Although brucellosis testing is not performed at the OFA health clinics, this test ensures that dogs do not have the highly con-tagious disease that can lead to infertility, abortions and stillbirths caused by the Brucella canis bacterium.

Litter size is important, particularly if you run your kennel as your business. Gordon and the Herschbergers say sticking to the check list of precautionary measures helps them achieve optimal litter size. “Our toy-breed dogs average three to four puppies and our small breeds usually have five to six puppies,” Gordon says. “We’ve found that if litters produce just one more puppy than the average, it really adds up at the end of the year. We seldom have a ‘runt’ in our litters, but if we do, we make sure this puppy gets plenty of nutrition through the mother’s milk to catch up.”

“Our Bernese Mountain Dog and Bernedoodle females average eight pups in a litter,” Edna Herschberger says. “We are very careful to work with our veterinarian who does progesterone testing to determine the ideal time to breed.”

“Ovulation timing through progesterone testing is used to know the optimal time to breed a female,” Dr. Hesser says. “We advise breeding 48 to 72 hours post-ovulation, as after ovulation the released eggs continue to mature, reaching maturation two to three days later. Once the maturation process is completed, the eggs are ready for fertilization.” 

A great deal of pride is associated with producing puppies that become loving members of a family. As Gordon says, “If you take care of the small details, everything else seems to fall into place.”  

CHECK LIST BEFORE BREEDING

  • Health testing of the female and stud dog
  • Brucellosis testing of the breeding pair
  • Feed a high-quality, complete-and-balanced dog food
  • Ensure your water supply is fresh and sanitary
  • Females should be current on vaccines 
  • Practice parasite and flea and tick prevention
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