The leaders that push the high end of sled dog performance will drive the quest for perfection by breeding only the best dogs.On May 4, 2008 I will enter the second childhood of my arrested development. Even though I’m 52 as I write this, and have been running sled dogs in Alaska since 1974, I am looking forward to a new litter of spring pups from a cross between my old distance stock and Streeper Kennels’ Canadian Express pointers. As a slight concession to age, I’m looking to race shorter races faster.I have been involved in canine cryogenics for 15 years. Over the course of that time the science of canine reproduction has advanced from an esoteric novelty to a mainstream service offered by many veterinarians. Living near the edge of the earth in Fairbanks, we don’t typically have ready access to a large gene pool for our breeding projects outside of the sled dog realm. The development of canine frozen semen technology and around-the-world package service has freed us up to breed almost any two dogs we would like. For some projects, we’ll be using sperm from a dog that has been dead for years. It’s a glamorous job. I just can’t imagine what people are thinking when they bring their kids along for semen freezing appointments. I question why God gave me the embarrassing task of doing something that could get you arrested in many places, but it has allowed me to breed to some of the finest dogs in the world.According to Einstein, time is relative to position in space, but in frozen semen breeding the truth about the correct time to breed is absolute. It doesn’t care about your schedule or circumstances. If you want to be successful at frozen semen breeding, you’d better aspire to know all the information, and follow it absolutely. As a matter of personal experience, you can plan on the event taking place on a long holiday, or some other absolutely impossible time.Breeding dogs utilizing frozen semen:• Plan the breeding. No 8 or 9 year old bitches, please.• Pay the purchase price of the sperm to the owner.• Pay the facility holding the sperm and have it released and shipped to the clinic doing the insemination if they have an extended storage dewar before the dog is due in heat. If the clinic doing the insemination has no storage facility, coordination will be required so that a dry shipper arrives at the clinic in the 1 day window of time before the surgery. These small tanks will hold frozen sperm for 5-7 days.• Monitor the bitch and take her to the veterinarian at the first sign of bleeding. The following timeline will help you plan your bitch’s pregnancy: • Ovulation timing utilizing progesterone tests and vaginal cytology every other day is the standard routine. We use a bench top test performed in the hospital. • Living in Fairbanks our only option for a hard number is to send out testing by FedEx to our reference lab. After the initial rise of progesterone, typically about 10 days into the cycle, you have to show up before 8:30 am so we can get the serum on the outgoing FedEx flight at noon, for the last, critical progesterone.• The magic number for success is 5 ng/ml. At 5 ng of progesterone, the dog ovulates, and all of the other timing events hinge on that event. • It takes 2 days for ovum (eggs) to mature and they last another 2 days, so the window of opportunity is 48-96 hours wide. In a perfect world we inseminate 60-72 hours after ovulation.• At the perfect time, the patient is presented to the veterinary clinic, a precision drill team of veterinarians and staff thaw sperm, induce anesthesia, perform a surgical insemination using an abdominal incision similar to a spay, recover your bitch, and send her home.• 30 days after insemination you can have the bitch ultrasounded to confirm pregnancy. Conception rate is about 80%.• 55 days after insemination you can have the bitch radiographed to confirm the number of pups. This helps with whelping management in some litters.• 59 days +/- 1 day the pups are born. Litters are usually normal size for the breed.Success depends on what we do with our failures. The first principle is don’t play if you can’t pay. These projects will typically cost you $1,800-2,500, and 20% whiff through nobody’s fault. 1. Stud fees $500-10002. Shipping $3003. Timing tests $300-5004. Surgical AI $250-3005. Ultrasound $1156. Radiograph $1157. C-section $500-1000People will attempt to cut corners by using vaginal AI or skipping progesterones, but that’s surely asking for failure. Work with a veterinarian that has experience with canine ovulation timing.Another valuable lesson has to do with the merits of surgical AI versus transcervical AI using a rigid endoscope. Performing a surgical AI allows us to physically look at the uterus and assess its condition. I have had 3 uteri in older bitches develop pyometra post insemination (resulting in an emergency spay.) Some veterinarians will now open the dog before thawing the sperm. If the uterus looks questionable they will scrub the project and save the sperm.On the off-chance that one of my new male crosses becomes a dominating, franchise player, four star lead dog, I will consider freezing sperm. Freezing sperm is the other half of the deal. Once again, I’ve had my hands on the private parts of some of the famous dogs like Lingo and Killer, but it did not result in a successful sperm freezing event. Many male sled dogs would rather die or kill you before ejaculating sperm into a little test tube. Some of them were sterile when presented for semen collection. Sadly enough, you can’t stick a needle in the testicle and “extract” sperm. Most racing sled dogs are pretty stingy with their sperm and when they come through Fairbanks, they’re drained down from the stress of racing and the active breeding that goes on around dog trucks. I counsel people not to even consider freezing sperm unless you have a thousand dollar bill to burn. Several years ago, after the Kotzebue race, the winner of the Arctic Circle Championship came through town on the way home and we collected from 3 dogs for freezing. Each produced sperm for 1 surgical insemination. The first bitch didn’t conceive, so I bought the other 2 breedings. The first breeding I did took, but the third is still in the freezing tank.Freezing sperm is an all-day process. The process involves diluting, cooling, packaging and testing. Once that’s accomplished, you’re now in a long term relationship with somebody who owns a liquid nitrogen tank. If you don’t fill your tank or pay your storage bill all that money and the dead sperm go down the drain. I remember a particularly sad day when a brilliant young veterinarian who now lives in Salcha came into our clinic with an old freezing drawer full of dead, dry sperm from a very famous Iditarod leader. If you’re talking cattle, this is no big deal. World famous Iditarod leaders are a lot harder to part with, even if all that’s left is their frozen sperm. In other animals like pigs, cattle and horses, the best males will be collected and marketed in catalogues. At this time, there are no “banks” where you can shop for dogs that I am aware of. Looking back on my experience of 15 years of semen freezing I can only remember one dog that probably paid back on the owners’ investment. Sailor came in with Larry Talman late one afternoon and produced 60 straws of sperm which was good for 15 surgical inseminations. We made an exception to our policy of early morning appointments for collection and freezing, because he was only in Fairbanks for the weekend and he was racing in the North American. Every straw needs to be hand labeled with about 50 tiny little characters for identification. When we started diluting out the sperm we realized we had hit the mother-lode of all sperm collections. We went home with carpal tunnel and squinty eyes late that day because it took several of us a half hour extra to label all those tiny little straws. Looking back on that day, I’m not sure if Larry or Sailor got lucky, but we got the short end of the straw.


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