So you'd like to breed Golden Retrievers?

by Cheryl Minnier

One of the first things you might notice when talking to Golden Retriever Breeders is that there are many concerned with responsible breeding. We preach this topic everyday. Why all the concern? Because Goldens, (being the most wonderful of dogs) are being bred in huge numbers. Often this means that people are breeding for dollars or with little thought to quality homes and quality puppies or are simply ignorant of how to do it correctly. This results in a lot of suffering both by people and dogs.

People suffer because they may fall in love with an animal that is unsound in temperament or health. There is nothing more heartbreaking than giving your love to a Golden who dies young, suffers greatly or needs to be destroyed. These things happen everyday and Golden lovers who witness it are very vocal about the need to reduce it through responsible breeding. 

What is responsible breeding? It begins with knowledge - lots of it! This knowledge comes from learning about the breed. You should start by going to shows, field events, obedience competitions, etc..., to learn about the conformation, temperament, structure, purpose and drive that makes a Golden...a Golden! This will also help to cement your own goals for a breeding program. This takes a lot of time. I have been showing and competing with my dogs for almost two decades and still figure I have a lot to learn.

A mentor can provide a lot of knowledge so step two would be to find a breeder/exhibitor that you admire and make a new friend. This may take some time and patience on your part. Most breeders are more than willing to share knowledge and teach, but you need to appreciate that these people have lives also and common courtesy will go far. Internet lists can be great resources. Ask lots of questions and realize that not everyone who "thinks" they are an expert, really qualifies. Also read; study books on the breed, learn bloodlines, and start to decide what you like and what you don't, always keeping in mind what is CORRECT for the breed. Learn the standard - don't just read it - learn it! You may want to start your career in Goldens by purchasing a puppy (and it doesn't have to be a bitch) on a co-ownership and competing for some titles.

Next comes learning about genetic problems and how to avoid them. Canine hip and elbow dysplasia are real problems for our breed. As are eye disorders, heart abnormalities, epilepsy, early cancer, skin and allergy problems, faulty temperaments and swallowing disorders. Learning about all of these and finding pedigrees in which they are not overly common takes some real, in-depth research.

Which brings us to the next step, the search for your foundation bitch. She must be top quality because she will become the heart of your breeding program. Spare no time and expense looking for her. Be prepared, once you have decided on the breeding you want, to get in line and wait. Also be prepared to spend some money. Potential breeding quality Golden puppies can cost as much as $2000 and certainly not less than $800.00. Again, for the Golden novice, don't be surprised if a breeder insists on a co-ownership, making your search for a breeder you like and trust even more important. 

Once you have your girl, you need to wait for her to grow up (age 2 minimum). Also, you will want to compete with her to see if she has the "right stuff". Titles aren't a guarantee of quality but they help you see if she measures up and also help assure you will have access to the right stud dog. He is he other half of the equation and equally deserving of a grand search. Also competition will give you access to potential puppy buyers - you want great homes lining up for your puppies - and to other Golden fanciers who will become your support group. 

You still have more research to do. You will need to educate yourself about limited vs. full registration. You'll need to write an airtight contract assuring that YOUR babies will be safe, loved and protected. You will need to make sure that your circumstances allow you to take back any puppy you produce for its entire life. You will need to consider guarantees. Those great puppy buyers will want to be protected. You will need to do a lot more research on caring for your pregnant bitch and on potential whelping problems. And don't forget raising the whelps which is an art form in itself. A quick course in canine genetics can't hurt either.

Next thing you'll need is $$$. Money for a fantastic brood bitch, a top notch stud dog, costs for raising your gal, testing for all those genetic problems, whelping and showing supplies, emergency medical costs (have you priced a c-section??), money to vaccinate the pups, remove dewclaws if you decide to, health checks, food, etc... Most breeders figure, with a little luck, that we can just about break even on a good litter.

Then you just cross your fingers and wait. Wait for your puppy to be born (What if there are all boys!). Wait and sweat for all the clearances to come in (What do you mean there is a problem?!) Wait for the titles to come (I can't believe that #!@%$ judge didn't put up MY dog!) Wait for the puppies to be born (The longest 63 days in history!) And hopefully NOT have to wait for good homes. Next you have to screen your buyers carefully. Most responsible breeders will tell you that they decline 50-75% of the potential puppy buyers who contact them. Next you need to follow up and make sure that all puppies are doing well, answer a million questions on everything from housebreaking to feeding and from grooming to teething. You have to make sure that all your buyers comply with your spay/neuter contract and you need to hold their hands when something goes wrong.

So, there you have it - getting started in breeding in a 1000 words or less. This really just skims the surface. I think every would-be breeder should spend at least a month volunteering with their local rescue. This is a real educational experience. Raising Golden puppies can be wonderful, but it is a big commitment and should never be done impulsively. It should also NEVER be done in order to try and make a quick profit. We have too many of those types of breeders already.

So if you've decided to pursue this hobby (obsession, vocation, passion?), I wish you the best of luck. Be prepared to do your homework and plan to spend years doing it right. If you've changed your mind? Enjoy your Golden!