Consulting Science: Best Practices in Litter Frequency & Age of Dam in Canine Husbandry

I began my animal husbandry experience before I could truly understand what was happening. Since the age of five, I was allowed to become involved in the whelping and care of my parent’s prized Miniature Dachshunds puppies. When I was sixteen I bought my first Doberman and, minus a few college years in apartments, I’ve slowly developed The Kennel Birkline over several decades. As a result of these experiences, I’ve become highly educated on the best practices and procedures in canine breeding and do my very best to improve my program year after year.

Thus, when I was encouraged by my fellow preservationist breeders to perform some continuing education in age and frequency in canine husbandry, I eagerly took the challenge. I expected that not much had changed from the olden days, but after only a little research, I learned science has given us enough data now to conclude how wrong we all really were back then.

Having a healthy litter is one thing. Deciding how often to breed is another.

Scientific research has provided mankind with the cornerstones for a plethora of incredible leaps. Decades of advancements have taught us to trust in the data that long termed research provides. In animal husbandry, listening to what science has to teach us is literally beginning to save lives in the canine community

This article in no way encourages other breeders to do anything except perform research and use that research to make wise program decisions. At The Kennel Birkline, we used our research to restructure our program focused on the health of the dam and the canine anatomical design.

The Two Methods:

The Personification Method:

  • First Breeding: 24-36 months
  • Breeding Frequency: Every Other Heat (approx. every 12 months)
  • Retirement Age: 6-7 years

Usually called the “Traditional Method”, this breed-then-break technique was based on the humanization of dogs. Traditional breeders approached the situation as people and we mistakenly impressed upon canines the human emotion we feel about carrying and delivering babies. We felt is was more humane to wait until they are very mature physically and to give the dam a break to allow her body time to recover completely. Conveniently, this also allowed time for the show ring victories, bringing prestige to the kennel. Then, the dam would be bred once a year for five or six years with other award winning dogs chosen ring side, solely from big name kennels. (Sadly, before genetic testing, many of our beloved dogs were bred too closely along genetic lines and/or with other dogs predisposed to [now known] diseases. Another matter entirely, breeders are now working full time to counteract the effects of this method.)

Consequences of this method:

Many breeders can attest that this method in many, many cases can have devastating results. Though previously unassociated, long term studies have shown that the personification method can result in pyometra, mucometra, cystic endometrial hyperplasia. Until recently, it was not known that skipping a cycle is associated with these potentially fatal conditions.

Pyometra can interrupt a perfectly healthy life cycle. Roxie suffered this fate. Photo by Samary Birkline 2001

Why? To understand, we must again, step away from personifying our best friends. Dogs are not humans. While it is true that the uterus and uterine lining serve the same purpose in both our species, it is critical to understand our design. Human females shed their uterine lining each month during their menstral cycle. Dogs do not. Dogs only shed this lining during the whelping process. During their cycle, the hormone progesterone spikes, to support pregnancy. While it is needed for pregnancy, the level is the same when the dog ovulates and is not bred. Progesterone is inflammatory to the uterine lining. Pregnant females shed the uterine lining along with the puppies, producing a fresh uterine surface. Nonpregnant females do not get the chance to shed this inflamed lining, thus a freshly whelped uterus is healthier for the dam.

The Science-Based Method:

  • First Breeding: 20-24 months
  • Breeding Frequency: Every heat (approx. every 6 months)
  • Retirement Age: 4-5 years

Relatively new to the canine breeding industry, the revised breeding method allows the data to change how we breed, in favor the dam’s health and long life. Dogs age faster than humans do, and even reproducing every six months is appropriate biologically; much like having a child every two years. If we set aside ethics for a moment and speak exclusively about the health and reproductive function of the canine design, we must admit that if left alone, to their own devices, a male and female will reproduce every six months until the female is no longer fertile. Again, setting aside “right and wrong”, dogs are designed to reproduce every six months. Whether you believe in a Creator or the evolution of animals, there is little that can dispute this fact.

Consequences of this method:

The obvious consequence of this method is more puppies. A healthy dam will produce her first litter at age two, then produce an average of two litters per year until she finishes. (She should be spayed upon retirement to avoid future uterine lining inflammation.) Dr. Hutchison, a reproductive specialist states that a female is finished when there is a sharp decline in the litter size as compared to earlier litters. Most canines reproduce on a bell curve, meaning that their smallest litters are produced at the beginning and the end of fertility, peaking approximately in the middle, forming a nice bell shape. It is important to note however that exceptions must be made, as it is not unheard of for a dam to have a dozen puppies for her first litter and only six for the second one (The Kennel Birkline’s own Harley, for example) or for a six year old dam to have her largest litter (8 puppies) on record (like Bella Donna, also a TKB dam).

Now for a Dose Ethics

Now that we’ve reviewed the biological facts, it is necessary to discuss the morals and ethics surrounding breeding programs. The Kennel Birkline does not condone unprofessional breeding. Breeding should be done by the right people for the right reasons and the program should be responsible enough to account for every single puppy produced, for the dog’s entire lifespan. This deserves to be repeated.

“Breeding should be done by the right people for the right reasons and the program should be responsible enough to account for every single puppy produced, for the dog’s entire lifespan.”

Samary Birkline, Owner of The Kennel Birkline

If that kind of accountability isn’t possible, it is our belief that breeding is better left to those who have that program capability.

There are several measures we take to be accountable for our pups:

  • Background Checks
    • We pay for background checks on every potential client. We search for violent crime and animal related charges. We keep a blind eye to the remainder of legal involvements; only looking to protect our dogs. If we find this kind of history, we do not give approval for adoption.
  • Limiting Registration
    • Fully registered dogs can create registered (and valuable) puppies. If the breeding program isn’t strict enough, harm is done to the breed and dollar signs become the primary motivation. Both incredible restraint and dedication are required to produce and stand behind this caliber of breeding, and it should not be taken on without a professional level of education, research, and full commitment to breed preservation.
  • Microchip Permanence
    • We microchip our dogs ourselves and we have in place an agreement with our microchip provider. We NEVER EVER come off the microchip; listed as a permanent tertiary contact. This protects our pups from abandonment into a shelter, allowing us to rescue our pups from dire situations, should they ever occur.
  • Lifetime Returns
    • We understand that sometimes things just don’t work out, so in addition to our health guarantee, we also stand behind our pups in a lifetime take-back policy. Whether a client was vetoed before the puppy came into the house, or if a health complication forces focus somewhere else, we take our pups back. In most cases, pups can be rapidly rehomed with another vetted, background checked client.
  • Return Requirements
    • Not only do we take back our dogs if they can no longer be cared for, our contracts actually demand this as a part of our terms of agreement. As a responsible breeder, we never want to lose track of our pups.
  • Abuse & Negligence Claw-Back Clauses
    • Furthermore, in our contracts, we reserve the right to reclaim any pups that have suffered [documented] negligence or neglect. This clause protects our pups in the event that it is learned that there has been persistent, unexplainable neglect or severe abuse.
  • Lifetime Recordkeeping
    • We keep in touch with our clients, touching base a minimum of once per year, logging incidents, accidents, illnesses, and deaths. We do this because the more information we gather means the more wisdom we can infuse into our program. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to provide longer termed insight into the health of the Birkline Doberman line, such as the leading cause of death; trends in de-sexing and health incidents, average age at death, etc.
Pups that come back to TKB are retrained, if needed, and rehomed with background checked families. Bane once lived with a family in Texas; now lives in Ohio with his forever family. Photo by Samary Birkline 2020.

The Birkline Way

Based on the science, The Kennel Birkline has recently committed to the science-based method, structuring our program around the health of our dogs as individuals and the breed as a whole. Since health has always been our highest priority, we quickly adjusted our program to allow breeding as nature intended. We breed usually on the third heat, when the dam is very close to the age of two. In most cases, we aim to have the dam turn two during the pregnancy or during the raising of her pups. As science has proven, younger dams are better able to recover quickly. This also means we will retire our dams at an earlier age than previous dams. We expect our Bella will retire this year (2021), as she will be seven; raised on the earlier personification method. Retirement includes a trip to the veterinarian to be spayed to prevent any inflammation of the uterus, which complicate matters as previously discussed.

As a final note, most our dams retire into our home as pets. In some instances, a family member will enjoy an older adoption. In rare cases, our dams may become service dogs, therapy dogs, ambassadors, protection agents, or otherwise working dogs. We take the retirement care of our dogs as seriously as we take their care during their fertile years, and remain dedicated to each dog for life.

At The Kennel Birkline, we take retirement as seriously as we take the fertile years. Photo by Samary Birkline 2020.

Every wise organization seeks to improve itself year over year through continuing education and scientific research. The Kennel Birkline fervently follows this wisdom. Science has the unique ability to change our policies faster than just about anything else, given the certainty science brings. In this particular case, this means we’ll breed more often and retire earlier, giving breaks when necessary and valuing our dogs’ health above all else.

Published by Birkline Dobermans

A division of The Kennel Birkline, Birkline Dobermans is dedicated to the betterment and purification of the Doberman Pinscher breed .

Leave a Reply