Breeding golden retrievers

Breeding Hester and Heidi

Whether to breed from a much loved pet needs very careful consideration. I found myself with two beautiful golden retrievers with hip scores below the median for the breed and zero elbow scores. They had both had their eyes examined annually by a specialist veterinary ophthalmologist. Neither were carriers or were affected with PRA1 or PRA2- this DNA test was introduced some years ago to help breeders make decisions about suitable matings. The mating of two carriers together could result in an affected puppy (or puppies) being produced. PRA can lead to blindness at a relatively young age

Having carried out all the relevant health testing, I was also satisfied that both dogs were  good examples of the breed. They had (have) the correct kindly temperament and were in good health generally. Both had qualified for Crufts by the time I was considering mating them so they had satisfied experienced championship show judges that they had the correct conformation and could move soundly.

But despite all of these considerations being addressed, I still agonised over my decision. How could I be sure that the puppies went to suitable homes? Could I spare the time (9 weeks of pregnancy and then 8 more weeks looking after the litter) to give the litter and the mother all the attention and care they deserved? When l have attended to dogs and litters of puppies at work, particularly if problems have arisen, it always strikes me that the bitch did not choose to be in this situation. The puppies did not ask to be born. The responsibility of the breeder, for the welfare of the puppies, should be for their entire lifetime. If this cannot be committed to then the litter should not be bred. This might sound harsh and restrictive but this lack of ongoing care and commitment is one of the reasons why so many dogs end up in rescue centres. At the time of purchase, it is also the breeder’s responsibility to ensure that the puppy and the purchasing family are a good “match”. Temperaments vary greatly between breeds and even within a litter there is some variation. Failure to match dog and owner correctly is another cause of breakdown in pet ownership.

Hester and Archie

After all my deliberating, I took the plunge and mated Hester in July 2011. She came into season while we were on holiday in the Lake District and our chosen mate, Zampanzar Say It Again Shardanell (Archie), lived in Swansea. We took the blood samples for progesterone sampling in the kitchen of our cottage, mailed the samples to the lab and selected the correct day for the mating. After a rather long journey we came back to the Lakes feeling tired and a little apprehensive about what we were letting ourselves in for!

On the 30th of September, Hester delivered 11 puppies. Two were stillborn unfortunately but she had a lovely litter of 5 females and 4 males. The next 8 weeks were a blur of reduced sleep (I slept beside the whelping pen for the first three weeks), endless vistors (once the puppies were old enough), weaning, cleaning up and trying to go to work (arranging care for the puppies when this happened). We decided to keep one of the girls ourselves fairly early on and the other eight were spoken for by the time they were 24 hours old. I had a long waiting list so after careful questioning over the phone I allocated the puppies to their new owners. Following this, one family pulled out at the last minute for personal reasons so another buyer needed to be found. This was a worry as I had developed a relationship with the other families sending daily “pupdates“ by email. Once the puppies were four weeks old, the new owners visited us and met Hester and the puppies. In the end, the last minute family were brilliant and the fact that they already owned a golden reassured me.

In spite of the care I took to find suitable homes for the puppies, this did not prevent one of the litter being advertised on an internet site some years later when the arrival of a new baby made this poor dog surplus to requirements. This event has made me much more guarded about breeding many more puppies in the future.

One by one and accompanied by a lot of tears, the puppies went to their new homes. I have kept in touch with all of the litter apart from the one mentioned above. We have tried to meet up for their birthday in September and at other times of the year we have had outings to Southend beach where we visit a dog friendly cafe.

birthday reunion

Heidi and Sydney

Heidi was mated three years later primarily to provide my brother and his partner with a longed for dog. They had recently moved to a lovely house in rural Lanarkshire and needed a golden retriever! Again, we blood tested for progesterone levels and traveled this time to Warwickshire to mate her to Gunmrash Tamarind Star over Ipcress (Sydney). This mating resulted in only two live puppies. Five were stillborn which was the most devastating experience. There were two perfect bitch puppies who thrived and were loved and cosseted by my family until they left us. Georgie went to live with my brother and Maya joined the Mulfield kennel.

Freya (Garmoran Electra)

Freya, who is the puppy we kept from Hester‘s litter has not been bred from. She has an elbow score of 2 and breeding from her could have led to the birth of puppies clinically affected with elbow dysplasia.

As a result, there are no plans for any more Garmoran puppies in the near future. For us to breed again, we would need to buy a new dog and go from there.

Hester, Heidi and Freya are all the dogs we need for now!