Breeding pet dogs is a specialist field. And it’s pretty new, amazing as that might sound. New in the sense that it is an infant industry, with quality pet breeders working hard to become organized and raise standards in the face of impossible odds. (Despite numerous attempts we can’t even get government recognition in Victoria, let alone any industry development assistance.)
When I set out to breed dachshund fur kids in 2005, this non-existence of pet dog breeding as a profession took me completely by surprise. It seemed it was either an activity of the murky underworld or you became a show breeder by joining the ANKC. This astounded me. Afterall, what could be a more noble pursuit than breeding healthy happy new family members?
I duly joined the ANKC but was soon hounded out by the dachshund show fraternity because my notion of breeding sound healthy pet dogs was not-on. One official letter arrived after another, making it pretty clear that I must breed according to the rule book for dachshund colours and so forth and I could certainly not breed for the pet market.
Well, clearly that was not for me. I felt like I’d landed on some alien planet. Isn’t man’s best friend important?
It was still very early days and I searched high and low for an ideal model for pet dog breeding. What was the best arrangement? Best number of breeding dogs? Best buildings? Best practice…
This was my dream and finally, at 45 years of age, I had the money, time, passion and the land to invest in doing a great job.
In my quest to unearth best practice I rang my local shire. This is the Wellington Shire and it’s the biggest dog breeding shire in Victoria. Neither the rangers nor the planners were aware of any such models or benchmarks, but did introduce me to a couple of good breeders in the region.
I rang the Department of Agriculture Animal Welfare at Attwood and spoke to Steve Moore about best practice models for pet dog breeding establishments. He too wasn’t aware of any. Next I rang the RSPCA and once again explained, “I just want to built a leading facility and I am seeking industry benchmarks; examples of best practice”. The RSPCA did not have anything for me either and suggested I ring Steve Moore.
And so it was I started developing my own ideas for what the perfect breeding enterprise might be.
Size – how big?
Size seemed like the obvious variable to start with. This was dictated by good science and not market demand, which sounds odd but is true. I recall my folks saying early on (before I spent the $250K to build the facility), ‘But the dachshund is not a commonly seen breed. How do you know if anyone wants them?’
I had to concede this was a valid point, however the only reason I wanted to breed dogs was due to my deep connection with this breed; so it was dachshunds or nothing. In regard to size, all I knew was to do it properly you need a large enough gene pool which means lots of boys as well as girls.
At this early stage of the game I came to the attention of the animal activists, thanks to some enthusiastic opposition to our planning permit application. It was a great opportunity though to seek their thoughts; their input. I was happy to bore anyone who stood still for long enough to hear about my vision of ‘what could be’ and welcomed any suggestions to make that vision clearer and better. Animal welfare was paramount and we would excel in this area or else never start.
The model I kept coming back to comprised up to 30 bitches and 8 males. I would then use the Victorian Breeding Code of Practice compliance requirements not as a goal to achieve, but rather the lowest benchmark which I planned to exceed.
Finding that ideal number
A total of 38 dogs maximum seemed an ideal number for having the perfect blend of health and welfare, and I’ll explain why.
Thirty-eight dogs in a purpose built facility sounds like a lot but in fact is not really that many. (Some dog enterprises are up to 500, I understand, although 150 is more common). Remembering too, that at anytime only 15 to 18 of the 30 bitches are reproductive. The other girls are young ones growing on, as you don’t breed until the bitch is around 18 months old.
If the number still sounds big, I like to put the number in context using the analogy of a teacher. School teachers have three different classes of maybe 25 pupils each that they see for a few hours only each week. So that’s 75 kids. But in no time they know their students’ names, their strengths, weaknesses, their welfare…
I have half that number of kids and they with me 24/7. They live with me. I know everyone of them very well indeed. Plus we have three staff, in addition to me, who also know them very well. We quickly pick up subtle changes in any one of the dogs. We love and respect them to the max. We love what we do. Then there’s my husband David who most days picks up, cuddles and chats to every one of the dogs.
This number of 38 also allowed for a critical mass, so to speak, so that we could move mums and would-be mums on as need be. For example last year one half of my mums were rehomed. This is in stark contrast to a small breeder who is line breeding over generations for certain cosmetic show rulebook traits; they are in no position to readily move a mum on.
Further, with 30 mums we have a replacement program such that we can rehome our dogs at four years of age, or earlier. This age is based on the welfare of the mum and not any laws. I know there is a strong demand for adult dogs, but this is quite naturally when the dog is not too old. Retiring dogs at 6 or more is unfair because the chances of them having a wonderful pet life are not great. And it’s not great for the public either.
Thirty-eight dogs is small enough too to ensure every dog is socialized and has a great quality of life. This is all part of the retirement plan, because we have beautifully mannered, house trained and well adjusted adult pets for the public.
And, finally, this number gives us a critical mass to invest back into the breeding program in hugely significant ways. Not only do we ensure a healthy large gene pool through sourcing and screening our dogs within Australia, but we also can import dogs. In a few weeks two dogs arrive from the USA. They are American Kennel Council registered piebald mini dachshunds. This is part of an ongoing program to responsibly instate the piebald dachshund pattern into Australia; a pattern hitherto absent.
It’s our size that allows this. It costs some $14,000 plus to bring in the two dogs. And this follows on imports earlier to the same amount. This kind of expenditure was usually the domain of the dedicated show breeder. But show breeders will only import to comply with the show rulebook. As it turns out, the Australian mini dachshund breed standard does not allow any white. So that meant no piebalds came in. For no other reason Australia was missing out on this fabulous dachshund pattern.
My parents’ valid concern expressed all those years ago at my lack of market research into demand for the mini dachs has subsequently been well allayed.
Much to our joy, the very people who matter the most have always understood what we are on about. That is, the pet dog owning public themselves. Dog owners have embraced our approach to professional pet breeding and the aims of great health, temperament and welfare.