What makes a good livestock guardian dog breeder

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Farei Kennels Punica
Young Punica is part of the newest litter. She represents an even percentage of genetics from all of the Farei Kennels' lines, including great-great grandfather, Colter, left. But with that came some surprises. (Courtesy of Farei Kennels)

Fall is one of the busiest times of year. It’s also when I tend to look at implementing changes to get through the winter. I typically put my stock on the sections of wooded forage, during the hottest months, to give them some relief. As I finish the new lambing shed, I am looking forward to a new schedule this winter.

Instead of being on the rocky hillside you saw last month, their new holding area is a little pocket valley. Better protection from the wind and easier terrain will give us all a little break this winter. The drawback will be predator pressure on that side. The little pocket valley butts up against the nothing around us. Only having Fitz work full time is going to make this feasible. Three dogs dedicated to lambing and two on the outside should keep our losses at zero, despite the change in location.

One of the things I am also evaluating this year is my livestock guardian dog breeding program. I brought in new blood this year, with the first time use of a son, from an outcrossed bitch.

Evaluation

Breeding is an interesting endeavor. My original goals of cookie cutter dogs and breed standards have been swayed by the demands of environment and stock safety. The debate of landrace versus breed standard is an interesting one, but it’s a discussion for another time.

The first litter was a blend of all the lines I have been working with over the years. It was a culmination of selective traits. Size, without losing agility, as well as intelligence, discernment and stock safety. They are young. I will continue to evaluate them as they grow and learn, but the female I held back is unsurpassed in these areas.

Here is the fun part about genetics and breeding: I also wound up with an overbite. Something I have never had in all the years I have been breeding. Out of seven pups, three of them did not have perfect bites, and one of those three was severe. I have conferred with the reproduction specialist at our veterinary office and have radiographs of the adults in question scheduled for the end of the month, as well as the other bitch we intended to use that stud on.

It’s a frustrating situation. Health testing and family history only go so far. The vet is thoroughly stumped, and while her academic interest and enthusiasm are appreciated, it’s hard not to get discouraged, considering the time and effort invested.

Breeding ethically

Being an ethical breeder doesn’t mean everything always goes perfectly. It means doing the right things when the bad stuff happens. This, in my opinion, is what separates the good breeders from the not-so-good ones. Service after the sale, so to speak. We have a responsibility to these dogs and their quality of life. Supporting the customer in a situation where medical or behavioral assistance is needed — that’s our responsibility, too.

If you have consistent mishandling, you need a better screening process. Most of the behavioral work I do as a trainer is in situations where the breeder sold the client a dog that wasn’t really suited to the situation, then stopped answering questions when inevitable conflicts arose.

Dogs aren’t all the same. Just like people, they have very individual personalities that make them better suited to certain environments over others. I tell people the biggest red flag is a breeder who lets you pick the pup. They should know how their dogs fit out in the world, and choose yours, accordingly. “Breeder support for life” shouldn’t just be a clause on a contract. It needs to be a mentality, a way of life.

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