Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The art of dog breeding: Puppy has two daddies

Not just every puppy has two daddies. How would it happen?

It’s a long story, so stick with me. Let’s say you’re deeply involved in the dog world, and love a particular breed of dog. You breed to improve that breed. You have a young bitch that you are considering breeding. You start out by taking this bitch to dog shows, doing that circuit until the bitch has earned her championship after a number of wins at different shows. This shows that the bitch is conformationally excellent enough to be worth breeding. You may also work with the bitch in some other area, like competition obedience, tracking, or agility.

When the time comes to breed, there is more work to do. You have to make sure the bitch is genetically good material. You know what problems are common in the breed, so you test for those. There are some problems (like hip dysplasia) which are so common that breeders test for them in almost every breed; there are some that are more rare. Some tests are genetic tests done on DNA samples. Some are just the sorts of tests any vet might do to see if the levels of different chemicals in the blood are within normal ranges, or if they are suggestive of certain conditions. All these tests have to be done on both sire and dam.

Who’s the sire? You should pick out a sire that complements this bitch well. No animal is perfect. If the bitch’s biggest failing is her less than perfect hip conformation, then the sire should have really exceptional hip conformation, to balance that problem out. They should not be too closely related, either.

The right sire may live across the country or across the world from the bitch. If he’s far away, artificial insemination will be necessary (although some animals get transported quite a distance for sexual liaisons, and some bitches are artificially inseminated even though the dog is in the next room). When exactly should this occur? If the dog is prime breeding material, his semen will be very expensive, not to mention the fees for implanting it (more on that later). So you want to do it as few times as possible.

It’s also important to know as precisely as possible when the bitch ovulated, because this helps predict when she will give birth. So ovulation prediction is an important part of this process. It involves blood tests over multiple days, done by a veterinarian.

Once you know what the bitch’s three fertile days will be, how will you get the semen in? You can choose natural service (the old fashioned method), artificial insemination into the vagina, or intra-uterine insemination (surgical insemination directly into the uterus). This last approach is the most reliable, although of course it is also the most invasive and expensive.

If you don’t choose natural service, you may be getting either fresh semen (from the dog in the next room), fresh chilled and shipped overnight (from somewhere on your continent, collected the previous day), or frozen (from anywhere in the world, and possibly as venerable as twenty years old). Why would you artificially inseminate fresh semen, if the dog is right there? Some bitches can be cranky if they don’t approve of the dog on offer, and there can be violence. The owner of an expensive (or well loved!) stud dog might not wish to risk his injury.

Now it comes down to it. Many breeders will have spent thousands of dollars to get to this point. Some will have spent tens of thousands. They really, really want to have a successful impregnation. The fresher the semen, the more reliable it is. If the best possible sire is only providing frozen semen for whatever reason, the chances are significant that the bitch will not get knocked up. So what do you do?

On the bitch’s first fertile day, you use the frozen semen from the preferred sire. You hope that all her eggs get fertilized by this semen, but if some are left over, you call in the backup sire, someone local who can provide fresh semen. Hopefully any eggs that failed to get fertilized by the first sire will get handled by the second. You may well end up with puppies from each sire in the litter, but that’s fine; you can DNA test them to know who’s sired by whom. And that is how a puppy can have two daddies, or, at least, a litter can.

(Note: I skipped over the numerous ethical issues brought up in this story. For today, I just wanted to share with you some of the surprising tools available to dog breeders today.)

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