Definitive Chanllenges of Breeding Giant Breeds
There was a time breeding dogs was as simple as putting Mum to be in an enclosure with the selected Dad, and let nature take it’s course. Today, breeding dogs is a scientific, expensive process. The development of frozen, or fresh frozen semen, artificial insemination, transervical, surgical implants, has created an International/National Stud Registry, plus assuring continuity of blood lines ad infinitum. Genetic Screening, Health Certifications, Open Registries, assist in eliminating inherited health problems, all costly, but productive procedures.
Technology provides greater options toward breeding better, healthier dogs, but challenges, germane to each breed, still remain.
Breeding a Giant Breed is not for the feint of heart, or lowercase pocketbook. They are actually delicate, demanding, vulnerable creatures, requiring largesse in all areas of their lifestyle - housing, feeding, care, transportation, etc. A natural mating of these big dogs must be monitored carefully. If they are kennel mates, timing is right, the bitch is receptive, the male enthusiastic, matings are usually performed without incident. Nevertheless, best to have two, preferably three people on hand, things can suddenly go very awry.
If the dogs are strangers, they should be introduced through a fence. Progesterone tests having been done to assure correct timing, the bitch should be receptive to the male. Brought together on leash, if the bitch shows any aggression, she is muzzled and held steady. Some experienced Alpha Studs will mount the bitch without any preliminary overtures; others take a while to try their luck. A small bitch will need support - clasp hands under her belly, or use a soft towel as a sling. When the male mounts the bitch, he often needs “guidance” to make the connection. When penetration/tie is achieved, the Dog hangs heavily on the bitch’s back for a minute before dismounting. He should then be assisted in bringing his hind leg over her back, and they stand tail to tail, or is prevented from doing so, and the two dogs stand side by side, held there by someone encircling their rear legs with their arms. Some believe the latter method, while not natural, is safer with the Giant breeds. It may also solidify an outside tie. Either way, the Dogs should be “chaperoned” by two people until they separate. They may get anxious, especially if it is a long tie, and start nipping at each other, or drag each other about, and horror of horrors, end up a screaming pile on the ground, possibly causing permanent damage to internal organs, not to mention the owner passed out alongside!
Some Males will not tolerate interference. In such cases, if the bitch is responsive to the male, and not aggressive, one may make a judgment call, and under close supervision, turn them loose in a SMALL enclosure. Often freedom brings success. However, once they “tie” best take control immediately. The bitch goes through a grueling time during mating, especially when there is a great variance in size, and a strong, familiar hand at her head is reassuring. Sometimes, the bitch, even when timing is right, will not permit the dog to mount her. Forcing the issue will put all at risk. Our gentle giants have big teeth! Many “Giant” breeders opt for Artificial Insemination, live, fresh frozen or frozen, rather than take any of the risks associated with a natural breeding. It also eliminates possibilities of infections being passed. Many Stud dogs have become sterile from such.
Once pregnancy is ruled positive, by palpating, ultra sound, or the bitch, a pig-railed, whelping Box, approximately 6' X 6', is prepared, placed in a quiet area, and thickly lined with newspapers. Mum should become familiar with it approximately ten days before “due” date. A knowledgeable Veterinarian should be on call 24/7, and a supply of Goat’s milk or puppy milk formula on hand.
The bitch should not be left alone once she starts whelping. She may need help expelling puppies stuck low in the birth canal, or partway out. Left on her own to open sacs and clean the whelps - toes, ears, tails can be nipped off, in the sac too long - causes suffocation. Mum can panic - become cannibalistic, killing them. Puppies average l.5 to 2.5 lbs at birth, and be it one or ten puppies, it is easy for her to lay/step on one and kill it - like stepping on a fly!
One is fortunate to avoid possible pitfalls and high costs of something going awry - no milk, c-section, fading puppy syndrome, etc., even, perish the thought, losing Mum. Think of hand feeding, defecating, cleaning, 10 or more, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Borzoi, or any Giant Breed, puppies 24/7 for 3 weeks or so. It is a humongous, expensive undertaking, a breeder’s nightmare. If not prepared for such happenings, do not entertain thoughts of breeding these big, demanding creatures. Remember, one is responsible, from womb to tomb, for puppies they bring into this world.
Puppies thriving, weaning starts at 4/5 weeks. They should weigh 15 to 25 lbs approximately, depending on the breed, and will go through very rapid growth spurts during their first year. Many don’t totally mature, physically or/and mentally, until 2/3 years old. Correct diet and exercise are extremely important during this stage, and must be monitored carefully to fit each individual puppy. Top grade puppy food may be fed up to 8/10 weeks, then replaced with top grade Adult food. Puppy Foods are “growth” foods, giant breeds need to grow slowly and naturally. Fast growth can cause many health problems.
At eight weeks, puppies should be happy, active, bright eyed, and gaining daily. Vaccinations may be started at this time, but be aware that some puppies may have severe reactions to vaccinations, especially when given the 5 in 1 or, the 8 in 1, which some Veterinarians advocate. Be very adamant, if vaccinating puppies, demand the vaccinations be given separately, at least 3 weeks apart. If the Veterinarian doesn’t have such, find one that does.
Puppies should be handled from birth, introduced to the environment - children, household noises, car rides, stairs, etc. Well socialized, they adapt easier when placed in their forever homes. Hopefully, most are already promised to an experienced, large breed household. First timers must be interrogated carefully, and if acceptable - educated re the special needs of a large, fast growing puppy - feeding, training, handling, exercising, so the puppy is given every opportunity to achieve it’s full potential in a loving family household.
The Giant breeds are ultra “people” dogs; they need to bond with an individual or family. They are also highly intelligent, athletic creatures, and these aptitudes must be continually addressed or boredom sets in, and they can create unimaginable chaos when that occurs. AKC Performance Events are ideal activities to channel these needs, providing mental stimulation, great exercise opportunities, and close bonding between dog and owner. They are capable of becoming super performers in such pursuits.
As an owner/ breeder of Great Danes for 40 + years, I know there is nothing more gratifying than raising a beautiful, healthy litter, and seeing them float around the Conformation Ring, or fly through an Agility Course with the grace, and swiftness of an antelope. It takes experience, dedication, and a continuing search for knowledge, to reach such gratification.
Mrs. Paddy Magnuson,