General Information

I Want my Dog to be a Mother

By Doris Engbertson

The following article, written by Doris Engberton of Godiva Labradors, speaks of the Labrador Retriever breed. However, the information within the article pertains to all breeds and is a must read for anyone considering breeding.


“Dear Godiva… I want my dog to be a Mother, can you help me?”

I recently received an email from a family who was seeking advice on letting their family pet be a mother. Because I care so much for our breed, I spent the time to put together the following answer. After I received numerous requests for copies of my post I decided to include it here in hopes that it will help others see just what goes into making such an important decision.

Aren’t Labs wonderful. How lucky you are to have a lady to love and be loved by. I know that you feel that you are blest by having the chance to share your life with such a wonderful companion.

I am sorry that I did not get a chance to answer your post sooner. Life has been a bit hectic around here lately and I wanted to devote the time to you. I want to be able to answer your questions and provide as much guidance as possible. I hope that I don’t overload you with information, but I want you to be aware of the ramifications of breeding. To be honest, there are times that I wish I wasn’t a breeder.

Now for the concerns:

How old is your bitch? No bitch should ever be bred prior to two years of age. Also if she is older (5 or 6) and has never been bred, you are taking even greater chances of losing her and/or the pups (there are many health risks involved with pregnancy and whelping, more about that later).

You mentioned that you were looking for a chocolate or a yellow male. The chocolate I can see, but why yellow? A chocolate to yellow breeding is something that only the very brave or the very foolish attempt. The ideal chocolate lab has a rich brown coat, dark brown eyes (or at least dark burnt sugar — not yellow), and liver eye rims, nose and lips. Without going into a major discussion of genetics, when you breed yellow to chocolate you stand a great chance of losing these and coming up with poor quality chocolates not to mention very poor quality yellows. Actually you don’t breed chocolate to chocolate on a consistent basis either. You need to go to a black that carries the chocolate gene every 2 to 3 generations. If you keep breeding chocolate to chocolate you get washed out dogs. It’s sort of like making a xerox of a xerox of a xerox, etc. Since the only reason to breed a dog is to better the breed you want to be sure that you are doing the absolute best for that breed.

When considering a breeding you need to be aware of your dog’s strong and weak points as it compares to the breed standard. When choosing a mate for your dog, you need to choose one that will hopefully correct her weaknesses with his strengths. For example: the standard calls for an “otter tail”. This is a tail that comes down to the hock, is broad at the base and tapers to the tip. Let’s say that your bitch has a long, skinny tail, you would want to breed her to a dog with a wonderful tail. This same thing would hold true for a good head, length of back, coat, bone structure, etc. Another very important thing to look at is the pedigrees of both dogs. It is very important to make sure that the pedigrees are compatible. You can run into some terrible health and conformation problems if the wrong dogs are bred to each other.

You mentioned that you were not interested in showing and only want to breed for pets. Showing is not a necessity, but it does give you a chance to learn your dog’s good and bad points. Most of my dogs go to pet homes. This doesn’t mean that my standards and goals are any lower. Every litter I breed is bred with an eye to producing the perfect Lab, one that is better than past generations, is well conformed, has great temperament and is healthy and free of genetic defects. Many of the pups I have placed in pet homes could be considered show quality, I just like to sell to families. As I mentioned earlier, the only real reason to breed is to improve the breed. This means that the goal for every breeder, should be to be that person that finally produces the perfect dog. This cannot come about if care is not taken in the breeding process.

You also mentioned that you were only going to breed one litter. I must ask you, which is more important to you, the dog that you now have or the puppies? I know that your answer is your lovely lady. The next question is: If you knew ahead of time that your dog would die due to complications, would you still breed? I am sure your answer is no!!!!! Believe me it happens far more often than most people think. MANY, MANY, things can go wrong during pregnancy and whelping.

Following this post is one from Dian Welle of Blue Knight Labradors about the risks of breeding. She has been doing this for years, but it does not stop the pain when it happens to you. Bitches can require Cesarean Sections (not that easy in a dog). Uteruses can rupture, bitches can die. Puppies can die as well. You can have birth defects and have to destroy an entire litter. There is a very well known breeder who has been in this business for over 30 years. She had to have a “C” on a bitch this spring. When they got into the uterus they found nine beautiful, black, well formed puppies, all dead. There is a wonderful gentleman named Walt who penned a “Breeder’s Prayer” after hearing of a friend’s loss…Here it is. Believe me that if you cannot face the loss of your wonderful dog and/or the loss of her pups — it is time to do some serious rethinking.

Dear Lord,
Please let me be prepared enough,
to handle any emergency or crisis.
Please let me be lucky enough,
to have a healthy Momma here to hug.
Please let me be blest enough,
to hold many fat and healthy babies in my hands.
And finally, Dear Lord, if you decide this isn’t meant to be….
Please let me be strong enough,
to cope with heartbreak, tragedy and grief.

You also mentioned that health is important to you — you are absolutely right, it should be!! Has your lady been OFA’d, Wind Morganed or Penn-Hipped for hips and elbows, has her thyroid been checked, have her eyes been CERF’d for PRA and other genetic eye disorders? Has she been cleared of PRA through one of the current DNA tests? A healthy dog is one that is current on all its vaccinations, gets wormed regularly, has been checked for heartworm and has no other disorders such as epilepsy, diabetes, etc. But dogs that are bred need more. They need to be as free as possible from the genetic disorders that can cause so much pain and heartache. Here is an unsolicited post that was received from a lady who got a dog from someone who did not require tests on her dogs. The grief of this puppy owner is real. There are not enough words in the universe to take away her pain. “I have a beautiful 4 month old black Lab with some serious genetic diseases (vitreoretinal dysplasia with skeletal abnormalities) because I mistakenly thought if a Lab had AKC papers that this meant good health. I learned after getting her from a local breeder in LA about OFA and CERF and of course, she nor her sire or dam have either. She is not in any pain right now and although euthanasia was suggested upon diagnosis last week, I just am not ready and hoping for a miracle. I know more about buying a Lab now but don’t have any regrets about having my little girl because she has given me and taught me so much about love and trust in only ten weeks. I cherish any time I can have with my little black stubby bundle of kisses.”

You said that you would be giving the pups to friends and family — Don’t count your puppies before they are placed. So much can happen between “I want a pup” to taking it home. Lets fast forward to the future, 10 puppies (3 girls, 7 boys) and here it is time for people to commit. Cousin Jane has just found out she is pregnant and cannot have a puppy now. Aunt Sue is moving so she can’t take one either. Your best friend, Sandy, has finally talked her husband into new carpeting, furniture and landscaping the backyard, so no puppy for them. Karen’s daughter has been diagnosed with severe allergies to animals. I think you get the picture. I will often have as many as 45 qualified people on a waiting list when a litter is born, I am lucky if 10 of those on the list are able to take a puppy when it is time. Remember that you had 10 pups, 3 girls and 7 boys? The girls have all been grabbed up and 2 of the boys, but everyone else wanted girls, now what are you to do? You have 5 wonderful boys with no homes to go to.

As a breeder, it is your responsibility to place your puppies with the utmost of care. Not everyone who wants a puppy should have one. All ethical breeders screen their potential buyers. Believe me, more people don’t make the list than do. It is very hard to be objective when dealing with friends and family. How do you tell your brother that you won’t sell him a dog because you saw little Johnny stick a pencil down the ear of the neighbor’s dog? It isn’t easy!! I love my relatives dearly but most of them DON’T meet my standards for dog ownership.

At the bottom of your post you said that your girl has incredible temperament. Isn’t it great to belong to a breed like this!!! 99% of all Labs have great temperament so that cannot be the sole reason for breeding. I have a 4 year old lady, beautifully bred, that has many conformation faults including cleft palate and “airplane ears”. She does have character, personality and a temperament to die for. She does not fit into my breeding or show program but fits into my heart perfectly. We kept her because we love her. We did not breed her and had her spayed because we love her and the breed.

I mentioned at the beginning that there are times when I wish I wasn’t a breeder. There is a fear that I face every time I breed. Will I lose a beloved lady? Will I lose the puppies? Have I been careful enough in my placements? Will they have a good life? Will they be healthy? When you breed a bitch you increase the chances of uterine and mammary cancers. This is something else I always have to worry about. I love my ladies more than just about anything else. I have added risks to their lives that didn’t have to be there. It was my decision and my responsibility.

Here are some additional web sites that will provide you with some more information. I hope that you will take the time to go through and study them before you go any further. Breeding is a big commitment and should not be entered into lightly…Yes, puppies are wonderful. Delivering that new life into this world is a miracle that becomes new each time that it happens, but sometimes that miracle can come at a very high cost.



Think Before You Do… …It may be your last chance

I almost lost one of my dogs this week. She almost died because of choices I made for her. People console me telling me it isn’t my fault, and that I did all the right things. I know I did… but they were still my choices, and I AM responsible. Were I to ignore this fact, I would never have the knowledge needed to make the right choices. When we elect to breed a bitch, we MUST go through the thought processes that bring to mind all of the risks involved. We must understand that to permit her to carry a litter may result in the end of her life. One person wrote to me this week, that breeding is a “Leap of Faith”. I couldn’t have said it better.

Abbie is a very special dog. She is gentle, beautiful, and trusting. She had the job as a puppy, of being a friend to my son. She belonged to Jason. They spent hours sitting together just touching. She has never had a naughty day in her life. She lives to sit next to us, to touch us, to adore us. She trusts us in whatever we do. I can not recall ever saying the word “No” to Abbie. She is also a lovely girl — A good representation of the breed. Abbie has some good qualities to offer the breed. So, naturally, when she cleared Hips/Elbows and eyes, we bred her.

She had a C-section with her first litter due to the mal-presentation of two puppies. With her second litter, she simply wore out, and we sectioned her for the remaining few puppies. Then came the day when I elected to breed her “just one more time”. I knew it was to be her last. I hoped (beyond hope) that she would deliver her litter normally. I kept her weight perfect, and permitted her good exercise. I just knew in my heart that THIS TIME, she would deliver normally. I also knew in my brain that she wouldn’t. That is where I have difficulty… making the choice between wisdom and desire.

I knew I was in trouble… I knew it all day. But, I kept hoping that as her labor progressed, that she’d do fine. Then she began to become fatigued. She didn’t push when I knew she should. I retrieved a puppy myself by pulling him into the world. Panic set in, and I made that frantic call. My Vet and her friend (also a Vet.) met me at the office. Basically, surgery was done just in time to prevent my girl from dying. Her uterus may have well been a display for a Swiss cheese advertisement. This was a true medical emergency. Seven of nine puppies lived. So did their mother, due to the knowledge and skill of two people whom I admire more than I can say. I have worked shoulder to shoulder with some of the best Trauma Surgeons in the country. I would put these two into that league without pause. I am so fortunate to have had them available. Words can not relate my feelings. Abbie was very weak. It took all she had to lift her head, let alone make milk and care for her puppies. The puppies were not strong. The uterus had not done a good job at keeping them nourished (it’s a miracle that it did it at all). They were tiny (6-8 ounces) and weak. One of the six ounces was very tiny, and seemed to be premature. It took him four days to come to the point, where I gave up and knew that tube feeding and holding him were not going to help him anymore. We finally gave up, and had him put down. I came home from that event, to find that momma had pulled the dried umbilicus off of one of the pups, pulling a bit of the inside of the puppy out. Back we went… exhaustion, worry, and hard work were now taking their toll. I called a friend to relay my woes. The night before, after a year of infertility testing, finally breeding the bitch, and having her successfully carrying the litter to term I was told that the bitch was sectioned the night before for nine dead puppies. Thank God the bitch was O.K., but the feeling of emptiness was unbelievable. Beyond tears, we expressed our gratitude for the life of our bitches. But I could now include depression to my feelings of fear, fatigue, and frustration. I wrote a very discouraging letter to an e-mail list to remind the novice, that to elect to breed their bitch, was to take her very life in your hands, and hope for the best. I cautioned, that if they were thinking of breeding “for the fun of it”, to think of my Abbie first. I got a flood of well wishes (very good for soothing the soul), and then I got these:

“I read your post yesterday evening after coming home from the vet. We had puppies, but after a very difficult c-section, we lost our Lucy. She was only three yeas old. I know how you feel, and know the guilt that you’re carrying.”

And this one:

“…I am having a hard time writing this down, (shaking hands) but to make a long story less dragged out, within 2 weeks there were 2 finished (champion) bitches buried along with seventeen puppies.”

I was upset over what COULD have been, and the people above were living the reality. People, if you are considering breeding, please remember the risks. Please be sure that your Vet is the best you can locate and Please… remember the two notes above.

The Best Laid Plans…

After a year and a half with stressful responsibilities that precluded the time and attention that a litter takes, and a kennel full of bitches who have all learned to come into season at the same time, I decided to breed THREE. I was planning a hysterectomy, and since that requires not lifting anything heavy for 6 weeks, I thought that this was the PERFECT time to sit home and play with moms and babies. We all know that Labs are easy whelpers, and they take care of the feeding and cleaning for the first three weeks or so. Besides, I needed a dose of the joy ‘puppy breath’ brings.

The timing was awfully close. It looked like they would whelp a day or so apart. I have only one whelping box, so I bought the wood, and made two more. An entire room was emptied, and the boxes set up in separate corners, with ex-pens enclosing them, the washing machine at the ready, and the three girls sleeping in their boxes at night to get used to the place, and the routine. I spent most of my time in there with them the last week, and contentment just dripped off the walls, we were such a happy group of ‘ladies in waiting’.

Then my husband had to go out of town. The first bitch went into labor, and for the first time, the thought occurred to me that nature is not totally predictable…. what if I had to make a rush to the vet with one of them, while another started to whelp? We live way out in the country. There are no neighbors. What began as a great idea for some quality time with my dogs started to crumble.

The first bitch did the first stage heavy breathing (dilating) for about 8 hours, and then settled down to business. This would be her final litter, as she was 7 years old (and our dearly loved favorite). Both the vet and I had agreed that she was fit and healthy and should do fine, prior to breeding her, and her two prior litters had been a piece of cake. An hour of contractions produced the yellow girl I had hoped for. Things were going well. An hour of hard labor to the second whelp. Mom is looking a little tired. She has a long way to go… it’s not a good time to ‘look a little tired’… but the pups are strong, and their size is an easy to whelp 14 ounces. Nearly an hour and half of contractions produced another fine son. Mom is visibly tired, but the contractions continue. They continued right on to the fifth whelp… and quit. It’s one am. I KNOW there are perhaps two more there. It’s not unusual for the bitch to rest in between, but I know her…she’s exhausted. She rests for an hour and a half… she’s snoring, actually. Nothing. Walks produce some weak contractions. ‘Feathering’ her produces a few more weak contractions, then nothing. A shot of oxytocin (with a call to the vet first) produces nothing more at all. That’s scary. It’s now three am. The oxytocin usually starts strong contractions very quickly, but since it can cause the remaining whelps to detach from the uterus (ready to be born), it limits the amount of time that they have to be born before they suffocate. Waiting is really tough. Do you wake the vet up again, or not? I have a good one, and he’s given me his home number, but you hate to call him until you really need him. More walking, more ‘feathering’. Nothing. I let an hour and a half go between the oxytocin and last contractions, and begin the drive to town (a half an hour). I’m hoping that the drive will do it. Nope. The first mom has ‘packed it in’. She’s too tired to go on (secondary inertia). I’m leaving the other two alone, and one of them has just begun some heavy breathing of her own… but that stage can take 24 hours or more, so I haven’t hit the panic button (yet). An x-ray confirms two more whelps. More oxytocin, combined with some I.V. calcium. Nothing at all. My vet looks a little concerned, it’s now been 5 hours and no more tricks in the bag; my bitch looks trashed and weak. We decide a c-section is a good idea, and it goes quickly and easily, keeping the bitch just barely under, so that the whelps will be affected as little as possible. Both whelps (yellow girls) are dead… no amount of dopram under the tongue, shake-downs, vigorous rubbing, etc, etc, etc, bring them back, although I try. I opt to spay her at the same time. It’s obvious that she doesn’t need to ever do this again, and we hadn’t intended to even had it gone well. I stay with her until she has woken up enough to go safely home, and decide to slip across the street to the market for a minute first. I’ve only been gone for 20 minutes, but when I get back to her, her tongue is gray, her eyes are barely responsive, and she is going down FAST. The vet did what he could to keep her out of another surgery stress, but that is what finally had to happen. The sutures had held, but the tissue itself was so bruised and worn from contractions that it had simply begun to ‘ooze’ blood into her abdomen. If no one had been watching her, she would have been found dead. As it was, she required TWO blood transfusions, and touchingly, the donor was a two-year-old daughter of the same bitch, that I had given to my vet as a pup! The stress effect on her heart was nasty, and she required an EKG telephone transmitted to the university. The actual tones are read on the spot, and the heart specialists there can diagnose and prescribe instantly. Poor girl spent two days in the hospital, and whether or not she would live was unsure for over a week.

Her pups? Home with the second bitch, who had gone from the heavy breathing first stage labor very quickly into hard contractions as soon as I had gotten back home. She labored HARD for an hour and a half with absolutely no result before I called the vet to say that I thought that I had another one for him. This is a BIG bitch, young, healthy, and VERY athletic. Another trip to town. The x-ray showed only three whelps, but two were enormous, and could not get past the pelvic bone. Another section. Two yellow sons who weighed over two pounds apiece… and I have to tell you, they were amazing. Bone; heads that looked typey even as the sack was removed from them; coats so long and thick that they looked rippled. The third was 7 ounces, and not a strong 7 ounces. He died quietly the second day. Some are meant to live; some are not. This was a first litter for the second bitch (a litter sister to the one who had donated the blood for her mom), and often a first-time mom who wakes up from a section with squirmy, whimpering children she has never seen before, doesn’t WANT them. She was, thank God, what you call a ‘super mom’, though, and took hers immediately, AND the five from the first bitch, too! She nursed them for the two days the first mom was in the hospital, and was terribly worried about their welfare long after!

The third mom? Well, she was a first time mom, too, and whelped easily. Once the contractions started (the very next day), she popped out seven healthy babies, one every 15 to 30 minutes. AND she loved them. This is how it’s SUPPOSED to go. I thought the jinx was over. By day three (from the very beginning), I had three litters, three contented moms… although the first was terribly weak, and 14 new children. Life was good. I went to bed. That was the first sleep I’d had in 72 hours, except for when I Fell asleep standing up at the vet’s!

When I woke up, the 14 pups were down to 12. The third bitch had rolled over on two of hers, and suffocated them. At least, that’s what I thought then. They were whiny babies. That should have been a clue to me, but they were gaining weight, and looked solid and healthy, and their mom adored them. The next day, one more dead. By then, I’m sitting next to her 24 hours a day. While I was watching the remaining four whine and crawl around the box (newborns ought to be quiet and content), one more began that ‘kitten mewing’ sound. I have to repeat that they were GAINING WEIGHT well, and had that firm, solid feel to them, so I really thought the mortality was the bitch’s clumsiness. I scooped him up, and he was chilling rapidly. I warmed him, and carried him next to my skin for a long time… then he died. I apologized to the bitch for thinking SHE had killed the first three, expressed some milk from each nipple to see how it looked. It was normal: thin and milk colored, not thick, off-color, or smelly. The bitch had no temperature. The remaining pups did not, either. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong, and vets usually don’t know all that much more about this than breeders do… but I was loosing a pup a day. An otherwise healthy, weight gaining pup a day. At a loss for a reason, I took them off her, and gave them to the second bitch (who now had only her two). She was delighted. They stopped whining, so it HAD to have something to do with the milk. I took their temps one last time… and they were running a fever! They got Clavamox for 10 days, and the last three became big, strong 8 week olds just a day or so ago. God only knows what the trouble was. An infection, of course, but from where? If I’d known that, I might not have put them with the healthy litter, but it didn’t seems to matter.

Down from 17 to 10… but I’ve got the moms. The first one took about 10 days to recover fully… and then threw a tiny blood clot to her eye. She’s fine, but looks like she’s had a stroke. It doesn’t matter… her TAIL works well!

Add the costs of whelping these three to their normal upkeep costs, x-rays, eye checks, shipping, stud fees, AI kits (and shows to look at breeding stock)… and anyone who complains about the cost of a well-bred pup ought to get a copy of this letter! Breeders aren’t making money at this, folks! This has got to be a love thing.

Another interesting thing to remember: what happens if the phone doesn’t ring, and those incredibly precious 8 week olds turn into a thundering herd of rangy teen-agers who seem more than able to poop twice the volume that they eat? This happens, don’t think it doesn’t.

A BREEDER’S PRAYER used with permission of Walt Z

© 1998 Doris Engbertson

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