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Mate and Switch

A story of Mastiff breeding gone awry

In 2011, Gabrielle Simmonds of Marstenmoor Mastiffs in Australia decided to do what she thinks was a first for her breed on that continent – well, an intentional first, at least.  

 

Above: “Amba” (Aust. Ch. Marstenmoor Flaming Skyline), and her daughter, the mysterious “Maeve” (Aust. Ch. Marstenmoor Melted Wishes). “Maeve” turned out to be the only puppy sired by “Aidan” (Am. Ch. Goldleaf’s Everybody’s Talkin), below.

 

Simmonds really wanted a litter out of “Amba” (Aust. Ch. Marstenmoor Flaming Skyline), because her sire and dam have no other offspring in Australia to be bred from. She had frozen semen on the prospective sire, “Aidan” (Am. Ch. Goldleaf’s Everybody’s Talkin), but there were some obstacles. First, her success rate using frozen semen in the past had been an unencouraging 25 percent. Second, she had a waiting list for puppies out of her stud dog “Clinton” (Aust. Ch. Yanoor Tip O The Iceberg).  

So Simmonds decided to do a dual-sired litter, in which semen from both dogs is placed in the bitch with the hopes of getting puppies from both. Amba was inseminated transcervically with thawed frozen semen from Aidan, and 36 hours later the procedure was repeated with a fresh donation from Clinton. The clinic had never produced a multiple-sire litter – nor did the head of the reproduction department advocate it – so this was terra incognita for everyone.  

The puppies were born September 16, 2011, and could not be DNA profiled until they were six weeks old. But that is just as well, as Simmonds was having difficulty just keeping them alive: Three puppies, including the largest one, died soon after the C-section – on-the-spot autopsies showed nothing amiss – and then a few days later, the whole litter was at the emergency clinic with severe diarrhea.  

Once the puppies were stabilized, Simmonds started looking at them more closely. “Maeve was the one who stood out to me as being different. There was virtually no white – if any – on the puppies, yet she had light-colored toenails.” When Simmonds mentioned this to Monica Coyle of Harmony Mastiffs, who owns Aidan, Coyle thought nothing of it, but Simmonds had never seen it in her litters before. “Maeve’s tail was different – longer and narrower,” she continues. “As the weeks went by, I could see differences in her head – eye shape, breadth of skull, expression.”  

At six weeks, amid some more hiccups with the puppies – several started to develop serious problems with their fronts, and Simmonds found herself running them in for X-rays and bloodwork, and searching the Internet for clues to what might be going on – Simmonds sent in the puppy DNA.  

It turned out that a DNA sample could not be extracted from the vial containing Aidan’s thawed semen that had been used for the insemination – a first for the DNA-profiling laboratory that processed it. So the first round of parentage would be done by the process of elimination: If a puppy wasn’t Clinton’s, it had to be Aidan’s, and if that were the case Simmonds would have Coyle send a freshly collected cheek swab from Aidan against which the DNA could be run.  

Soon after, the results arrived via email: Five of the six were sired by Clinton, and one was inconclusive – Maeve, who Simmonds always thought was sired by Aidan. Thrilled that she might have an Aidan daughter, Simmonds sent in a new sample from Maeve to be run again against the Clinton DNA.  

The original parentage report that Simmonds misread when it came time to register “Maeve.”

 

“Two days later, the much-anticipated email arrived,” Simmonds remembers. “Anticipating that Aidan was the sire, I was shattered with what I believed said that Clinton was the sire. This puppy was registered as Marstenmoor Melted Wishes, expressing my disappointment!”   Still, Simmonds – who kept Maeve and another bitch from the litter, Liza – continued to voice her surprise at the parentage report. “I had two litter sisters that were supposedly from a line breeding, yet they were so different from each other,” she says. “Maeve even displayed temperament characteristics (such as head-butting your backside!) that I had never experienced with my dogs, and this was something that Monica was used to!”  

Fast-forward to October 2012, when Simmonds brought Maeve to the vet for her hip and elbow X-rays.  

Early for her appointment, Simmonds sat in the car and leafed through her records. “I grabbed the plastic sleeves that had the pedigrees for each dog, and facing out on the reverse were the reports of the DNA parentage check,” she remembers. And there it was, bold as brass: “DOG32207 (Ch Yanoor Tip O The Iceberg) does NOT QUALIFY as the sire of DOG35370 (Mauve Girl) at the genetic markers examined.”  

There it was, proof of what Simmonds had been thinking all along: Maeve really was Aidan’s daughter, and in her stress over the puppies, Simmonds had misread the original report.  

“In 2011, printed reports had also arrived via regular mail, but I didn’t even bother to read them,” Simmonds admits, “I just filed the copies!”  

Immediately after discovering her error, Simmonds obtained a cheek swab from Aidan, which was compared to Maeve’s DNA and confirmed her suspicions that Aidan was Maeve’s sire.  

“I was going to name her Marstenmoor Hot Gossip, and now if I could change her name and not just her pedigree, it would certainly be very apt!” Simmonds says.  

As for Maeve’s erstwhile father, Clinton, he will have his chance at fatherhood again in the next generation. “The plan is to breed Maeve to Clinton’s frozen semen once all the official paperwork has been sorted out,” Simmonds explains. “So although I am very embarrassed by my error, I’m glad that my ‘eye’ was correct all along.”  

All’s well that ends well!    

 

Who’s Your Daddy?

If you’re doing a multi-sire litter, it all depends

 

From 2001 through 2012, the American Kennel Club registered 702 multi-sired litters – only a tiny fraction of the millions that it recorded in that decade-long period.  

Among those litters, there were 12 Mastiffs; six Neapolitan Mastiffs; five Bullmastiffs; three Dogues de Bordeaux; and two Cane Corsos. To date, there have been no AKC-registered Tibetan Mastiff or Dogo Argentino multi-sired litters.  

Some multi-sired litters are processed after the fact: In other words, they are “oopses” uncovered when DNA on offspring is submitted and does not match with the sire of record. But most are very much planned, with breeders going to great lengths and expense to give themselves a genetic double dip.  

“When you have two equally nice males with different strengths, it’s sometimes hard to decide which one will best suit your female,” explains Lisa Hershberger of Amazing Love Neapolitan Mastiffs in Apple Creek, Ohio. “Neapolitan Mastiffs require a little more than the average commitment to breed and raise a litter of healthy puppies. A dual-sire breeding gives me the opportunity to get a look at the offspring in one shot.”  

Hershberger used her stud dog “Crush” (Ch. Amazing Love’s Crush) and his son “Hubba Bubba” (Amazing Love’s Hubba Bubba) in a recent dual-sire breeding; the puppies are only four weeks old. “I wanted to see if there was much difference, pro and con, that both of my boys would produce with the same female,” she explains, adding that two other Neo breeders have also done breedings with this father-son duo. “Then I can use that information for future breedings. I also can bring in different bloodlines and options with the stress of only one breeding on my girl.”  

 

Ch. Amazing Love’s Crush (above) and his son Amazing Love’s Hubba Bubba (below) have been used in dual-sire breedings several times.

 

One of the downsides to a dual-sire breeding is the very real chance that one male might sire all the puppies – especially if the other has semen that is of lower quality or motility. Or there might not be puppies at all.  

Rachel Collins of Akylah Bullmastiffs in New Zealand knew these risks when she found herself “back and forthing” on a mate for her girl “Grace” (NZ Ch. Akylah Lallante). Finally, she decided on a grandfather and grandson: “Kojack” (Aust. Ch. Bullmaster Mdnite Special) and “Phoenix” (Aust. Ch. Bullmaster State Trooper), respectively. To give each sire a fair shot at fatherhood, semen from each was injected into opposite uterine horns.  

“At one stage we were regretting doing the double-sire mating because the costs were quite prohibitive, and we could have ended up with all puppies from the same sire, and all the extra cost would have been for nothing,” Collins remembers. “Also, puppy people who had been waiting were all ‘putting their orders in,’ insisting on this sex from this sire, etc. On top of the financial risk and hassle, everything was being delayed through needing to wait for profiling and parentage to be certified on the puppies, the registration of the puppies, and completing and lodging all the extra paperwork required by the New Zealand Kennel Club.”  

Grace eventually whelped six healthy puppies: two girls and four boys. Amid all the red tape, Collins admits it was “quite fun” trying to guess which puppies were from which sire.   In the end, both sires did have offspring in the litter, so Collins’ fears were unfounded – this time. “That being said, it is a lot of hassle and expense,” she notes, “and we won’t be doing it again regularly or for the sake of it, only if the situation really does call for it.”  

 

 

But if two sires work well, why stop there? At press time, Cheryl Wright of Bullmaster Kennels in Australia had a litter of two-week-old Bullmastiff puppies  – the result of a triple-sire breeding.  

After having had both successes and failures with multi-sire breedings – an attempt five years ago resulted in three puppies, all from the same dog – Wright knew the pros and cons. Her bitch was only going to be bred once, and she was thinking of doing a dual-sired breeding with litter brothers. Then she saw a photos of offspring of a brindle boy she had bred – and decided to use him, too.  

Because the two brothers live with her, and the brindle male lives nearby, Wright was able to inseminate the bitch with fresh semen, which eliminated the cost of surgical implantation and the extra progesterone monitoring that goes with it.  

Now comes the down time before DNA testing, when she will stare into the whelping box at her 11 Bullies and try to figure out, in the subtle arch of a neck or the glint of an eye, whose genes went where.  

“Being totally happy with each sire, we will choose our puppy before we know who the parents are,” Wright says.  

But like the song says, the waiting is the hardest part. – Flaim

 

The Price of Success

Orchestrating a dual-sired litter isn’t just nerve-wracking and time-consuming: It can also be really expensive.  

 

"We’ve got the DNA results back – and all from one sire! Numerous people came to see the litter on Sunday, and we were all convinced one of the red boys had to be sired by the big fawn male. But no!" -- Cheryl Wright, Bullmaster Kennels, Australia    
 
 
First is the cost of multiple stud fees. If frozen semen is used, then tack on the expense of surgical implantation and all the pre-breeding testing that goes with it. And then there is the cost of DNA processing.  
 
The cost of a DNA test kit from the American Kennel Club – which must be used for all potential sires, the dam and each puppy – is $40 each. (If you prepay for the tests, you save $5 each.) Like other registries, the AKC requires that each puppy have permanent identification – either a microchip or tattoo – in order to receive a registration number. Because most breeders are reluctant to implant chips before six weeks, many do not submit the DNA samples until this late date – leaving the question of parentage unanswered until the very last days before the puppies go to their new homes.  
 
If any of the sires are related, initial DNA testing may not be enough to determine parentage, and additional genetic markers may have to be run. Of course, this means more time (another two to three weeks), and money, though the AKC says it has been able to determine the correct sire in every such case to date.  
 
Once DNA testing is complete, the AKC sends “DNA letters of analysis” for each puppy. If the owner is unwilling or unable to figure out the parentage for the litter using the worksheets AKC provides, the registry will evaluate the parentage and report the results in writing, for an additional $40.  
 
After correct parentage is determined, still more fees apply: On top of the regular registration cost of $25 per litter (which must be paid twice if there are two sires) plus $2 per puppy, there is an additional fee of $200. – Flaim   

 

 

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