Please keep in mind these are MY opinions about ethical breeding. I know not everyone shares these values (and some say I am unethical myself for breeding merles in the past at all) and I do not believe everyone right now today is going to embrace or practice these values of mine. I would like to see it happen though and I think it would do a LOT towards giving merle and sable credibility as a pattern to be accepted in Am. Cocker Spaniels. I also live by the philosophy of not dwelling on past mistakes but striving for improvements as we learn from them or about the world around us. If I weren't to outline these ideals than no one would know what they were. Without knowledge there is no way to make something happen. I believe it is unethical to NOT do these things once you are aware about the need for them.
Learn about your pedigrees.
Research the parents and grandparents and ask for pictures of them. Not only is this fun to see whether your dog(s) resemble their ancestors and in what ways but this will begin to give you a knowledge about them.
Ask questions about whether there are any health concerns in the lineage. Ask about littermates of each ancestor as well. Most quality breeders take a great deal of pride in their lines and keep information about them.
Look at the AKC pedigree and pay attention to things like OFA #s and so forth (see below under "Health Testing"). While the merle gene doesn't cause every problem in cocker spaniels we need to gain ground by setting ourselves apart from unhealthy (poorly bred) cockers that are being unethically produced.
CERF (canine eye research foundation) testing annually before breeding to have the eyes checked for eye problems that are hereditary and NOT breed if any problem is found. (cataracts etc.) Disclose the results of any problems to the breeder/owner of the dog and any litter mate's owners that you are in contact with. If an outside stud was used contact that dog's breeder/owner. This isn't about blaming someone it is about avoiding continuing it. Please note the OFA now keeps the former CERF testing results etc. We use this term to explain what kind of testing it is and to keep with past familiar terminology.
PRA (progressive retinal atrophy *eyes*) with a cheek swab and the DNA tested to carry for the gene that causes it.
OFA (orthopedic foundation of america) hips and knees at 2 years of age for dysplasia or 'slips'~ luxating patellas. an alternative that detects problems earlier for hips is Penn Testing.
Planned and Researched Breeding
Having a breeder who continues to educate themselves to add to their experience is a good idea. I for one stay as current as I possibly can. If I am not reading literature on the latest topics I am discussing it with Breeders that I respect their ethics as well. One reason I decided to become a breeder was I knew it could be done better and one reason I write Cockered Magazine is so that the average cocker family can understand the basics and hopefully along the way some of the information will get shared with breeders who could do alot of improvements than where they might currently be at or they can share this information futher with buyers and other breeders they know as well.
I feel the following are some basic ethical things every breeder should be informed about:
- As mentioned above pedigrees and health testing! Yes some advancements have been made in our breed such as the lesser chance of Hip Dysplasia HOWEVER that is due primarily for the fact that we have had hips evaluated and stopped breeding those lineages that were affected. Understanding genetics and having parents or grandparents clear is a PLUS but it doesn't take away from the importance of knowing if THAT DOG you are breeding has it!
- Knowing basic genetics of colors, patterns etc. and what it takes to make what. This seems minor but with the color/pattern bias in Cocker Spaniels knowing what you are doing with regards to this is still very important. Merle does NOT skip generations, nor does Roan and only slightly more complicated nor does Sable (see Sable Information Pages). As recently as just a few months ago I have witnessed a breeder with twice the amount of time involved with this breed not have a clue as to why she had what in which litter and not making choices from the dogs in her program that make sense to produce colors and patterns she wants to produce. What futher pains me is over a decade ago I took weeks upon weeks to try to explain all this to her myself.
- I have decided that after my 1st litter from restarting my breeding program decided to test and research the genetics behind my adults and their offspring (Some not all) as they were all so different in how their sable progressed. Infiniti for one started out so dark and now at 5 months old only has the Black (she is not a chocolate based sable like Mickey *he has a brown nose, she has black) in small rings around her eyes and the tips of her ears. Does it cost money to do so...absolutely but it's also important to me to know why what I am seeing is going on so that I can explain and plan for it with future litters etc.
- Knowing what is best for your dogs that you are breeding. Yes this is a personal matter in many regards but I am going to share the criteria that I use and I feel any breeder should at least be able to answer you immediately as to what their policy on it is. Even if their answers differ from mine it says volumes if they haven't at least made these decisions.
- How they feel about Health Testing and why. (find out if they continue it or when they stop and why)
- At What age do they begin breeding (compare it to when health testing is done)
- How often do they breed their dogs? (are they skipping heat cycles? are they limiting the number of litters they have each year to comply with local laws and licensing?)
- At What age or situation do they retire a dog from their program? (is it bassed on the # of litters or the age of the dogs and why for each answer? what happens to the dogs they retire from their breeding programs?)
- Do they factor the behavior of the dogs they breed into making decisions? Happy & Healthy parents are instrumental to HAPPY & HEALTHY PUPPIES!
- What diet is fed and why? I have been feeding Iams for almost 22 years and never changed. Partially because when I began it was the very best available and over the years I have never had a problem with any of my cockers being fed it. Why change what's working for me. Now I have also always suggested it to those getting puppies from me as it's readily available in most grocery or pet stores and even Walmart at an affordable price. Not the most expensive and yet not the cheapest either. Quality tho!
- What vaccinations does the breeder give the parents, why and what about the puppies now and in the future?
Policies on a variety of subjects that might occur in the future:
- What happens if your puppy is not healthy in the future? Do you get a refund and what problemsa are covered?
- As is the law you have a 7 day window from when your puppy leaves my care for 'general' unwell issues. If the pup is sick please take it to the vet IMMEDIATELY. If it turns out (hasn't happened yet) that it's sick from something I have done incorrectly than I will cover the vet visit and treatment if that is an option.
- If the puppy dies within a year of a health issue that I would be responsible for you would be refunded your entire purchase price (not delivery/shipping) so long as the autopsy(REQUIRED and at your cost) is agreed by your vet and mine that the cause of death is a hereditary condtion. (not abuse or neglect or an accident such as hit by a car)
- If the puppy develops a life impacting hereditary conditon and you wish to keep the pup and not return to me than I would refund half the purchase price.
- If you wish to not keep the puppy due to a hereditary condition you can return the dog to me at any time within the first year and receive a full refund of purchase price.
- What happens if you are not able to keep your puppy/dog in the future? Is there anything the breeder offers to help you?
- I have a lifetime return to me policy. If something happens I want to know that they are safe and in a good home so even if you find a new home on your own it is agreed you inform me and put me in touch with the new owners should they have any questions etc. Returning an adult does not give you a monetary return and the cost of transporting the dog back to me is your full responsiblity. I also ask that you inform me of any issues (behavioral or health) that might be involved.
How they are raising their puppies and dogs:
Decide what you are ok with in regards to how a breeder 'breeds', raises the puppies and houses them as well. If it doesn't matter to you~ that's your choice, if I didn't mention it I would feel negligent in what information I provide to everyone.
- We are in the 'new millenium' and at this point in history it is not really an encouraged practice to be breeding dogs that live outside or in cages and are not part of the family. Many assume when they pay alot of money for a puppy they are coming from a good beginning. That's not the case far too often.
- Back when this breed was being developed big kennels were needed to have a good program. 100s of dogs in an outdoor kennel set up was just fine by society's standards. Now a days that condition is more aptly referred to as a puppy mill. They aren't selectively breeding from their 100 dogs to create a 'type' etc they are breeding 100 dogs to make (mill) lots and lots of puppies.
- Being a breeder has many different meanings. By definition if you produce a single litter you have bred your dog. If you planned to breed these dogs than you are a breeder. Unfortunately the definition doesn't distinguish the type of breeding going on from those who just keep alot of dogs who breed to those who carefully plan and have a 'program' and those who do it on a smaller vs larger scale.
- By legal definition I am a 'hobby' breeder~ due to the fact that I have so few 'dogs' that I am breeding. However this is not just a hobby of mine that I do in my spare time, in fact it's the opposite, I seldom have spare time as I am always working with the dogs or for them in various ways.
- I feel that the term 'professional hobby breeder' applies to me more. Please do not confuse that term with Commercial Breeder. I do not breed nor approve of breeding on a large scale as even those commercial breeders who do manage to produce healthy puppies in an inspected facility do not have the time to give that puppy individual attention and to me that is a vital part of raising a puppy to have a happy life ahead of it with a new family.
- Be wary of those breeders who say they are raising the dogs in their home as part of their family but when you see photos the dogs are always outside or only 1 dog in the photos at a time and yet they own many dogs. I know by the prior parts that some of what we need to be aware of is how people define things. Raised in their home to someone might mean that they live under the same roof~ in fact I know some of my local buyers talk about another breeder here they visited who states that and yet keeps her dogs in her garage in cages. Not the same thing as being with me 24/7 and part of my family!
Where the PitterPatter Of Cocker Spaniel Paws Can be Heard Through Out the Halls.