Our Breeding Philosophy
We're retired from dog breeding now,
There were quite a few things that set us apart from your ordinary Cocker breeders. Most notably, we were NOT trying to breed as many pups as possible in order to make a ton of money. On the contrary... it was all about making a few great family dogs. Also, we were not trying to make dogs that will win dog shows... we were trying to make dogs that would be great companions.
We raised our dogs in a family environment. There were no chain link fences and little individual cages to confine our dogs. We think Cockers ought to be treated a lot nicer than that. We kept only a small number of dogs and had very infrequent litters. If we were trying to crank out a constant stream of puppies, we just would not have been able to give each dog the attention it deserves.
Cockers love people and crave human
companionship. It just breaks my heart to go in to a pet store and see a Cocker behind glass, or to visit another
Cocker breeder and see the dogs locked up in cages. It makes them crazy. Cockers want to be with
people... right by your side, at your feet, or sometimes even on your lap. That's just the way they are.
We believed it was our responsibility to make healthy puppies, and we took that very seriously. Passing OFA and CERF tests (to rule out genetic hip and eye conditions) is something our adult dogs had to do before we would proceed with breeding them. We're appalled at the number of Cocker breeders that don't take this basic step to ensure that they are not making puppies that will grow up with hip dysplasia or cataracts.
While many breeders administer their own shots and do their own tail docking (to keep their costs down), we preferred our puppies to be treated by real vets. Our pups had usually been seen by our vet at least two times before heading off to their new homes.
Being a responsible breeder means being willing to do the right thing, not the easy thing. At one point we discovered that one of our dogs had a minor heart condition. We decided to retire that dog from our breeding program, even though it set us back several years. We didn't want to take the chance of making a new generation of Cockers with heart defects. In 2003, we realized that one of our dogs seemed to have an awful lot of puppies that ended up with cherry eyes. We retired that dog, too, even though many Cocker breeders consider cherry eyes to be something that just goes with the breed. We thought we could make a better Cocker than that. In 2004, a stud dog we obtained from a world-class breeder turned out to have a genetic hip condition. Rather than take the chance of making puppies who could inherit the condition, we neutered that dog before he ever even fathered a litter. The last thing we ever wanted to do was to make unhealthy puppies. In 2008, we neutered our stud dog after two puppies in one of his litter turned up with patella problems... even though there was no direct proof that our boy was responsible for the patella problems in those puppies. The point is that we made very conservative decisions in our breeding program where health issues were involved. Unless we were very sure a dog was clear of genetic health conditions, we did not use that dog for breeding.
Which brings me to the subject of linebreeding and inbreeding. Linebreeding is where you breed two dogs who share some common relatives. For example, you take the grandson of a famous show dog and you breed him to the daughter of that same show dog by a different mother. This is linebreeding. Some show breeders like to do this in order to produce puppies with qualities similar to that one dog. Inbreeding is where two very closely related dogs are bred... say a father to a daughter. You sometimes see this in puppy mill pedigrees, or from truly careless or ignorant breeders. Besides the moral issues, there are medical reasons that human fathers shouldn't breed with their daughters. The same holds true in the canine world. Yet this stuff still goes on today. Here at the Zim house, we have always been totally opposed to inbreeding and linebreeding. We believe in breeding across lines, not within them.
Once a litter of puppies was born, we made an extraordinary effort to properly socialize them. We believed that during the 8 weeks the pups were with us, it was crucial for the pups to be handled by people.
Many breeders keep their puppies away from people in the belief that strangers might bring parvo or other diseases. We looked at it completely differently. We went to great lengths to expose our puppies to many different people so that they got used to being handled and learned to love it.
At our house, socializing puppies started literally on day one! Early on they were handled by members of our family, and within a few days they were introduced to the neighbors and sometimes even to their new owners. (Most of our pups had homes waiting for them before they were even born.) Once the pups were old enough to walk around a bit and confident enough to be taken outside without getting scared, we made it a priority to take them out in to our front yard almost every afternoon. When the neighbors saw us out on our front lawn with the puppies, they knew that meant they had an open invitation to come over and help us play with the pups. The neighbors got a kick out of it, and it was great for the pups to be handled by so many different people. On weekends, we quite frequently had members of our Cocker forum come over and play with the pups... some of them driving from a couple hundred miles away to do so! By the time the pups were old enough to go off to their new homes, these puppies had spent countless hours with dozens of different people of all ages... and were truly people-lovers.
In the book "Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog", authors John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller explain the developmental stages of puppies. They say that from 4 to 6 weeks, it's important for puppies to become socialized to other dogs... and that from 6 to 12 weeks it's important for puppies to become socialized to people. When you understand this, you can see why we were able to create such well socialized puppies here: they learned to get along with their littermates, their mother, and our other adult Cockers during the animal socialization period... and they learned to love people by being handled by our family, friends, neighbors, and their new owners during the human socialization period.
Since it's impossible to judge whether a puppy is
show quality at an early age, some show breeders keep their puppies until 5 or 6
months of age. Then they figure out which ones are show quality, and sell
off the others to "pet homes". Because a long coat is so important in the
show ring, some show breeders keep their puppies in wire cages almost all the
time to protect the coat. When you understand the developmental stages of
puppies, you can see why buying a puppy that was raised this way can cause so
many problems. Of course, not all show breeders raise their puppies this
way, but some do... so you have to be careful. If someone tries to
sell you a 4-6 month old puppy, or if you go to their house and their puppies
are confined to wire cages... this should be a major red flag.
I mentioned earlier that (once our pups got to a certain age) we liked to take them out in to our front yard to play with the neighbors. We set up a big portable fence around our front yard, and would spend an hour or two out there with the puppies each day. The sight of an entire litter of Cocker puppies on our lawn attracted many of the neighbors... including almost daily visits from a few of the neighbor kids. We liked to have the kids and puppies play together, because it got the puppies used to quick moves, loud noises, and not-so-gentle handling.
Many breeders would NEVER do this, out of fear of exposing the puppies to parvo or other diseases... but we felt the benefits from socializing the dogs far outweighed any risks.
We also encouraged all the new owners to come visit the puppies as often as possible during the 8 weeks we had them here. Even though most of our new owners lived several hundred miles away, many of them made the drive here once or twice before the big day when they finally get to take their puppy home. In talking to other breeders, I've found quite a few that NEVER let their puppies get handled by strangers until there's money on the table and a sale is about to be closed. I just can't agree with that kind of thinking.
Having our pups get handled by as many people as possible is one of the tricks we used to make sure that, by the time the pups got to their new owners, they were at ease with people of all ages. It's amazing what a difference a little early socializing makes on the entire rest of a dog's life.
If you think I'm exaggerating the importance of getting
a puppy that has been properly socialized by his breeder, read
article on the AKC web site. I couldn't agree more with the article,
and the way we socialized our pups was completely in sync with what they recommend.
One very strong belief in our house is that puppies are not something that should be shipped.
You may have noticed that many dog breeders on the Internet are more than happy to ship a pup to make a sale. We would never do something that cruel to a young pup, so we only sold our pups to people within driving distance of our home. But due to our location half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, that was a LOT of people!
A puppy's first day away from momma is stressful enough without having to be in a cage in the cargo hold of a jet airliner. Can you imagine what that is like for a pup? Read some horror stories here. At a minimum, shipping a puppy by plane would be traumatic for the dog... and in some cases it can be fatal.
There was no reason for us to ship puppies. We heard from so many people in California who are looking for puppies that we never had any trouble at all finding good homes for all of our puppies within a few hundred miles of our house.
If you're looking for a Cocker puppy, we urge you
to locate breeders near you rather than dealing with breeders that would have to
ship a pup to you. To locate Cocker breeders near you, check the
breeder listings at the Open Directory Project.
Another thing we placed a lot of importance on was finding good homes for our puppies. We did not sell our pups on a first come, first served basis! It was all about making a good match between the puppy and his new family. And just in case someone made a bad decision, we gave all of our new owners a two week period to evaluate their new puppy and to bring it back for a full refund if it did not meet their expectations. Also, if at ANY point in the lifetime of one of our dogs the owners decide that they can no longer keep him, we will help them find a new home for that dog. We don't ever want to find out that one of our dogs had to be taken to a shelter because it was unwanted.
Another interesting aspect of our method is the way we laid the ground work for potty training. We heard many times from the new owners of our puppies that they were easy to potty train compared to their other dogs. We think we had something to do with that. Many dog breeders just keep puppies in cages with wire bottoms... and the puppies can pee and poop anywhere in the cage. This teaches the dog it's OK to just squat and go anywhere they want to. That's easy for the breeder, but very bad for the new owners. We took a very different strategy... very carefully setting up the living arrangements in our Puppy Palace in ways that encourage good potty habits. A puppy has a natural inclination to not want to pee or poop in her own bed. We encouraged that, by placing newspapers right next to the bed... and our puppies very quickly learned to get out of bed and go on the paper. When they were a little older, we trained them to go out the doggie door of the Puppy Palace and pee and poop in the papered area just outside the doggie door. By the time they were about seven weeks old, we never had to clean up pee and poop in the Puppy Palace because the puppies were totally trained on use of the doggie door.
One final thing that really set us apart from other breeders was the way we allowed total strangers to take part in so much of what went on around here. With our PuppyCam, you could take a look at what was happening with the puppies any time of the day or night. And with our Cocker Spaniel forum, you're not only free to ask us questions and make comments, but you can also talk to the owners of our puppies. This way, people did not have to just take our word for it when we said that our puppies were well socialized and that they made great pets... you could actually talk to some of the people that own our dogs.
How We Did Things Around Here
While We Had An Active Dog Breeding Program
We went to extreme measures to socialize puppies to people
We made sure our adult dogs had passed hip and eye exams prior to breeding
We encouraged genetic diversity by outcrossing rather than linebreeding or (heaven forbid!) inbreeding
We encouraged current owners and potential future owners of our pups to all talk together via our online forum and Pupapalooza events
We gave our puppies a good start on potty training due to specific design features of our Puppy Palace
We evaluated whether our breeding program was on the right track by watching our puppies (all grown up) at our Pupapalooza events
We gave everyone a true look at how our puppies were raised, through our 24/7 PuppyCam
We carefully chose the families our puppies went to, rather than placing them with just anyone with cash in hand
We never shipped puppies
We only kept a small number of dogs on our property, and made sure they were only outside when the weather was favorable
Breeding puppies was not a business for us, just something we did for fun
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