Dog breeding isn’t always pretty.

It is no secret that I breed border terriers, and that I have experienced public scrutiny for partaking in this hobby.  As such, it’s not surprising that this blog often shares posts that are in support of ethical breeders.

So, today, I share a story from another Australian breeder on breeding a litter of golden retrievers, and how it went anything but according to planned. It’s a story on how ethical breeders struggle through hardship, and again illustrates that there is no money to be made from ethical breeding.

It’s funny because I have had dogs all my life, been a dog groomer for 16 years and this was always a dream to have a litter of my own. Well at least I can say I tried. It was a shame because I did what I set out to do and that was breed something for the show ring that was better than what I had which is what we all do, try to improve the breed. But I couldn’t keep the puppy, every time I looked at him I cried and it brought back the memories and I thought it wasn’t fair on him. It is so lovely to see photos of them all and how happy they are with their new families. That is the best part.

Well my first breeding experience was horrible . It has been three months and I still wake up in the middle of the night crying sometimes. There were great times and I ended up with 10 amazing puppies who are each adored by their new owners and I have had so many updates with the owners raving about how great their puppies are socially, at training and to live with. I am proud so proud of that.

However I am still so emotional every time I think about the experience as a whole. Here is a brief overview. I have been planning this litter for four years. I own both the bitch and stud dog and they are from amazing kennels that I have admired for over 15 years. I did every test and they passed with flying colours and had brilliant hip and elbow scores. They both have done well in showing and complemented each other well.

Zena at day 58.

Zena at day 58.

We had a great mating and a text book pregnancy until 58 days. My bitch seemed to double in size over night. Within 24 hours we were at the vet having an ultrasound. We thought there were six pups and the vet was worried about the pups heart rates. We went home and were on watch for signs of labour. We went back for a scan and the heart rates had picked up but my bitch hadn’t. Another 24 hours and my bitch wasn’t looking well and her joints had started to swell. I was syringing lectade into her as she wouldn’t eat or drink.

She couldn’t get comfortable and I felt she was trying to be brave when I was with her so as heart breaking as it was I sat outside the door and left her to try and settle. It broke my heart to hear her try to lie down. She stood the whole time!! I kept calling the vet and emergency vet to ask questions and thank goodness for the emergency vet at 3am talking to me or I would have gone insane! Everyone kept saying “just watch her it sounds like she is in labour”, “any time now, just be patient”, “the first stages can take a while”. I was home on my own and wanted to be strong for my girl so would go outside and sit down and just sob, wipe my eyes and go back into her with a huge smile and tell her what a great job she was doing. I rubbed her back and tummy and made a sling to try and hold her belly to give her a little relief. We both didn’t sleep for two days.

The next day I couldn’t take it and knew she had had enough too. I took her into the vet and we decided to give her a cesarian. This is the part I feel so very terrible about. I started to have chest pains, a panic attack. I couldn’t breathe and was shaking terribly. My girl kept looking at me and I was falling apart. The nurses made me go outside for a walk but I felt so dreadful leaving Zena alone. I had done this to her, I had wanted this litter and I had made the commitment to do this with her!! The last thing I said to the vet was “Whatever happens, save my girl”.

I couldn’t go in for the cesarian and stood outside the door. Then I heard the last thing anyone wants to hear. “Holy shit, get more help.” Time just slowed as every horrible possibility went through my mind. After what felt like an eternity the most amazing sound, second only to the cry of my own children, was the scream of a tiny little baby being born. That’s when the tears of the last couple of hours came and with every cry of another puppy being born I felt the pain in my chest ease. I heard them count and say there were 10 puppies! 10! I was expecting 6 not nearly double that! I had the courage to go in and help with the puppies but no one would say anything about Zena. All I was told was it wasn’t good and they were doing everything they could.

I couldn’t bring myself to look into the theatre but the vet talked to me through the door. He said he had got her back but it was still to early to tell. What????? What do you mean got her back? It turns out the vet thinks she had a condition called maternal hydrops and said each puppy was surrounded my approximately 1-2 litres of fluid! No wonder Zena was so big with 10 puppies that is almost 20 litres of fluid and she was a slight golden retriever to begin with! After the pups she looked like a skeleton. What had seemed like a good healthy weight gain had just been a huge belly of puppies and fluid.

Her heart had stopped beating twice on the table and they had to shock her to bring her back. With that much fluid around it was very dangerous I am told. She was then monitored very closely as her heart beat was extremely rapid. It was decided to take her to the emergency specialist vet for overnight observation. Due to recent parvovirus outbreaks in the area I couldn’t leave the puppies so took them home with me. It was now midnight, and my birthday, happy birthday to me.

Zena's newborn puppies.

Zena’s newborn puppies.

I now had to learn how to hand feed new born puppies. Not to mention toilet them and burp them. I didn’t even know puppies burped! Thank goodness for my ‘bible’ by Dr Karen Hedburg. I had read it cover to cover and was set up for most just in case scenarios so had some bottles on hand and cotton balls for toileting. It took me 1.5 hours to hand feed all 10 puppies and I had to do this every two hours. After three days of no sleep it is a miracle they all survived. The next day I was able to bring Zena home and thank goodness for friends coming over to help for a couple of hours and my vet doing house calls and checking on the puppies at home.

Zena and her 3 day old babies.

Zena and her 3 day old babies.

Zena was a brilliant mum but after her trauma there was no way I was leaving her. I slept on the couch next to her whelping box for three weeks.

Surely there can’t be more?? Yep, two bouts of mastitis with me doing massage, hot packs and cabbage leaves. Zena was on antibiotics so I had puppies with the runs on and off for five weeks and nearly loosing three of them with an unknown virus. There were many nights I went to sleep sitting up on the lounge with a puppy or two down my shirt to keep them warm and hope when I woke up they were still with me. Then there were the times all of them would somehow escape their run in the garage and 10 puppies had had a ball pooping and weeing all over the garage and rolled in it.

Then there was the great times! They all weaned without a problem and thrived. We would all play outside for hours rolling around in the grass with 10 happy fat puppies. We found amazing homes for each and every one of them and they all were perfect little balls of fluff who were nearly fully toilet trained by 8 weeks when they left us.

Zena's puppies at 6 weeks old.

Zena’s puppies at 6 weeks old.

So would I do this again? Absobloodylutely NOT! Everyone says I will change my mind but I just can’t see it. I am proud of the puppies I produced. All the research I have done says it is a rare condition that is suspected to happen when two lines don’t blend well and most bitches go on to have a normal second litter. I have had breeders of 30 years who say they have never had a litter with so many issues. I don’t see how I could ever put Zena through something like that again. I did this alone as a single mother of three children. There were lots of people that said they would help me but when it came down to it people had their own lives and it was very lonely and exhausting.

I was scared to say anything thinking that I must have done something wrong but going over everything I can see it was just a case of bad luck.

My question is has anyone had a traumatic litter? How long till you got over the trauma of it? Zena is perfectly happy and healthy and loving life jumping on the trampoline and wrestling with the other dogs but I still struggle with the memories.

I wouldn’t wish this experience on any responsible breeder but I wonder if a puppy farmer’s first litter cost upward of $6k if that would deter them!!



Further reading:

I haven’t made any money from dog breeding.

The Sin of Breeding Dogs

23 thoughts on “Dog breeding isn’t always pretty.

  1. Wow. Congratulations to you and to Zena on a job well done. I had, well, MY DOG had two litters of pups. The first was only three, the second six. Maxine was a labrador retriever. I’m happy to say she didn’t have any problems, and it was still traumatic for me. Like you, I banish myself from the room and am sitting on the stairs crying, and angry with myself for doing this to my girl. She birthed the litter of three pretty easily though, and was a wonderful mom. We did do it a second time – and while 6 was a bigger handful, she still did a great job. But I didn’t want to do it again – it’s a lot of work and a lot of wear & tear on Maxine. I can’t imagine going through what you did. Kudos for taking such good care of Zena and her pups.

  2. Crazy; thank you for sharing. I thought of you and your blog recently: I was at a party and my love of dogs came up. One of the guests said, “I bet you could be a breeder and make a lot of money doing that.” I shook my head no, and patiently explained all of the things I’ve read from your blog. :-)

    • Feeling very honoured that you think of my blog at parties, Abby. ;) Glad you have learned the truth on the ‘greeder myth’ here.

  3. I read this with a lot of interest. I was really worried for Zena. It broke my heart when you said “whatever happens, save my girl.” Then it was such a relief to see the pic of happy Mama with her babies.

    I’m thankful for all the wonderful people out there like you who have raised healthy litters with so much care. I couldn’t do it.

    • That line got to me, too, Lindsay. I remember how heavy my heart was when Clover went in for her cesarian to deliver Myrtle… And it was a planned cesarian! Doesn’t make it easier. :(

  4. This is a great story for anyone thinking of breeding to read, it’s not all sunshine and flowers and there is much more to it than “cute puppies!”. I breed Border Collies, and two days after one of our girls gave birth to 10 pups she got a bad infection and had to be spayed. We could have chosen to not spay and treat the infection in her uterus (which was filled with puss) but we felt that would have been selfish. It as best for the momma to spay, although that meant three years of health testing, titling etc down the drain, our dogs are our family so there were no regrets. Thank you for sharing Zena’s story!

  5. Breeding a dog can be a difficult task for those who are new to dog breeding business. It is because there is more to it than just looking for good looking dogs ready to breed. There are so many dog combinations that there is a list of dog breeds that categorized all kinds of dog breeds that you may have if you mix these kinds of breeds with another kind of dog breeds. Therefore, here are some tips that can help you with your breeding whether they are from small dog breeds, big dog breeds or any other kind of breeds.

  6. First litter horrible experience with stuck puppy that died. Second horrible experience with C-section. I have determined now that every litter is horrible experience and each one has its own set of unique problems. I go through panic attacks every time. in seven years of breeding aprox 2 litters a year, I have only had one text book normal delivery and litter that was problem free. My dogs are breeding dogs first and pets second. If my dogs were pets first, then no way in hell would I ever consider breeding them. Every litter risks their life. I know other breeders who have lost mother and entire litters of puppies. Breeding is not for the faint hearted. Your mother dog lived and so did all the puppies. Be grateful. Answer to your question, you never get over the trauma! You accept it and either gather the strength to face it again, and again, and again, with every litter; or you give up and stop breeding.

  7. Good to see everything was done properly. I was worried about Zena but now its good to see her happy with her kids. Don’t know why people think breeding is always easy.

  8. Congratulations on saving them all.
    I too have had similar complications.
    1st litter started well 10 pups.
    2 days in 1 pup stopped feeding tried bottle feeding no luck took to vet got fluids tried giving her alone time with mom and mom would have nothing to do with her tried tube feeding and no luck. She passed after 8 days.Other 9 did well for 5 weeks until all got brown water well you know.
    Took to vet all test negative and cleared up in a couple days.
    2nd litter had to go better well think again did ultrasound at day 35 all was well xrays at day 55 showed 10 she went into labor long labor finally water broke we started birthing pups every 20min or so at 11pm we had 10 so all was well we thought at 4am she started contractions again called vet didn’t seem like emergency so made appointment for 9am at 830 she passed a stillborn took to vet had viable heartbeat took Cray 3 more pups inside induced labor 2 more came stillborn induced labor again and nothing lost heartbeat 2 more hours and c-section to retrieve body pup was alive.
    Got girl home and then next night temp spiked spent 2days giving sponge baths 2days after that c-section opened up and started draining no temp though and this is where I’m at today.
    No before people jump saying you shouldn’t be breeding I have had a midwife here during labor and birthing she bred bloodhounds for over 30 years and has birthed thousands of pups so when stuff goes wrong stuff goes wrong.

  9. Very cool blog!
    It’s so refreshing to hear about responsible breeders that care about the female they are breeding. There’s more to a dog than pup money! My husband has recently started a kickstarter campaign and given the nature of the care you folks have for your furry friends, I thought I would pass it along in case there was some interest. He has officially launched his business of hand painting pet portraits. His website is, and his kickstarter campaign is
    Keep up the blogging!!

  10. Glad that everything went well with Zena. She is healthy and doing well with other dogs now. It is really not a joke to breed a dog. You have a lot of things to sacrifice. Time, money, energy and a lot more. It can a big headache for the owner. But I am still glad that your produced those cute and lovely dogs.

  11. Boy did you ever bring back memories for me! On August 26, 1983 my first and ONLY litter of Basset Hound pups were born from my Ch. sire and my dam of Ch. bloodlines. I was pregnant at the time when “Joy” went in for her Caesarian section which we kind of expected, since she suffered from uterine inertia when attempting to deliver a previous litter. But this was MY first litter and pregnant with MY first baby. I had dropped her off at the vet on my way to work in the morning and was to pick her up on my way home. I’d called the vet’s office during the day and was told the delivery went fine – 8 healthy happy pups. However, when I went to pick them up, the nurse said, “The doctor will be out to speak to you.” And when the vet came out he handed me a cardboard box with 8 chilled pups (from the a/c) and some lame explanation about my girl going into cardiac arrest twice after surgery. He’d missed a bleeder and she was GONE~ One pup died that night, one 10 days later. Six made it. I tube fed them, in between bouts of morning sickness. I had a VERY HARD TIME letting them go off to new homes. They were my babies. I delivered my own daughter via emergency C-section and when they woke me up, I asked, “Am I alive?” You wanted to know if you ever get over a tragic first litter, you already know the answer, it’s no. But February, 1985 at Westminister K.C. on of those pups with me as handler went Best of Winners and it was a day I will never forget.

  12. Wow that sounds traumatic, but what an amazing litter of super-cute puppies! I’d have to admit I would be scared to do this myself, far too much responsibility and not at all sure I could part with the puppies anyway!

  13. I love that you shared this. & no, an ethical breeder does it for the love of their animal(s), heritage, to carry on those dogs in your heart, and don’t make a dime or get an ounce of sleep(especially primary 1st litters & if doing most of work on your own)!! ?? We are German Shepherd lovers and truly love this sweet intelligent breed but also will adopt a homeless dog or cat anytime. We love animals, have horses, & do not live on a farm. However, as an OB nurse myself, I knew it would truly help to have the hands on medical education to deliver, feed, and overall whelp. Even though they are K9 vs Human, same to me in terms of love! Our pups will go to forever homes and also donated as service dogs for disabled or police/military and we will be interviewing and request dogs given back if any problems arise ever. ????????????
    Best Wishes to All and seek out medical help if any doubts or gut instincts arise when your pets healt is at sake! Love of pets conquers all ??
    Again, thanks for sharing to all those! Do not breed thinking you’ll make money b/c you won’t if you truly give your dog the care and support that they will need.

  14. I think dog breeding is a very painful matter in question. It’s neither inexpensive nor an easy task to execute. As breeds have their own peculiar concerns. Thus, before going to breed your canine companion you need to consider both positive and negative impressions of the breeding process. Yes, breeding your pooch produces better snippets in each crop without losing the temperament, reduces anxiety. But the overall quest can be painful, put your pup’s health at risk, reduce the appetite for food, and make the vaccination process risky. Apart from that, it can be costly and drain the wallet by increasing the vet expenses. Thus, you need to discuss with a seasoned veterinarian and your family members before making the final pronouncement.

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