THE ART OF BREEDING GREAT DANES OR,
TO BREED OR NOT TO BREED...
[Excerpt from The Great Dane, Model of Nobility, by Jill Swedlow]
(Please note, illustrations still pending)
...That is the question, to sort of quote the famous Bard.
The breeding of dogs is truly an art. The artist’s medium is living flesh. When one plans a breeding the purpose should be improvement of the breed. Obviously one must be extremely knowledgeable to have a chance of attaining this goal. The breeder must be willing to thoroughly health check both parents, to make sure the temperaments of both parents and their ancestors is typical of the breed, and to take full responsibility, both practical and financial, for every dog they cause to be born until the day it dies. Besides this the breeder must have a thorough knowledge of pedigrees, conformation and the Standard for the breed. One does not obtain this knowledge overnight. This is why no novice should breed a bitch unless they have an experienced mentor to guide them, and have taken the time to educate themselves. Be prepared to spend a lot of money on this litter. And know in advance that you will NOT MAKE money! Be happy if you break even.
Those of you who have or will purchase a Dane for a companion only, need not even read this chapter because your dog should never be bred. Your dog was purchased as a pet because he or she did not have that exceptional conformation that made him/her worthy of breeding. Now I know this sounds a bit elitist, but there are good reasons why the breeder designated your dog to be of pet quality. Not every dog needs to be bred but that in no way demeans the wonderful attributes of your loved pet. Dedicated breeders strive (or should strive) to breed only from the very best specimens in the breed in order to, hopefully, keep improving the overall quality in the breed from litter to litter. If the breeder of your pet quality dog did not sell you the dog on limited registration or specify that your dog should not be bred and you’re actually thinking of breeding it, please give serious attention to the following.
SELECTING AND EVALUATING A BROOD BITCH
If you want to be known as the breeder, you must own the bitch, not the dog. AKC identifies the bitch owner as the breeder. In that light, any Great Dane bitch can produce a litter of Great Danes if she’s mated to another AKC registered Great Dane. However, we want to improve on our bitch and hopefully produce a litter of outstanding, healthy, good tempered, long lived Great Danes. Great Danes who will grow into dogs who will bring happiness to their new owners.
Becoming a dog breeder is a serious responsibility. The little puppies that you will cause to be born, have no choice in the matter, nor do they have any control over the life that they will live. You, and only you, are fully responsible for this so you’d better make some informed decisions. This begins with the decision to breed your bitch or to purchase a bitch for this purpose. If you are already an established breeder, the chances are that you already have a lot of knowledge as to what combinations of parents should produce the best litter. The operative word here is ‘should’. There are many well-known breeders who will breed bitches without health checks, or who will overlook the fact that the bitch or stud has a poor temperament. Please, before you decide to breed, be honest in your evaluation of your bitch. A championship title is no guarantee that a bitch should be bred. If you have doubts, consult a fellow breeder whom you respect. Sometimes we become so involved with our dogs that we can’t see the faults that may be obvious to others. This is called ‘kennel blindness’ and no one should breed if they’re afflicted with it. These are the breeders that consistently produce garbage, year after year, litter after litter. I know of several. Some are even ‘well-known’.
If your bitch is of breeding quality, there is still a lot to consider prior to making the decision to breed.
Whelping a bitch and raising a litter is a full time responsibility. You cannot expect your bitch to take care of the puppies on her own during the day while you’re at work. You need to be with her for at least the first 3-4 weeks of the babies lives. A new litter will turn your household upside down.
Consider that the pups usually wait until you’ve fallen soundly asleep to start arriving in the middle of the night. You can usually count on at least one sleepless night, and probably several if you sleep by the whelping box so you can be sure that none of the puppies get squashed by mom. Even the most careful dam can sometimes hurt a puppy this way without meaning to.
You need to be close by for at least 4 weeks so that blankets can be washed and changed and messes cleaned up. (Yes mom does clean up after the puppies, but there’s always an occasional stray turd laying around). Once the puppies are being weaned you’ll be providing from 4 to 5 meals a day. And OH! What a MESS they make in their first meals. They like to swim in the mush. This is, of course, a wonderful treat for mom, as she licks her little pupcakes clean, but what a mess for you! It often takes me ½ hour to clean up the floor of food papers, wash the food off the pups that mom missed and then police the area for any stray poops/pees.
As the pups become older and leave the whelping box your work really begins. 10–15 poop runs a day is at least average! Keeping fresh newspapers down, providing lots of attention and socialization (you know, playing with the little dolls! Oh how we suffer!) mopping up the spills around the water dish when they begin to learn how to swim (and, incidentally, drink water!) and generally being nearby in case someone gets into trouble, such as becoming stuck between mom and the wall.
Now that they’re older you need to begin lead breaking and socializing outside the property as soon as they have enough vaccines in them, around 8-10 weeks of age. I will plop mine in the van and take them to a little shopping area where, one at a time, they go on walks around the shops meeting new friends.
All the above is just for a normal, uneventful whelping and litter. What if your bitch dies, as my friend Wendy's did, when her litter was 4 days old? Wendy had to hand raise a litter of 7, and it about did her in! All pups were bottle fed rather than tube fed as puppies need the time sucking to become well adjusted. Wendy got little sleep for the next 5 weeks. The puppies also had several problems and had to be taken to emergency care. (Talk about making huge profits from breeding dogs! Ha! I think the final vet bill total came to around $5000.00!)
Just be sure that you are willing to give up having a life of any kind other than being a gofer for your bitch and her litter until they go to their new homes. So if you’ve decided that this is what you want to do, read on.
My First Litter
My foundation bitch was named Homewood Country Sunshine. I called her Sunnie. (How original of me!) She was a big girl with a lot of bone and substance.
Not long after I bred her she began increasing in width just as a pregnant bitch is supposed to. Then I noticed that she seemed to be shrinking! My vet and my friends assured me this was nothing to worry about. When she first started whelping I was sound asleep. What came out of her were black, tarry things that looked like crow skulls with some black material attached. I first became aware of them upon rising and stepping bare footed on one! Yuck! So at this was my introduction to whelping a bitch. Then I found more of these strange objects around the house. I think about 4 of them. Then, once she actually began producing whole puppies, most of them were dead! I ended up with a live litter of 3, 1 bitch and 2 dogs. My friend had to revive one of the pups with CPR! He didn’t want to nurse, either, so that meant tube feeding him for a couple days until he was strong enough to hold his own with his siblings. This litter was born on my birthday and I hope I never have another birthday like this one! I was so emotionally exhausted, and so disappointed to only have 3 live pups (The litter must have been huge as there were 4 black things and about 5 fully formed dead pups besides the 3 that lived!) I didn’t know then how lucky I was! A litter of 3 or 4 is really fun. Many more than that is pure work! (Fun work, but work nonetheless).
Because I didn’t get the bitch I wanted in this first litter, the breeding was repeated. It consisted of 3 bitches and 4 dogs. One of those bitches turned out to be Ch. Sunnyside Daffodil, my first champion.
From the time I began exhibiting her, many of the handlers were hinting around about handling her. She was a gorgeous puppy. Handling fees being what they are, I decided to handle her myself, at least through the puppy classes. I’ll tell you, I was one inept handler, too! The first time the judge pointed at us for Winners Bitch, I stopped dead in the center of the ring, stupidly pointed to myself and said, ‘who me?’ The second time she took points from puppy, I did the same thing. After that I decided that she obviously didn’t need a handler but I’d have to remind myself not to go, ‘who me?’ when we won!
I guess the point of all this is to remind you that breeding is time consuming, hard work and can often be heartbreaking
EVALUATING A BITCH FOR BREEDING
Although the page on ‘good and bad reasons to breed’ covers much of this subject, there is a lot more to it than that. If you do not yet have your foundation bitch and are about to begin your search, you should start with researching the families of bitches under consideration.
The first thing that will probably attract you is the general ‘type’ that certain lines and families produce. Once you’ve decided on this, start asking questions about what health and temperament evaluations the dogs in the pedigrees have had. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to trace these traits for every dog, but at least try to get an idea. It isn’t too much to expect that the dogs for the last 2 or 3 generations (hopefully more) have at least had their hips evaluated for hip dysplasia. Ask to see the OFA certificates or letters from the veterinarian who did the evaluation.
It’s true that many breeders hesitate to sell their best puppies to a novice. This is why it’s a good idea to attend shows, meet the breeders and try to find someone who will act as your mentor as you learn about Great Danes.
Before you take the first steps to breeding a bitch, it’s a good idea to have at least a working knowledge of genetics.
GENETICS, THE BREEDERS BLUEPRINT
Let me state here and now that I am not a geneticist nor do I claim to be an expert on this subject. I have, however, done a great deal of reading on the subject and used and studied it in my many years of breeding Great Danes, birds, horses, and Miniature Horses. Once the basic principles are learned and understood, it becomes an invaluable tool to breed improvement. It helps you to understand why certain traits that were not seen in the conformation of the parents can turn up in the conformation of the offspring. You no longer feel as if you are groping blindly in the dark in your quest to improve your dogs.
I do not intend to delve too deeply into how the sperm and ovum carry the genes or the mechanics of microscopic reproduction. This subject can be learned from many good texts written for the layman in comprehensible terms. If you have little or no knowledge of these facts, you should learn your basics as it will give you a better understanding of the information contained in this section. I have included my own basic descriptions in that, without some knowledge of reproduction, you will not understand the following concepts. Mainly I intend to explain how genetic understanding can be used to accomplish your breeding goals and how I use it.
The Importance of a Pedigree
When planning a breeding, the more information you have about each parent’s relatives, the more accurately you can predict what traits that particular animal is likely to pass on to it's offspring. The ancestral names, which appear on a pedigree, have no value unless you have specific information about as many individuals as possible. Try to actually see as many of the ancestors as you can. Evaluate each one in terms of conformation, health and temperament and what they have produced if applicable. Keep a file on each dog, either on your computer (my method) or on hard copies so you can refer back as needed. Photographs or videos are also extremely helpful.
If you cannot see the animal in person, interview those who have. Ask them as many questions as you can think of about each dog. The more information you accumulate, the more accurate will be your ability to predict what to expect in the litter.
The Mechanics of Inheritance Some elementary genetic principles must be illustrated here in order to understand what follows.
The new pup inherits half it’s genes from its sire and half from its dam. The genes are the chemical blueprint which determines every inherited physical characteristic each pup in the litter will have. They determine his size, color, whether his back is long or short, whether his head is pretty or common, on and on for every part of his body inside and out.
There are two types of cells in the dog, as in other living organisms. The body cells, known as SOMATIC cells, which are found in all tissues of the body such as skin, internal organs, bone, etcetera. These somatic cells differ from the sex cells in that they carry a full compliment of the animal's genetic material, 78 CHROMOSOMES in the case of the dog. The GENES reside upon the chromosomes. The sex cells, called GAMATES, are the sperm cells in the male dog and the egg cells, or ova, in the bitch. The gametes carry only ONE HALF the chromosomes of the somatic cells (Illustration # 2). Since the genes are found contained within the chromosomes, this means that the gametes only have one half the genes of the body cells. This seems to be the most difficult concept for the beginning student of genetic inheritance to grasp so I have included Illustration #2 to help clarify this point.
Illustration # 1 is of a SOMATIC CELL (body cell). It contains the nucleus which contains the 64 pairs of chromosomes, which contain the genes. (Only 3 pairs of the dog’s chromosomes are shown for the sake of clarity).
Dominant and Recessive Genes
Without going into deep technical detail it is important to understand the basic concept of dominant and recessive genes. This is probably one of the greatest points of confusion among those who breed animals but have little knowledge of genetics. Because of these traits, there occurs a phenomenon whereby an individual may carry genes to express a specific trait (genotype) but the trait is not expressed physically (phenotype). Let me be more specific. Genotype is simply a word that refers to the actual genetic makeup of the individual; it's the sum total of a particular genetic makeup. You may or may not actually see the physical trait controlled by a certain gene(s). Phenotype is the physical body that you can actually see and measure such as fawn coat color or a bad bite. It is the proof that an animal really does carry a gene to control the trait. At the risk of being redundant, a trait controlled by recessive genes can often be hidden by a dominant gene, but a dominant gene always is expressed physically (phenotypically).
I wish to mention here that for the sake of clarity, I have purposely left out discussion of modifiers, complete and incomplete dominance, masking genes etcetera. Not only would they tend to muddy the water of understanding the basics, which is difficult enough, but they are always a handy scapegoat to use if the unexpected occurs in a breeding. "Oh well, the stud must have carried masking genes and modifiers!", you can state wisely.
Illustration # 1
Somatic Cell (Body Cell) – Contains the nucleus which contains the pairs of chromosomes (only 3 pairs are illustrated for clarity), which contain the genes.
Illustration # 2
The gamates (sex cells) when manufactured within the sperm & ovaries have only 39 chromosomes. The 79 pairs of chromosomes have split, each half carrying their respective genes.
Illustration # 3
When the ovum is fertilized by the sperm, each carrying only ½ of each parent’s genetic material, the new embryo has the full complement of 78 chromosomes with their genes. This pup is a unique individual whose total genetic makeup is unlike any other.
[INSERT PHOTO # 12-10] It is also worth mentioning here that, unfortunately, there are very few inherited traits, which are attributable to only one gene. Most traits are made up from several genes interacting with each other. In order to understand these principles though, it is necessary to use the simple dominant and simple recessive traits.
I will use fawn and brindle coat color as an example since it is an easy trait to see and understand. It is also inherited in a straight forward way and is controlled by one gene. The gene which produces the brindle pattern in Great Danes is a dominant gene. The gene which produces a fawn colored coat, is recessive to the brindle gene. Since brindle is the dominant gene, a Dane showing this pattern as his phenotype can still carry the fawn color gene recessively as part of his genotype. Remember I stated that each parent carries two sets of genes and chromosomes but gives the offspring only half their chromosomes, thus half their genes.
The fawn bitch (who carries only fawn genes donates one of her two recessive fawn genes, the brindle dog [who, for the sake of this example is a homozygous brindle, which means he carries only brindle genes and is himself, brindle] donates one of his dominant brindle genes. Their offspring carries one gene for each color as his genotype but his phenotype can never be fawn because the brindle gene is the dominant one of the pair. Now we have a whole new set of genes. What happens if this new individual, who carries both a fawn and brindle gene (making him genetically heterozygous which means he carries a gene for each color), is mated to a bitch who is genotypically identical to him? This means that she carries the same genetic makeup for fawn and brindle, being phenotypically brindle.
There is no certain way to predict exactly how the genes will combine unless you are dealing only with animals who are homozygous for the pure dominant or recessive trait. In other words, a mating between a brindle dog and a brindle bitch, both of whom are homozygous for the brindle gene can produce nothing but brindle offspring all of whom are genotypically homozygous for brindle and all of whom are phenotypically brindle. A dog which is homozygous for such a trait, is said to "breed true" for that trait. (If you are getting confused here, be sure you understand the meaning of homozygous [both genes for said trait are the same], heterozygous [carries genes for both traits, fawn and brindle], genotype [what the genes actually are] and phenotype [the actual appearance of the body pattern]).
Square #1 shows the color expectancy from the above proposed mating of the heterozygous brindle dog and bitch. Let "B" represent the dominant brindle gene and "f" represent the recessive fawn gene. (The geneticists do it a bit differently, but this will be clearer for our purposes). This average is based on 100 offspring. We will now take each square of the graph individually. Each square represents a pup, its genotype and phenotype for the fawn and brindle genes.
Square and Pup #1
This pup's genotype (BB) contains 2 genes for brindle. His coat color is brindle. He can pass on only brindle genes to his offspring since he is homozygous for the brindle gene and does not carry a fawn gene recessively.
Squares and Pups #2 & 3
These pup's genotypes (Bf) each contain one gene for brindle and one for fawn. Their coat colors are brindle. They can pass on either the brindle or the fawn gene to their offspring since they are heterozygous for brindle and fawn. Since the fawn gene is recessive to brindle, it is not able to express itself in the pup's phenotypes.
Square & Pup #4
This pup is our example of two recessive genes finding each other and expressing a genetic trait of its parents, which the parents did not show in their phenotype. This pup’s genotype (ff) contains two genes for fawn color. His coat color pattern is fawn. He can pass on only fawn genes to his offspring since he is homozygous for fawn. If he carried a brindle gene, he would appear brindle since brindle is dominant to fawn.
The chart is a shorthand method of calculating the probability of any two genes finding each other at the moment of conception. The heterozygous male has sperm, half of which carry a fawn gene and half of which carry a brindle gene. The heterozygous bitch has ova with the same makeup, half carry the fawn gene and half carry the brindle. It is pure chance as to which sperm finds which egg. The laws of probability tell us however, that in a sampling of 100 offspring, approximately 25% will be BB, (homozygous for the dominant brindle gene with a brindle phenotype). 25% will be ff, (homozygous for the recessive gene for fawn coat color, with a fawn phenotype). And 50% will be Bf, (heterozygous for fawn and brindle with a brindle phenotype).
If you have already grasped the concept, please bear with me as I give one more example. It is imperative that these principles be understood since they are the very foundation of genetics. Square # 2 mates a brindle dog (with a heterozygous genotype for fawn and brindle, Bf) to a fawn bitch, (homozygous for fawn ff).
Squares and Pups #1 & 3
Both pups have brindle phenotypes and heterozygous genotypes for fawn and brindle. Both can pass on either fawn or brindle genes to their offspring.
Squares and Pups 2 & 4
These pups have fawn phenotypes and genotypes since a double dose of a recessive gene is necessary to find expression. If they are bred to a fawn mate they will produce nothing but fawn.
I have taken you through all the above in order to more clearly explain the behavior of simple dominant and recessive gene pairs. Since the chromosomes occur in pairs in the somatic cells, so do genes. I'm going to continue with the example of the fawn gene versus the brindle gene. As previously stated, these traits are controlled by single genes (not multigenetic as are most traits, unfortunately for us!) and brindle is dominant to fawn.
When gametes (sex cells) are formed, they contain only 1/2 of the genetic make-up of each parent. One gamete may end up with the gene which causes brindle stripes, and the other gamete may carry the other gene for fawn body color. The same will be true of the male’s sperm cells. It is pure chance as to which of the bitch's ova becomes ripe first and ovulates into the fallopian tubes to await the dog's sperm. It could be ones with the fawn gene or ones with the brindle gene. Since there are an equal number of each, there is a fifty-fifty chance of it being either. The same holds true of the dog's sperm. Approximately one half of the millions of sperm contained in each ejaculate carry his fawn gene, and one half carry the brindle gene. If the sperm which fertilizes the ova carries a gene for fawn, and the ova has the gene for brindle, the pup will be born brindle since brindle is dominant to fawn. The resulting pup will carry one gene for brindle and one for fawn and is, itself, genetically capable of producing get of either color depending on the genetic make up of its mate. If the bitch's ovum happens to be one with the gene for fawn, and so is the dog's sperm, the pup will be fawn and carry two genes for fawn. If the bitch's ova carries the brindle gene and so does the dogs sperm, the pup will not only be brindle but will carry brindle in a double dose (both genes brindle, eg. homozygous) and can NEVER produce any get except brindle since brindle is dominant to fawn.
The laws of probability tell us that with animals carrying simple recessive and simple dominants, the chances are always 50-50 as to which gene is inherited by the pup. The calculations are over the expectancy of 100 offspring so if your brindle dog has been bred to 3 fawn bitches and has produced 15 brindle pups, there is STILL a 50-50 chance that the next litter he sires could contain fawns. A small chance, but still a chance. This will also tell you something about his genotype. You know he carries a recessive gene for fawn because he has produced fawn pups even though he is himself brindle. You also know that he carries the dominant brindle gene because he is brindle.
Sometimes semantics seem to be responsible for some misunderstanding. One breeder once asked me why her brindle dog sometimes produced fawn pups instead of always producing brindle pups if the brindle gene was dominant. She didn't understand that the gene had to be passed along to the pup (inherited) in order for it to be able to exert its dominance. The chances of the brindle gene being passed along, when the dog carries a recessive gene for fawn also, is 50-50. Only dogs that are homozygous for the brindle gene (they have 2 genes for brindle and carry no gene for fawn) will produce 100% brindle pups.
Admittedly the above examples are overly simplified when compared to multi-genetically controlled traits. There are other types of genes which behave in different ways. In order to predict the expectancy of certain traits accurately, you must have a pretty good idea of the mode of inheritance.
The example of canine coat color can be translated into many traits of Great Danes. Brindle is dominant to fawn but there are other colors (and patterns) in the breed which are not quite so simple to understand and predict. The relationship between genes, which is dominant to which, and which are recessive, can be likened to a pecking order among chickens. The rooster (most dominant gene) is at the top of the heap and bosses everyone around. Next is the bossiest hen who only takes orders from the rooster. Below her are the rank and file of her subordinates, all of whom obey their betters, and in turn, control their underlings until you come to the bottom of the heap and find the little hen (most recessive gene) whom everyone picks on. She never gets to eat or express herself until she is the only one in the barnyard.
Now you are probably beginning to wonder how any of this can be helpful since little is known of the mode of inheritance of many canine traits. Also, few traits are controlled by a single gene. Most are multi-genetic, such as head shape. There are probably thousands of genes and their modifiers which make up the blueprint which determines the shape of a dog’s head. Although it would be very difficult, not to mention impractical, to try isolating each gene and how it behaves in creating the overall blueprint, these controlling groups of genes often tend to act in recessive or dominant ways as a group. For instance, let us say you have a dog with a beautiful head. You mate him to 10 bitches whose head type ranges from ugly to plain, but none are gorgeous. If 75% of the offspring have beautiful heads like their sire, you can be fairly accurate in concluding that your dog is dominant for his head type. This can be applied to any conformation trait or group of traits which tend to occur in the same manner. But what about traits which, as a group, behave in a recessive manner? Since recessives are masked by dominants, they can be difficult to isolate. (The recessive genes often control undesirable traits such as an undershot jaw or light eye color).
We will use an undershot jaw (the lower teeth protrude forward of the upper) as our example. Assume you breed a bitch and dog to each other who both possess a correct bite. Some of their puppies are undershot. What does this tell us? It is highly probably that both parents are carriers of the recessive gene, or genes, which produced the bad bite. (Remember the brindle dog and bitch who both carried fawn recessively and produced a fawn pup?) We are dealing with the same principle here. What makes a trait like this difficult to breed out is it's recessive nature. Their pups could as easily have had a correct bite but still carried the genes for a bad bite recessively. (See Illustration #?). These recessives can be masked by their dominant alleles (genes which appear on a common location on the chromosomes) for generation after generation until the time when they pair with another like recessive and express themselves in the puppy’s phenotype. If you will refer back, once again to chart #?, you will see that there is a 50% probability that an offspring of recessive carrier parents will itself be a carrier.
This is a rather sobering thought, especially when one realizes that such recessives can skip generations and the individual must be test bred in order to ascertain if it is, indeed, a carrier. So what is the logical solution to this problem? Intelligent breeding practices and ruthless culling, which will be discussed later.
There are several different methods of planned breeding used by knowledgeable breeders. All have their good points and their drawbacks. Sometimes one must simply experiment with the different methods to establish which will work best under any given circumstances. This, then, brings us to a discussion of inbreeding, linebreeding, and outcrossing.
Inbreeding is generally considered to be the closest type of breeding possible. Full brother to full sister, mother to son and father to daughter. Ironically, an occasional sister/brother mating may not be genetically close at all since the possibility exists for each sibling to have received entirely different sets of genes from each parent. This is, however, seldom the case and we can assume it to be inbreeding for our purposes.
Those who do not understand genetic principles often condemn inbreeding, claiming that it weakens the animal which it produces. In many cases this can be true, but inbreeding itself is not the culprit.
By its very nature inbreeding gives the greatest probability that recessive genes will be expressed. This is because closely related animals are more likely to carry the same recessives in their genotype than unrelated animals. By breeding these close relatives to each other the chances are high that two recessive genes, or groups of recessive genes, will meet and produce the trait they control in the animal's phenotype. Inbreeding's poor reputation is due to the fact that traits which are controlled by recessive genes are often undesirable, such as light eyes or incorrect mouths. If the trait they control is desirable, then inbreeding is considered to be successful, but you usually get some of each.
Inbreeding can be a very useful tool for pinpointing an animal's genotype. When inbreeding is employed, it is safest after linebreeding has set a type and you have related dogs that consistently produce the qualities you have been striving to "set" in your breeding line. You should have a very clear idea of what your gene pool is capable of producing and then use only animals whose phenotype is as nearly perfect as possible. Even then it can be risky, but if successful, you have a real prize. Inbreeding should be a tool held only in the hands of a knowledgeable breeder, it is definitely not for the novice.
This practice usually includes pairings such as, niece to uncle, grand child to grand parent, half sister to half brother or a pairing which includes one animal's name somewhere within the first three generations on both sides of the pedigree. Linebreeding is probably the safest approach when establishing a breeding line. Although recessives can certainly be expressed when using this method, the frequency is not as high as with inbreeding. There is a wider margin for error here because progress is more gradual.
As with inbreeding, you must be sure to use only superior quality individuals when linebreeding. You must also be certain that the ancestor being linebred on is himself or herself a superior specimen of the breed, and has the traits you are trying to set in your line. If you linebreed on faulty animals, you're more than likely going to get faulty pups. You must also be sure not to breed two animals together that have faults in common. In other words, if the dog is a bit cow-hocked, make sure that the bitch is perfect in her rear legs.
This is the mating of unrelated animals who do not have any ancestors in common within the first 4 or 5 generations. Unlike inbreeding and line-breeding, this method will do nothing to make the resulting pup more homozygous genetically. It is very difficult to predict with any accuracy what results might be obtained from such a mating unless the outcross mate is, himself, line bred. The continued use of this breeding method will never produce a group of animals which breed true for any characteristic.
One advantage of this method is that you are less likely to encounter any recessive genetic problems unless the parents each carry these genes.
Outcrossing can best be used when, after several generations of linebreeding you have established a gene pool which breeds true most of the time for the traits you desire, but you find that your gene pool does not contain genes for producing, for example, a beautiful head. You will try to locate a stud dog, who is from a linebred family with beautiful heads, and who has himself consistently produced pups with beautiful heads. Even though this animal himself is the result of linebreeding he is unrelated to your own animals and the resultant breeding is considered an outcross. Then you take the good headed results of this mating and breed it back to your own linebred bitches. You have now obtained the genes you need to work with in order to put beautiful heads on your future puppies.
Besides the above outlined breeding techniques, there are several others. I will not go into them here, but many breeding books can fully explain them to you. Much can be learned from books concerned with breeding other types of animals such as horses, cattle and chickens. The principles are identical.
The Canine Genome Project
There is currently a world wide effort to map the canine genome. According to an article entitled, Mapping A Brighter Tomorrow by Melissa Goodman, DVM which appeared in the AKC Gazette dated January 1998, “The goal of the canine genome project is to produce a map of all the chromosomes in dogs. This map can then be used as a framework to identify which genes cause a particular inherited disease, as well as genes for other inherited characteristics, such as behavior and conformation.
The development of a genetic map of the dog has already resulted in several helpful assays, including tests for progressive retinal atrophy and copper toxicosis”. Breeders are already using this information effectively to eliminate this malady in affected breeds.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize the potential for such a study! Imagine being able to select dogs who are genetically free of health problems, temperament problems and who’s conformation comes close to the standard!
Selecting a Stud for Your Bitch
You’re bitch has finished her championship. Her temperament is wonderful and her conformation worthy of passing on. You are fully prepared to be responsible for her puppies until the day they die, no matter that they live elsewhere. Her OFA hip rating came back normal as did her thyroid screening. (These are the 2 tests I consider essential when I screen my own bitches and for studs I breed to). I also screen for cardiac normality. Unfortunately, unless the dog has a heart problem at the time, the screening test cannot predict that she or he will never have a problem. I guess we just do the best we can with the tools we have. You’re ready to breed her!
Judges are supposed to evaluate dogs in a positive manner, rather than ‘fault judge’. But when you evaluate a bitch for breeding, you must know the faults that need improvement as well as the assets, in order to select the right mate. If you have a bitch that toes in, you do not select a mate that toes out. You select a stud that is correct for this trait. Otherwise you’ll get puppies that toe in and puppies that toe out. Do not overcompensate for your bitches faults.
When you think you’ve found the future sire of your litter, one who is correct where your girl is faulty, but also has most of her desirable traits, you next need to find out about his relatives. What about his sire and dam? Were they also correct for the traits you’re trying to improve? What about siblings? Aunts and uncles? Check them all as this will give you a much broader picture of what the genetic make up of this male might be. Of course one of the most important things to look at are any puppies he has sired along with their dams. If the dams have some similar faults to your bitch and the puppies are correct for the traits, it's a good bet that this dog can help to accomplish your goals.
The pictures of Skylark and Randy (below) illustrate a pair of dogs that compliment each other. The litter is even better than I hoped!
When you’re evaluating possible sires, please make temperament one of your priorities. This breed is far too large to excuse dangerous temperaments. I’m sorry to have to say that there are some well known breeders out there who care little for temperament! Some of the most frequently advertised and top winning animals are overly aggressive or shy. The owners continue to breed them or allow them to be used at stud. I think that this is both irresponsible and criminal!
not condemning the breeder who has an occasional shy or aggressive
dog. This can happen no matter how cautious we are as breeders.
When one considers the original temperament of the first Great Danes imported
You’ve selected the best stud you can find for your bitch and you’ve signed the stud contract and fully understand what it does and does not guarantee. As your bitch’s season nears, you have several things you must do prior to breeding.
What To Do Before You Breed
Most stud owners have, as their minimum requirement, a request that your bitch be tested for brucellosis. This is a disease that will render both bitch and stud sterile, for which there is no cure. You should also request this test from the stud owner as well as a copy of the test. You should produce a copy of your bitch’s test, too.
You should provide the owner of the stud with copies of the OFA papers and all other health tests that have been performed on your bitch and the stud owner should have provided you with same. If the dogs are microchipped or tattooed, it is desirable to have the vet who performs these tests, verify that he is, indeed, testing the dog that is represented.
It isn’t uncommon for dogs that are clear for certain health traits to be substituted for others that aren’t. Without permanent identification, there is no way the veterinarian who performs the tests can verify that the dog is who it’s purported to be. If the dog’s ID is shown on the test papers, you can be assured that the dog is really clear.
I routinely have my bitches cultured a couple days after they come into season if they are to be bred. I request a culture and sensitivity be run. This way, if there’s an unusual growth of anything, we know immediately which antibiotic it’s sensitive to. Vaginal flora are a normal occurrence in the vagina. However, if one of these organisms produce a large growth, it’s a good idea to control it.
If you should be unlucky enough to have a growth of mycoplasma show up, it would be a good idea to forget breeding on this season. Mycoplasma almost always results in either no pregnancy or dead/dying puppies. Best to treat the infection and try for the next season.
Rather than using a systemic antibiotic, I prefer to use an antibiotic douche. Most often these organisms are sensitive to Gentocin which your vet can make into a douche solution for you.
Douching your bitch is easy. A 500 cc dose syringe and a stallion catheter is all you need. The bitch, being in season, usually is quite receptive to having the catheter inserted. It will usually go up into the vagina about 8 inches. You then depress the plunger and you’re done. I douche my bitches for 2 days, AM and PM, prior to breeding. DO NOT douche within 48 hours of the breeding as you may kill the sperm.
Stud owners would be wise to occasionally culture their studs sheath and treat any problems accordingly.
Depending on the breeding method you use, progesterone testing may become necessary. I progesterone test even for a natural breeding, especially if the bitch or stud are virgins. If you’re doing an artificial insemination or shipping chilled fresh or frozen semen, you must do progesterone testing. All progesterone testing is not equally accurate so talk to other breeders and stud owners who have used these methods, and go to the vets and laboratories who have had the highest rate of success.
If the stud is a virgin, or if he’s missed his last bitch, it’s a good idea to have a specialist do a semen evaluation. Even though it only takes one sperm to fertilize one egg, it’s necessary to have a very high number of active, normal sperm in order to impregnate the bitch. Ask the stud owner for a recommendation or contact one of the cryobanks that collect and store sperm.
The Bitch’s Estrus Cycle
Most bitches will come into season every 6 months beginning from the age of 9 months or so. Mine tend to have their first season after the age of 10 or 11 months. For some bitches it is normal to cycle every 4 months. For others, every 5 months or even only once a year can be the norm.
The first thing you’re likely to notice when your bitch comes into heat is the discharge of blood from the vulva. If you have a really bad case of ‘puppy fever’ and you’ve been watching your girl like a hawk, you’ll notice that the vulva will swell prior to seeing the first discharge. Every book I’ve ever read on this subject tells us that the discharge will change to a ‘straw color’ as the bitch approaches the time she’s fertile. I’ve NEVER seen this in my bitches. They continue to bleed right through the breeding dates. The only change I’ve ever seen is that the blood becomes a little more dilute as the days progress.
If you’re planning a natural breeding, you may wish to skip progesterone testing and go by what the dogs ‘say’. If this be the case, you might want to present the bitch to the dog on her 10th day for a first ‘check’. The most common breeding dates are day 11 & 13 if you’re going to do only 2 breedings. These are the most common ‘fertile’ days for the bitch, but remember bitches can fluctuate. If you’ve followed this rule on a virgin bitch and she came up empty, I’d strongly suggest progesterone testing prior to breeding on the next season. Some bitches are fertile on day 8 and some not until day 18! (Days are counted from the first time you see blood discharged from the vulva).
When I take my bitches to be bred, I ask the stud owner about their procedure. I much prefer to begin with both dog and bitch on lead and the bitch unmuzzled. I like them to be able to say ‘hi’ first and play a little, which is what nature intended. Even if a bitch isn’t ready, and snaps, it’s highly unlikely she’s going to harm the male. She’s just warning him to ‘stay away’ and he’ll understand this and comply. Sometimes he can talk her into standing while he mounts, and other times, it’s just not quite the right time.
On another note, if a bitch will not stand and tries to savage the dog, she should not be bred at all. One of the most important traits for which one should select is fertility, and dogs who breed readily. It’s interesting to note here that the dam of the litter mentioned above that had the temperament and health problems, was a very reluctant breeder. I had to muzzle her and hold her up in order for the stud to breed her. Guess she knew more than I did! I remember too, that her sire GROWLED during the tie! The resultant litter was full of problems, both temperament and health.
Natural breeding is the most common and most successful method of breeding. Even with all the scientific advancements I still believe that the dog and the bitch know best when the moment is right!
I like to allow the dogs to meet each other while held on a 6 foot lead. Some dogs will greet the bitch and invite her to play with him. If the bitch seems so inclined, it’s to everyone’s benefit to let them both off lead in a small enclosure and let them play. The dog will usually try to mount right away. If the bitch is receptive, she’ll brace her hind legs apart, and ‘flag’ her tail to the side. Often you can allow the tie to occur before steadying the bitches head and helping the male to turn.
The ‘tie’ occurs when the bitch’s vaginal muscles contract and hold the ‘ball’ that forms at the base of the penis. The natural impulse of the male is to dismount with both forelegs on one side of the bitch. He will then lift a hind leg and try to turn so that the dogs are tail to tail with only the tie holding them together. It is during the tie that the bulk of the sperm is ejaculated. The first fluid is usually clear seminal fluid. When the fluid becomes milky, it’s full of sperm.
Be sure and have a good hold on the bitch’s head when the tie occurs. This is often painful for her and she may try to turn and bite.
If the dog is interested and trying to breed, and the bitch is standing well but they’re just not connecting, don’t panic. The chances are that you’re a day or two early. Commonly, when you try on the following day, it’s a case of instant tie!
Often the handlers want to constantly interfere with the dogs in an attempt to facilitate the breeding. It’s been my experience that the dogs are far more adept than we are and if left alone, will accomplish the breeding when the time is right.
The first time I ever attended a breeding was a real education! I was rooming with Penny Twaits whose mother Kathleen Twaits, together with Jackie White, shared the Tallbrook Farm’s prefix. (It’s all Penny’s fault that I’m involved with this hobby!) It happened that Penny and I were at Kathleen’s house when a young, virgin bitch was brought over to be bred to Tallbrook’s Darby Dan, also a virgin. The dogs were introduced and all seemed to be proceeding normally. The bitch was interested, Darby was doing his thing, but they were having trouble. The bitch was not very tall and Darby was having trouble lining up with the target.
This went on for hours it seemed! They’d try, fail, get too tired, or Darby would get an outside tie, and we’d put him away to rest for awhile. Then someone got the bright idea of propping the bitch’s rear up a little higher. Out comes Darby again and it looks like its working! He’s certainly closer to the target than before. But still he’s getting outside ties.
After about 3 hours of this, Darby returns from still another rest period and is happy to keep on trying. I’m standing behind him just as he begins to penetrate the bitch. Without thinking, I put my arms around Darby from the rear, grabbed onto the bitch’s stifles, and held Darby against her with my pelvis. Everyone starts laughing at me and it suddenly occurred to me the picture we must present. Here’s the bitch standing with her butt in the air, Darby is mounted on her, and I’m mounted on him and he and I are thrusting away at this poor bitch! (Yes, there was a litter. At least they didn’t put my name on the pedigree!)
This method is used under several circumstances. When a stud won’t or can’t, breed properly, when the stud is many miles away and you don’t want to ship the bitch, or when the stud has died and his semen has been stored.
Whether you’re using frozen semen or cooled, you and your bitch will have to put yourselves in the hands of the experts. The bitch is inseminated in one of 2 ways, surgically or transcervically.
Surgical insemination requires that the bitch be anesthetized and the semen is introduced directly into the uterus through an incision through her side her side.
The procedure with transcervical insemination introduces the semen directly through the cervix into the uterus and the bitch does not need to be sedated. Until recently there was a higher rate of pregnancy with the surgical procedure but I understand that not it is equally successful transcervically.
In either case the bitches hormone levels must be closely monitored prior to breeding. The bitch is only fertile for a very short period of time and it’s just prior to this that the insemination must occur. Make sure that the vet performing this procedure has had a great deal of experience and success.
Sometimes it’s necessary to do an artificial insemination even though the stud is right there and seems willing, but cannot achieve a breeding. In a case like this, you still need knowledgeable people around. It’s not enough to simply collect the semen and squirt it into the bitch. There’s a reason for the ‘tie’. It’s during the tie that the bitch’s vaginal and uterine muscles are contracting and helping to move the semen along into the uterus. Because of this the vet or technician must ‘feather’ the bitch. This involves inserting 2 or 3 fingers into the vulva as high as possible and then knotting them to simulate the stimulation she would get from a tie. It’s also a good idea to gently pull against the vulva as would happen during a real tie.
Pregnancy, Is She or Isn’t She?
You’ll never know how long 63 days can be until you’re waiting for your first litter! Such an exciting time and there’s much to be done while you’re girl is cooking the kids.
First you’ll want to verify that she is, indeed, pregnant. There are 3 methods of doing this. The first, oldest and least accurate, is palpation. The vet will check the bitch at approximately 28 days post breeding. He will feel the uterus through the abdominal wall in an attempt to palpate the walnut sized fetuses. In smaller breeds this is probably much more accurate but in Great Danes very difficult.
The next, and most accurate method of early pregnancy detection, is ultrasound. This test is performed at about 32 days post breeding. The bitch is laid on her side and the vet will squirt some contact jelly on her abdomen to facilitate the ‘reading’. The fetuses are difficult to see to an untrained eye. They basically look like black holes! If the vet counts 4 puppies, you can almost always count on twice that number! It’s hard to do an accurate count. [INSERT PHOTO #12-13]
The most accurate method is when a live puppy falls out of your bitch! There is no longer any doubt that she’s pregnant, but this is not early detection.
Please DO NOT X-ray your bitch in early pregnancy to check for puppies. You could do harm to the fetuses at this early stage. Only agree to X-ray during the last few days of a pregnancy if for some reason you simply have to know how many puppies there are. The other good use of X-ray is to verify that there are no more puppies after whelping. Most vets can easily palpate to verify this, making X-ray unnecessary.
When Skylark had her litter she seemed fine, all 8 babies were fine and I had no idea that there was still one more puppy up there. I just packed her and her babies up and off we went to the vets for the routine post whelping check and pit shot. The vet said she felt another puppy in her and wanted an X-ray to see how it was positioned. She wasn’t sure if it was dead or alive. I figured it must be dead after all this time. The bitch had begun to whelp around the previous evening and it was now about . I was quite worried as I sure didn’t want Skylark to have to go through a C-section for the last puppy!
She was given IV calcium and a pit shot to stimulate contractions and she and I went out into the van to await developments. About 20 minutes later after a couple half-hearted contractions, Dr. Eaton came out to check on her and gave her another pit shot. Suddenly here came the contractions and, hallelujah, the PUPPY! AND HE WAS ALIVE! If we hadn’t checked her it’s possible that she could have died from infection caused by that last puppy had it not passed.
So your bitch has been verified to be in whelp and it’s time to get everything ready. What will you need? What should you expect?
What to Expect During Gestation
Obviously you’ll expect your bitch to become much larger as her pregnancy progresses. Depending on the number of puppies she’s carrying, this is a reasonable expectation. Trouble is, it doesn’t always happen! Great Danes are BIG dogs and there’s a lot of room in there for puppies to hide! A bitch carrying a litter of 1 or 2 puppies may not show at all! While a bitch carrying 9 might only look to be having 2 or 3! My little Narcissus was a good example of the latter! She was a little girl to begin with, standing only about 30½ inches tall. At only a few days before whelping, I thought she’d maybe have 4 at the most. No one was more surprised than me when she had 9 puppies!
Be prepared for the possibility of a personality change. Until Skylark, all my bitches became quieter and more loving and snuggley than normal during their pregnancies. This is, of course, a nice change. Then I bred Skylark and I got an education in the power of female hormones! Lark, who was the baby in the family and had always been the omega bitch (bottom of the heap) suddenly became SUPER BITCH! She personified the word ‘bitchy’ as applied to temperament. Every time I turned around Lark was attacking one of the other bitches. Never her mother Poppy, but poor Jonquilla and Narcissus were fair game! She’d strut around the house as if it had been built for her and her alone! She’d pull herself to her full height (in her case that’s TALL) and give the two old ladies the evil eye. It got so bad that I would kennel her when I had to leave the house, even if for 15 minutes to go feed the horses. On the advice of a handler friend, I kept a large cooking spoon upstairs and downstairs. She told me that if a fight started, to shove the spoon into the mouth of the dog biting and it would let go immediately. I also kept some pepper spray on hand.
I was really devastated because I thought my sweet and silly Lark-a-Loonie, had changed into some terrible devil. Once she’d whelped and the puppies were 4 and 5 weeks of age, she began to return to the old Lark we all knew and loved.
While on this subject, I should mention a couple other things that happened to Skylark during her pregnancy. One morning about a week prior to her due date, I awoke to find Lark standing by my bed with her back kind of hunched up and her neck stretched out ahead of her. When she’d move her neck side to side she’d cry out. All I could think of was that she’d slipped a disk or something. She’d move around and ate, but you could see that certain positions were painful.
My vet examined her and asked me if I believed in chiropractors. (Now I’ve always thought they were quacks, but I believed in and trusted my vet). After expressing my opinion, I agreed to take Lark to the recommended chiropractor. Dr. Eaton said that Lark’s neck felt like it was ‘out’. When we arrived at the chiropractor’s office, she examined Lark thoroughly and had me place my hands on a place in her neck where there was an obvious ‘hole’. After adjusting Lark (very gently I might add) she warned me that she may be worse the next day but should improve by day 3. She had me feel her neck where the ‘hole’ had been and it was gone! Sure enough, day 2 found her really gimpy but day 3 she was almost back to her old self!
I had been instructed to return with Lark for one more adjustment prior to her whelping date. I had been so impressed with Lark’s improvement, that I had her adjust me too! (I’ve had low back pain for years). I improved along with Skylark.
What caused Lark’s problem? Dr. Eaton explained to me that when the pregnancy hormones begin to circulate, they cause the ligaments and soft tissues to relax to facilitate the whelping process. This affects the tissues throughout the body. In Lark’s case, she is a ‘boinger’, she’ll stand in one place and leap straight into the air about 3 or 4 feet. She’s also extremely active. This, combined with the hormones, caused her spine more flexion than it should have and it moved out of alignment.
Items You’ll Need for Your Bitch and Her Litter
1. Whelping Box
This is an enclosure where your bitch will give birth to the litter and where they’ll remain until about the age of 3-4 weeks or until they start piling out onto the floor! You can purchase one of these already made from dog supply catalogs or make your own. I know one breeder who swears by those plastic wading pools that appear in stores in the summer. Being round they’re a more natural shape for a whelping area. I might try one on my next litter. The biggest drawback I can see to them is having an easily changed and cleaned pad in the bottom.
My dad and I made my first whelping box. I think it would have held a litter of elephants, he made it so strong! It was on a base made of 2 x 4’s and a heavy plywood floor. It had sides that came up about 9 inches and then a ‘shelf’ had been run along each long side to keep the bitch from smashing a puppy against the side. (This, by the way, did not work as I extracted a couple puppies from between the wall and mom). [Some of the box shaped whelping boxes utilize ‘pig rails’. This is a heavy dowel (about the size of the pole you would find in a clothes closet) that runs the length of the box about 6 inches up from the floor and about 4 inches out from the wall. Frankly I don’t see what real good they’d do as a puppy could still become stuck between the rail and mom].
After the first litter was born and I tried to find a place to store this 300 pound thing, I decided that there must be a better way. I removed the sides of the box and fastened each short end to the long side with hinges. This allowed the short sides to fold in against the long one, and the whole thing weighted about 20 pounds! The hinges that fastened the other long side to the two short sides used hinges with removable pins. All I have to do is pull the pins and it is all collapsed and easily stored.
This four-sided ‘box’ sits directly on the floor and I have a three-inch foam pad covered in naugahyde that completely covers the foam. From old blankets and sheets I made covers for the pad. The blanket is one side and the sheet the other. It fits onto the pad like a pillowcase. There’s enough left over at the open end to tuck securely underneath the pad. The beauty of this cover is that it’s easily removed and washed and the puppies can’t become hidden under folds of a wrinkled blanket and stepped on or squashed by mom.
Put the whelping box in an area that is private. You want to keep other dogs, cats and people away from mom and her new family in the early days.
2. Tons of Newspaper!
You’ll go through a lot of this during the actual whelping. I use the whelping pad and cover and then spread a very thick layer of newspapers down. After each puppy is born, I get the bitch up, remove the soiled papers and replace with fresh. I also use newspapers for the floor once the pups are out of the box and at the end of the box at about 2½ weeks when they start to look for a place outside the nest to relieve themselves.
3. Baby Scale
Each puppy is weighed at birth. Then they are weighed daily until about the age of 10 days. Although a small loss of weight isn’t unusual during the first 24 hours, you want to see a steady gain from day to day after that.
4. Lots Of Little Terry Cloth Towels/Rags
Use these for helping to ‘pull’ a puppy from the vagina and/or for drying off newborns. A vigorous rubdown helps get the puppy crying which bring air into it’s lungs, and helps stimulate it to move around.
5. Garbage Can & Lots Of Garbage Bags
6. At Least 2 Mosquito Clamps
Use one to clamp the umbilical cord about 1” from the belly, the other to clamp about 1” past the first against the placenta and then cut the cord with dull scissors in between the 2. You can leave the one on the pup for a few seconds while you dry it and then remove.
7. Dull Children’s Scissors
When the bitch bites the cord off, it isn’t a clean cut, which means it bleeds very little. The dull craft scissors used by kids imitate this type of cut.
8. Heating Pad
I use this in conjunction with the box below. I place the heating pad over only ½ of the box bottom, under a towel. This way the puppies can move off it if it’s too hot. As each puppy is born, it’s given to mom to nurse. The nursing helps stimulate contractions. As another puppy is about to be born, I put all the previous puppies in the box to keep them from getting in the way. Once the puppy is safely delivered, he and all his siblings are returned to mom until the next pup comes along. This is also used in the box when transporting the puppies to the vet for their post whelping exam and for dewclaw removal at 2 days of age.
9. Card Board Box For Pups
A sturdy box about 18 by 24 inches with sides about 18 inches high, is about right. It makes a handy puppy carrier and a place to corral them while changing their bed.
10. Rectal Thermometer
Use this to monitor your bitch’s temperature beginning about 3 days prior to the expected whelping date. When the temperature drops to below 99 (sometimes as low as 97 degrees F) you can be pretty sure that she’ll go into labor within 24 hours. Also monitor her temperature for a couple weeks post whelping to head off trouble.
Note the time (in writing, you’ll be too nervous to remember!) when each puppy is born. If the bitch goes much more than 3 hours between puppies, you should give your vet a call. It might be fine, but let’s not take chances.
12. Writing Pen
13. Different Colored Rickrack
I tie this around the necks of each puppy for identification. If you have a litter of all fawns, it really helps. Be sure and check how tight the collars are daily. These babies grow FAST!
13. Puppy Charts
I make a chart that contains the following information to be filled out as each puppy is born.
14. Lots of Sleep Prior To Whelping!
I sleep within ear shot of my new litters so I can hear if someone is getting squashed or is lost or something. Some people sleep right next to the whelping box.
When Birth is Imminent
As mentioned above, once the bitches temperature has dropped, whelping will commence usually within 24 hours. She’ll probably do a lot of panting. She might even strain or appear to be having contractions. She might then decide to go back to sleep now that she’s got you all nervous and upset!
I’ve probably missed my bitch’s first whelps as often as not! Jonquilla did the above ‘gee, guess I’ll go back to sleep now’ act and then proceeded to have her first puppy in her crate next to my bed! Daffodil gave no indication at all. We just went to bed and the next morning I awoke just as Daffi was getting off the bed crying, while a puppy was dropping out of her! (Poor little Kiwi was rudely awakened from fetal peace and comfort as she hit the bricks of the fireplace with her head!) (Hmmmm, maybe that’s why she was so silly!) And still another first puppy (Jonquilla again!) was born in one of my shoes in the closet! Jonquilla was the easiest whelper I’ve ever had! She didn’t even strain. Suddenly a puppy was coming out and by the time I could grab it, Quillie had it all cleaned, placenta eaten and was pushing it onto a nipple to have its first meal!
Digging is very popular with most bitches, sometimes beginning soon after they’re bred! But once contractions begin, digging begins in earnest. If you have a safe place outdoors (by safe I mean where they can’t sneak off in the dark and have the puppies under a bush somewhere) it’s helpful to allow them to go outside and dig, under supervision of course. This seems to help the contractions along. Otherwise, they’ll be content to just dig up the newspapers you’ve so neatly spread in the whelping box.
As a puppy enters the birth canal, most bitches have several strong contractions, often accompanied by grunts. You’ll see the vulva enlarge as the sac is presented and then out will come a puppy. If the bitch shows interest, allow her to clean off the sack and lick the puppy. If she doesn’t do this right away, you need to clear the sack away from the puppies face immediately. If the placenta is present, clamp the cord about 1 inch from the puppy’s body with one mosquito clamp and again next to the placenta. Then take the scissors and cut between the clamps. Leave both in place. The one on the placenta until you can dump it. If you don’t, it will leak blood all over. The one on the puppy can stay until you’ve dried the puppy with the towels. Then remove the clamp. Be careful not to pull on the clamp and cause a hernia. (My own belief about umbilical hernias is that they’re inherited).
If the puppy’s breathing sounds very wet, hold the puppy upside down and support its head. Then extend your arms straight out from your body and quickly swing the puppy downward between your legs. The centrifugal force will help to clear fluid from the puppy’s airways.
Next weigh the puppy and record all the information on the chart. Don’t forget its rickrack. Puppy can now go on to mom and nurse until the next one starts to come. This will continue until the entire litter is born.
You can usually assume that the bitch is finished when she contentedly (and tiredly!) stretches out on her side and sleeps. Regardless of how certain you are that she’s finished, you should still take her and the litter into the vet to be checked. Giving a pituitrin shot to the bitch is always a good idea as it helps to clean out the uterine debris. Please don’t do as some breeders do and keep pituitrin on hand to give at home. If there’s a malpositioned puppy still in there, the bitch could rupture her uterus with the help of the pit shot. Making sure she’s finished is very important.
It’s a good idea to continue to monitor the bitch’s temperature for a week or to post whelping. Any rise above normal is a signal to get her to your vet. She could be getting an infection or going into eclampsia (milk fever), either of which could kill both her and the puppies.
Keep a close eye on the litter also. A quiet litter is a content litter. Constant fussing and the inability to settle down, can indicate a problem. It isn’t uncommon for the puppies to go through a period of yellowish diarrhea sometime in the first week. A little is nothing to worry about and will usually clear up on it’s own as their systems become used to digesting milk. But if the diarrhea is green or very smelly, call the vet.
Raising the Litter
The first 2 weeks of life are a breeze for you and constant work for the bitch! She cleans the puppies, feeds them and keeps them warm. [INSERT PHOTO #12-14] Her licking stimulates them and is even necessary for the first week or so in order for them to eliminate. Once they’ve had a day or two with their puppies, most Great Dane bitches are fantastic mothers, careful and loving of their puppies. They can also be very protective. Don’t be surprised if your formally easy going girl becomes a tiger where her babies are concerned. [INSERT PHOTO #12-27] Certainly she must allow you to handle them, but if she refuses other family members early on, don’t push it. Once the puppies are two to three weeks old, most bitches will become more relaxed about leaving them and allowing other people to touch them. Strangers are still a no-no. If people come over to see the litter, either remove the bitch to a place where she’s contained and cannot see what’s going on, or only allow them to stand outside the room and look in.
Be careful about allowing other dogs in with her and the litter. Some bitches might really resent this. However, I've had some really cute mother/daughter teams raise the litter together! Daffodil did this when her daughter, Kiwi, had her litter. I’d find the two of them in the whelping box together. Daffi trying to roll the puppies around and play with them while Kiwi was nursing them.
I base my decision to begin supplementing the puppies based on their body condition and the mothers milk supply. Cricket had milk 10 days prior to whelping. So MUCH milk, that when she’d lay down, little milk fountains would spurt from her breasts! Her babies were rolling fat balls! At 4½ weeks old I decided to start them on solid food more so I could get some weight off of them!
Then there was Skylark’s litter. Besides all the other problems Lark had that I mentioned above, she also had 2 others. Her uterine cramping continued for so long, and so severely, that she was seldom comfortable enough to lie still and let her puppies nurse. Even when they did nurse, she had very little milk. This resulted in very thin babies whom I began supplementing at the age of 2 weeks! (Oh, what a mess trying to get eight 2 week olds, who have barely begun to wobble around on their legs, to drink from a bowl!) But drink they did, and they are now fine! Needless to say, Larkie has been spayed! I refuse to put her through all that again.
In normal litters, supplementation usually begins around 3 weeks. I’ll start them on a bitches milk replacer mixed with some baby rice cereal. It’s mixed to the consistency of uncongealed pudding at first. Little by little I add ground up (in the food processor) kibble and canned Eagle Brand Beef, Liver or Chicken and Rice. I start them right out on what I feed the adults, which is Innova kibble and Eagle Brand canned.
By the time they’re about 4 weeks, they’re eating whole, soaked kibble, and by 6 weeks, the kibble is no longer soaked before feeding. Since I feed the litter together out of several bowls, it’s difficult to tell exactly how much each puppy is eating. A six week old Dane puppy will likely be eating 1½ to 2 cups three times a day. By the age of 7 weeks, most of my litters were only picking at their lunch meal. When that occurs, they’re shifted over to 2 meals a day. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-18]
The best way to judge if your puppy is eating enough (or too much!) is by his body condition. Dane puppies should be kept lean on a top quality food. You want to be able to barely see their ribs, but feel them easily. I know that most of us are anxious for our Danes to become huge. But please don’t get hung up on the weight/height issue as your puppy grows. Early size and weight are NOT indicative of adult size and weight. Some of my smallest puppies have ended up as the biggest adults. And size isn’t everything. Overall quality is far more important for a show dog.
AKC Record Requirements
The American Kennel Club has several requirements for those who breed dogs. It requires that you provide the new owner of a puppy bred by yourself with the Application for Registration (blue slip), and a contract that contains the following information: a)Name and registration number of the sire and dam; b)Name (if applicable) and registration number of the puppy/adult; c)any permanent ID information such as a tattoo or a microchip; d)date of birth; e)color; f)sex; breeder(s). It’s a good idea to request information about AKC requirements. AKC also will not accept records on computer disk. You must have hard copies available in your files.
Although the AKC requires that the blue slip accompany the puppy, it is common practice for breeders to withhold this until a puppy has been paid for in full.
There is an option for registration called ‘Limited Registration’. This is a great tool for the breeder. Any offspring from a dog sold on Limited Registration can not be registered with AKC, nor can said dog compete in conformation shows. However the breeder, and only the breeder, may remove this stipulation should the dog turn out to be a breeding/show specimen in the future.
Selling/Placing Your Dane Puppies
As you well know by now, Great Danes are not for everyone. It is up to you, as the breeder, to do all you can to ensure that your puppies are placed in homes where they will happily remain for life. You can accomplish this by thoroughly screening your potential puppy buyers.
But first, people need to know that you have a litter available. If this is your first litter, you will probably have a little more trouble in placing the puppies than breeders with an established reputation. It’s best, of course, if you have a list of people waiting for your puppies. But how do you reach these people? DO NOT advertise in the local paper. Although you can certainly find occasional good homes this way, they’ll most likely be pet homes. This is also fine, but you’ve bred this litter to acquire show puppies. The best show potential puppy in the world won’t earn its championship in someone’s back yard!
Start with an advertisement in Great Dane Reporter Magazine. This magazine has a very wide distribution and people all over the world will see your ad. Include a good picture of both parents and the pedigree. You might also want to include an appealing picture of the puppies themselves. It’s hard to resist a great puppy picture. [INSERT PHOTO #12-29] Don’t forget to include your phone number and an email address if you have one.
The Internet is a fantastic tool for advertising your litter. I have received many more inquiries than I have puppies. When this happens I simply refer to other breeders. I’ve found that the people who see my website and then contact me about a puppy are very sincere, and extremely interested in obtaining a Great Dane puppy. They’ve done a lot of research and realize how important health and temperament is in this breed. To date, seven of my puppies have gone to live with people who first contacted me vie the Internet. All these people have also become good friends and are wonderful homes for my puppies.
Ask for references from other breeders they have purchased from. Even if this is a breeder you’ve known casually at the shows for years, ask questions and ask for references! I’m sorry to say that some of my WORST homes have been long time breeders! I’ve made the mistake of referring people looking for puppies to breeders whom I thought had a good reputation only to find out later that they did no health checks at all! Don’t rely on reputation, find out for yourself.
Before you start asking questions, tell them everything that is wrong with the breed. Short life span, health problems, temperament problems in some lines, food requirements, destructive ability, etc. I always do this and if the person is still interested, I start asking the questions.
Ask all the questions you were asked by the breeder from whom you purchased your first puppy. Do you have a fenced yard? Will he be a house dog? Can you afford an emergency bloat surgery that could cost up to $3000.00 and would you have it done if necessary? Will you have a heart attack if the dog eats your couch/trees/shoes/fill-in-the-blank? Are you willing to spend a lot of time properly socializing and training the dog? Do you have a set up so the dog isn’t spending 24 hours a day in his crate? Basically put the potential new owner through the same third degree outlined in Chapter 4.
If you’re selling a puppy for show, please realize that by having one of your best show puppies in a good show home, you’re utilizing the best advertising possible. Nothing upsets me more than having some new owner come to me with their inferior show hopeful. Once again some unscrupulous breeder has sold an inferior specimen as show. As long as you’re reasonably certain that his is a good show home, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by placing your superior pups in great show homes.
You can tell a lot about a person’s attitude towards the dogs by the way they interact with them. I’m always suspicious of the person who stands away from the dogs with their arms folded over their chest. I really like it when someone gets down on the floor with the litter and lets them crawl all over them. These are the true dog people! You also need to like the people that buy your puppies. When someone buys a Sunnyside puppy, they also become a member of the family. Whether they buy a pet or show puppy, I want close contact with them until the day that puppy dies of old age! I bug them for information about how the puppy is doing, photos and require them to contact me if they have any questions or problems at any time. My contract stipulates that if they ever have to get rid of the dog, it either comes back to me or I have final say as to its new home.
‘Pick of Litter’ & What Price For a New Friend?
cannot tell you how much you should charge for your puppies. The fact is
you will not make up all you’ve put into them. But at the same time, it’s
nice to recoup some of the expenses as well as giving them a value in the eyes
of their future owner. Here in
I have been known to simply place a puppy in a home I know to be a great one and take much less for the puppy. A good home is the most important thing to me when I place my babies. Sometimes a puppy will be placed on a co-ownership or for one or 2 puppies back. These are all arrangements you must decide on at the time. Co-ownerships can be tricky and many friends have become enemies over these issues. This is one reason a contract is imperative! When I run into problems with a co-ownership (and I rarely have), I always make my choices in favor of the friendship. It isn’t worth losing a friendship over the decision of which stud to breed the bitch to. I consider every co-owned bitch to be the sole property of her owner and the owner always has the final say. So what if I prefer she be bred to a different stud? Her owner is my friend and I intend to keep it that way!
Packing Puppy’s Suitcase
Hopefully you have already given the owner-to-be a lot of information about the puppy and the breed. When the time comes for the puppy to go to his new home, an information packet is very helpful.
CARE AND FEEDING OF GREAT DANES
FEEDING YOUR PUPPY
Great Danes are classified as a giant breed. They reach their ultimate height usually by the age of two years, but are very close to it at a year. Because of this extremely fast growth rate, they are prone to many skeletal growth problems. Recent studies have found that if you can slow the rate of growth, especially through the age where it is fastest (2-8 months), you can help prevent problems such as hip dysplasia, wobblers syndrome, hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD) etcetera.
To slow the growth on my dogs, I feed a dog food of 24% protein or less. Although you want to keep the protein levels around 24%, you must feed a premium food. Premium dog foods use meat as their protein source, lamb, chicken or beef. It is good to be aware of the terms used by dog food companies on their labels. Whole (chicken, lamb etc.) meal means that the entire animal is used. By-product meal is the least desirable as it usually means beaks, feathers and feet (in the case of chickens), which are entirely unusable protein sources for dogs. The first product listed on the ingredient label makes up the highest percentage of the food. The methods used in processing, packaging and storing foods are also very important. One preservative to avoid is ethoxyquin as it has been proven to cause cancer. Avoid artificial colorings and tomato pomace. Tomato pomace is the end product (mostly skin) after all the best parts of a tomato is used. This also contains the highest levels of pesticides of almost any dog food ingredient. For Danes, it's also nice to have a food that contains probiotics. These are natural digestive enzymes that may help prevent bloat, one of the common killers of Great Danes. I feed my Danes Innova dry and Eagle Brand canned foods. After doing a lot of research, Innova is the only food I recommend because all it’s ingredients are human grade, the first 2 being chicken and turkey. I’m sure there are probably a couple other good products around, but Innova is so good I have no reason to change products.
DO NOT FEED SUPPLEMENTS SUCH AS CALCIUM, COTTAGE CHEESE, HIGH PROTEIN MEAT or any additive that will throw off the balance of the food you're offering. Next to lower protein, a calcium/phosphorus/vitamin D balance is essential. Throw the balance off (already contained in the food), and your puppy is on its way to bone problems. You can add canned foods that are also complete and balanced. You can safely add just about anything as long as it's no more than 15% of the dry food.
Vitamin C is one supplement that you should definitely give. It is one of the few supplements that can do no harm and it is thought to be beneficial to growing dogs. Give 500 milligrams in the morning and evening meals for a total of 1000 mg per day. Your Dane should eat its food in two meals per day rather than one large one. Water should always be available.
Great Danes are not suited to being a back yard watch dog that gets little or no attention and rarely gets in the house. They are happiest and thrive when they are house dogs who are considered members of a family. Canines, are after all, a pack (family) animal. Although they are naturally pretty well behaved, they still need discipline and to respect their "pack leader" as well as all humans. To this end I highly recommend that you and your puppy attend obedience classes, and yes, they do have them for little puppies, they're usually called puppy socialization classes.
I also recommend that you purchase a crate for your puppy (keeping in mind the adult size). This becomes like their own little private house where they can be away from the bustle of the family for some rest. It also protects the house from them while you cannot be watching them. But the best thing it does is assist with house breaking. A Dane is naturally clean and does not want to mess its bed. Most puppies from 3 months on can make it through the night without messing the crate. After this is accomplished, they easily get the idea that outside is the place to go. DO NOT, however use the crate continually. Overnight or a few hours during the day (2 or 3) is enough.
Provide a large outside fenced yard for your dog to romp and play. Exercise is important for growing puppies. If you have other dogs (larger than the puppy) and children, make sure that the dogs don't knock the puppy down or hurt it. Instruct your children on how to treat the puppy and make sure they know that a growing puppy needs many hours of sleep to grow properly. Don't let your kids tease the puppy. Ideally, you should never allow the children and puppy to play unsupervised. Young children don't realize that certain actions will be harmful to the pup. Conversely, the pup may get too rough for the kids and those little needle milk teeth can do some damage, even in play.
Be sure that from the start you continue to lead break your pup (most breeders will have already begun this) and take it places in the car with you. Go to shopping malls and public places so the puppy will become accustomed to different sights and sounds. Encourage strangers to pet and play with the puppy. Don't allow the puppy access to other dogs until he has had at least his first adult vaccine. The same goes for attending puppy matches or shows.
EAR CARE, THE ISSUE OF CROPPING
If you have purchased your puppy from a reputable breeder, the chances are he has already had his ears cropped. Most breeders who show always crop their pups prior to allowing them to go to their new homes. One reason for this is that the breeder has control of who does the crop. A vet who isn't experienced with the proper procedures for ear cropping can really mess things up. Both the pup and the ear suffer! I'd much rather see an uncropped ear than one cut too short or done improperly. A vet with experience is the key here.
If you do have a pup that is or will be, cropped, that is not the end of the procedure. For ears to stand properly, they must undergo many tapings, sometimes up until the dog is past a year, but most ears are up by 5 to 6 months, sometimes sooner. If you're inexperienced at after care, usually the vet who did the original crop can do the taping for you. If not, contact me as I have some pretty good directions as to how to tape the ears.
If you decide to leave the ears natural, there are two problems you may have to face. Uncropped ears are prone to hematomas. These occur when the head is shaken violently and the tips of the ears "snap" as would a cloth towel when snapped at someone’s butt! This action of the ear tips snapping back on itself can break the blood vessels within the ear, which then bleed and cause a painful swelling. This often has to be lanced at the vets and then the ears are usually taped up on top and across the head until the ear tips have healed. This can take some time. The other problem is that a drop ear is more prone to ear infections. Keep in mind that a dropped ear does not occur in nature. Man has created the drop ear and the crop is his way of correcting the mistake.
LIFE THREATENING EMERGENCIES: A WORD ABOUT BLOAT AND HOD (Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy)
HOD is a condition affecting young, fast growing dogs usually between 3 1/2 and 8 months of age. The symptoms are very high fever, swelling and inflammation of the joints (usually pastern) and tremendous pain. Even a lethargic puppy with a slightly elevated fever should be checked by a vet. If caught early enough, this disease will probably subside quickly.
Unfortunately, many vets don't recognize the disease and the puppy is neither diagnosed nor treated correctly. Immediate diagnosis is made by x-ray. The treatment consists of injectable vitamin C, steroids to combat the joint inflammation, Banamine which combats the pain (injectable form being preferred) and antibiotics to combat any secondary infections (pneumonia being the most common) which may take hold when an animal is badly stressed.
BLOAT usually occurs in dogs over one year of age but is not unheard of in younger dogs. The symptoms are attempts to vomit but producing only foam. The stomach and/or rib cage appears distended and continues to enlarge. The dog is in obvious distress and is usually panting and restless. TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. The stomach is filling with gasses and beginning to rotate. This means that gas cannot leave the stomach and enlargement continues. As the stomach rotates, the blood supplies are cut off and the animal begins to go into shock. The vet will usually try to pass a stomach tube to ascertain if the stomach has already turned and to relieve the gas pressure if it hasn't. (Occasionally you can pass a tube into a rotated stomach.) X-ray will confirm rotation. The dog must be stabilized before surgery (the only permanent cure) can be performed. Even then, it is not uncommon for a dog to die of heart complications after successful surgery.
The above are extreme emergency situations, especially bloat. Don't waste any time getting veterinary help. If your veterinarian is not familiar with Great Danes let me know and I'll try to put you in touch with someone near you who is. If you ever have any problems or questions about your dog, please don't hesitate to call me.
GRADING YOUR LITTER
Deciding which puppies are show quality and which you’ll allow to be placed as pets is the next step. If you’ve bred many litters and studied the outcome you should have a fair idea of what to expect as each puppy matures. As mentioned in another chapter, by the time the litter is six or seven weeks old, there are going to be some stand outs and you’ll have begun to rank the puppies.
I rarely promise anyone a ‘pick’ puppy. I prefer to match the puppy with its new home in both quality (show vs pet) and personality as mentioned elsewhere in this book. [INSERT PHOTO #12-30]
Here are some examples of what to look for in a show puppy.
Photo A. This is a gorgeous male dane puppy head. Big, blocky, correct eye and correct ear placement. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-15]
Photo B. Another outstanding male puppy head. Better than the one above because he is fuller and longer in muzzle. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-16]
Photo C. This puppy is a definite pet. His eyes are too far apart and his muzzle is too short. Ear set is far too low. His head is very coarse. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-17]
Photo D. Same puppy in Photo C. He doesn’t even look like a Dane puppy here. You can see how extremely short his muzzle is and how low the ear set. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-18]
Photo E. This is a littermate to puppies C & D. His head isn’t as bad as the other puppy, but he’s far too short muzzled. Ear set is a little higher. He went as a pet puppy. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-19]
Photo F. This is a bitch littermate to C, D & E. He has a nice blocky head but with femininity. Her ear set is correct. Her front legs are too turned out and could use a little heavier bone at this age. I’d rate her as could go either way. Needs more time. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-20]
Photo G. Here is a very nicely balanced show prospect puppy. His topline is quite good, has a short back, good angles and a nice long neck. He could use a little more leg for this age, but that often comes later. (In his case it didn’t!) [INSERT PHOTO # 12-21]
Photo H. Same dog in Photo G at about 12 months. Here he’s lovely, and has lived up to all his promise as a baby. However, as he aged, he outgrew his leg length and became borderline coarse. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-22]
Photo I. This puppy is far too fat. He has very loose skin including a ‘skirt’ the web of skin from the body to the stifle. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-23]
Photo J. Definitely a pet puppy. His head is short muzzled and lacks lower jaw and lip. He is roached in topline and very straight in rear. He does have a nice neckset and shoulder angles but his neck is too short. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-24]
Photo K. This bitch puppy is also pet quality. Her head is too doggy and coarse. She has good neck length but no crest and it is set too far forward and doesn’t blend smoothly into her wither. Her topline is slightly roached. Her shoulder angles aren’t bad but she’s far too straight in her rear leg angles. Also she has absolutely no tuck up. Her front feet appear flat and toe out while she is cowhocked behind. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-25]
Photo L. A littermate to the puppy in Photo K. She is far more refined and correct for a bitch. She has a more feminine head, better neck, nice shoulders, topline and rear. She, too, lacks tuck up. She’s a little short on leg but she did get it as she aged. [INSERT PHOTO # 12-26]
2002, Jill Swedlow. Sunnyside Danes. All
rights reserved. Jill is a breeder,
exhibitor and licensed AKC judge in the