(This post is part of a series of posts, please be sure to read the others to learn all about the Roverchase Service Dog Program puppy raising protocols)
Preparing for a new litter of service dog puppies for us begins 6-12 months before the actual breeding occurs.
First, we make sure our dogs have had full physical exams by our veterinary team. Our team consists of one general practice veterinarian, a Veterinary Behaviorist, a Veterinary Ophthalmologist, a Veterinary Cardiologist, and a Veterinary Orthopedic Specialist. For our program, our dogs get physicals prior to breeding, then we make sure they are up to date on all of the testing available for hereditary diseases. Our breeding dogs start with PennHip x-rays. This test ensures that they are in the top percentages of golden retrievers on hip structure and soundness. They then receive X-rays of their elbows to ensure there are no indicators for elbow dysplasia. Hip and elbow evaluations only need to occur once. The PennHip test can be done as young as 16 weeks but we typically do it at 2 years of age. They have their elbow X-rays at 2 years of age as well. We only breed dogs that are cleared by their veterinarian team based on their orthopedic X-rays and exams.
Next, our dogs get their eyes checked with a CERF exam every 12-24 months. It’s important to repeat this exam regularly as eyes change and develop over time and they must be checked for any changes or progressions of undesirable traits that may effect our decision to continue breeding a particular dog.
Third, our dogs complete a cardiac exam. This exam is also completed every 12-24 months to ensure no undesirable changes have occurred. We only keep dogs in our program that have hearts that are functioning perfectly.
Fourth, our dogs complete behavioral assessments every 6 months. We only want to breed dogs that have the most desirable temperaments and resiliency to noises, stressful situations, and other dogs.
Finally, our dogs complete a general medical exam that includes bloodwork and a full physical. They complete these exams at least once a year to ensure that their thyroid, kidney, and liver functions are within normal range. We also make sure they don’t have any concerning lumps, bumps, or other issues that would factor into our decision to breed that dog.
These test are expensive and time consuming, but they are extremely important. A dog cannot be a service dog if they have even a relatively minor medical concern for a normal pet dog. We want to do everything in our power to prevent a wonderful candidate from being removed from the program for any health issues. Good health and testing for hereditary diseases is the backbone of any excellent breeding program and the single most important factor in choosing to breed a litter for our program.