Monday, 9 November 2015

Breeding time

Last week, I shared this photo on Facebook, it received a lot of comments and quite a few questions came from it. So, instead of answering all the questions individually, I decided to write a blog post about it.

The edited text with this photo read:

The gathering. Tensions are running a little high between the dogs, as it is the "bitching" season. I have 3 females in heat, and the males putting on amazing displays of howling and frustration. Vuk will be breeding Katcha for a litter in 2016, here he is telling young Shara to leave him alone. Shara is not in heat, so it is safe to have her in this group. He "guards" Katcha all day and, in this way would provide some measure of protection against other males breeding her. In wild canids, this is how males can guard their breeding rights". However, this process is not foul proof, so to prevent any other males sneaking in, or to avoid huge fights, I remove my other males to kennel. It is a natural process and interesting to watch. I love this type of photo. the gentle snarl of the male, the "down" demeanor of the young female to the left and the happy " I am going to be bred" face of the dog on the right.. Just to clarify, my dogs do not breed helter skelter, I do control the breeding decisions.

Left Shara, center Vuk and right Katcha
So, how do we do organise breeding time with our Sarplaninac dogs?

Kent asked the following questions:
When having females in heat and have no desire to breed any, you separate your pack in two? if so, how far from each other? Females at one place, males another?.. And If so, how does this work out for you having one pack of frustrated males at one place, and a pack of females smelling like flowers to stray dogs, wolves and coyotes? And how does it affect their working quality during the heat?.. Keep any spayed/neutered opposite gender in those packs during the heat?.. And final, when breeding; do you ever let the dogs decide who will breed? The female can chose?..

The big thing to remember  that on our place  we almost always have various groups of sheep on different places, each group of sheep have anywhere between 2-4 dogs in with them. We also have cattle and when the cows are home, we  have a few dogs in with the cows too.
The pastures range in size from 10-12 acres to over 300 acres or more.

The younger pups and young male are kept closer to home and usually in with the rams or bulls. In this way, we can supervise them and ensure they are safe and developing well.
When the females start coming into heat, the easiest option, to ensure that nothing gets bred, is to remove Vuk, the older male. We will either place him in with the cows in a distant back pasture, or  in a  kennel.
As, Vuk will jump a fence if a female is in standing heat, the decision is often made to kennel him. In this way we can control who and what gets bred.

In previous years we have also had another mature male here, Beli, however this year he is on loan to another ranch about 600km away, so that relieves some stress on the male dog's here. 

At this moment, we only have two male dogs here on the ranch, we have  the dark gray male, Vuk and a young yearling male,  Meco.
We have 5 adult females, and two female 6 month old pups.

The females all tend to come into heat close together and this causes the tensions to rise among them.
They are bitchy and edgy.
They do have some disagreements at times,
but generally things go well with the females together.
Our young male is just coming into his own now, so this time around we have had to kennel him away from the females.
He is in my opinion, still too young to breed and still needs to be health tested and needs to mature more.

I will usually have the females in various groups depending on how and where the sheep are grazing.

If I decide to breed a female, I will make a group with that female, and one or two others who are not in heat.
  Usually, this breeding pair and some friends, will be placed in a pasture with stock further away from the other groups.

Each situation is different and the organization varies, depending on time of the year, and work for the dogs, and
who and how many are in season.

As our dogs work together in groups or packs, they will provide protection for each other. In the female only group,  the group will still run off wild canines, that does not change.
They are territorial.

In the group with the male and the "in standing heat" female, the male will follow her around all day, he is never further away than a few steps.
He is highly diligent in his duties to "protect" her and of course his "breeding rights".
Although this is a good system it is not fool proof, so to ensure only he breeds her,
I will remove the other males.

I do decide who is being bred, by whom. If a female will not accept a male, then she will not be "forced" to breed, she will not be held or coerced in any manner.
It must go naturally or not at all.
They pair have all the time to play, to spend time together, to go through all the rituals before a breeding takes place.
Vuk is respectful of the females.

Being in heat is definitely distracting to the pack, they are way more focused on each other than at other times. This is why the tensions run higher.
 A lot of the time is spent posturing, and playing together.

The males are howling and whining and only have attention for who is in heat.
I do not have any spayed or neutered dogs, so cannot "balance" the groups with them.
I do think that the ideal guardian teams are those who are spayed and neutered, simply seen from a management point of view, as they are always on the job and not distracted by hormones. It is easier to manage and no accidental breedings take place.
It is convenient.
I will be spaying our one female after this heat cycle, she will not be bred anymore and one less in heat female for me to worry about.
Having sufficient dogs, always provides a coverage type of protection, the females will not willingly breed with a coyote or a wolf, those types of inter species breedings, only take place  under certain, specific situations.
A few years back, we had a young transient male wolf on our place, he was trying to buddy up with the dogs. Our dogs would run him off. 

Eric and I do all the breeding decisions here.
I know in some aboriginal cultures they will let females "chose" their own mate, or allow males to fight for breeding rights.
It is really only do-able in situations where you have multiple, unrelated males.

We, do not do this.
 It is clear to see if a female rejects a certain male, so really she does get to "chose" the male, as we will not force a breeding between two dogs.

 I like to consider more factors than just who is the most dominant male for breeding. 
I want to prevent any family inbreeding,
and I want to make sure that the dogs I breed together would be compatible.
I like to know who the male is that is breeding the female to be able to keep breeding records and registry.
 I usually  wait with breeding a female until she is older, between 2.5- 3 years old and I like my males to be a bit older too.
I like to know they are "proven" working dogs; by proven I mean that I like to know how they guard, how they are within the pack, any health issues, raising or training issues, how they react to the stock and many other details before I breed.

I am pretty sure my females would all chose the our older male Vuk, simply because he is the only mature male here, and he is certainly a ladies man!
I like to make the breeding decisions and I like to see how the resulting pups are.

So, Kent, I hope that clarifies a little in how we do things here. It may not be the aboriginal way, but it is my way!

On another group,  I was asked, in rather a negative and disapproving tone, why I breed?
Generally, I do not feel the need to explain why I do something, however, I will address it here.

So, why do I breed?

n a recent FB comment, someone implied that I should spay and neuter all my dogs, not breed any, rather go to a shelter and rescue a dog.

Well, there are a number of reasons why I breed my own livestock guardian dogs, and working stockdogs.
The primary reason is because I know my dogs. I know how they are with my livestock, I know their shortcomings, I know their attitude, I know how they work individually and in a pack. I know which where a challenge to raise and I know how they react to predators.
 I know these dogs, I observe them every day, I analyze how they are built and I am hyper sensitive to their behavior, attitude and temperaments.  I also know a lot about them physically, I know who are picky eaters, who has a sore leg and why that is. I know if they have allergies, I know if they have good coats, I know who are “easy keepers” and when I have them x-rayed, I know how they are built on the inside.

I chose to breed because I am not a gambler. I do not like to gamble with the lives of my livestock, or the investment in our livestock and ranch in general. I am aware that the decisions we make regarding our dogs, do directly influence the safety of the stock. Ranching is a low margin enterprise, lose to many sheep or cattle and you soon get into a hole you cannot crawl out of.

Ranching is also a huge time investment. I can only use my time once. I can chose to invest it into the dogs I know, or I could chose to invest the time into someone else's poorly conceived idea of breeding.
Breeding that could be from dysfunctional dogs, lame or crippled dogs, crossbreeds of all different breeds, poorly socialized, possibly not vaccinated or dewormed, or even questionable temperaments. 
It really boils down to my unwillingness to risk my livestock and my time on some one else’s breeding mishaps. 

You see, I believe that good LGD come from good breeding practices, where attention is paid to the genetics, the environment and the way they are raised.
Genetics are often the forgotten link,
many people breed by accident ( oops litter between the collie and Great Pyr, or the lab with the Anatolian),
 or they breed out of convenience, (have a male and have a female).

Unfortunately, many of the shelter dogs come from people breeding them with little forethought and consideration for genetics and selection on traits,
or even,  what will happen with the resulting pups down the road.

No selection, o
f traits, also means that it is a crapshoot
 as regards the balance between nurturing and protectiveness traits.
 No consideration for what breeds are in the pups, means you could be risking your stock's lives.
Poor raising means the dog may not read other dog's body language and may not be assimilated into the existing pack, or have been removed too young from its litter mates, making it fearful.
 No health considerations means we may have to spend a fortune on veterinary care and possibly have a low life expectancy, due to a dog being sick or debilitated.

The risks are simply too big, because you just
 do not know.
I like to know the ancestry of the dogs,  and base breeding decisions on functionality and form.

I think it is my responsibility to make good choices for our ranch and our livestock.  Getting a poorly bred dog, for me, would be taking a chance,
 something I am unwilling to take.
We have had various rescue LGD many years back,
 and not one worked out for us.  
It was time consuming, risky for the stock, at times dangerous for us and always heart breaking when things do not work out, having to (once again) find a new placement for the dog.

We have worked and trained many rehome/rescue border collies for stock dog work.

I have put my time in with rescue organizations
, I volunteered at the local shelters, did border collie rescue and still try to help sarplaninac's in need.
I have seen both sides of the coin and know what it entails.
 I am not ignorant of the plight of many dogs in shelters.
For a rancher looking for serious protection for their stock, I do not think that shelters provide long term term solutions or sustainable ways to getting good, solid and reliable LGD.
As a breeder I can mentor a new buyer, something that most shelters are unable to provide.

So, yes I am appreciative of all the great rescues doing good work, however, I do not feel that they can provide me with the type of dog I want and need.
I do not feel obligated to have to fix other people’s poor breeding choices.
I will take responsibility for my dogs and any pups I breed.
Do not get me wrong,
I do not think that all rescues, are poor dogs,
I am sure that there are many good ones that do end up in shelters.
For some people, that may be the way to go.

In my heart I am a breeder,
 nothing is more fascinating to me than seeing what comes out of a certain combination.
 It is the same with the sheep and the cows and the chickens.
We spend a lot of time looking for good bulls, selecting our cows, looking for the right genetics in our flock, raise the chickens that suit our environment and needs.
It is a passion and something we really enjoy doing.
We do not breed a lot of dogs, and generally only have 1 litter of pups a year.
Some of these pups usually stay on in our ranch and join our guardian team.
We do take responsibility for the pups we breed.

So, yes we breed our dogs because we believe in good genetics and solid foundations.
We enjoy seeing how the pups develop into adult guardians.
I strongly believe that genetics and selection are important in working dogs.
I am a proud breeder and proud of the dogs we have.

 I have added more photo's from the series where the original photo came from,
 that led to this long blog post.
I will do some captions with the pictures.

This is a group who are now together. To the left is a 18 month old female, Shara, she is not in heat.
In the center is the mature male, Vuk, and the female to the right is Katcha, in heat and will hopefully be covered by Vuk for our 2016 litter of pups!

Vuk is for 90% of the time between Shara and Katcha. 

The ritual starts, she pulls her tail aside, play bows and the game is on.

They flirt and play together. She is not in standing heat, so they spend a lot of the time just hanging out and playing.

If Shara interferes too much, Vuk warns her off, he is between the two females, he is giving Shara a snarl telling her to back off, her demeanor is submissive ( small squinty eyes, low tail, ears pulled bacl, head slightly turned away, leans back). The demeanor of Katcha is totally different, she is upbeat, has a happy expression, she is wagging her tail.
She is the "top bitch".

Katcha tells Vuk to back off somewhat, snapping her teeth at him. She is in effect telling him she is not ready. He knows this, and does not try to mount her.

He follows her everywhere, in essence ensuring that he will have breeding rights. This "guarding" behavior is seen in all wild canids too.

He stops to pee on a bush and Katcha takes a moment to come and say hi.
The sheep watch this spectacle with fascination, and are not overly perturbed by the rough housing between the dogs.

So, I hope this gives some insight into how we do things here.
Thank you for all the comments and questions.


  1. I like how you explain your reasons for breeding. We have similar reasons. It's tough in this climate of rescues and most people not understanding what's really expected of working dogs.

  2. Thank you Kathryn. It is tough to explain to people what is really needed.

  3. I don't understand the shelter dog mantallity either. Yes we have had many great rescue dogs but as pets not working dogs. What people fail to relise is that a good breeder looks after and rescues their own.


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