When it comes to the question of the right Dog Breed you should consider a few things:
Breeds and Costs
When it comes to profitable and trouble-free dog breeding, all breeds may at first glance appear to be equal. But the truth reveals that some are definitely more equal than others!
In its most recent “Annual Cost of a Dog Report”, pet insurance company Churchill has compiled a cost comparison across several popular breeds. Churchill’s Report takes into account the costs of feeding, grooming and caring according to the annual number of vet visits and long term assessments of conditions and ailments they may face during their lifetime, as summarized in the table below:
So, why the big difference between breeds? Well, size of course will be a big determinant of the cost of feeding. But even more interesting is the fact that some breeds are more prone to health problems, leading to greater expense for veterinary care. Mongrels with their “hybrid vigor” come out on top as a trouble-free, low cost pet.
Longevity is a good determinant of overall health and vigor and mongrels and the poodle crosses come out on top here too. That’s because they have the advantage of hybrid vigor. So, apart from the fact that purebred dogs are less vigorous because they don’t have this advantage (being more inbred), there are big differences between breeds which we explore further in this section.
Breeds to avoid (no matter how cute)
Now, this may be a bit controversial, but you need to hear it. Many of the dog types that masquerade as breeds out there in the world are really deliberately propagated abnormalities! This may come as a bit of a shock, and I apologize if, in the next few paragraphs, I malign your favorite pooch. However, if you want to be a successful and ethical dog breeder you must use vigorous, viable breeding stock, and that means many breeds are simply out of bounds.
What am I saying here? Well, there are many health implications inherent in breeding genetically abnormal dog breeds that not only threaten the profitability of your venture, but are contrary to the welfare of the dogs and their owners. Breed-related diseases can be prevalent in pedigrees and may become a burden of worry and expense for dog owners and disability and suffering for the dogs. Breed-related problems arise from two main sources:
- Poor physical design
- Inherited genetic diseases (see previous section on Genetic Diseases)
Poor Physical Design
Let’s start with squashed faced breeds often coupled with short, stumpy legs. They all arose from a congenital genetic abnormality known as brachiocephalic, where there is faulty development or nutrition of cartilage. In humans, the brachiocephalic mutation is recognized physically as dwarfism, where individuals are smaller than normal and whose parts (especially limbs) are disproportionate.
Over the centuries humans have deliberately developed dog breeds with distinct brachiocephalic traits, most notably the squashed-muzzle dog breeds. The brachiocephalic dog breeds include:
- Basset hound
- Shih Tzu
- Boston Terrier
- British Bulldog
- Welsh Corgi
- Dogue de Bordeux
If you insist on perpetuating such breeds, be warned that you will be perpetuating the risk of associated health issues and risks, of which there are a multitude. Let’s look at a few:
- Poor bite: Dogs with abnormally short noses still have to fit their genetic allotment of teeth in somewhere, and the result is a faulty ‘bite’ where the bottom and top jaws of teeth don’t scissor together neatly. Why is that a problem? Well, it predisposes the dog to tooth and gum problems. It also commits the poor dog to a lifetime of poorly chewed food, causing mal-digestion leading and the inability to extract the full compliment of nutrients from food, causing unavoidably suboptimal nutrition and health. You can bypass bad teeth with a soft diet, but then the dog doesn’t get to chew, fails to generate a lot of saliva, misses out on the salivary digestive enzymes, and suffers bad breath, buildup of scale on the teeth, poor digestion and, you guessed it, suboptimal nutrition.
- Protruding (bulging) eyes: Bulging eyes, so common in brachiocephalic breeds with abnormally short faces, are more prone to damage. Apart from that, they also are more likely to be surrounded by loose eyelids with poorly placed eyelashes that may scrape and damage the cornea and require regular maintenance or expensive surgical correction.
- Compressed naso-pharyngeal airways: Squashy faced dogs have the airways of their head compressed into a smaller than optimal space. The short muzzle causes difficulty breathing, wheezing, and snorting as well as poor tolerance of heat and humidity requiring air conditioning during hot weather. It may also lead to air-gulping, which can give him gas. Every vet has learned to dread the brachiocephalic breeds because they are more likely than any other to die under anaesthesia due mainly to the normal sized soft palette that can so easily compromise the airway. They are also in mortal danger if they get stung on the nose or in the mouth by a bee or wasp – as the tissues of the airway swell and can completely block off any air movement to the lungs.
- Birthing problems: With their tapered muzzles, puppies from normally shaped breeds are well designed to make their exit from the birth canal, while their squashy faced cousins are not. All brachiocephalic dog breeds have reproductive anomalies associated with dystocia (difficult birth). Dystocia is especially problematic in the dwarf dog breeds. In some brachiocephalic breeds, such as Basset Hounds, and others with heavy shoulders as well, like the British Bulldog or the Dogue de Bordeaux (like the dog ‘Hooch’ in ‘Turner and Hooch’) it is almost impossible for the dogs to give birth normally, and routine breeder practice to deliver all litters by caesarian section. That’s no way to run a profitable breeding business!
In other dog breeds, we see another version of faulty cartilage formation, the achondroplastic dwarf trait. These chondrodystrophoid breeds were developed to have disproportionately short and angulated legs, and although this is normal for the breed, it is basically the result of abnormal development of cartilage. Short limbs and tiny ears are a hallmark of this type of dwarfism.
Many breeds have this genetic characteristic – some coupled with brachiocephalic tendencies – including:
- French bulldog
- Basset Hound
- American Cocker spaniel
- Shih Tzu
- Lhasa Apso
- Boston Terrier
- British Bulldog
- Welsh Corgi
- Pekinese, and many, many more!
Nothing is properly placed as nature intended on such limbs, including enlarged leg joints, twisted legs and severe alignment deviations. Health issues directly related to the poor physical structure of these dogs include patella luxation (dislocating kneecap), hip dysplasia (degeneration or malformation of the hip joint), and Legg-Perthes (breakdown of the femoral head, the “ball” of the ball-and-socket hip joint). The dog is prone to lameness from a range of leg issues from the start.
These breeds are also more likely to suffer from spinal disk prolapse. The most common signs are neck pain, forelimb lameness or neurologic deficits, ranging from mild weakness of all four limbs to four limb paralysis. The intervertebral disks in these dogs gradually become more like cartilage than fibrous tissue, increasing the risk of prolapse (extrusion) of the disk into the spinal cord, causing intense pain and often paralysis of the lower body below the injury depending on the site of the prolapse. And because the rest of the dog is often normal sized (e.g. Basset and Dachshund) this places an inordinate strain on the dog’s back. Disk herniation in these dogs usually occurs at 3 to 6 years but can appear as young as 1 to 2 years of age.
With all of these (and other) health problems inherent in poorly designed dog breeds, you should avoid them like the plague if you don’t want your dog breeding to become a very expensive and disappointing hobby!
Other common inbuilt “physical design” faults include:
- Excessively loose skin (such as in the Cocker Spaniel and Shar Pei, but also around the face of all squashy nosed breeds). Why can this cause problems? Well, the extra skin folds can retain and collect moisture and are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and other disease agents. The result is a susceptibility to skin infections. These folds can also harbor grass-seeds and other foreign bodies.
- Pendulous ears (again, the Cocker and some other spaniels). To remain healthy, the ear canal must ‘breath’ and get good exposure to fresh air. In pendulous eared dogs, access of air to the inside of the ear is severely compromised. What may result from the warm damp environment of a suffocated ear canal is chronic inflammation and infection of the ear, sometimes requiring surgical correction (an aural resection) to enlarge the opening to the ear canal and restore adequate ear circulation.
- Breeds with excessive fur growing inside the ears (such as poodles) can face similar issues unless the ears are regularly plucked clear.
- Breeds with domed, bulging foreheads such as the Chihuahua may be prone to headaches and resulting bad temperament, or central nervous system (brain) disorders as they age.
Dogs of abnormally extreme size and rapid growth, or smallness and fragility, have corresponding problems, for example with their hearts and bones.
- Large or giant breeds of dog are more likely to develop bone tumors, associated with rapid bone growth during early development and a possible genetic predisposition in large and giant breeds. While primary bone tumours are rare in dogs less than 15kg, they are common in breeds such as:
- Irish Wolfhound
- Great Dane
- St Bernard
Exceedingly small dogs have their own problems.
‘Teacup Dogs’, specially bred from the runts of existing ‘toy’ breeds such as the Chihuahua or Yorkshire Terrier for the celebrity fashion market, are too small for their teeth, stomachs or bones to grow and function properly. Many also have difficulty in maintaining a normal body temperature and can die from hypothermia (cold) or heat.
Going back to our starting principle of running an ethical business, I also think it is unfair to hoist these dogs on unsuspecting clients, knowing – as you do now – that they are likely to be in for a lifetime of veterinary issues and possible heartache. And as a breeder, this is the last thing you want to face yourself! Many of these ‘physically unsound’ breeds are very popular, and you may be sorely tempted to say ‘what the hell’ and go with them. Though you may be lucky enough to breed them profitably without major problems, you are really tempting expensive misfortune. Anyhow, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
So start right by going for breeds that are mechanically sound!
- Look for breeds with a well proportioned, strong, athletic body.
- Ensure your breeding stock derive from appropriately screened parents, according to the diseases that may be inherent in the breed you decide to specialize in.
You wouldn’t buy a car with wonky wheels or a house with crooked walls, would you!
Also consider the grooming costs associated with your breed. Breeds that have long coats or standards that dictate regular grooming will cost you in time, veterinary bills and money for grooming equipment. They will also incur similar costs for their prospective owners, which may be a put-off and lose you otherwise easy sales. My schnauzers need to be clipped all over every 6 to 8 weeks, and more often around the bottom to avoid soiling and ‘dags’.
Since there is a certain ‘snob value’ associated with the breed, the type of people they attract as owners are usually more than happy to incur the expense and trouble of maintaining their coats. If you similarly choose a breed that needs to be clipped regularly, then, like me, you will probably find it cost-effective in the long run to acquire your own grooming equipment – electric clippers (get a good brand specially designed for dogs as the cheaper alternatives just don’t measure up to the job), comb, and detangling brush.
Longer coated breeds will also require regular checking for grass-seeds, felted knots, and burrs. Seeds that escape your notice may end up burrowing into the flesh, particularly between the toes, inside the ears, the vagina and even the anus. Continual vigilance is necessary to avoid this problem, which otherwise leads to a surgical procedure at the veterinarian’s to remove the offending foreign body. They will also tend to get dirty quicker and need more regular baths and general attention to the state of the coat.
Dogs used to be widely used in a variety of specialized tasks for which they were carefully selected and bred. The specific uses to which particular breeds were developed included hunting and killing rats, digging and flushing out rabbits, baiting bears, as a meat breed (e.g. the Chow), to retrieve, as guard dogs, to haul sleds, to fight each other, for hunting foxes, to protect stock, flush game, to rescue people from water or snow, for tracking, to herd cattle or sheep, or as ornamental novelties, and the list goes on! As such there is an enormous spectrum of difference between breeds in their temperament, aggression to humans or other dogs, need for exercise, propensity to bite, sociability with humans or other dogs, love or dislike of water, ideal climate, propensity for digging or chasing, tendency to bite or herd, etc.
The overriding use that your puppies, as a successful dog breeder, will usually be destined is to be a loving family pet in suburbia. The issue here is that many of the specialized uses inherent in particular breeds might clash with this destiny. They might, for example, have an in-built propensity to dig, attack other pets, bite people, bark excessively, or suffer from the heat or cold. They might similarly be largely aloof of humans, yearn to escape and follow scents, or want to round up everyone and everything. Many breeds developed for hard work may be hyperactive pets in suburbia, and turn their frustrated energies to destructive behavior.
Do your research first on the original use of the breeds you are interested in and ask yourself how well suited such breeds are to life in the ‘burbs. Next, go and meet a few examples from the breed. Assess for yourself the temperament and general usefulness of the breed for the customers you will be selling to.
On the other hand, much of the breeding that has gone into pedigree dogs in the past decades has been toward fostering show-winning attributes, with little regard for suitability of stock for the original purpose of the breed. As such, you are likely to encounter a lot of variability in behavioral characteristics between individuals within the same breed so that some will be more appropriate than others. We will look at this further when we discuss selection of your breeding dogs.
Even though there may well be a market demand for breeds ill-suited to ordinary family life, is it ethical to breed them? Or should we, as responsible breeders, choose to perpetuate breeds that we are confident will suit their end use admirably? Your thoughtful choice of a well-suited breed becomes a great selling point to your clients.
What is biomass?
The next, rarely considered but important, factor in choosing your breed is biomass. Biomass simply refers to the physical size and weight of the dogs. So, why is it important?
Firstly, the amount of food you will have to buy to feed your dogs is a direct function of their size – big dogs need more food than little dogs. This will then, of course, have a direct bearing on the running costs of your breeding enterprise, and on the amount of dog poo you have to deal with!
Secondly, for most procedures, veterinary costs are also higher for larger dogs than for smaller dogs. The bigger the dog, the higher the dose of medicines needed – whether that be wormers, heartworm prevention treatment, flea control or anesthetic. So the bigger the dog, the bigger the veterinary bill! Boarding costs at veterinarians or kennels show the same trend.
Thirdly, the bigger the dog, the more damage it can do, to your own property, at large, or to other animals or people. Having a big dog or dogs thus incurs a bigger responsibility and chance of attracting a damages claim from an aggrieved victim of its wayward activities.
Fourthly, smaller to medium sized dogs enjoy a higher demand in the marketplace than larger dogs. They are also much less likely to show up in dog pounds as abandoned pets, and tend to attract more responsible, caring owners.
Fifthly, larger breeds have a shorter life expectancy, are more prone to bone cancer and hip problems, and are older when they first come on heat, and younger when they stop breeding. They tend to cycle less frequently than smaller breeds (annually as opposed to every six months), but usually have larger litters. However, with the fewer cycles in their lifetime, the result is likely to be less puppies overall than you may expect from smaller breeds.
Matching your dogs to you – strength, area, grooming, exercise
The larger, stronger and more active the breed:
- The stronger and more active you must be to handle them!
- The bigger your facilities and space must be, and
- The more exercise they will need to stay happy and well behaved.
So realistically assess your own strength, activity level, and facilities and have the sense to match it sensibly to the breed you choose.
Doing your homework – Market research, go to shows
As in any business situation, the profitability of the venture is dictated heavily by the law of supply and demand. If you want to succeed, you should be aiming to deal in a breed that has a demand that is higher than the available supply. While this will undoubtedly also make it that much harder for you to acquire your breeding stock, it will pay off in the long run in better prices and easier sales of your puppies.
Before you decide on which breed, check your local ‘pet’ classified advertisements over a month or so and see what’s on offer. Are there a lot of breeders advertising your favorites or only a few? Call a few breeders of the breeds you are short listing and find out how much they are selling for, and how quickly they are selling.
It is also wise to do a web search to see if there are any reports on trends in ownership favoring some types of dogs over others in your city or country. I have recently done just this and found growing popularity, in Britain and the US, of the Bichon Frise, Pekinese, Pug, Chihuahua and Staffordshire Bull Terrier (the latter for protection, especially popular with young men who, unfortunately, often fail to look after them well).
An increasingly trend towards apartment and multiple family dwellings, as well as declining family size, is tending to favor the less active of the small and toy breeds. Note, however, that many of these breeds are mechanically unsound or require a lot of grooming attention.
Getting into your customer’s shoes – Breed Quiz, dog allergic market
Some dogs are meant for the suburban life, and some are not! Many knowledgeable dog lovers turn to on-line tools designed to offer them assistance in finding the breed ideally suited to their lifestyle and conditions. The best on-line dog breed selection tools available – like the dog breed quiz at Perfect Match Puppy – are based on scientific findings, rather than old breed encyclopedias. What’s more, they usually include a photograph of the breed and some information on their original uses, temperament and activity level.
You may be dismayed to find that most breeds that are suggested by these online services fail to pass the “soundness” criteria we have been discussing here. Don’t be dismayed – that will simply help you narrow down your search for your ideal breed.
Another consideration (and selling point) is low-allergy.
Dog hair (‘dander’) allergies are increasingly common in our society. People who suffer such allergies, or have children who do, are restricted to ownership of a few select low-allergy breeds. These breeds are low-allergy simply because they do not shed hair to anywhere near the extent of most dogs due to either being hairless, or more usually, because they only possess a single coat and thus shed less dander, whereas most breeds have a double coat. They are, for this reason, also popular with house-proud families who don’t want a dog that is continually dropping hair into their car, and on floor and furnishings.
As dander-sensitive owners trial different breeds the results are updated into an online database of low-allergy dogs. A recent update lists the following breeds as being OK:
- Bedlington Terrier
- Bichon Frise
- Chinese Crested
- Irish Water Spaniel
- Kerry Blue Terrier
- Portugese Water Dog
- Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
- American Hairless Terrier (the lowest allergy breed around, but also rare)
- Peruvian Inca Orchid (rare)