The breeding of assistance dogs, under the supervision of the UK Guide Dogs National Breeding Centre. Each mating is carefully planned to guarantee the health and welfare of each breeding bitch and their potential pups.
Most assistance dog pups are born in the homes of volunteer puppy carers though many are born at the UK Guide Dogs NBC in Leamington Spa. Pups born at the centre are introduced to the sights and sounds of the domestic environment – including TV, radio, washing machine and vacuum cleaner noise, by teams of volunteers. Breeding never begins before a bitch is 19 months old and the breeding career ends after seven years.
Avoiding consecutive pregnancies
Great care is taken to avoid consecutive pregnancies giving a bitch time to recover from the stresses of pregnancy and motherhood before any further mating. Breeding bitches give birth to no more than 4 litters and never more than 5. A fifth litter is only allowed under exceptional circumstances and only with veterinary approval.
Planning the breeding of assistance dogs means breeders must know when a bitch is most fertile, known as ‘in oestrus’. The oestrus cycles of bitches that live mostly outdoors is influenced by seasonal, environmental factors including changes in day length. Bitches ready to mate and conceive are referred to as ‘in season’ and show behavioural changes described as their being ‘on heat’.
Recently, researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Nottingham, together with NBC staff, studied the oestrus cycles of breeding bitches kept mostly indoors. They found that, sheltered from seasonal variations, the number bitches ‘on heat’ at any one time was evenly spread throughout the year.
Breading centres require accurate knowledge
Breeding healthy puppies, maintaining the welfare of breeding bitches and efficiently manage the resources of a breeding centre requires accurate knowledge of when a bitch is about to come into season. In the absence of the defined ‘breeding season’ of outdoor and wild dog populations, breeders and managers must rely on other indicators of bitches breeding condition.
Monitoring changes in the bitch’s hormone levels is the most accurate way to predict ovulation and the best time for mating. TARGET Canine Ovulation Diagnostic Test Kit measures the level of the hormone progesterone, enabling breeders to predict the best time for conception – the period 5-6 days after the initial rise in Progesterone.
Following mating, pregnancy can be confirmed and monitored with the FASTest RELAXIN test; especially useful in excluding pseudopregnancy (false pregnancy) and where there are worries about any possible spontaneous abortion.
Further testing with TARGET Canine Ovulation Diagnostic Test Kit toward the completion of pregnancy will help breeders of assistance dogs prepare for the arrival of the litter, and to martial their resources quickly and efficiently.