It Takes a Pro To Do It Right
I used to think I wanted to be a dachshund breeder. Oliver, Rhett, and Stubby (whom we lost to an accident in 1999) are all results of my doxie breeding ambitions. I wasn't doing it for the money, but because I loved dachshunds and I received compliments on how nice my doxies were. The people who got the few pups that resulted from my attempts were quite pleased with the personalities of their pets.
But after just three litters, I quit. I couldn't handle two things: losing a puppy and worrying whether they went to good homes.
I often hear people talk about wanting to breed their dogs (and not just doxie people) so that they can have one or two pups from the dog they've come to love or so the kids can see the "miracle of birth" or my favorite: "to make some extra money." I often get e-mail from people asking me questions about breeding their doxies (some who don't even have a dog yet) and I can tell by their questions that they need to know a whole lot more about being a dog owner before they even think about breeding dogs.
There's a right way and a wrong way to go about being a dog breeder. I've read about and seen a lot of the "wrong way" breeders. Puppy mills (where dogs are repeatedly bred with no concern of pedigrees, are housed in cages in filthy conditions, and health and nutrition needs are ignored) are far too common and are the true scourge of dog breeders. Our own Scarlett was rescued from a puppy mill. Even though she was only 10 months old when we got her, the emotional and socialization damage had been done. Fortunately, she has overcome much of the trauma and is a wonderful pet at home but take her outside of her home surroundings and she reverts to a scared little girl. A puppy mill's goal is to pump out as many pups as possible and sell them as quickly possible for as much as possible. These pups often end up with chronic health problems as well as personality and socialization problems because they have never been handled until they are taken from their cage and transported to a dog broker or to a pet store.
That is the extreme end of poor breeding. But poor breeding doesn't just happen in puppy mills (which actually qualifies as atrocious breeding). It happens in "backyard breeding" -- breeding on a much smaller scale than puppy mills and with more concern for the health and well-being of the dogs and puppies. These dogs are better cared for, but still little attention is paid to pedigrees, conformation traits, or testing of genetics for possible diseases in the dog's hereditary line. Making some extra money is still the goal. But at least the dogs are cared for and treated better.
Then there is the "home breeder," which I admit, is what I was some 14 years ago. The home breeder loves their dog(s) and wants to continue the line, or as mentioned earlier, wants the kids to witness the miracle of birth, or has friends/family who has expressed interest in having a dog like theirs. And so the home breeder breeds the dog(s) and figures nature will take its course and two months later they'll have puppies. Which is pretty much what happens. All is well and good as long as nature runs the smooth course. The puppies arrive, the kids witness the miracle, and the pups grow into romping bundles of wiggling fluff. But what often happens and what most home breeders are unprepared for is when nature takes the not so smooth course. The dam has trouble whelping she's been in labor for hours a puppy becomes stuck in the birth canal without immediate veterinary assistance (usually to perform a C-section) the pups (and perhaps the mother) will die. Or, the whelping goes along just fine but a dead puppy is passed -- or one that is very weak -- or one with a deformity. Then the kids not only get to see the miracle of birth but also the instinctive nature of the mother to kill the weak or deformed pup. So, OK, everybody comes out just fine, but in a couple days there is one pup who is noticeably weaker than the others. She doesn't nurse as strongly and gets pushed out of the milk line. And so begins the frustrating and often futile attempt to bottle feed the weakling. And after a few days of attempted feedings every two hours around the clock, she dies in your hands. And then perhaps one day the kids come in to see the pups and they find that the mother has accidentally laid on one and smothered it.
It's this part of dog breeding that many home breeders are unaware of and unprepared for. This is why I have come to believe it is best to leave breeding to the professionals.
I have now on two occasions been able to witness a professional at work. Dog breeding done right. Dachshund breeding done with love, care, concern, and meticulous standards. Both Katie and our newest addition, Spencer, come from 2 Dogs Long Dachshunds in Power, Montana. On this most recent trip, I spent a few days with Becky and Bill Burguess and saw first-hand what goes into being a professional and reputable breeder.
The first thing you notice at 2 Dogs Long (besides the dachshunds greeting you) is the state of the art 20-run kennel. The outside runs are plenty long enough for long-dogs to exercise, and they are made of concrete poured at a slight slope to allow for run off and easy spray downs. Galvanized kennel fencing separates each run and are anchored by concrete dividers to keep the male dogs from urinating into the other dog's area. Each individual gate has a latch, but as precaution for preventing escapees (and also for more exercise area) there is another fence that surrounds the entire area. Good thing because someone accidentally forgot to latch one of the runs after she helped clean them
A double-door system keeps the cold air out and the heat in and allows the dogs to freely come and go from outside to inside. The dogs create their own unique percussion beat of fwap, thwap, fwap, thwap as they come and go from outside to inside as they please.
One thing you don't notice as you enter the kennel is an odor. Normally when there are new puppies only kennel help is allowed inside the kennel (and you have to change shoes and disinfect your hands before entering) this particular weekend I was the kennel help. Every morning the inside runs are cleaned of any "messes" that happened during the night. Every other day the pens are hosed down, mopped with bleach, squeegeed, and then towel dried. Of course the day that I was helping was one of those "every other days." Not only are the pens bleached but the tops of the divider walls, the feed bins, the back walls and window sills are all wiped down with a disinfectant. After all the pens are done and the water bottles and feed bins filled, the bedding and toys put back, then the walkway between the two sides of pens is swept and mopped, all the grooming carts, tables, etc., are also washed down, and the restroom and the kennel office are swept and mopped.
The inside flooring is heated. A ventilation system and ceiling fans keep air moving. Tropical plants are hanging in various places. Music is piped in.
I want to live here.
Each dog has his or her name on the gate to their run, along with their AKC identification number. Each dog is also either tattooed or microchipped so that there is no mistaking which dog is which. Not that Becky mistakes them. She knows each of them by name by just glancing at them or by the sound of their bark. She knows their personalities and traits, their unique characteristics and quirks.
Everyone gets their share of lovin'. Handled and hugged, kissed and cuddled. The puppies are handled from the start and as they approach weaning age, the hugs and kisses and handling and playtime increases so that when the pups are ready to go to their new homes at eight weeks old, they are well versed in human contact.
2 Dogs Long records are as meticulous as the kennel cleanliness. Pedigrees and genetics are practically a science. Veterinary records, shots records, customer records -- all part of the kennel office. Ribbons indicating wins at AKC conformation shows adorn a bulletin board. Her most recent one coming from Katie's brother, Freddy, who won a 5-point major and is just a couple points away from his championship. A wall-size map of the U.S. is at one end of the office with push-pins indicating the location of her puppies' homes. New York, California, Florida, Texas, Alaska, and, oh yes, Ohio.
Becky doesn't sell to just anyone who wants to buy a dachshund. The buyer has to meet certain qualifications. She's particular about her dogs and she's particular about the homes she places them in. Her relationship with the customer doesn't end at the sale, she sends thank you cards and birthday cards and always an invitation to Dachshund Day in June for a reunion of sorts.
In the middle of an exhausting morning of helping her clean the kennel (she foolishly allowed me to operate the power sprayer hee, hee), I asked her "Why do you do it?" She's up between 5 and 6 AM ("There's no 'snooze button' on a dachshund that wants his breakfast," she tells me.) and has more done by noon than many people do all day. And then she goes back in the afternoon to make the rounds again, checking on everyone, cleaning up any messes, talking to them, etc. I also know she has experienced some of the problems that can happen that I mentioned earlier and the emotional toll it takes on someone who cares as much as she does about her dogs. "So, seriously, why do you do it?"
"Because I love dachshunds. And because when I see something like Spencer cuddled up with you on the couch, it makes me happy. Because I make people happy. Because the dogs love me and the puppies love me."
And as she picked up two 6-week-old youngsters to snuggle, she added, "And because I love puppy breath!"
Editor's note: My intention here is not to indicate that all breeders should have elaborate facilities such as the Burguess' to be good breeders. My intention is to stress the responsibility, dedication, and attention to many details that it takes to be a reputable breeder. Breeding dogs is not for everyone. It is a serious endeavor and should not be taken lightly. There are many good breeders out there. They work passionately to produce the best of their breed. My hat is off to the Burguess' and to the other fine breeders who take dog breeding seriously -- because it is a serious business.