What does the word “OVER-BRED” actually mean?

In August 7, 2021
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If I had a dollar for every time I heard a pet parent use the word “over-bred”, I’d be a millionaire. I hear it from pet owners, veterinarians, groomers, rescue parents, and from people who generally don’t understand what this really means—NOR WHAT THEY ARE IMPLYING WHEN THEY SAY IT.

Here’s some possible misconceptions about this phrase/word’s meaning:

*”It means that breeders interfered too much in the breeding of retriever dogs and, while they may have achieved some characteristics they wanted, they also caused some inherited problems…” (usually caused by breeding with dogs that are too closely related – as with humans, this isn’t a good idea in the long run)

*Or…”Overbreeding a dog means breeding a female or male dog: more than its body can safely handle too precipitately without waiting for former litters’ feedbacks…” (Both the individual dog AND the breed need to be considered when making breeding decisions)

So I’d love to address this on MANY different levels as it’s VERY important you use this phrase CORRECTLY or you will turn off an educated dog breeder, veterinarian, or even terribly offend the logical thinking of those who think critically about such things. I’ll take into account 35 years of my own breeding experience and other lifetime professional breeders, but also the latest in scientific research.

Let me address the idea of ‘over-breeding’ and getting unwanted characteristics. This is a very REAL issue if the gene pool of a particular breed is VERY small (unlike the Labrador which is the largest gene pool of all AKC breeds). But many professional breeders will (and have) bred dogs with similar characteristics so they produce the correct TYPE put forth in the AKC Breed Standard for the Labrador Retriever. But if they do this too closely (for instance, within the first 2-3 generations, without any experience in line breeding, you will get the best of the best, but also the worst of the worst.) I find breeders greedy for only that big blue ribbon tend to fall into this category. Sometimes they are only breeding for themselves, or may still be in the process of developing a new breed up and coming in the AKC.

(Above my friend’s 93 year old mother helping us birth a litter!! She loved it! She cheered for everyone born and held each one. Heart-melting…)

A breeder must also consider EACH INDIVIDUAL DOG when deciding when and how often to breed any particular dog– be it male or female. A caring breeder would never let a dog struggle each time she gives birth–maybe that dog has 1 litter and it’s decided she should not go through that again.

(I always get the question “how many times do you breed a female” and my answer is always, “It depends on each individual girl!”)

This is so true in my experience. I’ve seen most girls ready to ‘retire’ at about age 5-7. But I’ve retired some after their first litter– some after they show ANY signs of it being any wear and tear on their body, or have a difficult delivery or c-section maybe. And we surely never breed a girl that is not fully grown/developed herself as to not rob from energy from her body to be able to use all to grow strong and healthy!

My Amy is a good example of the one extreme. She had pups with such BIG heads she really struggled to give birth. Her delivery was so difficult I could never put her through that again. I spayed her. I couldn’t stand to see her suffer. On the OTHER end of the spectrum (back in the old days before we had wonderful reproductive consultants like Dr. Hutchinson) we had one girl who had litters until she was 10! (this was the ONLY girl I ever saw, in 35 years of breeding. Literally– she would leave the pond/ball field (playing catcher of course!), run to the house, pop out a litter, and run back to the pond!– VERY rare). Healthy, happy, amazing pups each time. But she was the exception, not the rule. The important thing to remember is each dog is different, just like each woman is different when having babies. Some birth so easily, other bodies just do not handle it as well. There are so many scenarios. As responsible breeders, we have to assess each breeding mom’s experience to make decisions about having litters.

The other question I get is “I hear that if it’s not her first litter they aren’t as healthy” (or vice versa!) or “you’ll have birth defects if you breed your dog more than once.” Knowing that Dr. Van Hutchinson (DVM) calls a “pregnant uterus a healthy issue” we generally breed young (around 2 years old), having 2 litters, break, repeat– unless they need to be spayed early, or a girl just struggles, or has to have c-sections.

This is another misconception I can’t get my head around as I have two dear HUMAN friends–one has 9 children, and one that has 11. They had them young. Healthy women– 100% still in their 50’s look like they are 40!) They are all healthy, happy and fully developed and super amazing OFFSRING born over 25 years’ time. But as you can imagine, the risks of breeding a girl over 8-9 can be “possible” defects. And some of my best show dogs came from the SECOND litter, not the first– because, of course, we like to do a test breeding before we keep pups out of a litter/female to keep for our lines– improving and moving forward. Here’s another great article to teach you about how breeders and top veterinarians decide on breeding matches–plan them–and how we breed responsibly.

My “Amy” (Endless Mt.’s Aim for the Stars) and her baby

Now here’s some of the funniest questions I’ve been asked over the years:

“…Can a dog can pregnant from casual sex?”  REALLY!??  I seriously had to bite my tongue not to laugh.

“…I hear if a female is bred once by a ‘non-purebred’ all her next litters are not purebred?” (OK…not even touching that one…)

Remember it also depends on the breed— a beagle comes into heat every 4-6 months whereas a Labrador comes into heat about every 6-10 months. The gestational period for a litter is 58-63 days. This also makes the amount of litters vary– and its probably easier to “over-breed” a smaller dog breed if you are just considering how many litters they can produce in a lifetime. This must be taken into consideration with each breeder of each particular breed. Especially the ones that can ONLY give birth by c-section! That presents a whole new situation!

Momma Amy snuggling with her puppies…they had the BEST soft pillow!!!

According to JennaLee Doodles, on their article on this subject (I love her perspective), “The United States/the American Kennel Club actually has no legal limit on the number of litters a single dog can produce. However, an ethical breeder will be taking many factors into consideration when it comes to the number of litters their dogs produce.” (Read why it’s not wrong to buy puppies from a dog breeder here.)

She writes, “The main point to consider is that there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to dog breeding. Just like in humans, reproduction can be complicated with dogs! Some seem to have incredibly easy pregnancies, deliveries, etc. while others may struggle for various reasons or even unknown causes.

A good breeder should be taking into account a large number of factors and be willing to retire a dog early if needed, while other dogs may be able to easily have 5 subsequent pregnancies with zero health concerns.

A dog is capable of having over ten litters in her lifetime, however, most dogs will not be able to produce this number of healthy litters and remain healthy herself. One obvious sign that a female should be retired is that her litter size drops drastically. Small litters or litters that for one reason or another have some health complications can happen even among young, fit mothers, but they can also be a sign a mother is older and needs to retire from breeding.” (Source: https://www.jennaleedoodles.com/post/how-many-litters-can-a-dog-legally-have-the-important-ethics-of-breeding)

 And I totally agree with her 100%!

Donna Stanley, owner/founder, Endless Mt. Labradors (Author or article) www.emlabradors.com

One last note– I may be different than many breeders but I have so much faith in their bodies that I really work on conditioning and proper diet while pregnant. Heck, my girls walk with me until about 2 weeks before birth if the weather is good and she is comfortable. This keeps her pelvis muscles conditioned and makes for an easier birthing! Really! A good breeder will ALWAYS think of what is good for the mother AND what is good for the pups! That’s my two cents!

–Donna Stanley, Endless Mt. Labradors

 

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