Border Collie Club

Breeding a litter

Before you decide to breed a litter from your bitch or allow your dog to be used at stud, you should consider many things Producing and rearing a litter of puppies properly, is a very time consuming and expensive business. If you think you are going to make enough from puppies or studs, to afford exotic holidays, or put your child through university, forget it, if you do the job properly, you will be lucky to cover your costs, however if you are determined to go ahead, then I hope the following article will be of interest.

Firstly, it is very important that both the dog and bitch have had all available health checks done, and have acceptable results. More information on these tests can be found on the health page. It is also very important that both prospective parents have faultless temperaments, there is absolutely no excuse to breed from a very nervous or aggressive animal, as these traits are likely to be passed on to future generations.

You also need to study the pedigrees of both animals to ensure that they are compatible, and that there are not too many names repeated on each pedigree. Having one or two names repeated, on both pedigrees, can be acceptable, if they were outstanding animals. This is called ‘line’ breeding, and is necessary to fix ‘type’ but too many repeats, particularly in the first two or three generations is not so good, this is known as ‘inbreeding’ and while it fixes ‘type’ it also greatly increases the chances of producing undesirable characteristics.

Finally you need to look objectively at both animals, to ensure that they compliment one another.

Having decided what you are hoping to achieve with the litter you are planning, you need to ensure that both prospective parents have the characteristics you desire, and you are not doubling up on those characteristics you do not want. For example, there would be little point in breeding two individuals, who were lazy, heavy boned, couch potatoes together, if you were hoping to produce dogs suitable for agility, or two very fine boned individuals with poor conformation, if you were hoping to produce show dogs.

It also helps if you have a basic understanding of the genetics involved. I know a lot of people cringe when they hear the word ‘genetics’ but it is really not as scary as it sounds, and if you have a basic understanding of how it works, even if you don’t understand or remember all of the correct genetic jargon, it can help you to breed better dogs.

Very simply, every physical aspect of your dog, is controlled by the genes it inherits from its parents. From the colour and length of its coat, to its ear carriage, movement, bone, construction, and even temperament. These genes are always in pairs, there are hundreds of pairs, and each gene pair is responsible for a different action, or for producing a different effect, Over time some of these individual genes can mutate, some will mutate more than once, and the mutated gene will be capable of producing a different effect to its original.  

At the time of conception, one of each gene pair will be passed on to the puppy from each of its parents, this ensures that the total number remain the same and do not double up. Which gene from each gene pair is passed on is random, and so variations will occur, depending on whether the original or mutated gene is passed on. This is easiest to see in the production of the different colours.

For example, the gene pair responsible for the brown colour is shown as bb. The original gene pair would be BB and would produce a black coat. At some point one of these B genes mutated, producing a new variety, or mutation, capable of turning the hair brown, in the first generation these genes would be Bb, as only one of the pair would have mutated, and would produce a black individual that ‘carried’ the brown b gene. However, if this animal was later mated to another individual who also ‘carried’ the mutated b gene, due to the random nature that the individual genes are passed on, some of the resulting puppies could have the b gene passed on to them from both of their parents, resulting in them receiving a ‘double dose’ of the mutated b gene, and these individuals would be brown.

 This same principal can be applied to all of the genes that make up your dog, so it can be seen where the variations come from.  There are at least 11 recognised, different, gene pairs that between them control coat colour and pattern, in the border collie, and each of these 11 pairs can have a number of mutations, the colour and pattern you end up with depends on which of the genes or mutations your dog inherits from each of its parents.  

For the most part, they just affect the coat colour but there is one very important exception that you need to be aware of. This is the merle gene. The merle gene is a dominant gene, and has the effect of reducing pigment throughout the coat in random patches. In its dominant form, (MM or merle to merle) , it also produces some, very undesirable semi lethal effects , these include a predominantly white coat, deafness, drastically reduced eye size, in some cases no eye ball at all, and sterility.

For this reason it is obvious that merle to merle mating’s should be avoided at all times. If you wish to breed from a merle it is imperative that you breed only to a ‘normal’ coloured individual. This then produces the marbled merle pattern, and can be produced in any colour, you need to have only one merle parent to produce merle pups, and these merle pups would be shown as Mm. And will not have any of the undesirable characteristics expected from a ‘double’ merle mating. (M = merle, m = non merle)  It is not possible to breed merle pups from two non merle parents, even if they have merle individuals further back in the pedigree.  

The only other colour gene combination known to have any affect on the health of the individual dog is the Diluting (D) gene, which is responsible for diluting the black coat to blue/grey and the brown coat to fawn/lilac. This gene can be linked to a condition known as ‘dilution alopecia’. This condition causes the dog to have very fine, thin hair, particularly on the ear leathers, which are also thinner than normal. In some cases, the ears can be almost without hair at all. However this condition is only seen vary rarely , and is more cosmetic than detrimental to the dogs well being, and it is worth remembering that some breeds, notably the weimaraner only come as dilute brown, and seem to show no ill affects from this.