There are an estimated 4.2 million dogs within Australia [1
] with most dogs bred for the purpose of companionship [2
]. In Australia, the Australian National Kennel Club (ANKC) is the registered organisation for pedigree dog breeders. In 2015, its 32,481 members, 20% of whom were active breeders, produced (and registered) 69,274 puppies [3
]. Given that it is impossible to determine the number of puppies born to non-registered breeders, the total number of puppies born in Australia each year is unknown.
One of the primary aims of the ANKC is to provide members with breed standards that promote behaviourally and physically sound dogs for ownership, as well as promoting excellence in a number of dog-related fields, such as breeding, showing, trialling, obedience and other canine related behaviour. Although the ANKC collects information about registered breeders (i.e., number of breeders per breed, number of active breeders, number of litters produced per year, number of puppies produced) through the state bodies, data collected does not extend to the breeding priorities and practices of the breeders. This lack of information extends to the scientific literature, with little known about dog breeding practices and philosophies in Australia for registered and non-registered breeders. Such information is vital for improving breeding practices, and ensuring the optimal health and behaviour of dogs.
With over 200 breeds registered with the ANKC, breeding practices are likely to be as diverse as the breeds themselves [4
]. For example, the purpose for which the dog is bred (i.e., companion, working) is likely to be reflected in the way the dogs are housed and bred. Often, the most important aspect of pedigree or pure breeding involves the selection of breeding animals that conform to a set standard [5
], which is usually determined by a registered organisation such as the ANKC. Physical characteristics (e.g., body conformation, coat length and colour, height, facial appearance, gait), as well as certain behaviours (e.g., instincts such as herding, hunting or retrieving, temperament and trainability) are taken into consideration when choosing breeding stock [6
]. Priorities of breeders are also likely to alter over time. For instance, in the past, dogs were primarily bred for various working roles, but the focus has shifted to selecting for suitable companion animals, moving towards dog conformation rather than performance [5
]. Breed specific diseases are now highly recognised [7
], allowing for accessible knowledge to be implemented by the breeder. Health risks are also being associated with natural mating, and thus sire selection and mating techniques are also necessary to consider [9
To date, the goals and practices of dog breeders across the world have received little attention. Notable exceptions include a study looking at inbreeding and breed effective population size in an Australian sample of breeders [11
], and the selection of dogs and breed goals documented in a French population [4
]. In that study [4
], 985 French dog breeders, representing 10 different breed groups were asked what considerations they gave to conformation, behaviour, health, work, feeling and reproduction. The behaviour of the dog was considered significantly more important by breeders of sheepdogs, cattle dogs and retrievers compared to all other dog groups. Although the number of litters produced did not significantly alter breed goal, litter production was impacted by breed group; working dogs produced less litters than other breed groups [4
]. Leroy et al. [4
] also discovered that there were different types of breeders (i.e., occasional, regular hobby and professional breeders) and regular hobby and professional breeders bred from their bitches earlier and therefore had more litters throughout the dam’s life. Overall, breeders reported four common goals: (1) dog conformation; (2) behaviour; (3) health and (4) work. Notably, breeders did not consider maternal care as a factor in the selection of breeding bitches [4
], despite the importance that it can have on offspring development (e.g., [12
]). Other factors including the type of birth (i.e., natural vs caesarean), may also affect the dam’s behaviour towards the puppies. Caesareans are more likely to occur in certain breeds according to their cranial features [15
], yet there is no literature on the impact of birth type and maternal behaviour.
Three recent studies have highlighted the importance of maternal care in dog development [18
]. A correlation was found between maternal care and later anxiety in puppies, with poor maternal care in puppyhood increasing the likelihood of anxiety in dogs, measured using questionnaires [18
]. In the second study, maternal care (dam in box, lying in contact, nursing, licking and sniff/poke) observations were undertaken on 22 litters [19
]. The dams were observed for the first three weeks postnatal, and then classed as high or low maternal care. By linking maternal care and temperament measured at 15–18 months old, the authors discovered a relationship between the level of maternal care given and physical engagement, social engagement and aggression. An increased interaction between puppy and dam led to adult offspring being more competitive, more engaged in social activities with humans, and with higher aggression levels (as defined by the dog’s sharpness and defence drive). The amount of maternal care given to the puppies also alters the behaviour of the puppies when they are 8-weeks-old [20
]. In a similar study [20
] using an isolation test, puppies that were licked more had an increased amount of exploration and a longer latency to first yelp. Increased licking also reduced the duration in locomotion and time spent interacting with the enclosure, and a shorter duration in vocalisation. These data highlight the influence that maternal care can have on future stress responses in puppies.
Currently, information regarding dam and sire selection by Australian dog breeders remains poor. The objective of this study was to understand factors considered important in the selection of Australian Purebred breeding animals with a focus on factors relating to the dam. It was expected that factors such as ANKC breed group, the number of litters produced and, whether the breed is brachycephalic would impact dam selection. The influence of sire selection and health aspects of breeding were also investigated.
A total of 360 Australian purebred dog breeders completed the survey. However, 86 participants (24%) were discarded due to insufficient responses resulting in a total of 274 (unless stated otherwise). In particular, if any questions regarding the dog breed or dam behaviour were not answered, the respondent’s results were removed. A total of 91 dog breeds were represented in the survey, and are described in Table 1
. The majority of participants bred Working dogs (21.2%) followed by Gundogs (19.3%), while the Toy group (9.9%) were the least represented (Table 1
Brachycephalic dog breeds are those which have a facial skeleton relatively shorter than the cranial cavity [17
]. These breeds included Australian Silky Terrier, Boston Terrier, Boxer, British Bulldog, Bullmastiff, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Dogue de Bordeaux, French Bulldog, Havanese, Papillon, Pug, Rottweiler, Shar Pei, Shih Tzu, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Tibetan Spaniel [22
3.2. Principal Components Analysis Relating to the Dam
The 23 items relating to the dam were reduced using principal components analysis (PCA). Prior to performing PCA, the appropriateness of the data for analysis was assessed. The correlation matrix revealed the presence of many coefficients of 0.30 and above, the Kaiser–Meyer–Oklin exceeded the recommended value of 0.60 at 0.87, and Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity reached statistical significance, supporting the factorability of the correlation matrix. Five components were presented with an eigenvalue exceeding 1, explaining 64.06% of the total variance. After observing the rotated component matrix, four questions were removed due to either a component loading lower than 0.55 (“good cut off loading” i.e., “my dam is confident” and “my dam has an outstanding pedigree”) or too few items within the component (i.e., component 5 contained two items: “my dam has outstanding conformation according to the breed standard” and “my dam is within the accepted size according to the breed standard”) [21
]. This resulted in 19 items being retained (Table 2
) and four components remaining which explained 63.23% of the total variance.
The four components were labelled: Maternal Care (Component 1), Offspring Potential (Component 2), Dam Temperament (Component 3) and Dam Genetics and Health (Component 4). Component 1 was labelled Maternal Care as all questions within this component related to conception, whelping and the dam’s ability to raise and care for her puppies. Offspring Potential was labelled for Component 2 as the questions related to the offspring’s look and temperament. This Component also included the potential for temperament and genetic traits to be passed on to future generations. For example, if the dam is aggressive or rejects her puppies it may be likely that her offspring will do the same. Dam Temperament was considered for Component 3 as all questions within this component related to the dam’s behaviour. Component 4 was labelled Dam Genetics and Health as questions within this component related to health and genetically driven behaviours. The lower the score, the more the respondents found the component to be important. There were six questions related to maternal care with a range of 6–30; five questions related to offspring potential with a range of 5–25; and both genetics/health and temperament contained four questions each with a range from 4 to 20 for each component. Cronbach’s alpha for these components were 0.861, 0.747, 0.741, and 0.718 respectively.
3.3. General Characteristics of the Breeders
The majority of respondents were females (88%) and were aged between 18 and 85 years (n = 270: mean = 50.6, SD = 13.4). Most of the participants lived in New South Wales (41.6%) followed by South Australia (24.1%), Queensland (11.7%), Victoria (9.1%), Western Australia (8.8%) and Tasmania (2.6%). Six respondents (2.2%) did not report the state they were from. Half of the respondents had completed either high school (25.9%) or Technical and Further Education (TAFE) (25.9%). Some participants had completed an undergraduate degree (16.4%) with another 72 respondents (26.3%) completing a postgraduate degree. Of the remaining respondents, 5.1% had completed something other than that described, such as a diploma or a trade.
The most common dog breed within the survey was the Staffordshire bull terrier (n
= 17, 6.2%). Participants were most likely to breed only one breed of dog (76.6%), with some participants breeding two (19.3%) or three breeds of dog (4.0%). Around one third (33.5%) had been breeding between 0 and 9 years, with the remaining having bred for more than 10 years (Table 3
). Most breeders owned dams and dogs (80.3%), however 39 breeders (14.2%) only owned bitches, and 11 breeders (4.0%) only owned dogs. The remaining breeders (n
= 4) owned neither dogs nor bitches. Almost all respondents (n
= 267 or 97.4%) were part of the ANKC. Of the respondents who were not part of the ANKC (1.8%, n
= 5), one breeder was associated with a working dog association recognised by the ANKC and another breeder was a member of a breed group/club.
3.4. Dam Breeding Priorities and ANKC Breed Group
The importance of maternal care differed significantly between ANKC breed groups (F
(6, 264) = 2.41, p
= 0.028; partial η2
= 0.05). The Toy and Hound dog breeding groups scored Maternal Care significantly more important than the Terriers, Gundogs, Working dogs and Utility groups. The Non-sporting dog breeding group scored maternal care significantly more important than the Utility breeds. Other factors were not significant for breed group: Offspring Potential (F
(6, 264) = 1.69, p
= 0.123; partial η2
= 0.04), Dam Temperament (F
(6, 264) = 1.14, p
= 0.341; partial η2
= 0.03) and Dam Genetics and Health (F
(6, 264) = 1.59, p
= 0.150; partial η2
= 0.04) (Table 4
3.5. Breeding Priorities Relating to the Dam and the Number of Litters Produced
Two hundred and forty-two (89.3%) respondents bred two litters or less a year, while 29 breeders (10.7%) bred more than two litters per year. Components were not significantly different compared to the number of litters produced per year: Maternal Care (F (1, 267) = 3.09, p = 0.080; partial η2 = 0.07), Offspring Potential (F (1, 267) = 0.02, p = 0.892; partial η2 ≤ 0.01), Dam Temperament (F (1, 267) = 0.05, p = 0.817; partial η2 ≤ 0.01) and Dam Genetics and Health (F (1, 267) = 2.02, p = 0.156; partial η2 = 0.03).
3.6. Breeding Priorities in Relation to the Dam and the Number of Dog Breeds
Seventy-six percent of breeders bred one dog breed (n
= 207). Dam Temperament was significantly affected by the quantity of breed types that the breeder bred (F
(2, 268) = 3.17, p
= 0.044; partial η2
= 0.07) (Table 5
). The breeders of one breed type placed more importance on Dam Temperament compared to breeders who bred two types of breed. There were no significant differences between breed number and the other factors: Maternal Care (F
(2, 268) = 1.15, p
= 0.317; partial η2
= 0.03), Offspring Potential (F
(2, 268) = 2.36, p
= 0.097; partial η2
= 0.04), and Dam Genetics and Health (F
(2, 268) = 0.91, p
= 0.403; partial η2
3.7. Breeding Priorities Relating to the Dam and Brachycephalic Dog Breeds
There were 54 breeders (19.9%) with brachycephalic dogs. Offspring Potential (F
(1, 269) = 5.14, p
= 0.024; partial η2
= 0.09) and Dam Genetics and Health (F
(1, 269) = 4.33, p
= 0.038; partial η2
= 0.06) significantly differed when comparing whether the dog breed was brachycephalic or not. Breeders of brachycephalic dogs scored Offspring Potential and Dam Genetics and Health significantly more important than breeders of non-brachycephalic dogs. There were no significant differences for non-brachycephalic and brachycephalic breeds in Maternal Care (F
(1, 269) = 0.09, p
= 0.771; partial η2
< 0.01), and Dam Temperament (F
(1, 269) = 1.51, p
= 0.221; partial η2
= 0.03) (Table 6
). Seven breeders bred at least two brachycephalic dog breeds (2.6%) while 26 of the 63 breeders breeding more than one breed type bred at least one brachycephalic dog breed (9.5%).
3.8. Sire Selection
Twenty-nine percent of breeders accessed a distant sire owned by someone else, 23.7% of breeders used their own sire, while accessing a local sire for breeding was less common (9.9%). For breeding, the breeders’ own sire or a local sire was most commonly used (35.4%), however others imported frozen semen (6.2%) or imported the sire (0.7%). The number of breeders opting to use artificial insemination was rather small in this dataset (7.3%). Many breeders (67.8%) spent time interacting with the sire before selection but 28.0% of breeders indicated that interaction was not possible. Variables affecting sire selection are displayed in Table 7
. Breeders rated the sire’s conformation and temperament highly, together with his ability to produce healthy puppies and complementing the dam.
3.9. Physical and Genetic Testing of Both Dams and Sires
If more than five respondents represented a single breed, they were identified for physical and genetic tests conducted. There were 11 dog breeds where this occurred (Table 8
). Some breeders undertook more tests than others and many of the breeders undertook tests specific to their breed. For example, DNA testing for Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL) was undertaken by all 12 Border collie breeders while 11 out of the 14 Golden Retriever breeders undertook hip scoring.