Whelping Accomplished. Now What?
Stagedoor's Joan Savage walks us through those crucial first 8 weeks
I am honored to be asked to write an article for the AKC about breeding. I take breeding dogs seriously. Many have written about how they choose the sire and dams. I have had my best luck with line breeding, keeping in mind genotype, phenotype and, of course, the health clearances. That really narrows the playing field, and it’s why we find ourselves every year at the nationals looking for stud dogs!
Once you have the breeding lined up, and the breeding goes well, the pregnancy goes well, and the whelping goes well, you now have the culmination of all of your hard work and best laid plans on the ground. Now the real work begins.
I believe that the pups must be handled every day and kept in a fairly quiet and secure area where the bitch is comfortable. For the first three to four weeks after the litter is whelped, the dam is doing most of the work. At 3 weeks I move the litter to an area in my family room, where they hear all of the normal household noises and have more things to see. To save my flooring and make cleanup easier, I buy a section of linoleum from a Home Depot–type store, put up an exercise pen, and fashion a gate so that the mom can easily get in and out.
Having the pen in the family room really exposes them to lots of interaction from the family and visitors. The TV is in the family room, the vacuum is run, and other adult dogs check them out through the exercise pen. I introduce solid food at 4 weeks, the same puppy food they will be eating, which has been soaked until very soft. I also do the first worming with Strongid or Nemex at 4 weeks, then repeat at 6 and 8 weeks.
At 5 weeks, I put a litter pan filled with shavings in the pen. I have found that most pups want to be clean and seek out the shavings to potty in. I have white puppies, so newspapers tend to make them gray, and they really enjoy shredding them! At 6 weeks they are moved to a sheltered outdoor pen with a shavings pan during the day. In the evening, we all go for a walk through the big yard before coming in to the indoor pen for the night.
I feel like the pied piper with my pups following me on my walks. They learn to follow and hang with you and explore the yard. It is a highlight of my day! While the pups are traveling around the yard with me I watch their movement and see which ones are bolder. The bold, athletic pups are the best show dogs.
They get their first haircut at 6 weeks. I start taking stack shots of them at this age, but they are still cobby and don’t have enough leg for the depth of body. I also have their hearing test done between 6 and 7 weeks, and they are vet checked and microchipped. Evaluating the pictures at 7 weeks, I find that they are better balanced and I know which ones I am watching closely as show prospects.
The best time for me to grade my English Setters is 8 weeks. At this age they have enough leg for their bodies and the overall balance is the best. I usually have a friend over to help grade the litter and play with the pups. I give the first DHPP at 8 weeks and suggest boosters at 12 and 16 weeks, and rabies at 6 months. They can also be started on heartworm prevention at 8 weeks. Now is when they start going to their new homes.
The Internet has made corresponding with puppy buyers much easier. We can send digital photos and get decisions quickly. We used to take photos, take them to a one-hour developer (hoping we got good shots), then send copies out to prospective buyers and wait for responses. It could take weeks for final decisions. The Internet has made life much easier in that regard.
If it is a very special pedigree with lots of promise for spectacular pups, I will sometimes grow out two females for myself. It is my insurance policy for my future breeding stock. I will have the health clearances done as they age, and if one fails I have the other as a backup. I have had a few occasions where I kept both sisters and incorporated both into my breeding program with good success. It does give you options to try different avenues with different bloodlines to see what really clicks. I find that some pedigrees work well together and others—even though it seems like they would work—don’t, so stick with what works.
I find great joy in breeding and showing my own dogs. It is heartwarming to place a healthy promising pup into the hands of the new family, sharing my passion and seeing the excitement and instant love in their eyes for their new family member.
Joan Savage, of Stagedoor English Setters in Banks, Oregon, was the American Kennel Club’s 2008 Breeder of the Year.