...life is moral responsibility. Life is several other things, we do not deny. It is beauty, it is joy, it is tragedy, it is comedy, it is psychical and physical pleasure, it is the interplay of a thousand rude or delicate motions and emotions, it is the grimmest and the merriest motley of phantasmagoria that could appeal to the gravest or the maddest brush ever put to palette; but it is steadily and sturdily and always moral responsibility.
~Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
So You Wanna Breed Your Boxer Bitch, Eh?
Don't miss the companion piece, "So You Wanna Use Your Boxer At Stud, Eh?"
Breeding, when done correctly, is a true labor of love. You should be producing healthy, long-lived puppies with stable temperaments, that look and act like a Boxer should. This is not easily accomplished, and it is not cheap. Before you make the decision to breed your bitch, there are some questions you should ask yourself. This is not, by any means, an all-inclusive list!
First of all, why do you want to breed at all? What is your long-term purpose for starting a breeding program? Or are you planning on just breeding one time, to supply the market, to keep a puppy to show, to let your girl experience motherhood, to let your kids see the miracle of birth?
What are your specific goals for this litter? What do you need to improve upon in your bitch? Why do you want to breed this dog to this bitch? What are his strengths that offset the bitch's weaknesses, and does he have a family history of passing on those strengths? Are his weaknesses the same as hers? What are his siblings producing, and do they produce the traits you want to see in your puppies when bred to bitches similar to yours? Have you looked at other studs as well, or have you chosen this one primarily for convenience?
Have the dog and bitch both been fully health tested? This means hip x-rays for dysplasia (PennHip, or OFA after 2 years of age), auscultation by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist after 24 months of age (and Doppler echocardiogram if so indicated - however the American Boxer Club recommends Doppler for all breeding prospects), at least one 24-hour Holter monitor performed after 12 months of age and then repeated yearly, blood test for thyroid function sent to one of the eight OFA-approved labs after 1 year of age, repeated yearly until age 4 then every other year, a DNA test for degenerative myelopathy, and a blood test for brucellosis before every breeding. CERF eye tests and blood test for vWD may also be performed depending on lines.
Do you know the history of the parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc? Do you know their age and cause of death? Most Boxer diseases are not of straightforward inheritance, which means that clear parents can still produce affected offspring, so family history is an important part of any breeding decision.
Book - Genetics: An Introduction for Dog Breeders by Jackie Isabell
Book - Future Dog: Breeding for Genetic Soundness by Patricia Wilkie
Book - Control of Canine Genetic Diseases by George A. Padgett, DVM
Book - Breeding Better Dogs by Carmen Battaglia
Have the dog and bitch both been evaluated by at least three different objective experts in terms of conformation to the standard and temperament? If not, how can you be sure they are correct in these areas? People buy purebred dogs because they like certain physical and emotional traits - if you breed dogs that are not correct for these traits, you will end up with puppies who are not correct for these traits and unhappy puppy buyers.
Book - World of the Boxer by Rick Tomita
Book - The Complete Boxer by Tim Hutchings
Book - Boxer Blueprint by Daniel Buchwald
Book - "The Boxer" by John Wagner (out of print)
Video - The Boxer - AKC
Book - Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type by Richard Beauchamp
Do you have a contract for new puppy buyers to sign, detailing their responsibilities to the puppies and your responsibilities to them? Are you going to require spay/neuter of non-show/non-breeding quality puppies? Are you going to place pet puppies on limited registration? What are you going to do about white puppies? Do you plan to follow the American Boxer Club Code of Ethics (and if you are a member of an ABC member club, you must), which limits the sale price, and prohibits full registration, of white puppies? Will you require that if someone cannot keep their dog, they cannot give it to someone else without your prior approval, and without giving you the option to take the dog back? Will you be willing and able to take the dog back, regardless of how old it is or how crowded your house is? Will you either reclaim or financially support any dogs bred by you, or produced by dogs you have bred, should they end up at a shelter or in rescue? Will you guarantee the puppies against genetic diseases? Which one(s)? For how long? What will you require from the new owners as far as feeding, exercise, care, grooming, etc.? Will you have a provision that allows you to reclaim the dog - forthrightly or in the middle of the night - if you feel the owners are mistreating or neglecting it?
Have you ever witnessed a breeding before? Do you have an experienced person to help you? It is not always as easy as putting a dog and bitch in the same room and "letting Nature take its course." Not all bitches like to be bred, especially maiden bitches, and they can get very aggressive. Many a bitch has to be muzzled and restrained in order for a successful breeding to occur (and this sometimes leads to questions of temperament in a non-maiden bitch). Dogs have been killed, or nearly so, by bitches who did not want to be bred. If a tie occurs, you still need to be on hand - sometimes the stud needs help turning, or the bitch wants to lie down but the stud doesn't, and the stud dog can get damaged in the process (or the tie can get broken). Do you know how to break a tie if it goes on for too long (generally any longer than 2 hours)? Are you (or the stud dog owner, if you're shipping the bitch) able to keep the bitch completely away from any other male dogs the entire time she is in season? If not, do you have the resources set aside for DNA testing of the bitch, the studs, and all of the puppies, as well as the extra fees AKC charges for Multiple Sires above and beyond regular litter registration fees?
Book - Book of the Bitch by Evans & White
Book - The Whelping and Rearing of Puppies by Muriel Lee
Book - Born to Win: Breed to Succeed by Patricia Craige Trotter
Book - Successful Dog Breeding by Walkowicz & Wilcox
Do you know how to care for a bitch during pregnancy? She may have "morning sickness" a few weeks in, and she will need to have smaller, more frequent meals as the puppies grow larger. For the last three weeks of pregnancy and
through weaning she will need to be eating more food - sometimes as much as three times her normal amount. If you're feeding kibble, you should switch her to a growth or pregnancy and lactation formula during this time as well.
Calcium supplementation is usually not necessary if you're feeding quality food, and can cause problems after whelping with eclampsia. You should set up her box in the whelping room a couple of weeks ahead of time so that she can get used to it, and as she gets closer to whelping "arrange" it to suit her. This needs to be in a quiet place away from other pets, and should have enough room for you to sleep with her while you're waiting for her to whelp and then be with her 24/7 for the first week or so after the puppies are born.
Do you know the signs of an impending delivery? You will need to be taking her temperature once daily starting a week before she's due, and two or three times daily just before her due date. Once the temperature drops below 99F, she should whelp within 24 hours (although all bitches are different and some do fluctuate around 99).
Do you know what happens during whelping? Do you have an experienced breeder to be with you while the puppies are born (or at least someone to be available if you run into trouble)? Has your vet been notified of her due date and put "on call" in case she needs emergency care (invariably this happens at 3 a.m.)? Do you have your whelping supplies on hand, do you know how to resuscitate a puppy, and do you know how to tell when the bitch is in trouble? Are you prepared for the bitch and all of the puppies to die if something goes wrong? Do you have the money set aside for an emergency c-section? Do you have vacation time from work saved up to care for puppies in case the bitch dies, or does not produce milk, or rejects them? Puppies need to be fed every 2 hours around the clock, and sometimes need to be tube-fed. Have your vet show you how to do this before the bitch whelps, because if it's an emergency situation you'll probably forget.
Do you know how to care for puppies after whelping? If the bitch lives and is producing milk, you'll have an easier time of it. You still need to be vigilant, especially with a new mother. Some bitches reject their puppies, some bitches (not common) kill their puppies. Other times bitches may accidentally lay, roll, or step on their puppies, which is why you need to be constantly present in the whelping room for at least their first week of life. Do you know the signs of a fading puppy? You need to be sure all the puppies are nursing, that they are getting enough milk, and that they are gaining weight. A drop in weight the first 24 hours after whelping is not unusual, but they should be gaining steadily after that time and should double their birth weight by one week old. You will need to take the puppies to the vet for tail docking and dewclaw removal at 2-4 days old. It's helpful to have a second person who can take the bitch out of the room (or the building) if she gets upset - the puppies usually do cry when they are removed from their littermates. Do you know how to set up a whelping area? The puppies should have secure footing - not newspaper - in the whelping box. Blankets are fine but you have to be careful that a puppy does not get trapped in a fold. Synthetic fleece can work and is washable. You can put newspapers underneath whatever you use. Blankets/fleece should be changed regularly - it's always best to have at least three on hand, one in the box, one in the washing machine, and one on stand-by. If you're using a heat lamp or heating pad, it should be in one corner of the box so the puppies are able to get away from it if they get too hot. *Never* leave a heat lamp or heating pad unattended.
Do you know how to socialize puppies? What a breeder does or doesn't do during the first weeks of life will have a major impact on the temperament of those puppies as they mature. It can literally mean the difference between life and death. Puppies need to be exposed to sights, sounds, smells, people of all ages and colors and genders, other dogs of their breed and other breeds, other animals, buildings, trees, streets, water, etc. etc. etc. At 3-4 weeks they should be moved from the whelping room to the busiest room in the house
Book - Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development by Pat Hastings
Book - Before & After Getting Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar
Do you know how and when to wean puppies? Are you going to force weaning or allow the bitch to decide when it is time? At some point, usually 3-4 weeks, the bitch will begin to regurgitate food for the puppies - this is a good sign that you can start offering them their own food, a gruel-type mixture or scraped meat. If you're forcing weaning, you'll need to completely remove the bitch from the puppies most of the day, letting her back with them only at night. You need to be extra-careful about checking her nipples to be sure she's not developing mastitis (you should check at least daily after she whelps).
Do you know how to screen prospective buyers? Do you have a set of questions to ask that will help you determine if they are going to 'fit' into your Boxer family? Aside, of course, from the obvious requirement that they will provide your puppy with a loving home and abide by the terms of your contract, remember that these people will be calling you for the life of their puppy and beyond, often at all hours of the day and night, so you want to be sure that they are people with whom you are going to be able to have productive conversations.
Do you have a waiting list for puppies? If not, are you willing to keep the puppies until a suitable home can be found for them, even if that means they are 6 months old? Do you know the best age at which to send home puppies? There are various theories on this, and some states have laws which do not allow puppies to be sold before 8 weeks of age. No puppy should leave its dam and littermates before 7 weeks of age, regardless, as this is a vital time of learning and dog-dog socialization.
As always, the costs of breeding and whelping a litter must also be considered. Prices for vet services vary by region, but a general average breakdown can be found here:
Also visit the AKC Breeder Education pages at http://www.akc.org/breeders/ and our Links page for more resources on these and other topics.