Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people
Should I Breed Siberian Huskies?
QUESTION: I came across a posting you had on a website concerning profits from dog breeding.I want to breed Siberian huskies. I've owed them for 4 years. When I got them it was a childhood wish realized (from watching white fang in elementary school). My huskies (three girls) were really expensive puppies. Excellent pedigree to my limited understanding (family tree and histories, akc reg, dna, hip and eye tested). I've cared for them for four years. They are my family. Now here is where the problem lies. I want to breed them. I want to make a profit. My concerns are not titles, but well behaved pets. I guess my question to you is, can I love and respect the dog/breed, while hoping to profit and not be considered a puppy mill? How? Licensures? Health and testing? Reading material and research sites/books? Food for thought?Your reply to the website was unbiased. I expect you will give me the same. This is a life changer for me. I'm considering quitting my career as a special needs high school science teacher and devote myself full time to this. Can’t make any less lol. Thank you!ANSWER:I admire and honor the people who created breeds of dogs with a well-focused intention. It allowed humans, around the world, to explore their domain, remain safe, move from hunter-gatherer existence to farmers who tended herds of animals which sustained them. There’s no doubt in my mind that the domestication of dog was instrumental in our species' development and prosperity around the globe. Dogs were used to haul supplies and people, too, as our ancient relatives moved past boundaries yet unexplored. Over time, very specific jobs were handled by very specifically bred dogs. Border Collies were designed by shepherds in the border country between Scotland and England who needed dogs to herd fairly wild sheep on what seemed to be unending hills and valleys. Fishermen created the Portuguese Water Dog to assist them hauling heavy nets and ropes in the sea water at their ports. The Kuvasz was developed nearly 2000 years ago in what is now Hungary by migrating tribes who needed a dog to guard their flocks from predators like wolves and bears. Domestic dogs evolved from generalist to specialist as they were developed for a clear purpose, to work for man and do his bidding in exchange for a warm place by the hearth and a revered place in the family structure.I honor those men and women who were so dedicated to animal husbandry and the need to utilize dogs in their daily lives. They made tough decisions when choosing which dogs to breed and they most certainly culled from litters individuals that were not appropriate for the job at hand. They were craftsmen with the capacity to predict future performance and to honestly access their work when their predictions failed. They were goal oriented, since the times did not have sufficient luxury to do anything other than remain steadfast to their objectives; create a canine working partner that could reduce or eliminate the need for other resources to accomplish the task. Today, there are so many dogs produced both on accident and on purpose with no intention, no focus, no plan, no standards that it saddens me. Worse, to me, is the haphazard mixing of breeds which, if one had the knowledge of why each breed was designed, the mating would seem ludicrous. Why, for example, would one breed a dog that herds livestock to a dog that guards it? If you don’t understand herding or guarding instincts, then, I suppose it would be impossible to answer. That is my point. If you don’t understand the breed or breeds you are reproducing at the level that makes the dog “tick”, then I do not think there is value in proceeding with the endeavor. If one is going to take on the responsibility of brining baby puppies into the world, my personal opinion is that there should be a “point”, a reason other than to make some money. This is true of anyone who chooses to breed “pure bred” dogs as well. I believe that a breeder should be able to eloquently answer the question, “Why are you breeding dogs?” and the answer, “for money” or “so people can have one” or “so that my kids can see the miracle of birth” are not very persuasive replies, at least not for me.Of course, I believe that all dogs that are bred should be tested for known heritable conditions. It’s not enough that the parents of the dogs have been cleared except in the case of DNA normal x DNA normal matings for diseases for which a test exists. But, conditions like hip dysplasia must still be cleared on each individual before breeding. So, while your dogs come from tested parents, you must spend the money to test your own dogs for some conditions. Do you know the list of conditions that are common to Siberian Huskies and whether DNA testing exists for those diseases? Temperament should be sound, and specific to the breed. Breed type is different for each breed. What is considered unacceptable temperament in one breed might be a required trait in another breed. The AKC website states of the temperament of the Siberian Husky, “Some measure of reserve and dignity may be expected in the mature dog. “ Do you know what that means? I don’t really understand it, myself. But, when I read “reserve” I believe it suggests an amount of aloofness that can be difficult to assess versus a dog that is acting anti-social. No dog should be permitted to behave in an anti-social manner. But, a breed which is described as aloof should have an amount of "aloofness" consistent with the breed standard. You need to really understand dogs and their behavior in order to determine whether your dog is acting badly or specific to breed type.When someone who does not have much experience dealing with many dogs in real working situations, he will be seriously disadvantaged when it comes to assessing temperament. Without a strong background working with canines, it is very challenging for a person to differentiate natural temperament from a trained or learned behavior. Fear based behaviors, for example, are often manifested in dogs that feel leaderless. When they are partnered with a competent leader, they are confident and capable. I happen to think that one way to assess a dog’s true temperament is to ask it to do something that it doesn’t want to do and see how it reacts. But, even executing such a test is beyond the capacity of someone who does not have significant experience working with dogs.If the breed still has a function, I think that it’s important for a breeder to assess his potential breeding stock against some standard of that function. If the breed no longer has a function for which it was originally designed, then, I think that the breeding dogs should still be tested, in some way, for value to the breed. What will these two dogs contribute towards betterment of their breed. A terrier can compete in Earth Dog tests. A herding dog can engage in herding trials or real ranch work. A hunting dog can be tested in the field. It would be sad if people bred Labrador Retrievers that don’t hunt and retrieve very well. A puppy buyer that is seeking a Labrador Retriever is expecting the puppy to have a higher than average retrieving instinct versus other dogs. In breeds that were designed for a purpose other than exists today, the potential breeder should ask, “what traits are unique to this breed and why are they unique. How do I test for those traits if a ‘working competition’ no longer exists for my breed?” If the breed is currently used primarily as a companion dog, there are ways to assess a dog in a general sense. Obedience competitions, including Rally, display the ability for a dog to partner with a human towards fairly straight-forward, simple tasks. Conformation competitions can help to assess the dog versus the physical standard, and to a far lesser degree the physical capacity of the dog to perform the job for which it was bred. But, if a specific coat or tail set is critical to the dog’s ability to work, conformation can be a decent place to get an outside opinion. When I acquired my first Border Collie, I knew how one Border Collie behaved. When I got a second Border Collie, I was amazed at how different he was from my first dog. So, which one had the “true” Border Collie temperament? My third Border Collie was quite different from both my first and second dogs. Having owned and trained and trialed a few dozen Border Collies, I now have a very keen sense of what the core qualities are and what behaviors tend to be individual quirks. But, even the quirky dogs in my breed are more Border Collie than they are Golden Retriever and I understand that, now, with years of experience. I was also fortunate to have been working my dogs on sheep and to have entered them into sheep, duck and goat herding trials where my dogs were evaluated by herding trial judges. If a potential breeder has the capacity to learn about their breed through breed or group specific competitions or events, it can be very beneficial. Once I began using my own dogs for real work on my ranch, I believe I became quite competent at assessing their strengths and weaknesses and I was able to make better breeding decisions.The term “kennel blindness” refers to the person who cannot seem to see the flaws in his own dogs. One very easy way to remedy that problem is to get outside opinions from experts. Conformation, Obedience, Agility, Tracking, Hunting, Herding, Pulling/Sledding events can give a potential breeder more confidence that he is making sound decisions about breeding his own dogs that he, of course, loves.Anyone who believes that they can make a living (or even very much money) breeding dogs is probably either going to go about it in a very commercial manner, or is still quite ignorant about the costs associated with breeding dogs properly. I define “properly” in my own way, using my own standards. Many breeders don’t hold my standards. Let’s examine a situation where the breeder has three breed-able bitches and wants to replace a teacher salary by producing puppies. First, he should wait until the bitches have turned 24 months and have passed their health screens, including OFA hip (and possibly elbow) clearance, which cannot be performed until 24 months. So, add up the cost of maintaining and training three dogs for two years each as a base expense. Assuming the three dogs pass their health clearances, consider any cost associated with proving the dogs are worthy of breeding beyond just being healthy (such as showing them in events or training them to perform the work they were designed to do). Before breeding, consider the time required to identify an appropriate stud dog that has all the health clearances and is worthy of breeding because he has demonstrated value to the improvement of the breed in some way. If you own the stud, that is your cost. If you hire a stud, the stud fee will usually be around the price of one puppy that has the value of that stud dog (or for really well accomplished dogs, it could be much more than that). So, if you breed to the National Champion, his stud fee will be much higher than if you breed to a no-body dog that has no proof of being worthy of breeding.Before breeding, also realize that a cesarean section and follow-up care for the bitch and her puppies could be well over $1500, so you will want to have at least that much money saved up for an emergency vet visit. I’ve never had to deal with a c-section birth, fortunately. But, one cannot be worrying about money if a puppy gets stuck in birth canal and you only have a brief opportunity to save the dam and her babies. Also, you will need to be well versed on care of a pregnant bitch and get some whelping experience. I had a friend who bred Cocker Spaniels that permitted me to participate in the whelping of three litters before I ever whelped a litter on my own, by myself. If you work a day job, you need to figure out how to tell your boss that you may need to be gone – but, you won’t be able to tell him exactly when it will be. If you take off the “week” that coincides with 63 days past the breeding date, expect that the bitch will whelp early or late versus your predication, since Murphy’s Law and Mother Nature are best friends. I have been present for every puppy that I produced. I cannot imagine leaving a bitch alone at such a time. You should be well educated on what to do if a puppy is born and doesn’t start to breathe on its own. There won’t be time to find the page in the “Breeding Dogs” book when that happens. You need to adjust your “midwife” style to the specific bitch – some are happy you are there to assist, others feel very stressed if you take the puppy away just to weight it and determine its gender. A stressed bitch may step on one of her other puppies to try to get to the one you are holding. You should have an excellent relationship with your veterinarian who may act nice if you call her at 3:00 AM and it’s not really an emergency, but who may hold it against you, too, if you do that too often. Knowing what is normal and what is an emergency is the scariest part of whelping a litter. Is two hours between puppies too long? You need to know how you will maintain the puppies at the right temperature without making the bitch too hot. With the first litter I whelped, I ended up sleeping on a mattress on the floor next to the whelping pen for six weeks because my strategy for keeping the mother with her puppies didn’t work and she tried to bring the all up stairs the first night, one by one. It was a fiasco.With some time and a connection to the internet, you will have access to a plethora of information on how to breed dogs, whelp a litter, a raise the puppies. But, as a professional dog trainer, my experience tells me that there are many people breeding dogs that have very poor skills on properly socializing puppies. If you get that part wrong, there may be some nearly irreversible complications that will make the puppies harder for their new owners to handle. That can result in returned puppies, if you choose to have a take-back policy. If you don’t, then you can assume that those puppies that you spend hours tending and loving may end up in a Rescue or Shelter or “tied out back” or left running loose on someone’s farm because, we all know, a dog that is trouble “needs to go to a farm where it can run free”. Whoever came up with that idea? Farm-running-dogs kill chickens. Chicken killers are shot. End of story. The mother will feed and care for the puppies for the first three weeks without much intervention from you, as long as you are able to give her what she needs and keep things warm and clean. She will probably NOT want to have any other dogs around her whelping area. So, you need to be prepared to keep your other dogs out of her space. At three weeks, you will need to offer some mushy gruel (the beginning of solid food) to the puppies and shortly thereafter, the mother quits cleaning up after them. Now, you have 8 puppies eating and pooping in a small space that needs to be kept very clean. It becomes overwhelming for many people. So, they put an ad in the paper and get the puppies “gone” by five or six weeks old. What many people don’t realize is that in most states, selling puppies under eight weeks old puppies is a crime. Weeks four through eight become very labor intensive and expensive. We move our puppies to a large whelping pen that we generously fill with cedar shavings in order to keep the puppies clean and dry. Those need to be shoveled out every few days and replaced with fresh shavings. Around here, we pay $7 for a large bag of shavings and we use three bags to fill the whelping pen. We exchange the shavings no less than twice a week. So, that’s nearly two hundred dollars just for shavings from week four through eight.Finally, who is your perfect puppy buyer? How will you market the puppies? If you only produce average puppies you will only get average puppy buyers. If you produce puppies out of highly educated decisions, you will be able to secure more educated buyers. Educated buyers will ask questions about why you bred that specific litter. They may ask about the dog’s temperaments and may expect more of an answer than, “Molly is a great dog, she’s really sweet”. Will you have evidence to support your claims, such as Molly’s performance at an obedience trial, a sledding competition or the fact that she is a registered Therapy Dog (meaning that she had to pass a test to show a minimal level of obedience and ability to be handled)? Educated buyers should understand their role in continuing the training that you started with your litter of puppies. They will be more compelled to call you with questions if something arises and they need some assistance. Will you know the answers? What if a puppy buyer calls you about their 14 week old puppy claiming that it is aggressive and it bit their child? What will you say?Do you plan to offer to “take back” any puppy for any reason for the REST OF ITS LIFE and do you have the room to take back an adult dog at any time? Most likely, if you do need to take back an adult dog it will come with some type of behavioral issues. Are you equipped and prepared to rehabilitate the dog’s behavioral issues so that you can re-home it? I understand that a person has to start somewhere. For me, I had trained three Border Collies to at least the intermediate level, and two to the Advanced level of herding and obedience trials, earned working titles to the advanced level in three different herding venues before I bred my first litter. Then, I waited another 8 years before I bred my second litter, during which time I traded a full time corporate job for a full time career working with dogs and operating a sheep ranch where I used several different Border Collies on my livestock. I know that most people won’t follow that path. But, you asked the question. Do I think that you are equipped to become a Siberian Husky breeder? Probably not. But, it’s not my call. It is yours. Do you think you are equipped to become a reputable breeder?Why did you choose the Siberian Husky? Don’t take this wrong, but it happens to be on my top five list of “breeds you should not get as a novice dog owner”. It’s a very challenging breed because it wasn’t designed to work in partnership with humans in the same way as, say, the retrievers or herding breeds were developed. If you were to read my article on how to select the right breed for you assuming you did not already have your huskies, what breeds would end up on your list based on the criteria that I suggest are followed in the article?How To Choose The Right BreedTry to be unbiased in your answer. If Siberian Huskies don’t really fall into the category that would suit you best, it may be a reason for you to reconsider what you are doing. But, if the Siberian Husky is definitely the right breed for you, then, you should have already shown initiative to learn everything you can about the breed by, perhaps, going to dog shows to meet other experienced (and highly successful) Siberian Husky breeders. If you are fortunate, you may find someone who is interested in mentoring you on the specifics about the breed so that you can make good decisions when you begin to breed your own dogs. Maybe you could pay someone to mentor under them or be willing to apprentice when they train or show their dogs by volunteering to help groom, hold a dog at ring-side, help out when they are training their dogs. You may be granted the rare opportunity to be present for a whelping. Or, perhaps, you would be bold enough to have a few of those expert Siberian Husky folks evaluate your dogs for you. Don’t be upset if they are overly critical. If you really want to do this right, you may have to scrap the dogs that you have already acquired for better quality stock. You may be encouraged by the expert Siberian Husky breeders to join their club and participate in some breed specific group outings (maybe they have weight pulling contests associated with their annual picnic where you can enter your dogs). If you can get to know people who are already successfully doing what you want to do, you will have a better chance at doing things right, the first time. I began training dogs with a club in Chicago in 1983. I didn't breed my first litter until 1994, after spending most of my weekends either at Dog Shows, Obedience Trials, taking herding lessons, or attending Herding Trials for ten years. I was young, single and wholly dedicated to learning all that I could by doing it as well as observing others who were far more experienced than I was. As far as quitting your “day job” to raise puppies, let’s be reasonable. You have three bitches that should not be bred more than once every other estrus cycle. More than likely, at least two of your bitches will cycle around the same time. You should be very careful not to produce two litters at the same time, since the work to properly care for one litter will be sufficient for a new breeder. So, perhaps you can breed one bitch in the fall and the other in the spring. Perhaps you will have seven puppies in a litter. Take away the income from one puppy to cover the stud fee. So, you have the capacity to “make money” off of six puppies every six months. Let’s assume you did not spend the resources to earn a breed Championship on your females, and let’s assume that you were not able to find a Champion stud dog to breed to your dogs (most owners of Champions are selective to which bitches they breed, so that the quality of the resulting puppies doesn’t diminish their dog’s reputation). From a quick view at puppyfind.com for Siberian Huskies, I am going to assume that you may be able to sell your puppies for $650 - $750, if you get the health screens performed on your breeding females but no other working titles. That means that you could gross up to $4,500 for a litter. From that you must subtract the cost of producing that litter (the cost to maintain your dogs, their training, their health care and health screens, the care of the puppies for the first 8+ weeks, the cost of marketing your puppies, the cost of having to speak with potential buyers to screen them if you plan to screen buyers for your precious puppies). You’ll have to do the math, yourself, based on what you choose to put into your breeding dogs regarding any training or evaluations. Then, delete those costs from the $4,500 you hope to earn if you do get a litter of seven. What happens if you have a litter of just three, instead? Subtract the stud fee; you gross $1500 and you end up in the hole.If you can produce two litters per year, you need to ask yourself whether you can live on $5000 a year. I’d say, don’t quit your day job! For permission to reprint email Tammie.