Typically breeders plan their litters far in advance. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped our world, there are issues to consider beyond the pedigrees and the physical compatibility of sire and dam. So, what should we as breeders be thinking about before we proceed with that spring breeding?
Is now the right time to breed a litter?
Many of us are working from home and not straying far afield, due to restrictions imposed by the authorities as well as the nationwide cancellation of dog shows through at least the first half of the year.
That would mean more time to socialize and care for a growing litter should you need to keep puppies longer than usual. Are you set up physically and financially to keep the litter in your home for longer than you usually would? If not, how can you adapt your home or kennel to accommodate your litter as prospective homes adapt to the scenario?
If you were planning to use frozen semen, are you able to get it, or do you need to think about a more accessible stud dog that is within driving distance to use? Are veterinary offices in your area considered essential services that are allowed to be open during a stay-at-home order? Are you able to drive to your veterinarian for a possible C-section? If your state hasn’t declared veterinary services essential, contact your representatives now to be sure they recognize how essential veterinarians are for you and all dog owners who are coping with these changes.
What about your puppy buyers?
Puppy buyers are likely also working from home, and in normal circumstances, that would present a delightful opportunity to spend extra time with the new addition. Many families who are confined to their homes also have children who are home from schools and can spend more time learning how to care for and train the new puppy.
People who have realized that now is the ideal time for them to get a puppy are actively looking for breeders with available litters. Updating or activating your AKC Marketplace listings now, as well as updating any social media presence for your kennel, is a key step toward reaching these excited and motivated puppy buyers. The demand for dogs in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is incredibly strong as people who are isolating at home crave the companionship, connection, and entertainment that dogs faithfully provide.
For people and families who have been impacted by job losses, small business closures, or are otherwise struggling with financial issues, a puppy now might be a commitment they can’t responsibly afford, even if they have the time at home. If you have people on your puppy waiting list who have given your reservations and sent you deposits, it would be both kind and smart to check in with them to see how they’re doing, and confirm if the timing is still right for a new puppy. If they are unable to bring the puppy home right now, by checking in with them you can know if you can free up that puppy for a different family.
Thanks to technology, you have the option of meeting potential puppy buyers via online video chats or video conference calls. Get to know your buyers and even tour the home where the puppy will live while maintaining social distancing by tapping into these digital tools.
Take into account that flying puppies to faraway buyers may be problematic or impossible if airlines are curtailing flights. Do buyers have a way of traveling to you if flying the puppy is no longer an option, or do they need you to keep the puppy for an extra few weeks? Are you concerned about your own health, and having visitors from around the country coming into your home? Take advantage of listing your available litters on AKC Marketplace to help local puppy buyers find litters that are located within driving distance, and then follow biosecurity measures to limit contact during any face-to-face meetings.
Thinking outside the “crate”
Sharing a litter among several breeders who work with the same bloodlines is common in Europe. Rare-breed people in the United States do it as well. This may be a practical way to get your puppies into good homes now if you have friends who have admired your dogs and are not planning litters of their own. You’ll know that those puppies with show and performance potential will be given every opportunity to fulfill their destiny.
Weighing the odds
No one wants to postpone long-awaited plans and put a breeding program on hold. You may have an older bitch that needs to be bred on her next season, or not at all. Weigh all the considerations, confer with fellow breeders, check in with your puppy buyers, and then make the decision that will work best for you and the litter.
Allan Reznik has been an Afghan Hound fancier since the early 1970s and also owns and exhibits Tibetan Spaniels. He is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster, who has served as editor-in-chief of several national dog publications. He appears regularly on radio and TV discussing all aspects of responsible animal ownership. Reznik is an AKC-approved judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels; on permit to judge a number of other Hound breeds.