“I love my dog so much. I just want one puppy so I feel like they never die.”
“I think that it’s a valuable learning experience for my kids to be a part of.”
“My dog is so gorgeous that their genes really need to continue. All my friends will want a puppy!”
As someone who is a responsible breeder of working line Belgian Malinois, I know why I breed dogs. I also know why others like me choose to breed – and I know the reasons why someone shouldn’t. I can’t help but cringe when I hear someone say, “My dog is so pretty, she will definitely be having puppies in the future!” Oftentimes these individuals have good intentions and truly believe that they are bettering the gene pool by breeding their “pretty” dog.
Unfortunately, attractiveness doesn’t even make the top ten things I look for when I choose a dog worthy of breeding. Responsible breeders don’t discourage others from breeding dogs, provided they fully understand what they are doing and have taken the measures necessary to ensure that they are strengthening a breed’s gene pool, as opposed to weakening it.
Pretty dogs with ugly personalities
There is a long held misconception that appearance shares a direct correlation with capability. The innate tendency of humans to associate one’s physical appearance with intelligence or capability has caused significant and repeated detriment throughout history, and continues to do so today. This belief extends so far as to often influence our choice of friends, cars, clothing and pets. Humans are very visual creatures, so we place a great deal of value in what we see.
The issue with this outlook is that our eyes rarely can provide us with an accurate outlook of internal system health, a person or animal’s temperament, or the learning history of that being.
I have worked with countless dogs over a number of years, and can attest to the fact that appearance shares little connection with temperament and capability. In fact, some of the prettiest dogs I’ve seen have had some of the most unstable personalities. I have witnessed clients who purchase puppies because they had a certain coat color, or were the largest and strongest, or the smallest and daintiest.
These individuals chose their dogs based exclusively on appearance, and suffered greatly when these dogs began showing spontaneous aggression issues or severe nervousness in public. If these individuals had taken the time to inquire about their puppy’s lineage, parental personalities and drives, as well as conducted appropriate puppy temperament tests, they likely could have attained a dog with a significantly more solid foundation on which to build upon.
This tendency for humans to trust their eyes without a foundation of associated information provides backyard breeders with the advantage of doing the same and still selling puppies. These individuals forego the critical health tests that help prevent debilitating disorders in dogs, such as hip and elbow dysplasia and vision issues. Since their sole focus is to create pretty dogs who resemble a particular breed, they do not bother to look at a dog’s genetics, inheritable diseases, or psychological health. These “breeders” know that as long as their puppies are cute, they won’t have any issues selling them.
The danger of not understanding genetics
Genetics don’t just make implications about a dog – they literally make the dog. Your puppy’s genetic coding tells its body how to develop, both physically and psychologically. Genetics direct the manner through which your puppy responds to known and novel stimuli. It predisposes certain puppies to inheritable diseases while helping protect other puppies from those same issues.
Genetics impacts drive; the toughness of a dog; its intelligence and biddability; as well as its structure, natural athleticism and coordination. It is a significant driving factor in the genetic mutations which cause blindness, epilepsy, deafness, cancer, nerves and a number of other physical disturbances.
When you choose to breed a dog, you are not simply creating a clone of the dog in front of you. You are taking nearly 20,000 genes, combining it with 20,000 more genes and creating a litter which will exhibit some combination of all 40,000 genes. It is consequently critical to understand exactly what you will be furthering. The questions you should be asking yourself include:
- Do you have information about your dog’s parents? What about their parents?
- Have you looked into what sort of diseases or developmental issues run in the family and if there is any history of behavioral issues leading to bites or euthanasia?
- What about hip and elbow x-rays, and vision testing?
Every puppy which comes into the world may live from 8-16 years, and some of those puppies may be bred so their lines carry on. Are the dogs you are choosing to produce making your breed better, or are they like a foible, slowly contributing to the destruction of that breed’s integrity as a whole?
“But I just want one puppy!”
Generally speaking, I’d like to think that people have good intentions when they decide to breed a dog. Unfortunately, intentions don’t outweigh the power of genetics and environmental influence.
Some modern day dog owners view their dogs in a similar light that parents view their human children: fantastic! This is a much better mindset than the polar alternative, but it has resulted in people breeding their dog in an effort to immortalize them. The issue with this is that not every dog needs to, or should, be bred. Oftentimes, these individuals will breed their dog because they “just want one puppy!”
The problem with this mindset is that it is extremely rare you will get a single puppy litter. Many dogs have litters containing between 6-12 puppies (sometimes less, sometimes more) and each of these puppies will need an appropriate home. If potential owners are not adequately screened, these other puppies will likely end up being rehomed – sometimes time and time again – at a shelter, or euthanized for behavioral issues. This may sound extreme, but especially in high drive working breeds like Malinois, it is a highly unfortunate and all too common occurrence.
There is significantly more that goes into dog breeding than many people realize. If you want to do it correctly, it will require OFA x-rays, eye examinations, genetic testing (depending on the breed), a thorough study of lineage on both sire and dam, many visits to the veterinarian, potentially a stud fee, and significantly more money in quality dog food to support the female through gestation. If you are the one with a stud dog wishing to attain a choice puppy from a litter, then you will need to locate the right female through examination of her lineage and history, build a partnership with her owner, and create a contractual agreement regarding what will happen with the puppies once they are born. After this, you must wait until she goes into season and even then it is not a guarantee that the breeding will take.
Going through pregnancy is no small feat – females can develop health issues or die during pregnancy and the birthing process. If you don’t know what you’re doing, the chances of this happening increase significantly, so you will likely want to pay a trusted veterinarian to attend the birth. Puppies can die during the birthing process, and some may need 24/7 human care for a while to prevent death. Not every new mom knows what to do, and sometimes hormonal dysfunction can cause a new mother to consume her own puppies. Do you feel prepared to fix these issues if any of them arise?
If everything goes perfectly during the birthing process, the process of raising puppies is time consuming and expensive. The whelping area must be cleaned and sanitized multiple times each day, you must be sure that all puppies are receiving adequate nutrition and that none of them are falling behind in weight and you must understand the weaning process. Did I forget to mention the cost of vet bills associated with new litters? Before puppies can go to their new homes, they will need to be wormed and vaccinated multiple times. Many breeders also choose to microchip puppies. They all must be cleared by a veterinarian prior to leaving your home, and if they don’t pass this clearance they absolutely should not leave.
Before puppies go to their new homes, you may want to register them with a national kennel club or organization. This is time consuming and expensive, but many new puppy buyers expect that their puppy will be registered. Once you have finally completed this entire process, you must have new homes in place for all of your puppies. If you are not an established breeder, this is not always straightforward. You could put your litter announcement online in an advertisement, but without a proper vetting process, I can guarantee you that you will probably not be hearing from people who understand how to properly raise and own high drive working breeds.
As you can see, breeding a dog is not as straightforward as it may seem to someone who has never experienced the entire process before. The best breeders don’t breed for financial gain; they breed for the love of their breed, and because they can say with certainty that their dog will be improving the gene pool and not weakening it.
“My dog is so pretty… what could possibly go wrong?”
The Belgian Malinois has been around since the 1800s. Since then, it has gone through several transformations to become the breed that people know and love today. Its recent increase in popularity, however, has resulted in an increase in Malinois exhibiting behavioral issues and genetic health problems.
You may be wondering – what sort of genetic health problems are Belgian Malinois prone to? Some of the more common breed related health issues are listed below:
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Eye disorders such as retinal atrophy, cataracts and pannus
- Dental disease
- Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (aka Bloat)
What about behavioral dysfunction? Some of the more common behavioral issues associated with the modern day Belgian Malinois are:
- Prey drive related aggression and bites
- Nerviness when exposed to novel stimuli
- Resource guarding
- Territorial related aggression and bites
- Aggression caused by inadequate or inappropriate socialization during critical developmental periods
- Destruction of property due to boredom or anxiety
Some common behaviors exhibiting by Malinois that many inexperienced dog owners view as behavioral issues include:
- Countersurfing, many times by literally jumping from the ground onto your countertop and consuming any food that may be left out or stored there
- Biting when excited
- Biting when overstimulated (which can occur very rapidly)
- Biting to get a toy or food
- Chasing everything that moves, and then biting it
- Biting. Need I say more?
For your safety and your wallet: why it is critical to choose a high-quality puppy
Your chances of getting a puppy who will eventually develop any of the genetically related health issues listed above can be minimized by finding a high quality breeder who knows their lines well and has had all the necessary health testing conducted on the parents of your new puppy prior to breeding. These issues can handicap your dog at a young age or swipe years off of their expected life span. Unfortunately, there is never a 100% chance that you can avoid any health problem in a dog, but you can limit your chances by being smart.
Behavioral issues can most certainly be genetically prompted. The combination of genetics and environment can result in highly undesirable or even dangerous behavioral issues in dogs, and sometimes no matter how perfectly you raise your puppy, they will still end up exhibiting these behaviors in adulthood because their parents or grandparents were not stable dogs.
It is always a serious gamble to breed a dog when you don’t have a thorough understanding of genetics and the process. Things will rarely ever go according to plan, which can result in numerous consequences ranging from annoying or financially detrimental to dangerous and traumatizing.
I will never discourage someone who has a great deal of experience with their breed, cares enough to conduct the required health and genetic testing and takes the time to educate themselves on the breeding process/troubleshooting from breeding – provided they also understand how to get these puppies into the right homes. Breeding dogs for the sake of improving the breed for future generations is a highly worthwhile cause, but unfortunately not everyone choosing to breed is doing so because of this mindset.
“Pretty” dogs do not automatically mean they will have a pretty personality – or healthy longevity. If your friends are pressuring you to breed your dog, or you want to breed your dog because you want a puppy, I caution:
Every puppy born must live the repercussions of the breeder’s decisions. Breeding for selfish reasons often results in unnecessary deaths, dog bites, physical handicaps and heartache. Good breeders do their job for the puppies and the well-being of their dogs. They love their breed dearly and want to be a part of the legacy that will be what their breed becomes generations from now. Every decision they make is chosen because they know that they are making a positive difference, working to fix an issue in the breed’s temperament or correct a health defect.
If you decide to breed your dog, make sure that you are doing so for all the right reasons. If in your heart you know that you are not, enjoy your dog and don’t put unnecessary stress on them. Instead of focusing your efforts on breeding, take time to teach your dog a new skill, join a dog sport, or work to build the incredible bond that can be formed between dog and human when true love and dedication are the priority.