By:Melanie Trichler of MnM's Bulldogs
First of all, I wish more people would ask this question before they jump into breeding!
My male will just turned four years old in April, and he has been used for stud service twice so far. He is an American & Canadian champion, and I have had complete health screenings performed on him. Being a responsible breeder involves time and research, as your main purpose for breeding should be to improve the breed according to the standard.
First, I suggest reading and studying the bulldog standard. This is available in pretty much every bulldog book, on the Bulldog Club of America website (http://www.thebca.org), and the American Kennel Club website (http://www.akc.org), among other places. The breed standard is very detailed about what the perfect bulldog should be, however it is often interpreted differently depending on whom you talk to.
Once you have read and re-read the standard, try to make an honest assessment of your dog according to the standard. The perfect bulldog does not exist. Every bulldog has a fault of some kind. The purpose for breeding is to try to produce the most perfect bulldog possible. For this reason, you would only want to breed dogs that compliment each other's strengths and weaknesses. Never breed two dogs together that have the same faults.
Health is also an extremely important factor. As you probably know, the bulldog breed is generally prone to many health problems. Obviously, an unhealthy dog should not be used in a breeding program. If your dog is healthy, always receiving a clean bill of health during his general vet checks, he may be a good breeding prospect (health-wise). Most bulldog breeders don't do further health screening prior to breeding, but if you are familiar with any other dog breeds, you'll know that many other breeds screen for dysplasia problems (hip, elbow, etc), eye problems, heart problems, etc. There are a few bulldog breeders that do some screening, but I can only think of a handful nation-wide.
I feel that health screening is extremely important. The health screenings that I have performed on my dogs are much more detailed than you would get during a regular vet check. I want to be sure that my dogs are completely healthy, and be able to prove it. I recommend a complete set of x-rays to determine that there are no structural problems (hips, elbows, spine, trachea). I have the hip & elbow x-rays submitted to the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) for evaluation and certification. I have the spine x-ray evaluated by a radiologist. The trachea x-ray is evaluated for size and general structure. Bulldogs are known to have small tracheas for their size. I like to be sure that my dogs' tracheas are at least average or better (size 7+). I also have a patellar exam done by my vet, and I submit the results to OFA. I also highly recommend an eye exam by a canine ophthalmologist. I have the exam results submitted to CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) for evaluation and certification.
I also have my dogs' hearts examined by a canine cardiologist. The OFA (above) also has a heart registry. A complete thyroid panel should also be completed, and results may be sent to OFA for registration and certification. With some of these health screenings, the dog must be at least 2 years of age for the results to be certified with OFA. This means that you'll need to wait until your dog is at least 2 years old, then have the health screenings completed, then make a decision of whether or not he is "breeding- material".
Aside from physical conformation and health, temperament is also extremely important. In the recent years, I've seen more and more dogs come through rescue programs due to temperament issues. Some of the problems include aggression towards other dogs/animals, shy/timid behaviors, obsessive behaviors to toys or other objects, etc. Many of these issues can be solved with training, but it would be better if more breeders took more responsibility by only breeding dogs with proper bulldog temperament. As quoted from the breed standard: "The disposition should be equitable and kind, resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive), and demeanor should be pacific and dignified."
You'll also want to study everything you can about your dog's ancestry. This is where a good relationship with your breeder comes in handy. Find out about the conformation strengths and weaknesses of your dog's ancestors, their health (ask about any problems, surgeries, etc), and their temperament. If you have trouble researching the dogs in your pedigree, I would be willing to help you. It's important to know about your dog's ancestry, as it is a helpful tool in breeding. Just about everything is inherited somehow, and it's nice to know what traits are behind your dog.
To assist you in your research and in making an assessment of your dog, it's very helpful to have at least one mentor who is knowledgeable and experienced in the breed. In ideal cases, this should be your dog's breeder. If your breeder is not a convenient choice for various reasons, then hopefully you will find a mentor via your local bulldog club. I actually have many mentors in the breed, depending on what kinds of information I'm seeking. The most important thing you can do is to keep your mind open and always strive to educate yourself further. It's true that you may learn something new every day. I still do!
Another great way to assess your dog is by showing him. I always recommend showing to anyone that has a possible interest in breeding. The original history of dog shows was to exhibit breeding stock. The idea still exists today, though it's obvious that not all show dogs should be bred. And, not all dog show exhibitors are interested in breeding. Most exhibitors are out there because they enjoy spending time with their dogs and showing them off, in hopes of someday earning a championship title. When I bought my first bulldog, I had no intentions of showing him. However, his breeder encouraged me to try it because she said he had a lot of potential. Turns out, she was right! He did a lot of winning, and it wasn't long before I was completely hooked.
With conformation showing, your dog is judged according to the breed standard. The judge should be knowledgeable of the standard, with a picture of the perfect bulldog in his mind. By showing your dog, you'll receive the opinions of various judges. Dog shows also provide a great opportunity to develop relationships with other breeders and owners. You'll meet a lot of people and hopefully get their advice as well!
Even if you're not sure about showing right now, I highly recommend attending some local dog shows. It's a great way to see a variety of dogs and meet other bulldog owners in your area. Also, if you think you may be interested in showing, definitely ask the other bulldog exhibitors about it. Dogs must be at least 6 months old to begin showing. I would be glad to help you if you have more questions about how to get started.
Even if you determine that your dog has great conformation, health, and temperament, you must then ask yourself what your goals are for using your dog in a breeding program? Also remember that it is generally the bitch owners that seek out stud service, and it is usually those dogs that are actively shown (further, those that are champions) that receive the most inquiries.
Please feel free to contact me anytime if you have further questions about anything!