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As everyone agrees, a good stud dog is one who produces his winning virtues, often litter after litter, and is definitely worth his weight in gold bullion. The usual life span of a stud dog varies with the individual and management of his services. However, I feel it safe to say if managed well, a stud dog can sire into his veteran years.

Although there has been some discussion on the subject of managing that precious prize, not much is really done about it from what I have seen or heard. Numerous ringside discussions, Facebook and email deliberations, as well as breeder panels at various seminars have contemplated the question, how does one successfully manage a good stud dog?

Yet, educated and well informed advice on the subject seems in very short supply. Usually, most attention in such discussions is focused on the preparation of bitches, before and after service. Comments on when to take tests i.e. progesterone and brucellosis, worm, update vaccinations, etc. fill up the banter. Little appears to be said about the needs of the stud dog.

I for one strongly feel that managing a stud dog should be given as much attention and priority as preparing the bitch. I think we all agree that future generations need to benefit from those special sires who not only define but pass along the desired traits of our wonderful breed. Why shouldn’t we make all attempts to prolong that creativity for as long as possible.

During the 30+ years that I have been breeding Shetland Sheepdogs, I have had the privilege of standing several quality sires and learning from a number of experts in the field the dos and don’ts of managing a stud dog. Today, it seems most information out there on the subject appears to be as diverse as the number of available stud dogs. To that end, I would like to share what I have learned from my experiences so that today’s breeders can maintain those quality sires we still have and protect those promising youngsters waiting in the wings Considering the importance and technical sides to this subject matter, I think it best I speak plainly.

There are a number of ways to get a successful breeding accomplished. In the old days, breeders simply put two dogs in the same ex-pen or room and let mother nature take its course. Those types of breedings are called “live covers”. It was not uncommon to see ”live covers” at all breed shows, Specialties or the National. However, more often than not, the breeding was done within the confines of the stud dog owners kennels. The bitch was dropped off around her 9-10th day of season and the owner returned in about a week’s time to collect her. When to breed was usually left up to the stud dog who usually had the best barometer. Then as our breed grew in numbers so did the demand for stud dogs.

New technology developed, artificial insemination (A.I.), a very simple procedure which became popular as it gave the stud dog owner several options. First, A.I. insemination was less time consuming. No more lengthy ties between dogs and waiting them out. Next, the collected semen could be split. By adding sterile extender fluids to the collected semen, the volume was increased and could be divided among more bitches. Several bitches could be bred at the same time.

This procedure decreased the stress on the stud dog, allowed a greater number of bitches to be bred and greater proceeds for the stud dog owner, all at the same time. Most breed registries including the AKC put a restriction on this practice. With regards to registering a litter obtained only from such breedings, AKC requires that a licensed veterinarian perform the A.I. procedure. However, as long as there was one witnessed “live cover” between sire and dam, the litter registration application would be approved. Any additional A..I. breedings between sire and dam are considered mute. One witnessed “live cover” breeding would fulfill the breeding requirement. So A.I. breedings have become the popular mode of operation to cover all possible breeding dates of all bitches in to be bred, along with the one “required” live cover.

Once again with the improvement of technology, frozen and chilled semen, can now be used in place of ”live”. Quality sires who have passed on, can sire a litter via their frozen semen collected years earlier. Today’s sought after sires can have their sperm stored indefinitely for generations to come. Stud dogs across the country can service bitches without the bitch leaving home via uterine implantation. The best chance of successful conception and least risk for the bitch requires a veterinarian/reproduction specialist services. There certainly are advantages to this new procedure. Saves shipping fees, stress on the dogs, but there are risks. The success of such breeding have had mixed results; partially because the process of freezing or chilling semen is extremely stressful on sperm and should be done only by experts in this field.

But enough about the procedures used, let’s get to the heart of the matter: The stud dog and his sperm.  A stud dog is only “as good as his sperm count” or so it has been said. First, a basic understanding of canine reproduction is needed. It takes 63 days for the dog’s testes to make sperm and for said sperm to develop and mature, then travel around to the epididymis (a “reservoir” pouch attached to each testis) where they are stored. In a healthy young male stud, thousands of spermatozoa can be made each second.  As the sperm continues to be made in the dog’s body, developing and maturing sperm rise to the top of that reservoir. A tube (ductus deferens) connects the epididymis to the prostatic uretha. During ejaculation, sperm is drawn out of the “reservoir”, through the tube into the prostatic uretha where fluid from the prostate gland is added to the mix before it is expelled. Any where along the line, blockages may occur causing a low sperm count.

Obviously, the more a dog is used at stud, the more mature sperm is used up and less mature sperm can be included in each ejaculation.  Immature sperm are often weak, less mobile and can have more abnormalities. Thus they often do not live long enough to fertilize the eggs. An over-used stud dog often has more missed breedings and/or smaller litters than a properly managed one.

In checking for presence of sperm, some breeders tell me they collect the drippings from the bitch’s vulva on a glass slide immediately after the tie has broken. What an assortment such a sample could show. Smatterings of reduced live sperm perhaps, occasional red or white blood cells, some bacteria cells, ecoli, any number of things and no one would know from which dog those things came. Hardly worthy of a detailed analysis. Best to keep the dog and bitch samples separate. Looking under the microscope at thousands of sperm scrambling about only proves there is “live” sperm present. It DOES NOT certify that that sample is mature, potent with few abnormalities.

Age can be another factor. A young stud dog, 12 months old, may have “live sperm” which is visible under the microscope. But due to his immaturity, the abnormality rate of that sperm may be high including missing tails, bent tails, (affecting mobility) double heads or under developed heads, etc. Same applies to older stud dogs whose production rate has deceased due to age.

On the other side of the coin, dogs not used at stud for a year or more may appear to have low sperm count due to inactivity. Collecting said dog for 3 -4 consecutive days can kick the reproductive system in gear and produce ample, active sperm once again. I’ve seen it done.

Feeding a stud dog supplements, various “high protein feeds”, getting him “plenty of fresh air and exercise” as I have often heard expressed, certainly keeps him happy and healthy. But the condition of the spermatozoa is what makes the real difference.

Let’s talk more about the “managing” aspect of the stud dog. As I have said, taking a sample of ejaculated semen fluid and placing same on a glass slide under a microscope will only tell you the presence of “live” sperm. You can see them madly swimming about in search of their goal, the egg. However, that single viewing does not give you the percentage of live sperm vs. dead sperm in that sample. Nor does it tell you the mobility rate of the live sperm in that percentage. Nor does it give you the percentage of abnormalities within that live sperm sample. Bear in mind, sperm have no eyes brain, or senses. They have but one goal, find the egg and penetrate it… or any reasonable facsimile thereof. The presence of certain cells in the semen can distract the live sperm as they mistake those cells for an egg and continue on no longer. They just madly spin around the cell using up their energy and life span.

Answers to all the above can be obtained through a detailed analysis and evaluation by a veterinarian specializing in canine reproduction. A list of these experts can be obtained from the American Kennel Club or the Internet. When I was standing active stud dogs, I had this evaluation on each stud dog completed by experts in the field every 6 months. If they were used lightly, then analysis was done once a year. Keeping the records of these analysis keeps a good track record of the stud dog’s rate of sperm production. The analysis also showed the beginnings, if any, of infection and/or viruses that could cause harm to the dog’s reproduction system. This testing not only protects the stud dog but in addition spares future bitches he would be servicing from infection and/or missed conceptions. When you consider the stud fees now being asked, these tests pay for themselves.

Here is an example of the information that analysis would provide:
Sperm count is done in three categories, “Live”, Abnormalities, and Motility:

  1. Total percentage of “live” sperm in sample. (ex: 70% or above is good)
  2. Percentage of abnormalities (bent tails, no tails, immature heads, etc.) within live sperm (ex: 10% or less is good)
  3. Motility rate of the live sperm with no abnormalities. (ex: 70% - 10%= 60% good live sperm)

Now, motility is analyzed on an ascending scale  0 to 5 in this way:

0    -1  1  1+        - 2    2  2+         -3    3+          - 4   4   4+       -5   5   5+

A normally active young stud dog ranges between 4 and 5 levels in motility.  The older the dog gets the less mobility is evident.  A 8 or 9 year old dog could have a -3 to 3 level.  Of course, there are dogs who like humans and other mammals simply have “slow or sluggish” motility. Thus many die off before reaching the eggs. Infections or viruses can cause a lack of motility.

The color of collected semen can also tell a story. “Blood tinged” may suggest prostatic disease or just rough handling during collection. Yellow color may suggest urine leakage into the sample, either will effect sperm life . The normal life span of the sperm can be as varied as the individual dogs. Some say 2 days, others as many as 8 days. However the accepted average time span for “mature” sperm once ejaculated ranges between 12 – 72 hours. The bitches eggs’ life span is usually double that, yet again depending upon the individual bitch. Like a roulette wheel, the gamble is for the ball to drop into the right pocket at the right time. Like most things in life, “timing is everything”!

To stand a stud successfully, a working knowledge of a bitch’s Heat cycle is essential. The Heat season is divided into three basic parts, Pre Estrus, Estrus and Post Estrus. Estrus is the time the bitch’s eggs are released and begin the journey to meet the sperm. Over the three week course of a normal heat season, the number of days in each part is not always equally divided. To ascertain when Estrus is in progress and the best time to breed, I suggest a smear be taken every day between the 5th and 15th day of season. A smear is the gentle swab collections taken from a bitch’s vaginal area, rolled on a glass slide, smear dyed, and viewed under the microscope. Once you see the cells gathering in clumps and changing shapes from round “fried egg” like shapes to “crystal like” designs, Estrus has begun. Some bitches do not come into Estrus until late in their season, others begin Estrus early in the cycle. Thus these smears can be most informative. Watching how released hormones over the course of just hours affect the shape and definition of the cells is quite remarkable. Keeping records of this time table will assist you in future breedings. Like with other mammals and humans, females normally maintain the same cycle throughout their lives. The latest method of determining the right time to breed is having progesterone tests done on the bitch, often daily after the 5th day of season. A vet draws blood and tests for levels of the hormone, Progesterone. Progesterone being the hormone secreted to release the bitch’s eggs. Such tests done by the veterinarian or technician can be costly. I find the smear evaluation to be far less costly and most educational.

Some things never change; a number of breeders today still use the hit or miss method and simply let the stud dog decide the best time, assuming his libido is up to par. Many Vets recommend breedings be done 2 -3 consecutive days then allow 2 days off to allow the stud dog’s body time to replenish sperm supply. My own vet suggested 3 days on and 3 days off. Of course, this puts a strain upon the demand for popular stud dogs. So the “A.I.” (artificial insemination) appears to have become the favored procedure during the course of a breeding schedule. Although sperm collections may be “stretched” by adding an extender fluid to the sample, it should be noted that only strong mature sperm should be used as the extenders are only adding liquid volume to existing semen fostering more mobility.

Responsible owners standing their stud dogs usually do the smears themselves to find the optimum time for breeding. If you are doing only "live covers" and not A.I., then I strongly suggest your stud dog be checked for infections, etc. on a regular basis if you want him to stay potent Such check ups should include complete blood counts (CBC), sheath culture, sperm count and blood tests for testosterone levels. With any type of intimate breedings, there are a host of viruses and pathogen infections that can be transmitted to the stud dog. These infections can stop the clock on sperm production …sometimes irrevocably! A stud dog can pick up these viruses and infections in a number of ways, but the most common is by contact with infected dogs.

In my opinion, it is up to the bitch owners to demand a well managed stud dog for the safety of their bitch. Stud fees continue to rise as do most things in this economy. A top stud dog is certainly worth his weight in gold. Shouldn’t a portion of those hefty fees go toward the health and well-being of our quality stud dogs? Not to mention, protecting our producing bitches from infections and disease? It is my opinion, breeders who stand stud dogs MUST equally shoulder the responsibility of keeping their dogs free from infections and viruses transmitted during breedings as do the bitches’ owners. Even A.I. breedings is not without risk. It may cause an infection during the arousal stages of the male interacting with the bitch to be bred. Licking her and then himself makes an easy transfer.

I can not emphasize enough, managing a stud dog is not a simple task. Like most things in this breed of ours, it definitely has its rewards accompanied by its responsibilities. To be taken seriously as a breeder, we have to get serious...for the sake of our dogs, our breed and its future!

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