Jenna Dockweiler, DVM, DACT: Theriogenology, the Study of Beast Making
Jessica Hekman: Welcome to the Functional Breeding Podcast. I’m Jessica Hekman, and I’m here interviewing folks about how to breed dogs for function and for health: behavioral and physical. This podcast is brought to you by the Functional Dog Collaborative, an organization founded to support the ethical breeding of healthy, behaviorally sound dogs. FDC’s goals include providing educational, social, and technical resources to breeders of both purebred and mixed breed dogs. You can find out more at www.functionalbreeding.org, or at the Functional Breeding Facebook Group, which is a friendly and inclusive community. I hope you have fun and learn something.
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Jessica Hekman: Today I’m talking to Jenna Dockweiler, a theriogenologist working at Ethos Veterinary Health in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. What is a theriogenologist, you ask? In this episode, Jenna tells us what a theriogenologist does, how she became one (hint: lots and lots of school) and what theriogenologists have to offer breeders. So let’s get started talking about everything “repro” from semen to C-sections.
JH: Thank you so much, Jenna, for coming on the podcast. I’m so glad to have you here.
Jenna Dockweiler: Thank you for having me.
JH: The way I like to start out with people… just the easiest possible question is what animals do you live with? Or, if you have a lot of them, maybe just the ones that are going to be the most interesting to us. You know, what are they, what do you do with them, where do they come from, that kind of thing.
JD: All right, well, I have five animals. So I don’t know if you want all five.
JH: I think that’s doable.
JD: All right, perfect. So I’ve got three dogs. I have one 14 and a half year old English pointer who came from a breeder in Southern California. He’s who I got my start in dogs and dog sports with. I did AKC conformation with him. I did rally. He’s done barn hunt. He’s done all sorts of stuff, and he’s a registered therapy dog as well. And then I have my middle child Mason, who is an eight-year-old Welsh springer spaniel. I did conformation. He’s my agility dog. He’s who I got into agility with. And then the baby’s Minnow. She’s a one-year-old Welsh springer spaniel. And she’s just starting out in agility. She has some focus issues, but she’s looking to be promising.
JH: Will she still be Minnow when she’s old? Isn’t Minnow a baby name? (laughter)
JD: Her registered name is Fish Out of Water. Her father was Waterfalls, so we had to go with a water theme, so we decided on Minnow for her call name. (laughter)
JD: And then I’ve got two… A cat and a horse as well.
JH: Yeah, a lot of dog people have horses. I need to look into that.
JD: Yes, you should make the leap.
JH: Right, right. If only I had a little bit more room. I actually have two acres, but it’s all forest. So I think I’d have to cut it down in order to squeeze something in there. (laughter)
So I think a lot of people may not understand exactly what your very cool credentials mean. So you are a veterinarian, but you also have some additional letters after your name, after the DVM. So you want to tell us what those letters are and what they mean maybe?
JD: So those letters are DACT. And that stands for Diplomate of the American College of Theriogenologists. And the word “theriogenology.” People never know what I’m saying. I tell them I do theriogenology. So that is actually kind of a made-up word. And it comes from the Greek roots “therio” meaning beast or animal, “gen” as in generation or genesis, and “ology” as in, study of. So it’s basically the study of animal reproduction.
JH: Or, “The study of beast making.” Which is what I like to say.
JD: Exactly. (laughter) “The study of beastmaking.” So a theriogenologist, just like you said, is a veterinarian who has completed additional training in reproduction. And we do have two routes for that, either the residency route, which is the more traditional way to go, which is what I did, or there is an alternate or mentorship route where private practitioners can get mentorship from Board of Theriogenologists, and then sit for the exam. So all of us do have to pass the board certification exam to call ourselves diplomates.
JH: And is theriogenology just for dogs?
JD: So it’s actually for all species. (laughter) So my residency in particular was about 60% canine, 35% equine and then 5% other. So that other included cows, goats, sheep, exotics. We went to the zoo a couple of times. So all species, which is pretty cool. It’s one of the only specialty colleges that has all species kind of under one umbrella still, at least for the time being.
JH: Yeah, definitely. A lot of the horse people are, I imagine, a big part of therio practice.
JD: Yes, they are. Definitely.
JH: But so, we’ll focus on dogs though. So you said you did a residency. Where do you do that?
JD: I did that at Cornell University.
JH: I love Cornell. I actually love Ithaca despite the fact… I think because I haven’t ever been there when the winter weather is actually coming.
JD: Yes. That is important. The summer is beautiful. The rest of the year is quite cold.
JH: Yes. Roughly how many residencies are there around the US?
JD: So it depends on the year. The year that I applied there were 10 available. And five of those were actually large animal exclusive, which I, of course, didn’t want. I’m now a small animal private practitioner. So I of course needed mixed species at least. So there were 10 available at that time. There’s usually roughly about 10 in any given year.
JH: Yeah, it sounds pretty similar, actually, to the behavior residency, and that was what I was considering. I decided not to do it, but it can be challenging to find a residency, particularly if you are limited in where you want to live.
JD: Yes. (laughter)
JH: So what kinds of stuff did you learn during your residency? What is a residency like? What do you do? (laughter) So you pet puppies, right?
JD: I wish you just pet puppies. That would have been a lot easier than the residency I experienced. (laughter) It was great. I mean, it’s a little bit like drinking from a firehose, because it’s just so much information from all angles. So in addition to managing all the clinical cases, we had clients that came to the Cornell University teaching hospital just like they would any other hospital, any other private practice. So I managed those clinical cases, which included all the dogs, of course, and then we had the equine breeding farm as well, where the horses lived on-site. And we took care of their breeding management and whatnot as well.
And then I taught the students, so both lecture and clinical teaching, while they were on their theriogenology rotation. We did a lot of Journal Club, a lot of journal reading, a lot of studying for boards. We had a weekly board review. It was just a lot of information from all angles. Then we do have to have a first author publication in order to sit for boards. So a lot of research and case report writing as well. So a lot of different things. (laughter)
JH: Yeah, it sounds good. I actually briefly, at the end of veterinary school, thought maybe I wanted to do a therio residency, and then realized that what I cared about was just the genetics parts. (laughter)
JH: A different route. I was like, “I don’t actually want to get animals pregnant, though. That’s not how I want to spend my life.” (laughter)
So why did you end up going this route? Did you always know that was what you were interested in? Or how did you get to veterinary school and then to a therio residency?
JD: Yeah, so I actually always wanted to be a vet since the time I could speak and perhaps before, we don’t know. I think a lot of us are that way who do end up going to veterinary school. But the therio part of things I fell backwards into a little bit. So when I was 16 and I got my pointer, he actually was just supposed to be a family pet that we were getting, and the breeder… I don’t know how I got so lucky. Just completely lucked out into getting a really responsible, great breeder. But she said, “You know, I really think he should be shown. Do you think that you guys could show?” And I had always kind of wanted to do that. So my parents were like, “Okay, yes. You can show.” So he’s how I got my start in dogs, dog sports, responsible breeding.
So I always knew that I wanted to at least incorporate that into my practice. I didn’t really decide that I wanted to pursue the residency route until I was an intern, actually. And really, what that was mostly motivated by is I just wanted to be good at my job. And I felt like getting the really, really deep level of understanding into the physiology, even down to the molecular level, was the best way for me, personally, to go about that.
So that’s how I ended up doing the residency route. I also think it is really, really helpful to have that comparative species background as well. Because there are things that go wrong in horses or cows or whatever, that aren’t common in dogs, but that we do sometimes see. So without having that background, I may not be able to recognize those and I’m not sure that I would have gotten out if I had just gone into private practice and with a little repro flair, if you will.
JH: Yeah. So then at the end of your residency, you had to take boards, yes? Which sounds to me like one of the most horrible things anybody ever has to go through.
JD: Yeah, I would agree with that.
JH: Can you sort of explain to those of the listeners who don’t understand the whole concept of… you do the residency and the residency in itself is valuable, but then there is this final hurdle to cross. So can you please fill folks in on that?
JD: Yeah, so the final hurdle is a two day test. It’s like 60% mixed animal, so any species they can throw at you. And then the remaining 40% is a species of interest. So I did canine/feline. There are people that just do the entire test as mixed, so they’ll take questions from various species. About half of it was multiple choice and then the other half was essay. So a lot of long essays. Fortunately, my test was the first year that they computerized it so I could type out my answers. It would have been really, really hard to have enough time to write everything I wanted to say while actually writing out on a piece of paper. So two full days of short answer, multiple choice and long essay questions. Then they also did a projected images section as well. So looking at images saying, “What disease does this pattern look like?” Or, “What’s the next diagnostic test you would do?” That type of thing. And then the test in and of itself has about a 50% pass rate for people. I was fortunate to pass it on the first try, thank goodness, because I did not want to do that again! (laughter)
But that’s really what the boards exam looks like. And the residency does prepare you, but you still have to prepare yourself. You know like just doing the clinical cases really isn’t enough to prepare yourself for that board exam.
JH: Yeah. My understanding of the way it works… And I actually was… While I was doing my Ph.D. I was renting part of my house to a resident in ophthalmology. A veterinarian resident in ophthalmology. So he completed his residency, but then he basically hung out for several months. I mean, it might have been six months that he basically was just studying for that test full time.
JH: And then he had to fly out. So you don’t get to take it locally, right? Because everyone takes it together and they’re from all over the country. So you had to fly out. And so much fun, right? You get on a plane, and then you have two days of hell, and then you go back. (laughter)
So congratulations on passing. And it does happen that sometimes people don’t… So I believe you get three tries total? Is that the case?
JD: You get three tries before you have to do what’s called recredentialing. So to credential to take the exam, to be eligible to sit for it, you have to have things like letters of recommendation from board of theriogenologists to attest to your character, your clinical capability, that kind of thing. You have to write an essay to explain why you want to take this test and be a theriogenologist, all of that stuff. You have to include a resume. You have to have your first author of publication. So you get three shots with your first credentialing. After that you can apply to be recredentialed. And then you could take it more times, if you needed to.
JH: I had not heard about the recredentialing process, so that was nice. The reason I’m asking you about that is because I sort of want to get the concept across of the difference between someone who has done a residency and someone who has passed the exam, and the idea that you can actually be a pretty competent person and not pass the exam. So it’s the exam is ridiculous.
JH: But then once you pass the exam, then you get to be in the Society for Theriogenologists.
JD: It’s the American College of Theriogenologists.
JH: Right, right. Yeah. And so why don’t you tell us a little bit about why it’s useful to you to be part of that group.
JD: The biggest useful bit of being part of that group, I think, is having a network of people that I can reach out to and trust if I need help with something. So we do have a listserv, which I think all of the boarded theriogenologists are on. There’s about 250 of us, I believe, active diplomates at the moment. So people will… It’s pretty active. People will ask questions, try to get ideas, gather additional things that maybe they should be considering from other boarded individuals, which I think is pretty cool. And our college, in particular, tends to be pretty collaborative as well. So that’s, that’s the biggest thing I think is the biggest benefit for me.
JH: Yeah, having access to that depth of expertise…
JH: Is, I think, really, really valuable. All right. And so you pass the exam. Do you guys get a little pin? The behavior folks get a little pin.
JD: Yes, we have a pin. We call it our “Several Thousand Dollar” pin.
JH: And then you get to add DACT to the end of your name. And then what did you do? After the partying. You can tell us about the partying if you want to.
JD: Oh my goodness. They wanted us to go pick up our little certificates at 7am the morning following the last day of the exam, and that just wasn’t happening. (laughter) And that’s all I’ll say about the partying. (laughter) But after that, I did take a little bit of time off before I started my job. So for me, in particular, passing the test was awesome. It felt great, but really nothing was gonna change with my job, pass or not. I still had a job to go to, which is not the case for everybody. So that was great.
I actually went back to the clinic where I did my internship. So it’s a small animal private practice. There’s about 40 veterinarians. We have pretty much every specialty represented at this point. We’re missing a couple, but not many. So it’s a really good collaborative environment. We have a lot of interns. So that’s where I went back to and just started being a small animal private practitioner. So I just do canine and feline theriogenology, now, although mostly canine because cats don’t need our help very often. (laughter)
JH: They’re pretty good at that.
JD: They’re quite good at it. (laughter)
JH: So you do only repro work at this point? You don’t do any general practice?
JD: So I’m actually working towards my CCRT (Certified Canine Rehab Therapist) and CVAT (Certified Veterinary Acupuncture Therapist) because I really like to learn. I’m a bit of a rolling stone. Those things always interested me, too. So I just want to be better at my job and do more things.
JH: So do you see those as sort of separate stuff? Or are they going to contribute to the repro work that you do?
JD: A lot of the clientele will probably be the same, like agility dogs, that type of thing. And we have three boarded surgeons at my clinic as well, who are doing ACL repairs and things all day long. So there’ll be a lot of post-op stuff as well.
JH: Yeah, that’s fair. So why would someone come and look up a theriogenologist and go to all that trouble to find someone or even a repro vet who perhaps has an interest in reproduction, but not the certification that you have? What can you offer folks?
JD: So the biggest things that we offer on kind of a routine basis would, of course, be breeding management, and we do semen freezing and that kind of thing. So when I say breeding management, I mean doing what’s called progesterone timing. So we’ll measure blood levels of progesterone, which is the pregnancy maintenance hormone in the dog every couple of days to find exactly when she ovulates or releases those eggs, exactly when the right time to breed her is, and then we can predict exactly when she’s due, which is always nice. So I can tell people exactly when they need to be taking off work to be with their new litters. So the breeding management, the semen freezing are really our bread and butter.
But we also do things like infertility. So we’ll do biopsies, workups, all of that stuff. I do all of the health testing. So I’ll do OFA’s, PennHips. We do have, you know, the ophthalmologist who does the OFA eye exams. And we do have a cardiologist at my clinic, too. So we’ll kind of all coordinate to get somebody to come in just for one-stop shopping, if you will, to do all of that health testing all at the same time. And then I’ll also work on either breeding dogs or even pets who have reproductive issues. So if they have vaginal discharge of any form, that comes to me. If they have ovarian remnant or a little piece of ovary that may have been left behind during a spay procedure, that comes to me as well. I’ll deal with prostate issues, also. So there’s, there’s really actually a lot more than people would think that actually will come to me.
JH: Yeah. I did two weeks at a repro clinic during the end of my veterinary school career, which was a lot of fun. And a lot of what we did, actually, was that progesterone testing to figure out when dogs were ovulating. Yeah, so it’s pretty important to know the exact day of ovulation. So can you talk a little bit about what… We know what day the dog was bred, right?
JH: So you know when the actual sex happens, so why can’t you calculate out from there to figure out when the bitch is going to give birth?
JD: Yeah, so actually breeding date is notoriously inaccurate in the dog. So we consider her due… If you have one breeding date it’s 63 plus or minus seven days from that breeding day is when her expected due date is.
JH: (laughter) Seven’s a lot!
JD: So that’s a two-week window at a nine-week gestation, right? So for me, that’s an unacceptable level of error. (laughter) But if we know exactly when she has ovulated, it’s 63 plus or minus one day in either direction, so that’s a three day window. Which is also important because if she does run into trouble, doesn’t go into labor, which is a condition called uterine inertia, then if we know exactly when she’s due. We’ll know exactly when to worry versus a breeding day that’s super inaccurate. And we’ll know that if we take these puppies on one day either side of that 63 from ovulation we’ll know that they should be viable. So all that’s important.
Additionally, the number one cause of infertility in the dog is actually poorly-timed breeding. So that’s another reason to do it. The reason the breeding day is so inaccurate is mostly for two reasons. One, behavior of the bitch. So a lot of them will stand for great breeding for quite a long period of time relative to when their actual fertile period is. And the second is that dog semen is super hearty. So it can live for three days with no reduced concentrations whatsoever, and an additional 11 days with only slightly reduced concentration in the bitches tracts. So it can hang out for a really long time and just wait for that egg to be ready. So that’s another reason why it’s super inaccurate to just have a breeding date.
JH: Yeah, I love that vision of the semen just hanging out there and being ready for like a week. (laughter) You don’t think of it, right? You imagine that it goes up and it’s like, “Oh, there’s no egg. Okay, I guess I’ll die.”
JD: No, it’ll dock in those uterine tubes and hang out and wait. Be ready for the egg when it comes. (laughter)
JH: So then on the other end of things, it’s nice to know so that you wouldn’t do a C-section too early. So why? Why would that be a problem?
JD: So if they’re even 24 hours too early, or too late for that matter, they may or may not have enough what’s called surfactant in the lungs. So enough lung maturation, essentially, to be able to breathe and oxygenate on their own. So that’s really, really a heartbreaking situation. I’m more of a stickler about it in dogs that “need” (quote-unquote) elective C-section for delivery, which is most of our English Bulldogs, although probably some of them would whelp naturally if we allowed them to.
JH: So making sure that you get your C-section at the right time is obviously super important for the health of the puppies. And then I know that some people do elective C-sections, and some people even plan to have an elective C-section from the moment that they are planning out the mating. It’s not like they wait until there’s an emergency and go do it.
JH: And I know that’s a pretty controversial topic, but maybe you can sort of give us some of the pros and cons of why people do that.
JD: Sure. So one of the biggest reasons that people will pursue an elective C-section is if they have a singleton fetus, so a single puppy litter. It’s a bigger problem in some breeds than others. So like, if you have a Chihuahua, she might be okay with just one. But if you have a Great Dane that’s pregnant with just one fetus, it’s likely that the fetus isn’t going to signal to the bitch when is the appropriate time to whelp.
JH:The uterus is so big. (laughter)
JD: It’s not full enough, right? So actually, the little baby fetal adrenal glands, which are the little glands that sit on top of the kidneys, are the ones that release the stress hormone, which tells the bitch when it’s time to go into labor, and if there’s only one baby in there, that may or may not happen. We say that happens about 40% of the time. But again, it’s a little bit breed dependent. So that’s one, I think, pretty good reason to go to C-section. There’s also a thought that a lot of those guys do get too big. They just kind of have too much real estate to pass vaginally on their own.
JH: That poor little pelvis.
JD: I know. I know. For sure.
JH: So why would you not just go for an emergency C-section in that case?
JD: Because she may or may not ever go into labor is the problem. So a lot of times what I will do with them, especially if I have a client who wants to let her try, is if I have that progesterone timing, if I know when her 63 days is, I’ll let her go to 64 days, and then we’ll go to surgery on that day, if she hasn’t whelped on her own or hasn’t shown signs of even going to the labor on her own, which they’ll do probably about 40% of the time. So that’s one reason to go to C-section. And there’s also the other big reason is breeds that have what’s called cephalopelvic disproportion. So that’s the doctor word for “fat head and skinny hips.”
JH: (laughter) That’s a great word. Sorry, go on.
JD: So breeds with cephalopelvic disproportion. So that’s breeds with really big fronts, like the English bulldog. So that’s probably the number one elective C-section breed, the poster child, if you will, for the elective C-section is the English bulldog. And then you have other breeds as well that will move forward with elective C-sections. French Bulldog is the one that comes to my mind, kind of second, although I have to say I’ve seen a lot of pretty typey French Bulldogs whelp naturally, so I think probably more of them would whelp naturally on their own if we allowed them to. But people get anxious about that, which is understandable.
JH: Yeah, for sure. And I mean I have seen some people plan to do an elective C-section, basically, because they’re anxious that they don’t want to end up with an emergency C-section because they don’t trust the ER doc. So they would trust you.
JH: But you might not want to be working on a Saturday or a Sunday without planning ahead, right? So maybe how much do you trust an ER doc to do an emergency C-section?
JD: All of my ER doctors are amazing. So I trust them fully. And they do all sorts of stuff that’s way crazier than a C-section. I mean, I know it’s high stress, because there’s babies involved and everything. But to be honest, technically speaking, the C-section is not really that difficult of a procedure. I think a spay is a lot harder, and people do those all day long. So I would trust my ER doctors, really any vet with really any level of surgical experience is probably going to be pretty competent, as long as they have the correct drug cocktail to give to the bitch so that the puppies aren’t overly sedate when they come out. So I think ER doctors are great at C-sections as well.
JH: Yeah, and maybe if someone’s particularly anxious about that, looking around to and identifying the ER ahead of time. So I talked to someone recently who had a dog who she expected to be able to whelp naturally, but there was some issues and she took her to the local vet and that did not go well. And so she is then sort of in the middle of the panic, had to then find another doctor to drive to three hours away. And she said, “Well, next time I’ll know, and I’ll go straight to the one who’s three hours from here.”
JD: Yep, I would definitely encourage anybody who has a pregnant bitch, whether or not you expect her to whelp on her own or not. I would encourage you to identify someplace that is comfortable doing C-sections and has good puppy resuscitation protocols, has good anesthetic protocols, all of that good stuff. Because if you prepare for it, you won’t need it. It’s Murphy’s Law.
JH: Yes. Well, that’s the best way to deal with that prevention for sure.
JH: All right. So that’s the girls. So what kind of stuff do you do with boys?
JD: So semen freezing is really our biggest thing, I guess, with the boys. We do also collect semen for, you know, shipment overnight just with FedEx chilled shipped. But semen freezing is probably the biggest thing that we do with boys from like a routine standpoint.
JH: So you’re gonna collect them, and then you’re… Do you store it on-site?
JD: We don’t store it on-site, actually. We contract with Zoetis because they’re a big facility. They’ve got like a bomb-proof facility over in Kansas City that has electronic monitors on their tanks, and they have like an armed guard 24/7, and like all sorts of crazy stuff. They store a lot of high dollar bull and stallion semen as well. So they’re very well equipped, and it’s just safer to keep it there than anything we could potentially do in our building here. So that’s where we store long term. We do, of course, collect and freeze and keep it on site for a time and then wait. On the other end when a bitch is going to come into heat, is in heat, will ship it and hang on to it while we’re waiting for her optimal fertile period. But we don’t store long term with us.
JH: Yeah, another really good reason to do that progesterone testing. If you’re gonna do artificial insemination, you want to know when you’re putting that expensive straw in.
JD: Especially with frozen because frozen is much more fickle. It does not live for seven days in the tract, right? We only count on it for about 12 hours. So we need to be exactly precise with our timing to get a good outcome with frozen semen.
JH: Yeah. So then if someone had, like, an older boy who had been producing well before, but they were concerned that he was having trouble knocking someone up currently, would they be able to come to you to try to figure that out?
JD: Yep. Yep, absolutely. So we have full semen collection evaluation capabilities. We can do ultrasounds and all sorts of stuff for workup. A lot of times with those guys, we are left with a testicular biopsy. But I have a great reproductive pathologist over at Ohio State where I send all of that stuff, who can read those out for us and help us, point us in a direction where to go treatment-wise.
JH: Cool. And then if someone had questions about trying to figure out mate selection, or trying to figure out what health tests to do, are you able to do that kind of, you know, not so hands-on, more the just talking about stuff?
JD: The health testing, definitely, and having the conversation of the correct reasons to be breeding. It’s not something to do just so the kids have the experience of having a litter of puppies. That’s not necessarily the right reason to bring puppies in the world. So I will do all sorts of… I can talk all day long about that, actually, reasons to breed. (laughter) So that stuff I definitely do. For mate selection, that gets a little bit hairier, just because I can’t really give information about other clients that I have without their permission. So I don’t necessarily want to get involved totally as a middleman in that regard. But I can point people in the direction of the parent clubs or in directions where they may be able to find a mate for their dog.
JH: Yeah. Okay, so I’m intrigued when you said that you could talk for a long time about reasons to breed. So what do you think is the best reason to breed?
JD: I think the best reason to breed is to create more puppies that are healthy, well-adjusted, and are going to have a purpose. And that purpose may be companion. That’s a totally valid purpose. But we shouldn’t be breeding dogs for us. Like I shouldn’t breed a litter because I want to have a litter. We shouldn’t be breeding dogs because we want the bitch to experience having a litter, because I can tell you for sure she does not care if she has litter or not. (laughter) And we shouldn’t be breeding dogs for things like color, stuff like that. So structure, health and temperament are the reasons to breed and having homes identified prior to breeding is obviously ideal.
And I always have a long conversation with people that they need to expect to be responsible for this puppy for the lifetime of that puppy. So like, for example, if I called my pointer breeder tomorrow (he’s 14 and a half [years old]) she’d say, “Yeah, I’ll take him back.” You know, like, if I ever… That would never happen, but if I ever needed that, I do have that available to me. So that scares a lot of people off and doing all the health testing and really impressing upon people of how you do this correctly also kind of makes the people who just want the experience drop off the face of the earth.
JH: Yeah, so what kinds of clients do you get, then? So you get some people coming in sort of fresh off the street like, “I have this dog that I like and I want to breed it.” So why don’t you talk through that all, all the way to the other end of the spectrum.
JD: So I get the people who are, like you say, totally inexperienced. They just happen to have an intact dog, with perhaps a full registration through AKC so that they could register the puppies, coming to me saying, “Well, what do you think about breeding this dog?” And then we talk about going to shows, doing trials, proving themselves in some way, going through all the health testing, making sure that her temperament is nice. I actually won’t breed any dogs that I can’t work with without a muzzle, just because I don’t want to be passing that along. And additionally, it’s really dangerous for my staff, since they have to come in so often. Like that’s just not fair to anybody. So behavior is important as well. And then you have the total other end of the spectrum, which is people who have been doing this for 40 years, and they have all of their health testing and they come in and they know exactly what it means when I say her progesterone at five, so and everything in between. (laughter) So there are a wide range of people that find their way to me.
JH: Is there anything that you wish that more breeders knew when they came in? So one of the things that I’m trying to do with the Functional Dog Collaborative is to provide information to people who want to really be responsible breeders. So what do you think I should be telling people? Like, what do you think is lacking out there and what do you wish readers knew when they came to you?
JD: So from a purely medical standpoint, I do wish more people knew about the importance of progesterone timing, and you try to impress that upon anybody who comes in to see me. And I think we’ve hit that pretty well. (laughter) And then the other thing that is sort of my own personal “armageddon” is actually brucellosis. So breeders know about it, but I don’t know that they really know the full extent of the disease.
So for anybody who may be listening who doesn’t know, brucellosis is a bacterial disease that’s most commonly passed through mating, but not always. So if a dog is infected with Brucela canis, any of their bodily fluids are considered infectious. So saliva, tears, urine, all of that stuff, and they don’t have to be intact to pass it. Neutered animals are less likely to transmit the disease but it’s not impossible. And it causes really, really devastating, not only reproductive losses in the form of infertility and abortion and things like that, but it causes other signs as well. Like their eyes can get infected. They’ll get uveitis. The little cushion between the bones in the back gets infected and they’ll get discospondylitis.
So it causes really devastating issues. And it’s really cheap and really easy to test for before you breed or before you use frozen semen. So I require it of anybody who comes in to see me for breeding. But sometimes people aren’t great about requiring it, for example, like from a stud dog who they’re shipping semen in on. And I wish people would be more on top of that, I guess, like more holding each other to testing for that because if it does get in your kennel, it’s really, really devastating. Ends up having a lot of dogs euthanized. You can’t ever clear it. It’s really a big mess. So best to avoid.
JH: Yeah, and you can’t obviously test the semen when it comes in because you need to use that semen right away. You can’t wait for the test to come.
JH: Yeah, that’s a great one. I think learning about all the kinds of these various diseases and also the issues with neonatal puppies. That’s a good question, actually. Are you still there to support people when they have the babies on the ground?
JD: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
JH: What kind of stuff do you see there?
JD: So we see all sorts of stuff from failure to feed, we teach people how to tube feed. The puppies will get constipated. So we’ll see anything really up until about eight weeks of age, which is when other vets get comfortable seeing puppies. (laughter) Anything less than eight weeks they’re kind of like, “Oh, no!” So we’ll see anything up to eight weeks of age. And as far as what I wish people knew about neonatal puppies is weight is far and away the best way to know if your puppies are doing well, or if they’re not doing well. So they really, really, really need to be weighed every day. And if they’re not gaining weight, or if they’re losing weight, somebody needs to know about it. We need to intervene.
JH: Yeah, for sure. And I think a lot of breeders do that. But that’s great to know that that’s the best way to monitor the health of the puppies. So you definitely do the traditional breeding of purebred dogs. Do you ever do mixed breeds? Sport mixes that kind of stuff?
JD: Yeah, absolutely. I have no problem breeding mixed breed dogs as long as they, again, have some purpose. And again, that purpose can be companion. That’s a totally legitimate reason to breed as long as you’re doing it correctly. I have no problem breeding mixed breeds and sport mixes as long as everybody’s health-tested. That’s all I really care about.
JH: And it can be hard to figure out sometimes exactly which health tests to do. So if you’re breeding two dogs of the same breed, we know, but if they are of different breeds, then there’s a couple different perspectives on how to approach health testing. So maybe you could talk about that a little bit.
JD: So my personal approach would be the most restrictive approach, meaning do all the health testing for both breeds of whatever you’re doing. And that also can be a little bit tough because some breeds have almost no health testing that’s “required” of them. And that just comes down from the parent clubs. That’s how they come up with what testing to do by breed. So some of those that are a little bit more minimal in their requirements, I would say the generic dog requirements, in my mind, would be hips, elbows, eyes and heart. So if you have no other guidelines, that’s what I would recommend. But everybody’s going to be a little bit different on what they say for that.
JH: Yeah, I mean, those are some pretty essential things that it’s nice if they work with a dog. (laughter)
JD: It is indeed.
JH: And it can be challenging to manage producing a population with healthy hips and healthy elbows. And important in sports dogs.
JH: So where do you see yourself headed in the future? You did all this work to get to where you are. Are you chilling out where you are for a while? Or do you have future goals? You’re working on some new certifications right now.
JD: Yeah. So just getting the new certifications at the moment is really all that’s in my long term plans, and seeing how I like rehab and whatnot as well.
JH: Fabulous. So if anyone wanted to know more about you, or about theriogenologists, if they wanted to find a theriogenologist, if they wanted to check in with the practice where you work, how would they do any of those things?
JD: So if you wanted to find a reproductive veterinarian in your area, I would recommend going to the Society for Theriogenology website, and that is www.therio.org. They have like a whole list where you can search by state. So that’s where I would recommend going if you’re looking for a reproductive veterinarian. If you want to get in touch with me specifically, I can give you my email address if that’s okay. That’s Jdockweiler@ethosvet.com.
JH: Cool and where do you work actually? So Ethos Vet. Where’s that?
JD: Oh, yeah, I’m at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in the Denver Metro area.
JH: Very cool.
JH: And the Society for Theriogenology is not only board-certified theriogenologists. It’s also for people who have an interest in reproduction. Because I imagine it’s kind of hard to find a board-certified theriogenologist close to where you live?
JD: It can be. Yeah, definitely. (laughter)
JH: All right. Well, I really appreciate your talking with me today. This has been so interesting. And I’ve learned a lot so I hope other people have to.
JD: Well, thank you so much for having me.
JH: Yes. Thanks a lot for being here.
Thanks so much for listening. The Functional Breeding Podcast is a product of the Functional Dog Collaborative and was produced by Sarah Espinosa Socal. Come join us at the Functional Breeding Facebook group to talk about this episode or about responsible breeding practices in general. To learn more about the Functional Dog Collaborative, check out www.functionalbreeding.org. Enjoy your dogs.
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