Category Archives: Dog Breeding

Dog Breeding – Conformity vs Individualism

Opinion piece: What do you want your dog to look like?

Jeremy Vine does a series of pieces entitled ‘What makes us human?‘ on Radio 2 and this is a picture that sums up a viewpoint I have realised over the past few days in relation to this question.  It is similar to a picture I saw on social media with a man in camouflage trousers and a neon top with the caption “do ye wanna be seen o’ no?” (Scottish) Lol.  Here I am, with my camouflage jacket and my bright purple hair.

What’s the point I am making?  We want to be the same as everyone else. We are desperate to conform, to fit in, to be seen as ‘normal’, to go unnoticed.  AND we are desperate to be different, to stand out, to be memorable.  In order to achieve these two opposing and confrontational goals, we will buy the latest fashion, follow the trends, look carefully at what others are doing and copy it.  There are many entertaining social experiments about people going along with a crowd, performing in increasingly bizarre ways, just to do the same as everyone else.

Equally, there is a constant battle to be just a little bit different, to be memorable and not the same as everyone else.  We give children ridiculous names, or spell their names in ridiculous ways.  We get tattoos, with our own versions of patterns or pictures making us look a bit different from other people (while following the fashion for body art).  We dye our hair.

How does this relate to dogs?

I watched the Catherine Tate programme Saving the British Bulldog the other night (watch it, if you haven’t already, it’s really good).  Catherine presents a really clear, balanced picture of what has happened to the bulldog breed and why this has taken place.  In my view, this represents  this same dichotomy between conforming and being different.

The Kennel Club have a breed standard for the British Bulldog. It says right at the outset:

“A Breed Standard is the guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance including the correct colour of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function. Absolute soundness is essential.

“Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed.

There it is, in black and white.  So what’s going on?  Breeders are breeding for health and to produce the best examples of the breed, conforming to the ‘standard’ set.  BUT people don’t want all dogs to look the same.  They want them to look different. People want a dog, but they want it to look like a baby.

As the programme demonstrates, this make the dog unhealthy, because it becomes deformed.  This is NOT the fault of the Kennel Club, nor the breeders, but the buying public, who are trying to find a particular ‘look’, no matter what that costs.

Health comes first

Surely we would not deliberately buy something that was unhealthy, would we?  We wouldn’t choose to have an unhealthy child, would we?  So why would we choose to have a dog with inherent health problems?

crufts best in show 2018If we only cared about dog health, we would all have dogs that are shaped like dogs.  A bit like this year’s Crufts Best in Show, Tease the Whippet, (Collooney Tartan Tease). The Kennel Club says that the Whippet was originally bred for rabbit coursing, with gambling on racing in the North of England.  It goes on to say:

“Although Whippet racing continues on a very minor scale, the breed is now hugely popular in the show ring where its elegant lines and smooth daisycutting action has won many admirers. As a family companion, the Whippet is gentle and affectionate and enjoys the comforts of domestic life.”

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  But we don’t all want Whippets, do we?  We want something different.

The same, but different

This is all just an excuse to talk about my puppy, Ounce.  I LOVE that she is different – pretty unique in fact.  She is a lilac and white Border Collie, which is a colour that is found in only around 1% of the breed.  In addition, she has blue eyes, which is even rarer.  Blue eyes are definitely not part of the breed standard.

At the same time, Ounce conforms to the ‘show type’ of Border Collie, because she is from those lines.  So she is more ‘stocky’ than a farm-bred, working sheepdog type Border Collie.  She has the pedigree Border Collie broad, short back and head, and she has a thicker, longer coat than a working sheepdog.  She has very even markings, with a white blaze, full mane, white socks and white tail tip.  Ounce is also a ‘typical collie’ in her temperament and behaviour. Lovely.

The evolutionary compulsion

In my opinion, there is a biological reason why we want to conform and be different.  We need to ‘fit in’ so that we can be desirable to others, but we also need a diverse gene pool and we need to attract a mate.  To meet these needs, we are prepared to do almost anything and ‘variety is the spice of life’.

Going back to the health issues, we are, unfortunately, prepared to do many things in order to be ‘attractive’ to others.  People have always been happy to mutilate themselves and each other in the name of beauty, eg stilettos, makeup, piercings, FGM.  This is well documented, so I do not need to detail it here.

This compulsion is transferred to our dogs.  We want the same as everyone else, but we want ours to be better.  More beautiful, more unusual, more extreme, more fierce and so on.

My mother has passed down a family expression to me, which my sons now say.  It was said by my great-grandmother; “It’s a good job we’re not all the same, or we’d all want to marry the same man.  And it wouldn’t be you Charlie.”  Poor Charlie!  My conclusion is that we strive to be different, while fighting to be part of the human race.  It’s what makes us human, but also what makes us part of the evolutionary process.  Purple hair, purple puppy, something different.

Hopefully, we can recognise the need to promote the healthy ‘normal’ while celebrating the beautiful variety of life.  Pedigree dogs should be healthy, but this is only true as long as responsible breeders can produce enough dogs to meet public demand. Once we clamour for more and more ‘designer dogs’, unscrupulous people will see a chance to make big bucks by compromising standards, as Catherine Tait’s programme demonstrated.  Please bear in mind what a dog should look like when considering what to get for your best friend?


If you are buying a dog, start by looking at the What Dog? page, then contact me?  Or if you want to breed, read this Dog Breeding Blog and then please CONTACT ME to discuss this, as I may be able to mentor you?

Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.


Crufts – the greatest dog show in the world

It’s a Dog’s World

Spent the day at Crufts, at the NEC in Birmingham.  Such a lovely atmosphere – dog people are the nicest, always.  Watched the YKC agility, including Hollie, who owns Ounce’s sister Pixie, running with her other dog, Blue.

Then I met some great breeders of hounds and terriers, talking to them about the challenge of finding a good dog and wanting to have other great breeders and breeds of dog to recommend, as part of my What Dog? service.

Did some shopping, including a little something new from Dogs & Horses – more on that later..  And some new toys for the girls, of course!

Then into the arena to watch the Heelwork to Music, followed by some great agility.  Heaven!

Congratulations to Sam Lane and Rival for winning the Novice Cup!

Caring for your diabetic dog

Managing long-term health conditions in your pets

Just as with human medicine, animal medical care is advancing all the time.  We are constantly improving what we can manage and how long animals with long-term conditions can be kept alive.  The great thing is that any advances in animal care may well be transferred to human medicine, meaning that we all live even longer – great!

I have already talked about Luna in relation to her last litter and written about what went wrong.  Since then, Luna has been diagnosed with diabetes and I thought it would be useful to review the management of this condition so far.

Symptoms of diabetes

These are similar to the symptoms of type 1 diabetes in humans, namely:

  • excessive thirst
  • excessive urination
  • lethargy or depression
  • unexplained weight loss

Luna has always been a ‘thirstier dog’ than my other dogs.  She has also been more prone to urine infections and has been the one more likely to have the occasional accident overnight.  She has had periods where she will suddenly produce a huge amount of urine in the house.  These symptoms were not hard to manage and I just thought that she had slightly poorer bladder control, compared with the other dogs.

When she was pregnant last year, both the drinking and urination seemed to get worse.  I was a bit unhappy about this, but she had no other symptoms and seemed generally in good health otherwise.  However, after she had gone through the delivery and subsequent operation, she had a period of seeming better than before.  This was followed by a gradual decline in her demeanour.  She became less lively and more subdued.  It was hard to pinpoint, but over the course of a few weeks we became aware that something wasn’t quite right.

Over Christmas, I realised that Luna was losing weight.  Again, it was quite a slow process and quite subtle, but by the time we were into the Christmas holidays, I knew she wasn’t right.  So on 27th December, I took her into the vet’s, expecting the worst.  Her weight had gone from 17-18 kgs to 15.95 kgs.  Straight away, the vet knew it was diabetes; there was glucose in her urine and a blood test confirmed it.

Initial management – routine is the key

So there we were, learning how to inject our dog, using a teddy bear to practice on!  It was a bit daunting, but we were given a ‘medipen’ which seemed pretty foolproof.  Well Chris managed to bend the needle on one of his practices, but we felt reasonably confident about having a go.

We were told that routine is the key to managing diabetes successfully in a dog.  So it would be no good giving her a quick walk round the block some days and a great long hike at the weekends.  Or putting down food for her to pick out when she wanted.  Or giving her treats throughout the day.

Fortunately for me, I also thrive on routine.  I get up and feed the dogs at 7am, every day, more or less.  I then walk them for around an hour, off lead, every day, roughly an hour after breakfast.  I used to feed them again at 4pm, but Luna must have her injections every 12 hours, with food.  So now they are fed at 7pm as well.  That was the biggest change.  It is also the hardest to stick to, since if we go out for a meal, or to the cinema, or I have a governors’ meeting and no-one else is in, then the routine must change slightly.  But we are really lucky, because I am around most of the time and able to set my own routine.

Giving the injections every 12 hours has become as routine as cleaning my teeth.  Fetch kit from fridge, open and screw on needle, turn dial to required number of units, remove cap. Wait for Luna to finish her (special diabetes) food, grab a handful of skin on the scruff of her neck and jab in the needle.  Press the button, wait 5 seconds and rub it.  Give her a kiss and tell her she is a special girl.  Remove needle and put in sharps bin.  Return kit to fridge.  Check there are plenty of needles and insulin phials.  Order more of these and/or sacks of food as required.  (I recommend Pet Drugs Online for this)

Of course there has been the odd mishap.  I have stuck the needle into my finger or thumb a few times.  Bent the needle once or twice.  Squirted the insulin onto my hand instead of into her neck.  Panicked that there isn’t enough left in the phial and when I should change it over.

Stabilising the condition

Luna immediately improved following the diagnosis.  She went back to her normal self; happy and lively.  Her weight slowly returned to normal, over the next few weeks.  She stopped drinking and weeing to excess.  Fantastic.  We were told it could take a few months to stabilise the condition and to sort out the correct dosage of insulin.  Luckily, we have a good routine and this seems to have really benefitted Luna, as she has been doing really well.

After a couple of weeks, Luna spent the whole day at the vet’s having something called a ‘glucose curve’ done.  They did the equivalent of a pinprick test on her every hour and looked at the level of glucose in her blood.  This told them whether she was on the correct dosage.  Then a month later, she went back for a blood test, which showed the levels over a longer period.  This will be reviewed again 3 months later.

Hypo or hyper?

When the glucose levels are not stable, diabetics can become hypo- or hyperglycaemic.  In people, this is a concern and diabetics generally check their blood glucose levels throughout the day and change their food intake accordingly.  However, in dogs this is less variable, so less of an issue.  We were told that if her glucose level was ‘out’ she would generally seem unwell and we should take her into the vet’s to be checked and treated accordingly.  Fingers crossed, nothing has happened, yet.

One variable Luna has to cope with is her agility training and competition.  We made the decision to continue with this, as she really enjoys it, it keeps her fit and mentally stimulated and is part of her normal life.  She was so happy to be back!  She really loves running around with Chris.  I tend to find that a few hours after a lesson, she will come up to me and tell me that she is feeling in need of a ‘little something’.  I give her a handful of her normal food and she is fine.  Simple!

Other long-term conditions

In addition to managing Luna’s diabetes, I monitor Sunny’s arthritis.  She has spent her life jumping around after balls and doing agility (she retired aged 10), so it’s not surprising that she has a bit of stiffness in her shoulders.  She is on an anti-inflammatory for this and I make sure that she has regular check-ups.

Then the cat also suffered from pancreatitis last year and has had some ongoing kidney issues, for which he has a specialist renal diet.  All good fun!

As you can see, there are many ways in which we monitor and care for our pets, thanks to the ongoing development of veterinary medicine.  Personally, I don’t believe animals should be kept alive at any cost, but for something like diabetes, the prognosis is really good.  I am indebted to MK Veterinary Group for their care.


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

If you are buying a dog, start by looking at the What Dog? page, then contact me?  Or if you want to breed, read this Dog Breeding Blog and then please CONTACT ME to discuss this, as I may be able to mentor you?

Different Types of Breeder

What is the right kind of breeder?


I’ve just received confirmation that I have passed my assessment to retain my Assured Breeder Status with the Kennel Club; all measures marked as ‘satisfactory’ (the top mark) and no required improvements recommended.  I am very proud to remain as a member of this accredited scheme and believe that it demonstrates breeding to the highest standard.  However, not all breeders ‘need’ to meet this standard.

What other kinds of breeder are there?  I found this great article on the Junior Bulldog Club website.

Pet Breeder

This is by far the most common type of breeder.  Someone who just fancies having a litter from their dog.  They probably own less than four dogs.  They have a limited range of knowledge and expect everything to be easy.  This breeder wants to keep a pup from their dog and thinks that the rest will go to family and friends.

Being a pet breeder is fine if things go according to plan.  Unfortunately, ‘there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip’ as they say and many challenges can occur.  Ideally, such breeders will enlist the help of an experienced breeder, to act as a mentor.  I have been lucky enough to have a number of experienced breeders engaged in supporting me over the years and have learnt a great deal from them.

If you fancy having a go, Please CONTACT ME to discuss this first?

Hobby/Show Breeder

This is actually how I would classify myself.  Someone who has less than 10 dogs (I’m working on it!) and has around 1-2 litters per year.  We breed because we are looking to demonstrate skill and competence of breeding the highest quality dogs, with health and breed type being extremely important to us.  As the article says:

“They usually voluntary health check their dogs and are active in the canine community whether that being from exhibiting, supporting charitable canine events, education days and may belong on breed committees and sub-committees.  They are actively keeping pace with developments and progression in canine care and will normally actively encourage and engage  new people to the breed and offer assistance and help where possible.”

Puppies from a breeder like this will be advertised on their own website, on breed-only websites or on the Kennel Club.  We usually send our puppies to pet homes, including new dog owners.  Breeders like this will ‘vet’ homes rigorously, so expect to be questioned closely.

“These breeders tend to have a waiting list due to the infrequency of their breeding but you’ll probably benefit significantly by waiting!”


Licensed Breeder

This type of breeder takes things seriously.  They breed on a larger scale and will have over 10 dogs.  They will probably keep their dogs in outdoor runs or kennels, or adjacent buildings.

“They will have adhered to various regulations with respect to the living conditions of the dogs they own.”

These breeders are likely to have additional dog-related businesses, such as grooming, boarding kennels  or training classes.  Breeders who take out a license want to do everything well, including health testing.  They will be well-known within dog circles.  They are likely to have a waiting list, but will be able to meet demand, as they have a number of litters per year.  Usually, puppies will be advertised on their own website and the Kennel Club.

A word of caution here. Having a Licence to breed dogs from the local council does not necessarily mean the breeder meets the standards set out by the Kennel Club in the Assured Breeder Scheme.

HIGH VOLUME BREEDER (or puppy farmer)

Number of dogs unknown. The dogs/puppies are classed as ‘stock’ and they breed for profit. They are most likely to sell to the pet market for an above average price due to the demand for the puppies they have. At first glance it may not seem apparent and they can seem reputable. 

Puppies will probably hold all Kennel Club registration papers, although these might be forged, so won’t be given to buyers. NB: if you are buying a PEDIGREE dog you need a registration certificate from the BREED REGISTER, NOT THE ACTIVITY REGISTER. Because their main priority is to make money they need to keep costs low, the question is how?

Look out for some of these signs!

  • Using their own or local stud dogs
  • Having multiple (5+) litters from females (they won’t tell you this, but you can ask)
  • Mating females on consecutive seasons, giving little time for her body to recuperate (they won’t tell you this – ask how many litters the bitch has had)
  • Dogs and puppies are reared on lower quality foods
  • They seem to have a constant supply of puppies because they own many breeding females or selling puppies that other people have reared for them
  • They have no older dogs because they rehome them once they no longer earn them money
  • Cut corners – puppies may not have had full worming treatment or veterinary treatment they required, leading to serious illness and death
  • They may breed only ‘rare’ types e.g. colours or size because they can charge more (they are rare for a reason)!
  • Dogs and puppies lack the voluntary health initiatives and as breeders they have little interest or education on the benefits they will bring
  • They may have multiple other breeds that are easy to breed which will maintain cash flow
  • They are likely to advertise in a lot of ‘free’ pet classified websites for exposure – a Google search of the contact telephone number will always give you a rough idea!

In conclusion

I think this is a great summary of the different types of breeder, so I wanted to share it with you.  The article also talks about ‘pitfalls to avoid’ including buying from imported dogs, breeders ‘boasting’ that their dogs are related to top show dogs.  It talks about avoiding breeders boasting ‘rare coloured bulldogs’.  This applies to all breeds – you may want to have something unusual, but don’t pay a premium for it.  It may be a crossbreed and therefore not actually what you expect it to be.  The article says to avoid ‘flashy’ websites – not many people write as prolifically as me!

Finally, the Junior Bulldog Club website advises caution when looking at the Assured Breeder List.  Prior to the assessment visits, it was possible to become an Assured Breeder just by filling in the form and paying the fee.  This made it easy for a puppy farmer to register.  Nowadays the requirements are much stricter and it is unlikely that a commercial breeder would qualify. 

The article suggests that you should buy from KC Assured Breeders with at least 3 of the accolades available: Breeding Experience (which I have), Kennel Club studbook recognition (which I can’t get as I don’t show my dogs) and Breed Club membership (not desirable for me as I don’t show my dogs). I think that advice is outdated.

Ask for help?

As you can see, it’s a minefield!  Fortunately there is plenty of help available.  If you are buying a puppy, start by looking at the Find a Dog page.  Or if you want to breed, read my Dog Breeding Blog and then please CONTACT ME to discuss this, as I may be able to mentor you?


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

Dogs that change your life

Who is your ‘Dog of a Lifetime’?

Happy 4th Birthday to my magical imp, Busy.  Part of a Fairytale Litter and a fairytale story.  She wasn’t meant to stay with me; I had three dogs at the time, which was quite sufficient, thank you.  Within a few days of them arriving, I had seven lovely homes for seven lovely puppies.  But friends kept saying to me “You love that one, don’t you?”  And I really did.  When the puppies were three weeks old I had a really hectic weekend with all seven owners coming to meet their puppies for the first time. Some of these were complete strangers to me, so it was hard work.  I had mentally allocated all the pups beforehand, so was pleased to be able to sort out who was going where.

Unfortunately, Busy had other ideas.  After everyone had gone, I had a sleepless night, realising that I could not let her go.  She was my little imp, that’s all there was to it.

The Dentbros family

What a dog she has turned out to be!  After all the others had gone, I spent four weeks waiting to take her out, sitting around the house.  I was trying to catch up with my work, which meant that the house was quiet and we just sat around all day.  When we were finally allowed out, people kept saying to me “Isn’t she calm?”  Which was a bit of a shame, since I had called her Busy!


Actually, she is a bit of an contradiction, as she is extremely busy when running around in the woods, or on the agility field.  She is very good at entertaining herself and rushes about the kitchen, shaking her favourite toy ‘Snakey’ in a very entertaining way.

Yet she is also extremely gentle and the perfect dog to work with children in school. Because of her I have met some wonderful children and staff at my local Junior School, as part of the Pets As Therapy Read2Dogs scheme.

Busy proved to be a brilliant mum to her litter and continues to play with and tolerate the puppy.  They look so funny, tearing around on our walks.
Overall, Busy is an amazing dog, who has definitely changed my life. I still think her mum, Sunny is my ‘dog of a lifetime’ as she introduced me to breeding AND agility and has created a legacy of amazing dogs. I think Ounce will also prove life changing; she is a very special character, whom I have already trained differently to my other dogs.  How lucky am I to have such incredible dogs in my life?


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

What does a good breeder look like?

Turns out, a responsible breeder looks a bit like me!  Well not all of us have purple hair, although we do have a tendency to eccentricity, since our lives revolve around our dogs.

Assured Breeder Seminar

On Saturday, I went to an Assured Breeder Seminar, run by the ABS department of the Kennel Club.  It was a great day, well run, well attended (100 people) and with some very interesting talks, on the following subjects:

  • Fourteen years of the Assured Breeder Scheme; how the scheme has developed since its inception
  • The importance of health testing and screening, such as hips scoring, elbow grading and EBVs
  • Changes to the puppy contract; showing compassion and dealing with issues; and the legal implications of social media to exacerbate issues
  • The rise in illegal puppy imports
  • Breeding Licence Regulations and the DEFRA Reform
  • Focus groups to allow breeders to discuss recommendations for the future of the scheme.

I learnt a great deal and had the chance to speak to lots of lovely dog breeders.  It seems that there are in fact plenty of responsible people doing a great job, just for the love of it.  Listening to the history of the scheme and the way it has progressed reflects the way that we think about dog breeding in this country.

front row: Luna, Sunny back row: Aura, Bea, Pudding, Wispa, Chip, Busy. And me, the proud breeder!


Demand for dogs

It is estimated that in this country we ‘need’ around 800,000 puppies each year, just to ‘replace’ dogs that have died.  The Kennel Club expects to register around 300,000 dogs this year.  The remaining dogs will include crossbreeds and people doing a ‘one off’ litter from their family pet.  Sadly, a large number of these puppies also come from commercial breeders and illegal imports.

We were told that 73% of breeders only have one litter and only 5% have more than 10 litters.  There are around 4,500 members of the Assured Breeder Scheme.  Talking to the breeders around me, most of us Assured Breeders have had dogs for a long time and generally have around one litter per year.  That’s around 5-10 puppies, per year.  Not enough to meet demand, is it?

Breeding for health, not money

What was apparent in listening to other breeders, backing up the view I expressed last week in my post Should I breed from my dog? is that it is difficult to be a responsible breeder AND make money doing it.  It’s one or the other, generally.  This is one of the reasons that Assured Breeders do not generally have a licence from their Local Authority; we see it as a hobby only.

“Where you buy could determine whether they live or die”

Lovely babies!

Responsible breeders stop dogs going into rescue

They do this by:

  • vetting prospective owners and matching puppies to the correct homes
  • telling owners to look at alternative breeds and/or not to have a puppy
  • taking puppies back rather than allowing them to be dumped.

It is a never-ending challenge for the Kennel Club, trying to persuade dog buyers that this is the case.  Fortunately, other organisations such as RSPCA, Dog’s Trust, Battersea and the Government are now working alongside the Kennel Club to promote this message.

Responsible breeding saves money

Agria Insurance have done an extensive survey and been able to demonstrate that there is a significant saving in vet’s fees when dogs are bred responsibly.  For example, puppies from an Assured breeder are 23% less likely to visit the vet and owners spend around 18% less in vet’s fees.

Why breed?

I did a poor job of answering this question last week.  In fact we do it to:

  • improve the breed
  • continue strong, healthy breed lines
  • produce dogs that have good temperament and are fit for purpose.

Think before you buy?

One key fact that I learnt on Saturday about supply and demand should give us all pause to think.  From 2007-2016 demand for French Bulldogs went up, resulting in 3000% increase in registrations of the breed.  From 2015-16 registrations went up by 47% and this year it is expected that there will be 30,000 registrations for the breed.  There are now 31 Assured Breeders for the French Bulldog and 160 other breeders of the breed.  Wow!  Compared to just 23 listed Border Collie Assured Breeders.

In order to make so many puppies, what kind of life do those dogs have?  Who is loving them?  Are they having a litter every six months?  Are they being illegally imported, whilst pregnant, so that they can provide the puppies that the public are demanding?  What will happen to these dogs once the demand dries up?  Dumped or dead, most probably.  Please think before you buy?


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.



Should I breed from my dog?

What do I need to think about if I want to breed from my dog?

Discussing this round the dinner table yesterday, my father-in-law made an interesting point.  He said “If you’re breeding cows, you want to breed them to produce lots of milk.  If you’re breeding racehorses, you want them to run really fast.  But with dogs, you want so much from them.  You want to them to look a particular way, but also to have a good temperament as a pet, and to be keen to do dog sports etc etc.”  It’s a bit of a challenge, isn’t it?

As a breeder, I believe that I am just doing ‘what anyone would do’.  But is appears that this is not the case.  I want to produce the best puppies I can, who will go out there and enhance their owners’ lives.  I want them to be good with people and other dogs, to be ready and keen to learn, to be confident, outgoing dogs.  I want them to be as healthy as they can be and to live long, healthy lives.  I also want them to look fantastic!

In the last couple of days I have heard about a renowned agility trainer and competitor who has a large number of breeding dogs.  They are kept in barns and all mixed in together, so the parentage is not always clear.  They are delivered to their new owners, who do not visit and will not see them with their mum.  They are not registered as pedigrees, so they are not regulated.

I have also heard about a renowned obedience trainer and competitor who has had a fifth litter from a dog aged over 8 years, bred to a cousin probably.  Not ideal. Again, not registered as pedigrees, so not regulated.

Finally, (and most upsettingly) I have learnt that a dog owned by a show breeder who has sired an epileptic pup, has been used to sire another litter.  Because there is no proof that epilepsy is carried genetically and there is no test for epilepsy, they can do this.  Would you buy a pup, knowing that it might develop this disease?

All of these examples demonstrate that dog breeding is a minefield.  For those of us trying to do the right thing, we struggle to find dogs to mate with ours that are from healthy lines and have no temperament issues.

Why bother to breed?

The first thing to think about when considering whether to breed from your dog is why you want to do it.  Please, please do NOT do it for the sake of the dog.  I promise you it is a stressful and difficult process and they won’t thank you for it.  Many dogs hate the mating itself.  The health testing involves sedation and/or anaesthetic.  The births can involve trauma and the feeding is exhausting.   Even for a male dog, the process is hard work and stressful.  Keeping a male entire might seem like the kind thing to do, but you then have a dog being tormented by raging hormones and once used at stud, they will be forever searching for the next female.

I had watched and been involved with my mum having over a dozen litters from 7 different dogs over the years.  She had a very laid back approach and produced lovely puppies without too much difficulty.  I loved my dogs and loved the puppies, so always thought it would be a ‘fun thing to do’.

When I started, I was fortunate to have an experienced breeder to mentor me. She ensured that my dog was fully health tested and advised me about many aspects of breeding that I had not previously considered.  I have run a successful business and am a good administrator, so I have enjoyed that side of breeding, as well as producing lovely dogs.  But I had completely underestimated how emotionally challenging it would be, finding suitable homes and dealing with all the owners, supporting them through the process of taking their puppy home.

Health Testing

Before you do anything else, you need to ensure your dog is as healthy as it can be.  If you go and look at the KC Health testing page you can look up the requirements for each pedigree breed.  Of course if you are breeding a crossbreed, you should ensure that the parents have all the relevant test for their breed.  Poodles need eye testing and Labradors definitely need hip scoring, for example.  As I said, some tests involve the dog being knocked out and all are expensive.

Temperament Development

If you want to breed from your dog, you should ensure that it is of sound temperament.  This means that you need to train it.  If your dog is an uncontrollable maniac, it won’t make very nice puppies.  You need to engage its brain and develop its obedience.  You need it to be good with people, including children and other dogs.  You need to expose your dog to a variety of experiences.  It should be fit and athletic, participating in sports appropriate to its breed.

Proving your dog’s value

In order to demonstrate to people that your dog is worth something, you need to ‘campaign it’.  This means either showing it, or competing it in a sport, or having something to prove that it is not just any old mutt.  Of course eventually, if you have plenty of dogs and you produce lovely puppies, you will have testimonials and people will want to buy from you, being prepared to wait.  However initially, you may well find yourself with ten puppies and no homes for them.

Assured Breeder Scheme

Ideally, you want to become a Kennel Club Assured Breeder.  More about this scheme can be found on the KC website, looking at Assured Breeders for Border Collie for example.

Don’t do it for the money

You won’t make any!  If you go into as a commercial enterprise, you will be a puppy farm, putting the money before the welfare of the dogs.  It costs thousands of pounds and months of time to produce a litter of puppies and doing it on any sort of scale inevitably compromises the dogs.

In Conclusion

Dog breeding is an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience.  It’s certainly the best job I have ever had!  But it is also the worst; the hardest, the most emotional, the most upsetting.  Have a look at this Novice Breeder Checklist and then ask yourself: “is it worth the hassle?”


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What is good temperament in dogs?

What does it mean for a dog to have ‘good temperament’?

How would you describe yourself to someone new?  I think my husband might describe me as being ‘high maintenance’.  Intelligent, but a bit tricky, demanding and emotional.  Others might add that I am caring and thoughtful.  My sister would add ‘feisty’.  Thinking about my own temperament makes me realise why I love Border Collies so much – we are pretty similar.

“Beautiful Border Collies, bred for better temperament and health”

I think the picture of Aura above sums her up really well.  She is looking adoringly at me, because she wants me to throw the ball!  She is an extremely loving, caring dog who is generally happy and confident, liking nothing better than to cuddle up to you.  However, she is also a bit neurotic, as she is on the ‘fussy’ side, easily spooked and a bit wired when it comes to coping with different situations.  Aura is the most typically collie of my girls.  She gets really excited when someone arrives, squeaking and wriggling around them, wanting a fuss.  Busy tends to stay in her bed when Chris arrives home, remaining calm and slightly aloof.

Aura reacts to high-pitched noises, such as the food processor, or the knife sharpener, so she starts whining and rushing about when we open the cutlery drawer, in anticipation of ‘something happening’.  If Sunny happens to be singing ‘Happy Birthday’, Aura will get hysterical with excitement and usually bite Sunny.  Not ideal.

All these characteristics are typical for Border Collies.  They are not really a problem for us, as the house is generally pretty quiet and we are easily able to manage Aura, putting her away in another room when making soup, for example.  But they are good examples of how temperament affects the behaviour of our dogs and how we need to manage them.  A great description of Border Collies and why they are so ‘special’ can be found on the Border Collie Breed information page.

What should you be looking for?

The puppy is not like her cousin.  Ounce is much more like her mum, Busy, in that she is relatively placid and easy-going.  This is what I am aiming for in my puppies.  I would like a dog that can ‘cope’ with new situations and not worry about much. I want a dog who is confident enough to go into a new, busy environment and find it interesting and stimulating, rather than stressful.

At the same time, I want my dogs to have ‘focus’ and ‘intent’.  I want them to want to learn and do things for me.  I want them to be motivated to please me, so that I can train them to behave well and ‘work’ in agility, or in school, or doing tricks.  Other breeds of dog are far more easy-going than border collies, but they don’t care about what you want so much.  A Labrador will be happy to hang out, but won’t necessarily work too hard to figure out what you want from them, unless you have sausage of course!

How do we get good temperament?

As so often, good temperament comes down to a combination of nature and nurture.  First of all, we need good lines to breed good dogs from.  I absolutely knew that Ounce would be lovely; easy-going yet engaged, loving and bright, because both her parents are like that.  I’m feisty because I’m like my mum and my son is the same (only one of them thank goodness!)

Once we have the building blocks for good temperament in place, we then need to add to this with a good breeding environment.  As you know, I have my puppies in my house at all times.  They are constantly being handled (cuddled) and I work hard to ensure that they are exposed to as many different people as possible, usually around a hundred in the first eight weeks.

I also work on some basic bits of training and expose the pups to different experiences and all the usual noises that are in a normal family home.  Border Collies are not bred to cope with noise (see Border Collie Breed information), but early exposure really helps.

Finally, I provide my new puppy owners with plenty of information and advice on how to develop their puppies over the first few weeks and months after they take them home.  They are told to take them out and about and introduce them to a variety of situations and environments.

Can you change your dog’s temperament?

I’m not sure about this question.  I know you can change a dog’s (or a person’s) behaviour, but their underlying temperament is harder to alter.  A dog will have a predisposition to cope with life, or not. What do you think?

Ultimately, we want a dog who is happy to live the life we provide for it.  A happy dog is easy to live with and means we don’t have to spend time worrying about it all the time.  We can ask other people to look after it for us, or we can go out for a few hours, without having to rush back, thinking about it howling or wrecking the house.  We can relax in the knowledge that we will have less visits to the vet because our dog is suffering from stress-related illness.

Aura is going to be taking part in the Great Big Hairy Winter Stress Study being run by the Royal Veterinary College (for more details go to RVC Canine Epilepsy Research).  A hair sample will be examined for cortisol levels, indicating her level of stress over time.  I am going to keep a record of her behaviour and activity over the next 3 months, to demonstrate any particular incidents, so that the study can see if there is a spike in stress related to these incidents.  All of this is part of a bigger study to relate stress to epilepsy in dogs, particularly collies.

I have chosen Aura because she is the most likely to get stressed – the others are too laid back to care!  Love my princess!  NB: Stress is not always a bad thing – she is my ace agility girl after all 🙂


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When to neuter your dog?

What is the best age to neuter a dog?

This is not a simple question and as with so many aspects of dog ownership, it is subject to fashion and cultural context.  When I was growing up, I don’t think dogs were routinely neutered; it was more often carried out when a dog was becoming a problem.  Male dogs were often allowed to roam the streets, looking for a mate and puppies were very often produced through a neighbour’s dog appearing in a garden one day.

neutering dog

Of course these things do still happen, but happily we are inching forwards into a culture where responsible dog ownership is becoming more commonplace. In the past, dog owners who were being responsible would whip their puppy off to the vet’s to be neutered almost as soon as it was brought home. 

Health benefits and drawbacks

When I got my first puppy, in 1987, it was expected that he would be castrated at six months, so that his behaviour would remain more manageable.  He still cocked his leg and enjoyed playing around with Sunny when she was in season, but he didn’t hump your leg, which was good and he didn’t try to go off roaming the neighbourhood.

neutering dog

More recently, we are finding that it is good to allow dogs to reach full maturity before they are neutered, both male and female.  If you search online, you will find articles such as this one from the Blue Cross neutering-your-dog which say that there are a number of health benefits to neutering early, such as reducing the chances of cancers.  

However, other articles cite the benefits of neutering later: “When a dog’s testes or ovaries are removed, the production of hormones is interrupted, which affects bone growth. Because the bone growth plates may close earlier in dogs neutered young, orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tears may result. Neutered dogs also tend to gain excess weight, further stressing the joints. But neutering does not equal obesity. It’s more difficult to keep neutered dogs in shape, but it can be done.” taken from when-to-spay-neuter-your-dog

Manage your dog or bitch

Personally, I think it does come down to good management.  If you feel that you will struggle to cope with an un-neutered dog, get it done from the age of six months.  If you can manage for a while, leave it until the dog has reached maturity, which for collies would be around a year to 18 months.  If you can’t be bothered with the hassle, definitely get them neutered.

neutering dog

Yesterday I wrote about what happens to a bitch coming into season and how to manage this.  If you are prepared for the need to pay attention to your bitch every 6-8 months and make sure that they do not come into contact with uncastrated dogs, then you may choose to leave your dog unneutered.

If you have a boy, you need to manage him from the age of 6 months! It’s no good expecting the owners of bitches to manage their girls or keep them in. Your boy is much more likely to run off after the scent of a bitch. If he mates with a bitch, you may be held accountable for the cost of a ‘morning-after’ injection. You may need to walk him on lead if you find him looking for a bitch.

neutering dog

Uncastrated dogs can be hard work! They may be more aggressive with other dogs and get into fights. Boys may try to hump your leg or your soft furnishings. They may be more guarding of toys at home. The biggest issue is definitely running off though.

Possible consequences of not neutering

As I said earlier, I had my only male dog castrated at the age of six months.  My first dog was done in middle age, having had two litters of pups, to ensure she did not suffer from pyometra.

Pyometra is defined as an infection in the uterus. Pyometra is considered a serious and life threatening condition that must be treated quickly and aggressively. “Pyometra is a secondary infection…” Pyometra is a secondary infection that occurs as a result of hormonal changes in the female’s reproductive tract.”

neutering dog

Much safer to have the operation.  I had planned to have Sunny spayed once she had had her third litter.  I hesitated because I felt that it was a major operation that she did not need to have.  I can manage my dogs, I thought.  In 2017 Sunny did get pyometra! I spotted it straight away and the op went really well, but it really can be fatal, so is best avoided.

Easy recovery

Luna had to have a caesarian with her last litter and when the vet asked if I wanted her spayed as well, I thought ‘why not’.  I asked if it would make the operation more complicated and he said “No, it will be simpler, as it’s easier to remove everything.”  I then didn’t have to worry about post-op infection in her uterus as it had all been taken out!

neutering dog

Luna made such a great recovery from the operation and really rocked the shirt provided by the vet, which was brilliant compared with the stupid lampshade they usually provide.  She was moving around normally within a day or two and a month today since the op she if fully healed and back to her usual self. 

On the strength of that, I decided to go ahead with Aura’s spay.  Aura is more active than Luna, so I thought it might be harder to manage her recovery.  Silly me!  She is younger and fitter than her mum, so was completely better within the week. Amazing.

One point to note here is that spaying can be done through laparoscopic surgery, which is much less invasive and should lead to a quicker recovery. It is worth ‘shopping around’ before you go ahead with the operation, as practices and prices do vary.

Now I don’t have to worry about them being in season when I enter shows and I have less girls to clear up after.  No more worrying about dogs chasing us when we are out – at least with these two.  I am a total convert!

In conclusion

Leave it until they reach maturity, so that their bones have a chance to develop fully and normally.  Then do it!  Stop the production of unwanted dogs and make your life easier.  Then make sure you keep your dog fit and healthy, through exercise and training.


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Health Tests – why bother?

Can you guarantee a healthy dog?

I feel such a fraud.  I have been writing huge volumes on this website to promote my ‘Beautiful Border Collies, bred for better temperament and health’.  I have generated a good-sized following and lots of positive feedback.

Sadly though, a week ago, Luna lost a litter of puppies; they were stillborn.  In fact they had died some time before.  She ended up at the vet’s, having a caesarean and being speyed.  It was traumatic for us and very sad.  I was devastated not to be able to provide the longed-for pups for the people waiting so eagerly and excitedly for them.  I was upset for my beautiful girl, feeling guilty for putting her through it.  Why had I bothered?

I wrote a few weeks ago about looking after your pregnant bitch explaining that I take the utmost care of my dogs.  I pride myself on doing all the health tests that I can and making sure that my dogs are the best they can be.  So what went wrong?  The answer is: nothing much went wrong.  Making babies is difficult – everyone knows that.  All sorts of things can go wrong, and often does.  That’s life.

I had had a vague feeling of unease about this litter.  Luna had experienced more difficulties than my other girls in having her other two litters.  The first time, the labour was longer and slower and she nearly had a caesarean.  Happily, she delivered five beautiful princesses, including Aura, the squeakiest dog you are likely to meet.  Two years later she had one stillborn pup, then four beauties, who were three years old yesterday – happy birthday Beatrix Potter litter!

One dead pup from 43 is a pretty good record.  I was therefore relatively confident in my experience of whelping that I could deliver these pups safely.  Luna had a generally normal pregnancy, although she did seem to be drinking a lot for a while, some weeks ago.  She had always been quite a thirsty dog, so I thought that she might have just been getting hotter than normal, carrying around her babies.  She definitely was not ill; no loss of appetite, no lethargy, no ‘staring’ coat, no sickness or diarrhea.  Nothing I could take to a vet.

Possible health complications

I found a good description of some of the things that can cause a bitch to reabsorb the puppies, which is also really common, possibly as often as 12% of pregnancies.  It says that this can occur because of some health complications affecting mother dog or the puppies.  Infectious causes may include bacteria such as Brucella canis, salmonella, e-coli, campylobacter and streptococci, parasites such as toxoplasma gondii and neospora caninum and viruses such as herpesvirus, parvovirus, distemper and mycoplasma.  Other potential causes may include abnormal fetal development, abnormal levels of progesterone, defects of mother dog’s uterine lining, inefficient placentas, side effects of drugs given to mother dog, mother dog’s age, not to mention various nutritional and environmental factors such as presence of metals in water, trauma, exposure to smoke etc.  Often, the exact cause is impossible to pinpoint.


What can we do about it?

I know that the pups didn’t die from any of the viruses against which Luna has been vaccinated.  I know that she was fit and well going into the pregnancy and that she was well cared for and well fed.  She did not suffer any trauma.  In other words, I did the best I could to produce healthy puppies.  That is all we can do – take whatever steps are available to us.

Where does that leave prospective owners?

When I receive an enquiry for a puppy, I tell people where I am with prospective litters.  If I have a litter on the way, I do tell people they might get a puppy.  Often people then become slightly hysterical with excitement – WE’RE GETTING A PUPPY!  I then have to explain that they might be getting a puppy.  There’s many a slip t’wixt cup and lip, as the saying goes.  From the time of the mating, these are the things that have to go right:

  • Conception occurs
  • Puppies are born healthy
  • Right number of puppies for the homes that are waiting
  • Correct sex of puppy for what the person wants
  • Correct colour, if required
  • Correct temperament for that home
  • No-one else chooses that puppy

A few weeks ago I wrote about selecting homes and how difficult this can be.  This time, there were always going to be people disappointed.  Two friends living locally wanted a puppy and they were always going to have the option first, as I am not a commercial breeder and would much rather pups stayed nearby so I can see them occasionally.

A happy ending

Luna is making good progress with recovering from her operation.  She should be fully fit and back to agility within another six weeks or so.  She is not yet eight, so she will have many happy years ahead of her.

I will have more puppies, just not from Luna.  I understand the risks and the challenges and I know that despite my concerns, I do a better job than many other dog breeders.  The dogs I have produced have brought joy to many people.

One of the homes I had lined up for this litter have already found another puppy.  I talked to them at length about the selection process.  This highlighted to me how challenging it is to find a good breeder and to know what to look for.  I will continue to write about this process, in order to help new owners and to support breeders, if possible.


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