Category Archives: Dog Breeding

Job Interviews: Selecting Working Dog Candidates from Puppy Litters

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The Akita isn’t part of the Working group for nothing; these strong, intelligent canines excel at a multitude of tasks to help their human partners in everyday life. Whether guarding the home, hunting, pulling sleds or carts, or even tracking, the Akita is well-suited for the job. Over the years I have been blessed to have produced a number of pups that went on to become Service dogs, assisting their owners with the challenges of various disabilities.

It’s important to take the time to evaluate a litter for the traits that indicate what job each pup may be best at later in life. This is an exercise in patience, as you try to focus on a group of bouncing, bumbling fur balls! How exactly do you separate the pups with potential for occupational services?

I begin the process when the litter is about three weeks of age. By this time the pups are well on their feet and starting to explore the edges of their little world. Curiosity tempered with reserve is one characteristic to watch for. I’m looking for the puppy that boldly strikes out to explore – but then pauses to size things up from a short distance before going any further. This is a pup that is thinking the situation through, rather than rushing headlong into what could turn out to be a mistake. Does the puppy use all five senses to investigate people and objects? The pup that leaps into your arms is endearing and fun, but for service aptitude I want the puppy that looks at an object from all angles. I like to see her cock her head from side to side in order to hear better, reach out a paw to touch before pouncing, get a good, long nose full of scent, and maybe even take a tentative taste. You should be able to “see the wheels turning” as the puppy assimilates information. A good service dog is always assessing their surroundings – a natural multitasker who seems perfectly at ease while doing so.

I also evaluate how the dog reacts when I try to attract its attention. I’m looking for the pup that has eyes on me even when interrupted by others at play. When startled or distracted, how quickly does the puppy recover and refocus on the handler?

Any puppy for service jobs must have a high desire to please, so that is another important quality to screen for. Will the pup bring objects to you and retrieve on the toss? Can you direct the puppy to an object you prefer and make that preference clear to him? Once the pup understands your desire for a specific action, does he lose interest or does he seem to be waiting for the next directive? I want the puppy that wants to do the job, and I like to see initiative.

Play should be encouraged; a puppy needs to exercise body and mind and learn appropriate social cues from their dam and littermates. Observe the pup during playtime to assess how it reacts when play gets too rough. Look for pups that are able to accept correction from their dam and move on to the next adventure with little delay. The puppy should not be devastated at being corrected; no excessive whining, crying or hauling itself off to sulk. Neither should the pup refuse the correction and act out in an oppositional manner.

As the litter matures, begin teaching simple things such as paper or litterbox training. Is the puppy you’ve been giving high marks to so far picking up training quickly? How often must you demonstrate how to respond to a command before the pup performs properly? Does he respond best to voice or hand signals? Can he follow either without distraction? Expect natural puppy inquisitiveness and short attention spans to come into play, and you may not get the desired response every time – after all, they are still just babies. That’s OK; it’s a pattern of behavior over time that matters. Keep notes as you go.

A vital consideration during the evaluation period is prey drive –we are talking about the Akita, after all. Pups that perform the fastest, most efficient “squeaker-ectomies” on stuffed toys are not what I’m looking for. Although they should still show some interest in things around them, they need to be able to refocus on whatever they are currently doing. Pick a toy the puppy seems to prefer and engage in play, praising the puppy for working with you on this task. Then introduce a different interesting toy, tossing it around the area perimeter while simultaneously working on the interactive task you first introduced. It may take several tries, but give high marks to the puppy that continues to choose the interaction with you rather than the new distraction.

By this time your puppies are nearing placement age. Ideally you’ve been working on general socialization skills, such as walking on at least five different kinds of surfaces and socializing outside of the family unit. Can the puppy continue to remain on task despite alternative distractions? For these tests I put the puppy on a leash, allowing it to drag the length a bit to feel some resistance without a jarring impact. I keep a small bin of scrunchies (soft, fabric-covered elastic) with bits of ribbon, small bells and other lightweight items sewn on. I have these in several sizes, some to fit around the leg and others large enough to go over the neck or chest. The puppy needs to be able to regain and maintain concentration on you and the current task, rather than constantly stopping to look at, play with or remove the distractions she is wearing. This is building a handler/puppy relationship, teaching them to trust in the process and ignore certain harmless things around them. Eventually add immobile and then moving toys to the ground work around the puppy as you walk her, in order to acclimate her to environmental distractions. Gauge her response. Being initially startled is acceptable if the puppy can recover with confidence. Start small, and praise often for correct responses.

I keep puppies with the highest marks in these areas for up to 16 weeks, further evaluating which types of service work they are best suited for. For instance, a puppy that responded best to hand signals went on to learn hearing-assistance work. Other pups that excelled at voice commands and had the physical structure to support a human with gait and movement disabilities went on to become mobility service dogs.

Paying close attention to the strengths and abilities of each pup can help make the strongest placement in an environment that not only helps owners in need, but is rewarding to the dog as well.



The Call

Being a responsible Breeder (with a capital B) is a time consuming work of heart. The joy of holding that precious new life in your hands, the bittersweet moment you wave goodbye when they leave with their new family and the inevitable tears when The Call comes.

I stay in touch with my families. Always have, always will. You aren’t buying a dog here, you’re marrying into my clan.  To do so you’ve got to pass muster and after that it isn’t hard to stay in my good graces. I’m a benevolent mother-in-law, I don’t need to be up in your kool-aid all the time but send me an email, pick up a phone, ask me for advice or brag a little about your furball’s latest accomplishments. I love this contact.  We’re something bigger and better than a single transaction.  And we’re united in our love for the dogs.

That amazing unconditional love these magnificent animals gives us comes with a price. And when the bill comes due, your heart shatters into millions of painful shards.

The  Call comes when you least expect it. You’ve had a long day, a good one by all accounts. Then the soft chime of the cell phone lets you know a new message is waiting.   Its a beautiful picture of  the pup you bred so many years ago, muzzle now silvered with age, looking tired but peaceful that says ” I’m ready to go rest with my daddy now. I love you”. And you lose it.  You live three thousands miles away and you wish with everything you are that you could stroke that beautiful face just one last time, and hold the hand of the person sitting beside him.

Once a BK baby, always a BK baby.  This litter wasn’t really even supposed to be “mine”.  Typically when you offer stud services you bring your boy to the date or mail a carefully packaged shipment of puppy juice in liquid nitrogen to the bitch’s owners.  Not so in this case.  I was present when the pups were born, helped clear nostrils and tie off cords and rub wet coats until the little ones squawked in response.   And a week later, when their dam came down with a serious life threatening infection and the pups had to be removed for her treatment and recovery, I stepped in to take them home with me and hand raise the whole crew. All ten of them.  We’re blessed in this breed to have what we refer to as super moms; a bitch will frequently adopt a litter not her own and care for them if they are orphaned. I’ve even had females who began lactating in the presence of a new litter.  I was lucky enough to own one of these very special girls at the time and we split the work load. She cuddle-curled around the babies and offered immediate nurturing. I was up every two hours for bottle feedings.  I think she got the better end of the deal.

When the time came for placements, I handled those too, to my standards.   The litter had a carbon copy  of their sire, Justice (CH Bk’s America’s Most Wanted, CGC, TDI) .  Moms aren’t supposed to have favorites. Riiiiigggghhhhhhttttttt.  This lovely boy went to an exceptional family not too far away, and came back for a stint at Camp Black Knight when he threw a teenage temper tantrum and thought being the Bad Boy was cool (not). I offer lifetime support including free training, and this family took me up on it.  Nitro never put a paw out of place again and all contacts from them over the years were very positive.

A few years back I moved across the country but that didn’t stop us from staying in touch.   As Nitro aged, and as happens with age, declined, his owner called and texted more for advice on what he could do to make his dear boy more comfortable.  We both knew where this was going with each progressive talk.

Yesterday, his owner made The Call.  And we cried together across the distance.

Nitro was born May 6, 2003 and left us shortly after his thirteenth birthday on May 10, 2016; a great run for an Akita. His family- all of us- will miss him greatly.  Joe, I couldn’t have picked a better friend for Nitro than you. Thank you for being part of the family.  And for letting me hold your hand through the Call.




Look before you leap into dog breeding

Note out there to the “I’m gonna do it and you can’t stop me” inexperienced puppy producers:  Just getting a couple of dogs and making puppies is not where good breeders “start out”- having a good mentor is the most important thing when getting a start as an exhibitor/breeder.

How we start out is with a love of the breed and ownership of our first dogs. We learn, educate ourselves and put ourselves out to the knowledgeable breed community and say-” I want to do this for life. Will you help me?”   We study genetics and pedigrees and choose potential breeding dogs based on sound lines and sound temperaments, not on what just happens to be available. We work to become lifetime students of the breed, always learning, and applying what we know in the most responsible manner possible, such as conducting health certifications, seeking titles in conformation, agility, obedience or other working events, screening applicants for future litters and being willing to take back a dog for life.

When we do plan a breeding for ourselves, we know the sad truth out there about all your “friends and family” who say they want a puppy so you need to breed. Experience has taught us that not only do a lot of these folks who encourage you to put puppies on the ground fall through when it’s time to place them, but that if you are being honest with yourself, many of those people aren’t fully prepared to own your specific breed.

If you don’t know, intimately, the ins and outs of breeding, you shouldn’t BE breeding. If you’re dead set on it, GET A MENTOR and do it right, otherwise, expect those of us out here who end up cleaning up the problems irresponsible people cause to speak up and try to talk you out of it- at least until you know what the heck you’re doing.

Ask yourself- are you only planning this breeding because that’s what’s convenient? What traits do the dogs have that need improvement? What traits do they have that you would like to keep or enhance? How do you think these two dogs will compliment each other and what are the potential liabilities in structure from the breeding? Can you afford a possible c-section if there’s complications? Can you afford the time off work to bottle raise a litter if your bitch won’t lactate? Do you know the warning signs for eclampsia, dystocia or other problems during whelp? How do you intend to place the puppies? Do you have a contract? Will you require spaying and neutering of pet quality puppies? Do you know how to evaluate pups for deformities, conditions or issues which should not be passed onto future generations? Do you have an application process that helps you determine whether or not the potential owners are ready, willing and able to care for a puppy, or is it pay me and be on your way? Do you care about the pups for their entire life, and if so, what’s your plan to follow through with contractual obligations?

It takes more than an intact bitch and an intact dog to be a Breeder. You can get all huffy and yell and scream and say no one can stop you and you’re right. But I want you to think about WHY some of us are telling you to rethink your choices. If you knew nothing about auto repair would you attempt a complete engine rebuild, without even consulting a manual? If you knew nothing about medicine would you attempt surgery at home? If you knew nothing about engineering would you construct your own home without help or the right tools? Of course not- it’s ridiculous to think you could do so without causing more problems than you already have. So TRY to listen to the voices of experience. Get a mechanic, get a doctor, get a contractor- GET A MENTOR because winging it is a plan destined for failure, and the dogs deserve better than that.

Need help finding a mentor? Try your breed’s national parent club. A full directory can be found at this link  

blush puppy

Womb to Tomb- responsible placements

Ways to check potential  homes out and how to identify- and prevent- problem placements. Getting your puppy the best start in life is an excellent way to avoid having to bail them out of a bad situation later.

Require personal references and veterinary reference on applications- check with references to see if info given on application matches what potential family stated ie: ever owned a dog before? example answer- “yes, we had a GSD but she died last year”.   A personal reference who they have known for at least two years would have known about the dog, whether they had one, how it died.  So will their vet.

Vet references- ask how long they have been treating the person’s animals, how many they have on file there, up to date on shots and recommended services, in good health, etc. don’t be afraid to ask, “Would YOU sell this person a dog?”

Run all phone numbers- potentials and their references, through a source like  Use the reverse directory to confirm who you are speaking with. Make no placements without a land line, whether it be home or a verifiable business/employer.   Anyone on a cell only will be in the wind if you need to take action at a later date to recover your dog.

Use reverse directories to check out addresses listed on application- use Zillow or similar sites to determine home status  (ie: one well known problem buyer I’m aware of sent photos of a home he used to live in to show what a lovely house and yard he had for dogs- it had been sold and he’d moved to a very inappropriate environment). if it’s listed for sale, it may be a fake address.  Last sale date will also tell you how long they have lived there and help confirm rent vs. own.  This goes to the honesty of application.  County tax assessors offices will often list their records online;  search for the county + tax assessor + property records.  You want to know exactly where your dog is.

Google is your friend. search name and city of potential buyers, then their email address.  This will often return online groups they belong to, civic organizations,  interests that can help you make a stronger placement.

Spokeo the name. Facebook it. You may be surprised what kind of chat groups, message boards and other locations your potential home shows up on.

Use the city and state to determine county, then google county name + state +clerk of court.  Many cities and counties have online searchable databases of criminal and civil cases, searchable by name. Use them. Confirm with local animal control officers that any pets currently owned are licensed and that there is no record of citations at the address. This may also turn up criminal records for abuse, neglect, sex offender registries and more that would influence your decision.

Ask on your application if they are speaking with any other kennels. If you turn up questionable info SHARE IT with the other kennels, call and give a heads up that something isn’t checking out, and to be cautious, to look further and determine whether or not the placement should be made.  If you come across something serious, post it publicly with a heads up notice.  Stick to facts you can prove from personal experience or publicly available records- it’s perfectly legal to do and serves a lawful purpose (preventing potential harm to the animals).  Buyers frequently talk to the closest kennels to them geographically.  Makes some calls, see if your buyer has talked to anyone in their area first and compare notes.  There’s no logical reason for them not to tell you about making other kennel contacts.  And it may turn out that the best match for this particular person or family is going to be from someone else.

Refusal of a home check or balking at conditions set forth in the contract for care standards. and spay and neuter if a pet home, are a big red flag.   Opposing these terms is a warning that they are looking for ways out of those requirements at a later date.  be fair though- read your contracts from a buyer’s point of view and be sure that they are not shouldering every responsibility on their own.  A one sided agreement isn’t going to benefit you, either.

Always independently verify information. Never give anyone your home address without confirming their identity for your safety and the safety of your dogs. These methods take a bit of time and some leg work but the payoff is knowing your dogs are in capable hands.

When you want to buy a puppy

To me, Breeder should be spelled with a capital “B”. It’s a proper noun, a title earned through years of dedication, education and respect. Anyone can breed a dog, but not everyone can be a Breeder.

So how do you tell the difference? And if you have your heart set on purchasing a puppy, how do you find one?

Your first stop should be the parent breed club. For the Akita, you can find their website at You don’t need to be a member to access the resources available there. Breeder referrals are available, based on members who conform to the club’s Code of Ethics.  There are also contacts on the page for members throughout the US who may be able to refer you to a Breeder who is not currently a member, but whose ethics are in concert with the club’s COE. Perhaps life got busy for them with a new job, a new baby, and their membership lapsed.  If a Breeder you are considering is not a member of the ACA or another all breed or specialty breed club, don’t be afraid to ask why. Determine whether or not any disciplinary action has ever been brought against your Breeder and the outcome. The ACA maintains a list of suspended breeders- persons whose privileges have been revoked by the American Kennel Club. Check for their name.

How many puppies does the Breeder produce in a year? A person who constantly has puppies available may not be able to follow through on all the pups they have produced. A good Breeder knows where their dogs are for life and keeps in touch with a new owner. If they are producing dozens or even hundreds of pups a year, how important could you or your new Akita be to them?  High volume kennels can serve a distinct need for pet production, however buyers should exercise caution if sourcing from such a location- do the animals have enough hands on care and interaction daily to be healthy and social? What do the facilities look like?  Do they have any citations or violations and what was the outcome of them?  Discover too if they have more than one breed and if so, how many? One, two or even three breeds isn’t at all unusual, especially if they are low volume producers but five, six, ten or more? You’ve come across a commercial producer, where you’re only as good as your wallet.

Quality of advertising matters, not location. Good Breeders and poor imitations alike can be found on site like A good Breeder will be open and clear about the registered names and numbers of the sire and dam. They will list the health certifications performed, dates, and associated file numbers (ie: an OFA hip score will be listed on under the dog’s registration number and name). If you don’t know how to read health certifications or a pedigree, ask someone from the parent club or a local all breed club, they are there to help you! Unethical producers will not disclose the parentage of their dogs and often use terms such as “champions in the pedigree” (usually somewhere in their ancient history) though they have no intention of showing themselves, ever.  Please note that some Breeders do conduct mating between dogs that have not completed a championship. Talk to them about their reasons for this. If you hear “oh showing is just for suckers” or “you don’t need to buy from a show breeder when all you want is a pet”, there’s your warning flag.

Quality Breeders do not have a “buy now” option on their websites. They will require an application process that helps determine whether or not you and the puppy will be a lifetime match. They don’t take credit cards- anyone who does is waving a huge red flag in your face! Understand that you may have to travel some distance to find the right puppy, or that the Breeder may turn you down. Ask why- it may be something you can correct, or perhaps they felt they just didn’t have the perfect dog for you. Good Breeders will always be willing to give you the contact information for other reputable friends in the breed. That’s because they HAVE friends. This means more resources for you, someone near by who can help you if there’s a problem and you can’t reach your Breeder immediately. A good Breeder wants to stay in touch and doesn’t mind if the phone rings at 3am with an emergency. They are willing to connect you with the rest of the breed community so you have resources at hand. You may have to wait for a  litter to be born. Breeders aren’t puppy marts where you can browse and shop. Quality takes time and effort. Be willing to wait if necessary. Get the RIGHT puppy, not the RIGHT NOW puppy.

Breeders require a contract and they will likely ask for your cooperation, if acquiring a companion puppy, that the pet be spayed or neutered at an appropriate age (after consult with your veterinarian). Why? Because the Breeder has thoroughly evaluated your puppy and sees traits that should not be passed to successive generations if their goal is improvement- which it should be. Most structural faults or aesthetic issues that determine whether or not a puppy is show or pet quality will not impact the ability of the dog to be a great pet. Really, does an overbite matter while you’re playing ball in the yard? Ask why your puppy is “pet quality”; you should receive a clear answer about what fault was present that didn’t conform to the breed standard. The breed standard is the ideal dog, the blueprint of structure and traits to which Breeders aspire. Mating dogs with major faults isn’t going to help lead to healthier, happier generations. If acquiring a show prospect, expect to live up to a different set of requirements, including proper training, nutrition and reasonable restrictions on reproduction such as mandates to perform hp radiographs or specific genetic marker tests that the Breeder themselves follows. Breeders should practice what they preach!

What happens if you can’t keep your dog? Breeders are willing to take back their animals for life. Despite any feelings you may have about your reasons for surrendering the dog, they want you to call and bring the dog back. Quality breeders do NOT contribute to the shelter dog problem by allowing their dogs to be sent to public facilities. If you need help getting a dog back to its Breeder, there is help available for the asking.

Quality Breeders never, ever sell their dogs through a third party broker or a pet shop. They are directly involved with placements and by extension, with you. Think- if you have a question about your puppy, who are you going to call? The store?

Ask for references, because your Breeder is going to be checking yours, too. Puppies should be registered AKC, and possibly, cross registered with FCI (imported or for export)  or UKC. Registry only with UKC or with any other registry is a red flag. This may be a person who is suspended or whose pedigrees cannot be confirmed. Honesty in a Breeder matters- if they will lie to a registry, they will lie to you. Insist on AKC or AKC+FCI/UKC dogs only. Any Joe with a computer and printer can create a “registry” where, for the right amount of money, you can even make up new ‘breeds’. These registrations aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Not everyone gets along out there. You’ve probably got people you’re not friends with either. If one Breeder doesn’t care for another, it’s not necessarily a reason to turn down a puppy. Ask for the names of other Breeders they know, and see what they think of them. If they can’t name anyone easily, or have only contacts overseas, or the listings they give you come back to any of the flags mentioned above, walk away. If you get a bad review when giving out a name or kennel name, ask for independently verifiable information about why you should avoid this kennel, such as a record of animal control violations or convictions for fraud in sales or cruelty. Check your facts!  Bad apples can come across smooth as silk- swindlers didn’t get the name “confidence men” for nothing.  Do they show? Ask what events they will be present at and if you can come visit them ringside or at their set up. Its a fantastic place to get to know them and their dogs.

Ultimately, the only person responsible for placing a healthy, happy puppy into your home is YOU. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Check your sources. If you don’t know how, get a member of the parent club to help you and mentor you through it.And above all, wherever you decide to get your new best friend, please- love them for life.


Bri and puppy