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WHEN AND HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU BREED

 by Cathy Arney

There is an increasingly topic of debate being voiced among Mastiff owners and breeders as to when and how often should you breed. This topic alone has sparked more fires of dissention within the Mastiff Club of America’s ranks than any other.  Long term Members are leaving because they disagree with the current MCOA Code of Ethics & Conduct in regards to breeding.   New breeders and others decline to join MCOA because of conflicting Opinions on this subject. Let’s take a look at this debate.

 

MCOA Code of Ethics (revised in November 2000) is a set of guidelines which the MCOA requires its members to adhere to and follow. The Club also requires that members, breeders, and stud dog owners not aid or abet the violation of these guidelines by anyone else—i.e. anyone outside the MCOA membership that a member may co-own dogs with, or may do a breeding with.  In the past, a “violation” of this Code of Ethics has resulted in suspension of membership and the barring of said individual from MCOA supported events by the Board of Directors.  It is considered a “serious” offense when any member fails to meet any of the guidelines within the Code of Ethics—individuals have been permanently disbarred from MCOA membership for failing to meet these guidelines.

 

So what’s the problem?  The guidelines referencing breeding - how often, at what age, and when - are in direct conflict with the current practices advocated by Veterinarian reproductive specialists.  Why would one go against the advice of the experts in a breed where poor to fair fertility (a few years ago was less than 30% with natural breedings) is well known?

 

MCOA requires that no bitch will be bred “prior to reaching her twenty-two (22) months of age, nor shall any bitch be bred after her seventh (7th) birthday, A Bitch will not be bred more than once in any (12) month period unless she does not whelp a litter, the litter is stillborn, consists of a single (1) pup, or as part of a veterinarian’s recommendation for treatment of Pyrometra.  Any reason would need to be stated in writing, along with a licensed veterinarian’s certification of good health, to be received by the Recording Secretary at least fourteen (14) days prior to the breeding for the Board’s approval.”  This statement alone has caused more dissention within the ranks of MCOA membership and has lead to the suspension of its members more often than any other part of the Code of Conduct. For in truth, this guideline is out-of-date and not in agreement with the advice and current practice advocated by leading canine reproductive specialists.

 

A few years ago, a well-known canine reproductive specialist was asked to come as a feature speaker at the MCOA National specialty.  Many well-known breeders and long time members attended his presentation.  This expert advocated the breeding of bitches on their 2nd or 3rd heat cycle—“by the age of 18 months” he stated.  He also advised the practice of breeding bitches on back-to-back heat cycles, “Breed them young and get them done,” he stated. He also advised us as breeders to spay our bitches by the age of 3-4 years, for the betterment of overall health.      

 

Frowning faces and sounds of discontentment could be seen and heard throughout the listening audience.  This was definitely not the talk they expected to hear.  What he was advising was in direct conflict with the practices advocated by the MCOA Code of Ethics.  When questioned as to this conflict in interest with MCOA Code of Conduct, the expert repeated that the current practice advocated, supported, and enforced by MCOA was in direct conflict with current reproductive practices and in fact constituted “poor breeding practices.”   He also advised them to revise/update the guidelines to correct this conflict. It was like having a bad drunk ex-spouse showing up at your church wedding. Many people were not happy to hear what he had to say.

 

Many members sighed in relief because they felt that MCOA have no choice but to change this guideline.  Did not the leading reproductive expert just point out that the Code of Ethics did not agree with current reproductive advise/practices?  Surely, something would be done.  Well, the membership is still waiting.

 

Often, for many reasons, a breeder may not be able to breed a bitch until she is older.  What if you have an older bitch that is sound, healthy, and quite capable of breeding and carrying a litter—should you not breed her just because she is older?  An older bitch (one that is over 7 years of age) that is sound, healthy and capable of carrying and delivering a litter of puppies that a Veterinarian has cleared to breed should be allowed to be bred.  We have made great advancements in the care of our dogs—dogs are living longer, healthier, and better lives. I would rather have a puppy from an older bitch that has proven she is healthy and free of genetic problems. Any older bitch that can be successfully bred demonstrates longevity and productivity which we need in our breed.

 

It should be noted that some health problems (epilepsy and Cysturnia) often do not show up until dogs are over 2-3 years old. When we chose to bred an older dog—we can often eliminate the possibility of these genetic problems occurring.  It should be noted that this decision should be made with great care and consideration and ultimately be based on the advice of your veterinarian.  Not all older bitches should be bred, but the few that are healthy and can be bred and should be allowed to conceive.

 

The second bone of discontentment is in the Code of Ethics is that a MCOA member “will not engage in the brokering of puppies, (selling or Buying) EXCEPT in a case that would prevent a potential rescue situation, ALL SUCH CASES MUST be documented by letter to the MCOA recording Secretary.”   As a stud owner, a MCOA member can not assist the owner of the Bitch (that has sired a litter of puppies by this bitch) in placement and selling of said litter for any fee.  You can help if you get no “fee” for your assistance or if you document that you “purchased” this litter to prevent them from becoming “POTENTIAL” rescue dogs. OK, who has the crystal ball and can predict that a dog is going to end up in rescue? And what about the MCOA stud owner who repeats a breeding or breeds another bitch owned by the same owner and then repeatedly invokes the “rescue” clause to place and sell puppies? Why not just allow members to assist in selling puppies bred by others for a fee?  Would they not be more experienced and have greater expertise in the placement of puppies?  Why should a stud dog owner not be allowed to place or help sell puppies from their own dog and receive compensation for their efforts? 

 

The third major guideline in question refers to how many litters a member may breed.  The Code of Ethics states that a member “will not produce more than eight (8) litters in any twenty-four (24) month period per household “ nor will a member permit their “stud dog to be used in a program which would exceed eight (8) litters per twenty-four (24) month period per household.” It also states that members “will not purposely evade these guidelines by putting my dogs in the name of friends or family members.” This guideline was written to insure that the “over-breeding” of Mastiffs would not occur by “ethical” MCOA members.

 

Unfortunately, by limiting the number of dogs that members who practice and follow the Code of Ethics produce, we have created a vast marketing need for puppy buyers. Potential Mastiff owners cannot purchase a puppy from “ethical” breeders—because they have none to sell.   The puppies that are for sale are usually priced too high (breeders raised prices since they must limit the number of puppies produced) for the average dog owner who is seeking to buy a companion dog.  Breeders must also consider the fact that since they are producing fewer puppies—they must place the best puppies with “show homes only” contracts.  The average companion dog owner does not want to show and finish an AKC championship—so they move on to find a less demanding breeder.

 

By limiting the number of litters our “good” breeders can produce, we opened a Pandora’s Box.  Often mastiff litters are small—single pup or two pup litters are common. So it is quite possible for a breeder to produce as few as eight puppies from eight breedings.  Any vet will tell you that a 30% mortality rate in any given litter is normal.  Couple these facts with a low fertility and you have a very low birth rate of puppies. Often Mastiff bitches will have heat cycles every 8 months—so one would need to wait 16 months between breedings in order to meet the MCOA Code of Ethics.

 

If a breeder has more than four breeding age bitches—one must decided who to breed that year and who not to breed.  What if a bitch chosen “misses” and does not become pregnant?  The breeder then has missed the opportunity to produce a litter from any bitch—the one they tried to breed that didn’t conceive, and the ones they didn’t breed because they would have been “over” the number of litters allowed.   Many members put dogs in the names of their children, spouse, family members, friends, and others and themselves as “co-owners” to side step this requirement. But this too, is in direct conflict with the Code of Ethics. Enforcement of this requirement is often based on who you know and who you are within the organization. Often I have heard a breeder referred as a “puppy mill” because they have produced more litters than allowed by MCOA.

 

This guideline also limits the availability of the very best stud dogs we have in our breed. A top winning dog who is a good producer can only be used to sire eight litters in any 24 month period. So this greatly affects how often a stud dog owner can breed a stud dog to outside bitches. Many bitch owners are refused and must choose a lesser dog as a stud for their bitch.  Thus, we limit the possible improvement of our breed by limiting the breeding of our very best dogs.

 

By limiting the number of Mastiff produced, we flung open the door for unethical breeders to flourish.   With the average price of a Mastiff puppy at $1500-3500 each—unethical breeders saw the opportunity to make a few bucks.  The commercial puppy mills are churning out Mastiff puppies in large numbers.  As the demand for Mastiffs increase, so will the development of back yard breeders looking to make money.  Another side effect of this shortage was the development of a “designer Mastiff—the “American Mastiff”—that now fills that need. The American Mastiff is marketed as an “improved” Mastiff—often sold to unsuspecting buyers who fall for a slick sales pitch.

 

Faced with these dilemmas, many long-time breeders have chosen to drop their MCOA membership. Many now want the option of breeding their dogs when and how they are advised by the experts to do. They want the option of breeding a younger or older bitch.  They want the option of breeding more than 8 litters per 24 months, or breeding their stud as they wish.

 

As breeders and owners of this wonderful breed, we should all work to improve the conformation, overall health, longevity, and productivity of our breed.  We should support Mastiff rescue organizations and health research studies that can lead to betterment of our breed.   We should be allowed to breed our dogs based on the advice of the reproductive experts, and to practice sound veterinary practices and care in the breeding of our dogs.

 

Ultimately, the decision to breed or not to breed is made by the breeder.  It can be based and directed by breed club guidelines, the advice of veterinarian reproductive experts, and certainly influenced by the opinion of other breeders/owners. At one time, it was a lonely stand that one took if they chose to breed outside the MCOA Code of Ethics. Fortunately or not, depending on one’s point of view, more and more of us are no longer standing alone.

 

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