Are You Considering Breeding Service Dogs?
(Or Are You Looking for a Service Dog?) You need to Know This!
Due to the high demand for service dogs, more people are turning to breeding or considering breeding dogs for service dogs and assistance dogs.
No matter if you are intentionally breeding purebred or mixed-breed dogs, here are some points to consider before you do so.
Why is it important to breed genetically heathy dogs to genetically healthy dogs?
The owners of service dogs invest a huge amount of time, energy and money into training a dog to the point of working with them in public-all while living with a disability. To have a dog fail for preventable and testable health is a huge set back for them. There is nothing more disappointing or demoralizing than getting a dog trained and find out it has the be retired due to health issues that could have been identified ahead of time.
Does the specific tasks a service dog does effect the physical impact on the dog?
Yes! It depends on the types and frequency of tasks a dog does on a daily basis how much physical impact a particular disease will have on the dog’s ability to carry out those tasks. For a dog that does heavy mobility (pulling forward, balance etc.), having a joint issue can be devastating. For a dog that is doing less impactful tasks, then a specific disease may have less effect if the health issue is of low consequence and can be managed.
Can breeders and owners use the new genetic health tests as a screen for disease in the breeding dogs?
Yes and no.
Recent advances in genetic technology can identify diseases that are linked to a specific gene or set of genes. For diseases caused by a single gene, the test can tell if or not the dog will suffer from that disease (if it is a dominant gene) or if the dog carries the gene (for recessive genes). Some examples are: von Willebrand disease (vWD) (low blood clotting factor), and Multi-drug Resistant Mutation (MDR1) where dogs have a negative reaction to a specific drug.
Even if the disease can be genetically screened for, such as Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) in the eyes, the dog still needs to be assessed by a veterinarian with a specialty in that disease. For example, if the dog tests positive for a breed-specific PRA, s/he should still be examined by a canine opthalmologist to see to what extent the dog is currently affected.
For other diseases like hip or elbow dysplasia, several genes are involved and the disease is also impacted by different environmental factors. Tests like X-rays and radiographs are required to examine the dog’s physical structure for deformities. Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHipp are two common organizations who test dogs. Here’s a 2010 study that compares the two.
Here is a video from an American Kennel Club (AKC) geneticist that explains hip and elbow dysplasia. Note that the elbows carry at least 60% of the dog’s weight plus take the brunt of impact when jumping and yet people seldom test for elbow dysplasia.
Does your breeding contract require the dog to be spayed or neutered by a certain age?
If so, you will want to re-evauate the age of spay and neuter. Here is a chart from a recent study on its effects on the heath of 35 different breeds.
Hip and elbow testing can be done at the same time if spay/neuter is at an age appropriate to do so since the dog has to be put under anaesthetic to do both. Here is summary of additional studies.
have linked the age of spay/neuter with increased risk of cancer in breeds used as service dogs (Golden, Labradors and German Shepherds).
Did you know that dogs can get sexually transmitted diseases?
While not common in pet dogs in some regions it is in others, a bacteria like Brucellosis can cause infertility in both sexes, or kill an entire litter before or just after they are born. It cannot be cured. Others are passed by casual contact like Canine Herpesvirus. Canine transmissible general tumors (CVVT) are a sexually transmitted cancer that spreads rapidly in an individual dog.
As a consumer buying a pup with the intention of breeding later, it is important to know the sexual health history of the parents. A good question to ask is has or does the breeder do live breedings? If so, how many other matings? Dogs that have only been bred using artificial insemination can prevent the spread of STD’s. Otherwise, the dogs used for breeding (both male and female) should be screened regularly, especially if they are in contact with other dogs.
Can I make a profit breeding dogs?
Some people believe that they can use their dog to create an income for themselves. If you are thinking too, do not be mistaken. Quality heath tests are expensive. Veterinary fees are expensive. Losing a few puppies or an entire litter is financially taxing and you could pay out more out than you get back in litter or stud fees. The more important focus should be on creating dogs that have the physical health and temperament requirements to make a successful service dog for future handlers.
One last thought:
If you are new to breeding, find a mentor who has bred many litters responsibly and knowledgably. They can help to coach you through the process and help you problem solve as questions and issues arise. They can help you to understand what is part of the normal process and what needs a veterinarian's attention before the situation progresses to dire. Some breeds are more prone to problems than others. Find out as much as you can before you start the process. Breed clubs can often refer you and do be aware that your mentor can breed a different breed than what your dogs are.