There are certain rituals leading up to when puppies are due that put the wheels of memory in motion for me. While going through the checklist of supplies, temperature-taking, setting up the whelping box, and keeping a watchful eye, I recall other litters and individuals, from the day they were born to the day they died of old age. The litter I’m anticipating is a culmination of 30-plus years of breeding Collies. Writing those words, though, does not begin to relate the early mistakes: newborns lost, expectations not met, heartbreak and disappointment along the way. However, I wouldn’t be here now if there hadn’t been a world of experience gained and success.
Since my first litter of puppies when I was a teenager many years ago, breeding has changed. The science is far advanced in helping us choose, mate, and whelp litters. Progesterone testing, for example, cannot only help us determine the prime breeding dates but also tell us when puppies are due.
With the science also comes, however, an attribute that is more difficult to describe and acquire. Some call it common sense, but an old-fashioned phrase is “animal husbandry.”
Animal husbandry is defined as “the production and care, or the science and breeding, of domestic animals.” For lack of a better description, I like to think of it as instinct based on experience, either our own or with the help of a mentor, that we use along with the science. With experience we still must have some guiding inner knowledge, awareness, or instinct (you see how I struggle to come up with a good word for it) to help us manage.
For example, there are indications when puppies aren’t getting enough nutrition from the dam, and plenty of articles and books describe them. If we ignore the signs, simply don’t recognize them, or are afraid to act quickly to reverse the problem, then we will lose puppies. Plus we must also be able to discern old, out-of-date recommendations from more accurate, fact-based information.
Longtime breeders have their habits and biases that sometimes work in spite of, not because of them. If we only have one litter a year, or less, can we afford to lose puppies, after all the effort and expense? Can we afford not to insist on optimum conditions for breeding from the time we choose a stud dog to when puppies leave for new homes?
Few of us started out “on the farm” or in an environment where raising animals was a lifestyle. So the quality that is probably equal parts instinct and experience, art, and science is missing and as important as any other aspect of breeding dogs. If we aren’t born with this instinct, then it must be learned, especially by the dam’s owner. Who else is more invested in the litter?
Many new or novice breeders of today are missing that instinct based on experience, and they must be aware of that fact and understand that if they want to successfully raise dogs they have an obligation (a strong word, but one that fits) to obtain that elusive quality in order to be proactive and open-minded about better techniques.
The good news is that it can be acquired. No one grew up in a more non-animal environment than myself, but a passion for learning more than made up for that shortfall.
There really is no excuse to eschew the science, and we should hone our animal-husbandry skills if it can help save a puppy or a litter or improve our endeavors.