Introduction

Inseminating a bitch and raising a healthy and attractive litter of puppies is expensive, time consuming, and emotionally draining.

Most people who have been successfully breeding Bulldogs for decades do not make a profit at it. Between the cost of shows (including the entry fees, travel, hotels, meals), medical care for the bitch and the litter (including the delivery, shots, etc.), and the cost of raising the litter (including the stud fee, whelping box, thermometers, Esbilac, washing bedding, dog food, etc.), you should assume that you won't either.

Almost all Bulldog puppies are born by Cesarean section. While free-whelping does occur, the breed is not designed to free-whelp easily. The combination of large head and narrow hips makes passage through the birth canal difficult. Those interested in genetic hardiness argue that only animals that free whelp should be permitted to reproduce; to do otherwise perpetuates dogs with traits that could not survive on their own.

If you believe that, don't breed Bulldogs - Beagles or Goldens would be better for you. As mentioned above, Bulldogs are a breed shaped by humans for the specific purpose of fighting bulls and then bred to change their disposition when bull baiting was outlawed. The breed could not survive in its present form on its own. Unless the Standard is changed, free-whelping is not a significant part of Bulldog breeding.

Breeding Issues

Taking the bitch to be bred, making sure she's eating both before whelping and while nursing, the first few sleepless nights with the new litter, and weaning the puppies, all take an investment of time and energy. Of course, you can ship semen and have someone raise the litter for you, but that adds significantly to the cost.

Breeding is emotionally draining. First you worry that the bitch did not take. Then you worry that the pregnancy is healthy and that the bitch will survive it; then the possibility of having to make decisions about water puppies and cleft palates before you take the puppies home; and finally you worry that they will die in the first few days at home. You worry about all the "what ifs."

If you are married, you can be reasonably sure that the combination of the strain and the loss of sleep will lead to some degree of tension in the household. Just remember that this is an unusual time, keep your sense of humor, and you'll come through it fine.

Before you get into this you need to be sure that this is something you really want to do and something for which you are emotionally prepared. You also need to understand why you are doing this breeding. No dog or bitch needs to have puppies just to have the experience or to feel fulfilled. If you are seeking to reproduce a parent, remember that children may resemble their parents, but they are not the same. If you are looking for carbon copy of your dog or bitch, you will be disappointed.

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Basics of Breeding

Owning a quality bitch, getting her pregnant, and having puppies does not make you a breeder of pure-bred dogs. You must, of course, do all that, but you also need to have a clear idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your bitch and a goal towards which you are breeding. If you don't, any good puppies you get will be the result of luck, not your ability as a breeder. There are long-time breeders who believe that you don't become a breeder until your third generation. Before that, you are only building on the work of others, not your own breeding program. Of course, the AKC considers the owner of the bitch as the breeder of the litter.

To be a successful breeder, you must remember all those things we told you when you were picking out a puppy. If you picked well (and had some luck), you now own a really good bitch. To breed her properly, you need to know the Standard of Excellence for the Breed and understand how your bitch fits within it. What areas need to be strengthened and where does she excel? To understand that fully, you must have seen other Bulldogs and compared them to the Standard and among themselves.

You must read the pedigrees of the dogs you are considering for stud and understand how they mesh with that of your bitch. The more you know about the dogs in the pedigrees, and the more dogs you have actually seen, the better will you be able to evaluate the potential success of the alternative matings. You should talk to your bitch's breeder and other breeders for advice. They usually are friendly and helpful. It will be time well spent.

Most do not breed a bitch before she is a year and a half old (by which time she should have had two or three seasons) or after she is five. Most do not breed a bitch more than three time and frequently breed fewer than three times. Since the timing of the cycle differs from bitch to bitch, this means a bitch will be bred for the first time no earlier than about a year and a half (for one with a short cycle) and no later than about two and a half (for one with a long cycle). Of course, if you are actively showing a bitch, you may want to modify this if she is close to finishing. Some bitches never regain their shape after breeding. Although some judges give them leeway, you don't want to have to count on this for a promising bitch.

The Bitch

The first thing you need to be sure of is that your bitch is in the best condition possible. Even if she is not being shown, she needs regular exercise. She should be a good weight, but muscle weight, not fat. She should be fed a high quality dog food which contains all her required nutrition. Food is not the place to skimp if you want healthy puppies.

She should be checked by your Vet about two months before you expect to breed her so he can determine whether there are any physical impediments to her being bred. He will make sure that she does not have worms, that her shots are current (she shouldn't be inoculated while in whelp or nursing) and that any infections are brought under control. Vaginal infections are a major cause of matings which do not take, although done at the right time.

The Stud

As a good breeder who has researched pedigrees, get and show records of potential studs, you will have decided on the stud dog well in advance of the breeding. If you bought the bitch on breeder's terms, you probably have to use the stud chosen by her breeder or, at least, get her breeder to agree to the stud.

You should look for several things in choosing a stud. First, you want a dog who exhibits the characteristics needed to improve the bitch. It's crucial to know what you are breeding towards.

Second, You want a dog whose get are strong in those traits, preferably in several litters from different bitches. You want to know that the dog consistently passes-on the important traits, not just that he has them.

Third, you want a dog who is strongly line bred himself. This improves further the chance that the traits seen in the dog are solidly backed in the genetic structure. A truly outstanding specimen, who has produced outstanding get, can get by with a somewhat weaker pedigree in our breeding program.

The amount of the stud fee is set by the owner of the dog, usually depending on the show record of the stud and the quality of past get. When you pay it is sometimes open to discussion, depending on how well you know the stud owner. Some want payment when the insemination takes place; some will wait until the pregnancy is confirmed by the Vet; others will wait until the puppies are on the ground. Most stud owners will repeat the breeding at no charge if the bitch does not conceive. You should be sure to get an understanding on all these issues up front.

Most stud owners will breed two or three times to ensure the bitch takes. Some will want you to bring the bitch each time; others will keep the bitch for the period of insemination. In part it depends on the distance between you and the stud owner. Just be sure to work it out, preferably in writing, in advance. The contract should identify the stud and the stud fee and say how many times the bitch will be bred and provide for rebreeding if she does not take.

If the stud owners are interested, the owners of the bitch agree to permit the stud owner to buy, at the going rate, any puppy after the breeder makes their pick(s). Although the stud's owner may not exercise this right, it's good to have it in the contract. It benefits the stud's owner in case the perfect puppy for their breeding program is available and it helps the breeder by providing a potential purchaser for a show prospect.

Inbteeding, Line Breeding, Outcrossing

We've frequently heard people say that they are breeding to a particular pedigree to obtain good qualities of a line breeding. They go on to say that there are several available studs with the same sire and dam and it doesn't matter which one they use since the pedigrees will be the same. While it's true that the paper behind the dogs will be identical, the dogs, and what they get, will not be. Two littermates may have a family resemblance, but they are not identical. They share some genes in common and differ in others. The interaction of multiple genes can make it difficult to judge genetic make-up from the appearance of the animal.

At this stage of genetic analysis, appearance and their history of getting offspring is the best gauge we have to go by to predict what the mating will produce. We can guess at the underlying genetic structure by looking at the appearance of the dog and the common traits found in the offspring. Although line breeding is an important part of a breeding program to solidify desired traits, line breeding on the pedigree is never enough in itself. We wouldn't be who we are if our mothers had married our uncles instead of our fathers. That's not to say that our uncles don't have smart, good-looking kids; they're just not us.

Those of us who have bred dogs have had the experience of looking over a litter to decide which ones were showable and which would wind up in pet homes. Although our judgments are not perfect, we all have seen from actual experience that dogs with identical paper behind them can show different strengths and weaknesses.

The dog we choose is usually either a line breeding for the bitch or an out-cross, but occasionally an in-breeding is beneficial in the right circumstances.

In-breeding is a mating among dogs which are closely related. This usually includes: sire or dam to daughter or son, sister to brother, and half-sister to half-brother breedings. In-breeding must be conducted carefully, since not only can you enhance desirable traits, but you can reinforce recessive, negative traits. If done carefully, with a stud or bitch who is known to be prepotent in desirable traits, with no history of passing on negative traits, in-breeding can be beneficial in rapidly establishing a line.

Line breeding is the mating of animals with common ancestors, but who are not closely related. A common ancestor within five generations is sometimes used as the cut-off, but the exact definition will vary from breeder to breeder. The most frequent line breedings are usually grand-sire or grand-dam to grand-daughter or grand-son, uncle or aunt to niece or nephew, and cousin to cousin matings. Line breeding is a good way to fix the occurrence of traits in a line over time, without taking as great a risk of the occurrence of negative traits as you can get with in-breeding.

Out-crossing is the breeding of animals with no common ancestors. The five-generation rule applies here, although some breeders will consider the repetition of animals in the fifth generation a line breeding. Out-crosses are useful to improve in a line a trait which is weak or absent by introducing entirely new genetic material. It is also used in breeding dogs which are already tightly in-bred, where further inbreeding might bring forth undesirable traits.

Which type of breeding you choose depends on the occurrence of the traits you want to breed in (and out) in the bitch's lines, the number of bitches you have with the same pedigree who have similar conformation, the need to diversify the gene pool of lines which you think are too inbred, and the availability of studs who meet your selection criteria. While an outstanding dog who is an outcross can be beneficial in a program which is strongly line bred, unless there is a specific reason to want to diversify the gene pool, you should generally prefer a strong line breeding for consistent results.

Timing the Mating

The most frequent reason for missed matings is breeding at the wrong time of the cycle. Bitches have been brought too late to breed because they ovulated earlier than average and their breeders brought them at an "average" time. It is better to bring the bitch early than late. Sperm can live several days inside the bitch, but once you pass the date for ovulation, you have only a short window to inseminate. Once past that, no amount of insemination is going to help create puppies.

The timing of ovulation is usually determined in one of two ways: microscopic examination of vaginal smears or progesterone testing.

Examination of vaginal smears can be done by anyone who has the equipment and the training to know what to look for. Changes in the cells are linked to the bitch's readiness to ovulate. It provides reasonable estimates of when to mate the bitch. This used to be the best method available, even though it can be off by several days.

Progesterone testing is now the most accurate method generally available for determining the time of ovulation. It measures the rise in the Lutenizing Hormone (LH). By measuring the LH peak, you can tell when the eggs are released into the fallopian tubes. Since it takes about three days for the eggs to attach themselves, your bitch will be able to conceive on the fourth day after the LH peak.

The progesterone test is a blood test done by your Vet. The kits are sold by several companies. As a side benefit of these tests, since you know when the eggs were released, you inseminated at the right time and you know the day fertilization took place. Therefore, you can more closely predict the date of expected delivery. The test permits targeting the whelping date within one day plus or minus. This is far superior to the guesses based on insemination date that used to be the only standard.

Achieving the Mating

The mating is the responsibility of the stud's owner. Bitches are brought to studs because it is easier to get them to perform in familiar surroundings. Breeding can be done either naturally or artificially. Both methods have their strong advocates.

Those favoring the natural method say it improves the drive and demeanor of the stud. It also shows that the breed has not been so altered that natural breeding is impossible. Those favoring artificial insemination (AI) means say it's easier and quicker. The chance of infection is also reduced.

Bulldogs have already been engineered by man to be what they are. With massive heads and chests and comparatively small rears, it is difficult to get a dog to successfully mount the bitch. Assistance is needed, it's just a matter of degree between the two ways.

By using AI you also gain another advantage: you can use fresh chilled semen from a stud across the country. Rather than ship your bitch, you can bring the semen to her. The AKC has requirements to identify the sire of the litter, so a Vet must be used and their regulations require genetic identification via DNA testing of any stud who has sired more than six litters. If the stud is not local, it may be better to used chilled semen than risking your bitch by shipping her to the stud. It can also be used it when illness prevents your going on a long car trip to the stud. The AKC requires special forms for the use of AI using freshly collected semen, but the stud owner may inseminate the bitch.. For the use of AI with chilled semen, special forms and an additional fee are required and a veterinarian must do the insemination.

Finally, by freezing semen, you can retain the reproductive use of a top stud after he dies. As part of your breeding program, this is the only way to guarantee that an accident or untimely death doesn't set you back years. Semen freezing must be done at an AKC approved center and the dog must be DNA tested. The costs are several hundred dollars per collection and freezing, with an annual fee for storage. Insemination must be done by a veterinarian and special forms and an additional fee are required by the AKC to register the litter.

Learning to collect semen for AI and to inseminate the bitch is not difficult. Your breeder can probably give you lessens. You can do it with only a paper cup, a syringe and a catheter. More sophisticated arrangements using a rubber artificial vagina may be easier on the novice.

All equipment used should be sterilized before use and handled before storage to minimize bacterial contamination. The equipment can be sterilized by boiling it in water for about ½ hour. Avoid using any chemicals, soaps, or cleansers since, even if present in small amounts, they can kill sperm. Remember that the equipment must be given time to return to room temperature before use - leave enough time for cooling after sterilization.

The best way to learn to do AI is to find a mentor who can show you the proper procedures. It easier to learn when you can see what is happening than to have it described to you. Most Bulldoggers are friendly and open and will be happy to assist you in learning all you need to know about handling your stud.

Before inseminating the bitch, be sure she has had an opportunity to urinate. You want to avoid having her squat down for a few hours after insemination to prevent loss of the semen. To inseminate the bitch, attach the syringe to the catheter. It helps if a second person sits on the floor with the bitch supported across his or her legs. This will be helpful later, when you need to elevate the bitch's rear.

Place the catheter into the vagina for a distance of six to eight inches by sliding it along the top of the vaginal cavity. This will place it near the cervix where the sperm will be close to the uterus. Empty the syringe slowly. Compress the lips of the vulva around the syringe to prevent the loss of any semen when the catheter is removed. Elevate the hindquarters for about 10 minutes while you massage the vulva. This should stimulate contractions to aid the passage of the sperm. Keep the bitch quiet for a few hours.

With any luck, in nine weeks you will have healthy puppies. Then the hard part begins.