Equestrians like to say that the best way to become a millionaire in the horse business is to start as a billionaire.
Similar ideas may be circulating in the world of breeding purebred dogs.
Sylvan Lake veterinarian Brian Heide, attending the Red Deer Kennel Club’s spring dog show during the past weekend, said he decided to make the leap from ownership to breeding because he has a passion for Irish Wolfhounds.
The rewards are deeply personal while the costs can be prohibitive, said Heide, whose sentiments were echoed by fellow dog breeders Suzan Humphreys of Delburne and Jan Bergeron of Innisfail.
“You’re never going to get rich from this,” said Heide.
Attending dog shows and networking with fellow breeders is essential, not just to promote your own dogs, but to see what others have.
From a medical perspective, raising puppies requires a tremendous amount of research, primarily to avoid passing on or worsening genetic disorders that be stronger in some bloodlines than in others, said both Heide and Humphreys, who also breeds Irish Wolfhounds.
“They really have to be students of the breed and know the ins and outs of everything that’s in that breed,” said Heide.
He chose to start breeding with a goal of improving the health and longevity of the Irish Wolfhound, which has an average life expectancy of only 6.5 years. Heide says he knows of lines that have longer lives and he hopes to work up that trait.
“I’ve had my heartbreak with a few dogs that died early from heart disease. I’m trying to breed for health and longevity. That’s my primary goal.”
Breeding dogs is a tremendous time commitment, especially when the puppies are about to be born and in the eight to 10 weeks afterward, said Humphreys.
The breeder must have a good understanding of the differences between a healthy birth and any abnormalities that may arise, and must be willing to spend 24 hours a day with the mom and her new puppies for the first seven days after they’re born, she said. After that, it is possible to take a few breaks, but the vigil continues and a new workload crops up when the puppies are to be weaned.
“It’s a lot of sleepless nights, it’s a lot of worry and it’s a lot of expense, if you’re doing it properly,” said Bergeron, gently restraining a bright-eyed corgi puppy that she bred and was showing on behalf of its new owner.
Too many people have discovered corgis in recent years, largely because of the movie, The Queen, said Bergeron.
As with other movies where a particular breed is featured, the stocky little cattle dogs suddenly become popular and puppy mills and backyard breeders started putting them out as quickly as they could. Far too many of those puppies end up in shelters because buyers find the dogs don’t match their lifestyles and the sellers won’t take them back, said Bergeron.
Responsible breeders screen potential buyers very carefully and are always willing to take the dog back if needed, said Humphreys. She and Bergeron both have waiting lists of buyers for the puppies their dogs will produce.
All three breeders bridle at the trend toward crossing one breed with another to create what is known as the designer dog. The trend started with the creation of the Labra-doodle, a crossbreed that had some of the desirable traits of the golden retriever along with the hypo-allergenic coat of the poodle. The original creator of the cross now says he regrets ever getting it started, said Humphreys.
The biggest problem with crossbreeding, she said, is that it can actually worsen genetic disorders that purebred breeders have tried to correct. Alongside that, responsible b breeders cannot ethically support the willy-nilly crossing of various breeds just to see what will happen.
When people purchase purebred dogs from Canadian Kennel Club breeders, they get the full genetic history of the animals and the benefit of knowing that the breeders have staked their reputation on producing the healthiest possible dogs, said all three.
People who want to take that step and start a breeding program of their own should consider whether or not they have the time, money and passion for the animals they will raise, they said.
Bergeron said she has been breeding corgis for 32 years — because she loves them.