Thankfully Ben Holt of HighHolt Labradors, Pugs & French Bulldogs and owner of Highlands Kennels Ltd (Horam) agreed for me to interview him as part of gaining HomeScan Master Breeder status. The interview took much longer than I had imagined in this bustling reception of the boarding kennel that he owns and managed for the last eight years and a reason why his breeding programme evolved so quickly. Ben shared some great information that any breeder would benefit from!
Ben was bought up with dogs, working Labradors and farm Collies. He had always bred animals including rabbits, guinea pigs and at one point had over 400 birds! Showing Parrot-like birds, Lovebirds, budgies, cockatiels all over the country.
He owned his first dog, a Collie cross New Zealand Hunterway when he was 11 years old, but decided intentionally to breed a family Dalmatian with his parents’ consent at just 13 years old, this was Ben first experience of being responsible for rearing a litter. His first independent litter was in his mid-twenties, a Black Labrador called Jess. She whelped 8 of which Ben hoped to keep a puppy, but due to work commitments he was unable too. Ben had a second litter from Jess and he as hoping to keep a black bitch puppy, so true to form she produced three bitches, all chocolate! Ben decided to have a final litter from Jess and that’s where his steps to considering himself a breeder began.
“That's where the breeding took off from. It was never meant for us to become breeders. We were only breeding for ourselves, and it's just taken off.”
Ben felt that his success in Labradors had exceeded his expectations, having exported puppies to south of France, South Africa and Austria plus having a two year waiting list with inquiries from America, Germany, Northern France, and New Zealand.
“People see our dogs. They know they're capable of doing a day’s work in the field or other activities like flyball, if people want them to. Recently two of our puppies went to be assistance dogs. The lady from the assistance dog charity said they were ‘the Best puppies we've ever had’ and booked a whole litter for next year.”
Ben felt he had achieved this success because he had found a niche of breeding the traditional type of Labrador (not as heavy as ‘Show Labs’ or light as ‘Working Labs’ with good heads, tails, nice ear sets) with excellent temperament making them the ideal family pet, due to these pups having a versatile mind set. Ben expressed picking key studs had been the success producing puppies that fit this type. He only uses dogs that are fully health tested with fantastic temperaments. He has a preference to using other people studs then keep his own, giving him the flexibility of choice and more variety by researching and finding better bloodlines, or lines to compliment his own.
“We always hip and elbow score our breeding dogs. I would never breed a dog with a high hip score and they have to completely clear elbows and they would have to have a current eye certificate. We use very good stud dogs, and the people's dogs that we use, they wouldn't let you use their dogs anyway unless your bitches are health tested. That's to the minimum, because we always use DNA tested dogs that are clear for all the diseases so we don't need to DNA test our bitches.”
Ben elaborated on why he felt health testing was so important, over the year the Breed Hip Scores have fallen, as a Kennel owner Ben has seen this reduction have a direct collation with the health issues he has seen reflected in his client’s dogs. Their health conditions are decreasing and the dogs are living longer up to 16 years old.
I asked Ben how he gained his breeding knowledge:
“I think one of the worst things you can do is go on Google. Absolute worst. You've been amazing (Sara). I think the best thing to do is talk to someone like you. I don't hold many vets in high regard in respect to breeding, because a lot of the young vets we see nowadays have never even owned a dog, let alone had a litter. I don't feel that anyone can give someone advice that they've learned from a textbook.”
I strongly agree with Ben on this and will soon be writing a Breeder Blog on why I don’t think you shouldn’t consider your vet an expert when it comes to breeding, it’s great to see other experienced breeders agreeing with me on this issue. Going to your local vet about breeding is like asking your GP to do a c-section it’s not comparable to a specialised midwife or medical consultants in a maternity ward. No wonder there can be confusion and blunders.
Anyway back to Ben, I asked him how he best prepared his females for breeding. He put a large emphasis on them being fit and healthy all year round not just the season of breeding and he had even suspended breeding a Pug bitch who had gained just under 1kg of weight during his 2 week holiday aboard. Ben felt this was too much for a dog that only weighed 6kg, and that she needed to lose them pounds before being bred. Ben keeps up-to-date with annual vaccinations, worming every 3 months but doesn’t use any flea treatment unless fleas are observed.
I asked Ben, what advice would you give to somebody breeding for the first time?
“If they've never bred before, would be to find someone like you. Or me. Or a very good, experienced breeder, but preferably in their breed. There's no point asking a Labrador breeder what to do delivering a litter of pugs, they’re a different kettle of fish. Once you've delivered a litter of pugs, you can deliver anything. Or bulldogs as well. You can deliver anything.”
Ben expressed his dislike to Google, because all it seems to do is induce panic. We all want the best of our dogs and you don’t want to think they are suffering or need medical attention. You can overthink these situations, the best thing to do when they go into labour is to try and remain as calm as possible and have someone at the end of the phone who’s done it before.
“Don't put too much out on the internet, on Facebook forums and stuff like that, asking for advice. Go to one person who's done it for years, who's experienced, who knows what they're talking about and will give you sensible advice.“
So I asked Ben what he’s future breeding plans where and he voiced he’s concerns about the future of some breeds:
“Nearly every litter we've ever produced is to keep a puppy ourselves. I don't think we'll really be breeding much more of the Pugs. Just because there's too many people out there breeding them now. They've saturated the market, so many are unhealthy that they've given all Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs etc a bad reputation. We know people that have struggled to sell them and they've all been tarred with the same brush. I think that kind of needs to die down, which I think it has. It's waning now.”
And my final question to Ben, What do you feel is your biggest achievement or success when breeding?
“People coming to us saying, "I've seen one of your dogs. I want one", the fact that they've gone abroad with no advertising. One of our puppies is going to be trained as a bomb detection dog for the U.N, another that's going to start his career as a stud dog in South Africa (health results dependant) for a top trialling owner over there, as a working chocolate Labrador. Same with another one in this country with Di Stevens. Plus the autistic charity had two puppies off us this year, and then come back to book a whole litter for next year. So I class them all as an achievement.
It's quite an achievement when we're not in the show ring, we're not in the working world, we’re not winning medals and trophies and accolades all over the place yet we are highly regarded and recommended by word of mouth.”
An extended interview with more essential information on pregnancy supplements, utilising Facebook groups and group chats for puppy owners and ways to improve your puppy vetting process will be published in the Home Breeders Herald.
I’m a sucker for chips with onion vinegar, plenty of salt and ketchup, but this blog is about a different type of chip!
Since April 2016, it has been your responsibility as a breeder to ensure that the puppies you breed are microchipped before they leave for their new homes. This is a common misunderstanding that that a puppy must be chipped by eight weeks old. This is not correct. However, the pup must be microchipped before ownership has changed, from you to the new owners. And this is why puppies are chipped at eight weeks old, but it could be earlier or later. There is no minimum age for microchipping, however, most microchip implanters are trained generally to chip around six weeks of age, because this is when the puppy is of a suitable size to be chipped.
Since the legislation enforced a compulsory microchipping, there has been a boom in the microchip providers who supply the chips and also the database or registration system. Currently, the biggest database is Pet Log, this is only because it’s affiliated with the Kennel Club and had been running the longest, not necessarily a reflection on quality of service or value. The size of the database doesn't really matter nor the size of the provider because all information of all chips is found through all databases.
So what are your options as a breeder?
You have the choice of having the puppy microchipped at the vet's, having a mobile implanter or microchipper, or chipping your own puppies. Depending on the frequency of breeding and your fear or not of needles and inflicting minor pain, you may decide to train to microchip your own puppies. To receive the best price chip will require a large bulk purchase along with the mandatory correct disposal of the needles plus the training itself. So for many breeders, this generally isn't a cost effective option.
The other option is to have the puppy microchipped at the vet's. This is sometimes favourable if the vet is offering a puppy package where it includes a vet check or health check, along with first vaccinations and microchip. Some breeders do not get their puppies vaccinated before leaving, and there's a good argument for this because firstly, vaccinating puppies from a too young age when they already have immunity from their mother is viewed as counterproductive.
“The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) states that the last puppy vaccine against the core diseases should be given at 14-16 weeks of age. This is because, before this time, the mother passes immunity to her puppies, and this ‘maternal immunity’ can prevent the vaccine from working”
So vaccinating puppies at six, seven weeks and even to a degree, some would argue eight weeks, is generally too early. However, from a socialization point of view, it's deemed the eight weeks is a suitable age so the puppy can be well socialized from twelve weeks old once they’ve had their second jabs. However, dog trainers would advise you to socialise your puppy much earlier than twelve weeks old, but that's another conversation to be had!
The second consideration to be made when selling your puppies microchipped and already vaccinated is that if the new owner's vet does not store the same batch and brand of vaccination, they will be forced to restart the inoculations. This will result in the puppy being over-inoculated and obviously that's a lot of chemicals to be injected into a puppy that's rapidly developing and growing.
The third is that generally breeders like and want the new owners to have made the effort to find a vet, ensuring they have their own independent health check soon after collection. During consultation they are also advised on other things such a flea, worming, neutering, insurance etc.
If you decide not to opt for selling a pre-vaccinated puppy, then another choice or alternative would be to use a mobile chip implanter. This service saves you the inconvenience of moving puppies, particularly large puppies or large litters, from your home to a veterinary practice where obviously their immune system is still in development. Veterinary practices by their nature accommodates unwell, sick, and injured animals which it's not an ideal place to be taking young puppies. Having your puppies microchipped at home means that they don't have or reduces the chances of them having a negative initial first experience at the vet. You'll find that puppies microchipped at home generally are very underwhelmed by the situation, they don't find it stressful because they're in their home natural environment. Even after the short, sharp needle prick, they generally recover pretty quickly and get back to play and all with their siblings or resting as they were before.
I've already mentioned about the suppliers, but there are some things that you need to know, to make the right choices but asking the implanter in advance. Microchips come in numerous sizes the standard which is 12 mm in length, a mini which is 8mm and the nanochip which is 7mm. The shorter the chip means they are also fractionally narrower. A standard chip is generally good for any medium to giant sized dog, when an adult. You may opt for a mini chip for any small or toy breeds or generally dogs that don't really have much scruff around the neck. But as puppies, generally they've got that extra skin where it's not an issue when it comes to microchipping the implanter will advise you if the chip of your choice is not suitable.
The audit trail of a microchip must legally go from implanter to breeder and breeder to new owner. No implanter will be able to transfer the chip from them direct to the new owners. There has to be a clear audit trail. It's worth asking when you're enquiring about cost of microchipping, whether there are additional charges to transfer the animal from breeder to new owner. There are a small number of chip suppliers that offer this service, but the majority do not. Generally, if the microchip is cheaper, it's most probably because there's going to be additional transfer fees. Better value in the long run is to pay a little bit more upfront to ensure there are no transfer fees from you to the new owner. Personally, I advise breeders not to rush microchip transfer of ownership from breeder to owner until the puppy has been taken for their own vet for an independent health check and have passed with satisfaction. I suggest the transfer should be made at this point because if the transfer is made before and for whatever reason the puppy's returned to the breeder, the most likely is the breeder's going to have to pay for the transfer of the puppy from the new owner back to the breeder and then to the next new owner.
The process of transferring ownership is typically via an online portal that the implanter will have organised access for you. This is where you're able to log in and self-serve with the transfer of ownership at your convenience, providing the database with the new owner's details along with being prompted with the dog's details such as sex, colour, breed, markings. Also, if in any doubt, you have every right to ask for a copy of the implanter's insurance details, so you know they are covered for such activities and services along with their training qualification certificate.
If you have a breed that look similar, such as Labradors, Rottweiler etc, then when it comes to microchipping, you really need to be able to identify between the puppies. Many breeders use coloured collars or markings on their body with nail varnish or Tipp-Ex, and even shaving small parts of the coat! If this is difficult for you, the puppies keep taking the collars off or the marking isn't staying on, then I strongly recommend that you buy your own microchip scanner. These are typically on eBay for around £45.00 but there is a new company PetScanner that are now selling scanners that plug in to your mobile phone, so you no longer need batteries or USB charging. It plug straight into your phone for just over £10.00 delivered, I believe there's a Bluetooth version coming for just £20.00. If you're going to be a frequent breeder and you do have a breed that look fairly similar, then I recommend that you purchase a device like this, or similar.
Should you acquire an older dog where you have no microchip paperwork, then there is a website called Check A Chip where you can find the microchip provider. You’ll need to find out the animal's microchip number, whether that's buying a scanner yourself or taking the dog to your local vet's where the vet nurse will be able to scan and give you the number. If you plug that number into Check A Chip website, they will let you know who the chip provider is so you can contact them direct to update the ownership. Standard practice is for them to contact the previous owner, notifying them that the microchip is going to be transferred to a new owner. If there are no issues with the update and its legitimacy then the transfer to you will be completed.
Though rare it has been known for microchips to migrate, nowadays they are generally coated to stop the migration. It is worth annually checking where they are on the dog's body if not found it may have become faulty or been rejected by the body.
My argument would be no. To me, there are many online platforms available where you are able to advertise your impending litter and find potential new owners for your puppies. These vary in all shapes and formats, if you have a Kennel Club (KC) registered breed, you can advertise through the KC via their online Find a Puppy facility.
You can also use other platforms such as Champdogs, Pets4Homes, Gumtree, Facebook groups or free papers like the Friday-Ad. You're not allowed to advertise live animals on Facebook Marketplace, but there are many Puppy for Sale groups. There is some snobbery around whether you should be using some of these platforms but personally, for me, you should use all that's available because you never know how you might find the perfect future puppy owner!
The more important thing is that, once you have the enquiries, that you do your best to vet these people correctly. You may need a more robust vetting procedure using sites that have high traffic but equally a high amount of unsuitable potentials, but sprinkled with the odd ideal person or family.
My recommendation to you is to start advertising as early as possible once pups are born. If friends and family have expressed an interest, then they shouldn’t be treated any different in your vetting process. The main focus of your time and energy should be in correctly vetting people and potential puppy owners so that puppies aren’t returned back to you with acquired problems or issues as an older dog. Typically because it hasn't been correctly trained or reared whilst in their ownership due to them being unaware or lacked the inclination to deal with pressing behavioural issues and initial causes.
By correctly vetting people, you hope to reduce if not eradicate this type of scenario. As a breeder it’s your responsibility to correctly dealt with puppies you’ve bred in this situation, and therefore also keep these dogs out of rescue. There's always big pushback and strong opinion on people breeding dogs because so many dogs end up in charities or breed rescues. As a home breeder, whether this mating was intended or not, you should do the utmost to find the best owners for your puppies and for them to be vetted comprehensively so the puppy has the minimal chance of ending up in any of these establishments.
What forms of vetting are there?
I personally really enjoy the simple solution of using a vetting form. If you have advertised on any particular online platform you're bound to get enquiries, whether that be through the phone, by email, or by text. Personally, any text messages and in fact any telephone calls received I always direct them to my online vetting form. This form is so I can gauge and gather some of their basic information, such as where they live, what their working hours are, what their experience of dog ownership is, what their experience is of this particular breed. Do they have any other animals? How many children do they have, if any?
I try to gather as much information as possible. What efforts have they made to find a puppy? What understanding do they have of the effort they need to put into this puppy going forward? What are their understanding of the grooming regime? This is a pretty easy way to be able to decline somebody if what they comment is not to your liking. Your preference may differ to another fellow breeder. For example some breeders that will not sell to people that work full time, where others will do given that they have arrangements with dog walkers or pet sitters and others may even be happy to do this as long as they already have another dog for companionship that shows no behavioural issues.
So the vetting really does come down to your own personal criteria. From this stage, I then have a telephone call with them having a frank and honest conversation, I definitely agree that you should always go with your gut feeling. At this point, if it doesn't feel right, then decline your offer for them to view the puppy.
If you are happy at this point then proceed to the next stage, I would always advise that there is a puppy visit prior to the puppy being sold/collected. Some breeders insist on at least two or three visits before the puppy leaves for their new home. Some see this is a good opportunity to be able to meet all of the family, partners and children along with any existing dogs as well. The benefits of seeing their existing pets (even in photographs if not in the flesh) enables you to gauge the owner's capability to be able to look after an animal. Are they in good condition? Are they the correct weight? How well behaved and trained are they?
I would also recommend that you take a deposit on first puppy viewing to prevent time wasters otherwise known as photo collectors or tire kickers! This deposit should be fairly substantial to the price of the puppy and should be clearly documented. The new owners should receive a receipt confirming the amount of deposit that's been left on which particular puppy, and this puppy preferably should be identifiable by microchip so there's no confusion, especially for the breeds that look the same. Also in this documentation, to save you any future inconvenience, that there is a collection date listed on this document so that the owners collect the puppy as agreed and you're plans are not disrupted from unexpected lack of availability due to holidays or other events.
To summarise, are there good and places to advertise? In my experience, no. Should you start advertising early? Yes. The earlier the better because, hopefully, that means you'll get more enquiries, which means you can be more selective with who you vet on to the next stage. Ultimately, your vetting procedure is what makes the difference into that puppy’s quality of life going forward and ultimately for the rest of its life.
I highly recommend an online vetting form (Google online form builder), then a telephone stage, and then finally a face-to-face visit. Some people will not use the online form and use a telephone call to do the vetting, which has its advantages because people won’t have the time to lie about possible answers but if you wish to decline a potential owner, having the online stage is a lot easier!
Ensure the paperwork is correct, that a sales receipt/contract and a deposit receipt is provided. Carrying out some of these simple stages will not only make your vetting procedure slicker and easier as a breeder but also that all parties are fully informed at each stage and have a clear understanding of the process. If it doesn't feel right, just don't sell them a puppy, don’t be bullied in to allowing them to have a puppy.
If you can't find what you're looking for when don't hesitate to use the search function to search the entire website!
I'm Sara otherwise known as 'Canine Family Planner' who founded HomeScan Breeder Services a premium pet-care business in 2014. I am an experienced and educated breeder, who specialises in domestic animal reproduction. I bred my first litter 20 years ago whilst in my teens and tend to breed annually. Breeding is pretty much in my DNA – a way of my life if you will! I've started this blog to share some of my knowledge and if possible help out a few like minded animal owners!