The Labrador retriever is the most popular dog in America, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). With so many Labrador puppies available, it is important to practice responsibility in assessing, breeding, and caring for your dog and the resulting litter. Breeding Labrador retrievers is an undertaking that will exceed the 63 days of a dam's gestation. A great amount of planning, care, and follow-up is required in order to successfully breed Labradors.
Preparing to Breed Labradors
Objectively assess your Labrador. The AKC encourages breeders to strive for breed improvement in confirmation, temperament, longevity, and health. To accomplish this goal, you must assess your dog accordingly. The Labrador Retriever Club, the AKC's parent club for the breed, supports a breed standard illustrating how an ideal Labrador should look and act. Compare your Labrador to this breed standard. The closer your dog adheres, the more he or she could improve the breed. If you are uncomfortable or untrained for such an evaluation, ask a Labrador judge or breeder for help. Usually, they are more than willing to offer assistance.
Find a suitable mate. You may own the sire, the dam, or both Labrador retrievers. It is important to assess the compatibility of the two mates. If you have one Labrador, strive to find a mate that improves on your dog's faults. If you own both the sire and dam, critique the combination, and assess the merit of breeding the two. In your evaluation, you may find both dogs to be wonderful breed specimens, but an awful combination if bred together. Remember, the goal is to improve the breed. If you mate two incompatible specimens, you will only weaken the breed's bloodlines.
Check the sire and dam for health conditions. Labrador retrievers possess a high rate of hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy, so it is imperative that you undergo genetic testing on all breeding stock. The genetic tests reveal what is not immediately visible in the dogs. Even if the sire and dam do not display symptoms of these crippling genetic diseases, they may be carriers of the gene. This means that, if bred together, the puppies could be afflicted.
If you own just one of the mates, draft a legal stud contract with the owner of the other Labrador. In this stud contract, determine a stud fee, or pick of the litter, often used in place of financial compensation. Determine what will happen if the dam does not conceive, and document who is responsible for travel and boarding fees, if necessary. Each party must sign the contract. This prevents any ambiguity or complication.
Mate the two Labradors. You can breed your Labradors artificially or naturally. The optimum time to breed two Labradors is a week to two weeks after her proestrus, which is identified by her blood "spotting." If performing artificial insemination, solicit the help of an experienced breeder. If mating the Labradors naturally, two or three copulations is recommended, because a Labrador dam's fertility window is not easily predicted. Most dogs can mate without human interference, but if one mate is stubborn or aggressive, you should assist.
About a month after mating the sire and dam, take the dam to the veterinarian. The vet can confirm the Labrador dam's pregnancy, and create a prenatal nutritional plan.
Accustom the dam to a whelping box. The whelping box need not be fancy. A whelping box is sufficient if it is sanitary, draft-free, and large enough to accommodate Labrador puppies several weeks into their infancy. Many breeders use shredded newspapers to line the whelping box, as they are easy to clean. Keep whelping and delivery tools within an arm's length of the box. These tools include replacement bedding, scissors and floss for umbilical cord cutting, water, and your veterinarian's emergency phone number. If the dam is comfortable in the whelping box weeks before the pregnancy, her delivery will be considerably smoother and you won't have a surprise in your closet.
Deliver the puppies. A Labrador's gestation period is 63 days, though some variation is acceptable. You will know when the Labrador dam is entering labor when her temperature drops below 99 degrees Fahrenheit, she begins heavily "nesting," and ceases eating. Now is the time to clear your calendar; your dam is about to have puppies!
Labrador dams are exceptionally good mothers, so it is likely that you will do nothing more than observe. However, as she gives birth, be aware and mindful. You may need to cut umbilical cords, remove puppies from birthing sacs, or steer them towards the dam to suckle.