STAYING ON TOP: Breeder Tips to Manage Your Dog Numbers for Success

by Bobbie Kolehouse

You bring home the dog. She’s a lovely, perfect puppy in every way, and then she grows up and isn’t so perfect. But you love her anyway and keep her as a pet.

You learn a little more and are sure your next prospect is the foundation of your breeding program. Sound and typey enough, she finishes her championship and you breed her. All her puppies are exceptional, you think, and you keep not one but three. That’s when dog numbers creep sets in. And experienced and novice breeders alike can find themselves smothered with too many dogs.

In her book, Reaching for the Stars, the late British Labrador Retriever breeder Mary Roslin Williams devotes a chapter to how breeders become trapped by a combination of kennel blindness and emotions. You also need to be able to recognize adequate, good, very good, and exceptional specimens.

Breeders today face more zoning ordinances caused by increased human population pressures. State laws regulating breeding of dogs, together with the everrising cost of caring properly for them, often limits how many dogs most people will have in their kennel. Goals, physical requirements, laws, and personal resources all come into play. Breeders need to consider these factors to create a plan to achieve their goals but avoid burying themselves under too many dogs.

So how do you know if you have too many dogs?
Vickie Von Seggern raises smooth and rough Collies as well as owning a boarding, grooming, and training facility in northern Wisconsin. Active in purebred dogs since 1970, she is a founding member of her local humane society, belongs to the Collie Club of America, and has served as president, on the board, and as show chair for the Paper Cities Kennel Club in Wisconsin. She feels few breeders have the time and space to raise litters and grow out dogs required for a serious breeding program.

“The hardest part for many newcomers is letting go of a puppy they raised for show who didn’t quite turn out. Many times, they keep and even finish these dogs, who don’t really have what they need for their breeding program.

Von Seggern says she keeps the number of dogs she can comfortably care for and afford. “Collies tend to have large litters and often I’ll have a couple that don’t sell as puppies,” she says. “I train and socialize them as part of the package. If you don’t train them, you will have trouble placing them.”

Von Seggern argues the importance of giving newcomers to the fancy mentors: “People need to listen and watch and be in it for the dogs. The dogs must always come first in this sport. We are keepers of our breeds.”

Marge Kranzfelder, a Pomeranian breeder in California, says she’s found that clear goals and flexibility help limit her numbers and still allow her to be successful. An avid fancier, Kranzfelder has been active in her breed club in a variety of roles, such as AKC Delegate, and in her community animal-welfare organizations.

“Clear goals help you understand what to keep, that the ‘pick’ puppy might not be in this litter,” she says. “Poms have small litters and there might be only two puppies born. Sometimes neither should be kept.”

Having goals requires you to really know your breed and if the puppies fit the standard.

“A successful breeder can likely accomplish more with fewer dogs,” Kranzfelder adds. “Once their gene pool is producing consistently, the numbers can be reduced as they refine their goals.”

Kranzfelder suggests you might have too many dogs if you apologize about them because they are not groomed or if you cannot afford routine veterinary care for them. It is important you learn to make decisions with your head, and not only your heart, she advises.

“Financial analysis brings us to reality,” she says. “How many good-hearted dog people have gotten into predicaments over this?”

English Springer Spaniel breeders Jason and Michelle Givens, who train and handle gundogs for a living, manage their numbers with the objective of providing the best environment for each dog. “We ask ourselves, are we going to work with this dog at all?” says Michelle. “If not, do we want to breed her?”

Springer field trials are very competitive, she adds, and many won’t make it, but will make good companion hunting dogs.

The Givens’s first concern for selection is temperament and health clearances. So while a dog might not be a top-flight field trial dog, she may have the health and temperament they want in their breeding program.

Sometimes these bitches, and even competition dogs, are placed in good homes with breeding agreements. “The dogs get fantastic homes, the home gets a really nice dog that they wouldn’t normally have gotten because we would have kept her, and we still retain the dog’s genes for our breeding program,” Michelle says.

Following are suggestions to help you manage your dog numbers.

  • Have clear goals.
  • Know your breed, its history, and its standard.
  • Think through your breeding plans so each moves you closer to your goals.
  • At least once a year, go through your kennel and place the lesser dogs in good homes.
  • Spay and place bitches by the time they are 6 years old.
  • Constantly measure new puppies against the older pups you kept from a previous breeding and keep the best one of them. The cream of the cream.
  • Breed quality. Don’t be tempted by the champions “numbers” game. Aim for better than the mediocre champion.
  • Be a lifelong student of your breed.
  • Know and respect your limits in time, space, emotional, and financial resources.
  • Always consider the dogs’ well being and understand that your quality of life affects your dogs.

  • CREDIT: This article first appeared in the [June, 2005] AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe to the Gazette please go to: