Download the The challenges and rewards of puppy rearing

By Bobbe Carney
Castrion Kennel

You have a wonderful female Small Munsterlander and begin to think of the possibility of rearing a litter of pups. As a breeder, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on the challenges and rewards of this endeavor. As always, these are only my personal opinions based on my experiences. I simply ask you to give them consideration. In my article published in the summer 2008 Munster Tales issue, I presented some thoughts on determining the breeding quality of your bitch. We will assume she has met the criteria of being an outstanding representation of the breed in the areas of hunting ability, temperament, health, conformation, and breed type. She has the potential to produce excellent offspring. The next big question to ask is do I have the time, finances, and commitment to raise a successful litter of healthy, well socialized pups who will be a tribute to the breed?

Time considerations entail a long list of research, preparation, marketing, and rearing. The first order of business is researching the enlistment of a sire for the mating. I look for a male who will strengthen my bitch’s weaknesses and maintain her strengths, again in the areas of structure, hunting ability, temperament, and health. This may require several calls and/or meetings, study of pedigrees, and discussion of the males’ assets. When a final selection is made arrangements must be made for the breeding. This could be achieved through natural breeding or artificial insemination depending on distance and time availability. The next order of business is preparing the bitch. She should be in top health and therefore should be up to date on vaccinations and worming. A general health evaluation should be done by your vet and she should have a brucellosis test, as should the stud. If artificial insemination will be employed you must make arrangements with a reproduction vet capable of handling the insemination and the owner of the male must make arrangements for collection and shipment of semen. Once the breeding has been completed you should begin to assemble an environment for the birthing and rearing of the pups. It is important that this environment be as clean and germ free as possible. It must also be safe and warm. I raise my pups in a walkout basement and about two weeks before the birthing do a thorough cleaning of the whelping box, floor, and puppy kennel where they will be birthed and raised. Another very important time consideration is the marketing of the litter. An ad should be created and placed on the SMCNA website and your own site if you have one. As calls are received, the potential buyers should be screened for their ability to create a safe environment for their pup, their dedication to the continued socialization of the pup, and their time and desire to train their pup in the areas of basic obedience and hunting. Will they be a good SM home? Some potential buyers will want to make a visit to see your bitch and time must be made for this. As the time of the birthing nears you will need to be “on call” around the whelping date. You may be lucky and have it figured out exactly right, but more likely you will not, but must be available to help with the birthing. I plan to be at home a couple of days on both sides of the due date. The pups are born and now the real work begins. In the first 2-3 weeks the mom will take care of the pups, unless there are complications. If she becomes ill, has a difficult birth, or lacks sufficient milk, you must be prepared to step in and assume her job, or aid her in the care of the pups. This will primarily entail regular bottle feeding of the pups and keeping them clean. At the very least, given a healthy litter and healthy mom, one must clean the whelping box at least twice daily, take mom out to relieve herself, and begin to handle and stimulate the pups regularly. A vet visit will occur the day after the birthing to be sure your bitch has born all her pups and expelled all placentas, and another within three or four days for the removal of dewclaws and an initial check of the pups. For the next eight weeks time will be spent cleaning, socializing and interacting with the pups, allowing buyers to visit, vet appointments, and probably continuing to market the litter. At least four to six hours a day will be spent in this way. After pups go home, time must be taken to follow up with calls to be sure the pups are doing well. These conversations may and should continue for several months and even years as buyers have development and training questions. We should be willing to give hands-on help when requested or needed. The final time consideration involves the pups that may go unsold. They will require continued socialization, and exposure to early field, water, and bird experiences, and continued marketing. Additionally, an environment must be created for their continued growth and development.

It might be entering your mind that this is not an inexpensive endeavor- you are correct! Breeding expenses will include phone calls, vet expenses of preparing the bitch, travel costs to breed, and/or the cost of progesterone testing, artificial insemination, and stud fee. Unforeseen expenses crop up when either the bitch or pups acquire health problems before, during, or after the birth. There is the potential for caesarean births or the need for vet assistance at birth. Pups will require two exams, dewclaw removal, micro-chipping, worming, vaccinations, and SMCNA and NAVHDA registration. The cost of the pups’ environment includes a whelping box, puppy pen, heat source, toys and play space, blankets, and food. Continuing costs involve unsold pups (a definite possibility in our current recession economy), their expanding environs, and training costs. A final question must be asked. Am I capable of accepting the return, and caring for pups or adult dogs that can no longer be cared for by their owner? Will I accept the return of pups with health, temperament, or hunting issues?

There are time commitments, cost commitments, but most importantly there is the personal and ethical commitment to rearing healthy, well adjusted pups that are a tribute to the breed. If you can fulfill all these commitments then you will have the opportunity to reap the rewards of breeding. Are those rewards financial, probably not. In the long run, you will be fortunate to break even from a financial perspective. The rewards are quite simple. One night you receive a call from a happy buyer who tells you he or she has the best hunting dog that ever lived and would never have a dog of another breed. You kept a pup from your litter and this pup exceeds mom, and so you can see you succeeded in improving the breed. Several of the pups tested in NAVHDA and did well, another tribute to the breed. These are the benchmarks that encourage and drive us to go down the path of the breeder. It is not always an easy route, it is not for everyone, but yes, it most certainly can be rewarding!