Where you come for your share of Puppy fun!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Guide or Breeder?

In the last post I wrote how Dulcie's heart murmur had sorted itself out and that that meant she was definitely still a candidate for something that is colloquially known as Breeder watch. A friend of mine (you should all really check out his blog linked here: he thinks that some people won't agree with him, but his passion for wildlife is so apparent through his blog that I think most readers of my blog will enjoy it. I know I do.) basically asked what it meant to be a breeder. I'm paraphrasing a lot, but that was the general gist of the question.

So, for new readers of the blog, after the puppy has spent "x" amount of time with their puppy raiser (for GDB it's anywhere between when the puppy is 15-18 months of age) they go back in for formal training. What is the point of this formal training? Well, puppy raisers don't teach their puppies actual Guide work. We teach them the basics of being a good dog and get them used to being out in public. So, I'll teach my puppies basic house manners and commands (e.g. sit, down stay, etc.) and take them with me to restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, malls, etc. The actual Guide work is taught by licensed instructors once the puppy has learned all the basics and we are all confident that they have a shot at being a Guide (it takes a lot and not every puppy can do it, but that's another post).

When the puppy is done with the puppy in training stage and is ready to move onto their formal training there are two possible routes. The first is that they will go straight into harness training. They get an extensive health check and if everything checks out OK they go through the phases of harness training. Each school does it differently. At GDB we have 8 phases of formal training and in each case the dog learns something new that will help them be a great Guide along with fine tuning the basics. Once they make it to phase 8 and pass their final blindfold test they are considered "class ready" and just need to wait for their perfect person to come around. (I've always thought that there shouldn't be a phase 8.5 or something to indicate that the dog has passed their final exam and is just waiting because we aren't told when this happens and seeing them in 8 week after week after week can be nerve wracking.) If all goes well, in our new system, the dog should be finished with their training in 2-3 months and then the rest is just a waiting game.

The second route of formal training is going into Breeder Evals. I sometimes call this the "Breeder Black Hole." Why? Because we don't hear a thing about the dogs in breeder evals until they either pass or fail as a breeder and the evals take about the same time as formal training. So, what I am about to give you is a real basic idea of what happens when a dog goes in for breeder evaluations. When they go in for breeder evals they also get an extensive health exam, but this one is much more intense than that given to dogs just going into formal harness training. This is because we don't want any odd genes that may pass on diseases in our breeding colony, but they could still be used as a guide. So, if they pass all their health and temperament exams (and there are quite a few of them) they make it as a breeder. Once a dog is officially selected as a breeder a "Breeder Custodian" (BCs) is found for them. The BCs are families who take these dogs in and agree to bring them in whenever Guide Dogs needs them for a "date". Because of this obligation, GDB has made rules as to how close you can live to the San Rafael campus to be eligible to become a BC. If the dog is a female they have an average of 4 litters (unless they are really, really prolific) and if they are males they can breed for as long as they are turning out a good number of guides and breeders. If they don't make it as a breeder one of two things can happen. They will either be spayed and put into harness training or they will be spayed and career changed. The latter usually happens for some sort of health issue but can happen for temperament issues.

A dog that is on breeder watch as a puppy can be cut from it at any time. If the breeding department had it their way, every puppy would come in for formal training "intact". Of course, sometimes the only way a puppy has a chance of making it through the program at all will be if they are spayed/neutered to get their hormones under control. This is what happened to my first and third puppies, Freya and Hilly. Both Dylan puppies and Dylan was the most prolific breeder at one stage so they wanted to keep as many of his pups intact as possible. Unfortunately for them, they were both too hormonal and distracted. The Breeding department does select litters to stay intact due to their parentage. Usually first time breeders won't have all puppies in their litter stay intact because they don't know if their genes produce suitable temperaments. Most of the time, if it's a first breeder, they will only keep the females in the litter intact (usually, not always).

Why do I want to raise a Breeder so bad? I'm glad you asked. It's because you get to help name the puppies and it's the only time every you can request a specific puppy. So, if Dulcie were to become a breeder I could request a puppy from her first litter and GDB would give it to me (since she's a female I could probably request a puppy from all of her litters; males tend to have many more litters than females). And I absolutely LOVE helping to name these puppies.

This is why I was so happy that Dulcie's heart murmur sorted itself out. She has an absolutely wonderful temperament and is a super stable puppy. I think that the breeding department would really, really like her and it would be such a shame if she didn't at least get the chance to compete with her brothers and sisters for the breeder position.

Compete? Oh yes, I forgot to mention that. Which dogs become breeders really depends on what the breeding department is looking for at what time. They need to keep a balance between yellow and black labs so that we can turn out more or less equal amounts of black and yellow labs every year. This is because we never know what our "clients" will want. Some request black (good on them!) and some request yellow (I'm sure they'll see the light eventually). This has absolutely nothing to do with whether black or yellow labs make the better Guide. For some, it's that they still have some usable vision and would like to see their dog so they request a yellow lab and for others it's that their first Guide was a black lab and they fell in love with them so now they only want black labs. It's just a preference thing. Anyway, the breeding department does not usually take a whole litter for breeding (maybe for color, more likely because they want a mix of genes) if they are all intact. They will choose the very best candidate. Maybe two females are exactly what they are looking for but one has a higher hip score so that one will become a breeder over the one with the lower hip score. However, with goldens, I have seen them take multiple breeders from one litter multiple times. It might have something to do with the fact that our Golden population in the breeding colony had to be "altered" a while ago and we are still working back to it's full size. It might have something to do with the fact that if you have stable, well mannered goldens you want them producing more stable, well mannered goldens (note: goldens tend to be a little softer than the labs and are less adaptable; again this is usually not always). So, in the case of Dulcie, it may be that multiple pups are pulled for breeding from her litter.

That was probably the most long winded answer to a simple question and much more information than was wanted, but...well I write long winded answers.

1 comment:

  1. Little side note on male breeders they have about 50-60 pups at first and then are put on hold to see how the pups do. The percentage of their pups passing has to meet or go over the percent of graduates for that breed. If it is less they are retired if they meet the requirement they will go off hold and be used every so often.


The pups and I love to hear from our readers!