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Production Planning

Production planning at its core is producing the right number of dogs, when they are needed, with the traits required  (breed, sex, size, personality, health) to meet the needs of the training department, clients, and replacement breeders.  Simple in theory, but theory doesn’t always fit easily into real life situations. The reality is over or under production can be costly and lead to loss of resources: financially, emotional fatigue of staff/volunteers, loss of skilled staff/volunteers, and lead to strains on infrastructure like kennel space. Also, there are outside factors that can upend a carefully crafted production plan when not considered.  The three major external influences to consider that can upset a production plan are fertility, capacity, and other factors within the organization.


Note: Although this article is free to read, it contains some resources which are only available to IWDA / IWDR members. Thanks to our members for their support which enables us to create articles and resources like this!


Fertility encompasses everything from heat cycle intervals, estrus start dates, ovulation, conception rates, semen management, and stillborn and neonatal losses. Heat cycle intervals, estrus start dates, and ovulation are factors that you have little to no control over.  However, proper record keeping, hormonal testing, and breeding timing can help make informed decisions and plans.  Additionally, working with local reproduction vets can help improve fertility issues.  

IWDR has several such tools easily accessible to users of the database:

Conception rates can often limit production planning by affecting timing of litters born, number of puppies born, and even affecting the breed of dogs available. Using industry best practices can help increase conception rates.  Hormonal testing, vaginal cytology, pre-breeding exams, and semen evaluations are but a few factors that can help mitigate poor conception rates.  Another factor is timing and breeding methods.  Using the data collected from the hormonal tests, vaginal cytology, and semen evaluations, you can breed on the right dates to increase conception chances. Using the right method, natural or artificial insemination via catheter, MAVIC catheter, or transcervical insemination can also increase conception rates.  IWDR’s Knowledge Base Resource Center has several articles relating to this topic:

  • Types of mating
  • Maximising litter size
  • Semen management.  Maintaining high quality semen in your colony begins with selecting only males with quality semen. Care of the male, testing for brucellosis prior to breeding as well as nutrition and other environmental stressors such as exposure to excessive heat all play a role. Semen should be routinely evaluated before the planned mating. 

Stillborn and neonatal losses are a frustrating part of breeding.  Average loss is considered between 5% to 10% so this should be accounted for in colony planning. (Chastant-Maillard S, Guillemot C, Feugier A, Mariani C, Grellet A, Mila H. Reproductive performance and pre-weaning mortality: Preliminary analysis of 27,221 purebred female dogs and 204,537 puppies in France. Reprod Domest Anim. 2017 Apr;52 Suppl 2:158-162. doi: 10.1111/rda.12845. Epub 2016 Nov 7. PMID: 28402063; Indrebø, A., Trangerud, C. & Moe, L. Canine neonatal mortality in four large breeds. Acta Vet Scand 49 (Suppl 1), S2 (2007). Stillborn and neonatal losses can be mitigated by managing the brood’s health at every stage: pre-breeding, gestation, and lactation.  Also, rates can improve by following biosecurity recommendations to keep outside viruses, parasites, bacteria, and other factors from harming the litter.  



Capacity doesn’t just refer to spaces like whelping areas and kennel space for breeders, puppies, and dogs in training, but also to people needed to make the organization run.  Skilled and experienced staff and volunteers are needed to help whelp, socialize, raise, and train the dogs needed.  Creating a production plan and communicating the number of puppies targeted with the relevant staff (e.g. Puppy program manager, Kennels manager etc) will allow for advance planning.  For example, a puppy raising department knowing at the beginning of the year that 150 puppies is the target will allow them to know how many raisers they need to recruit, train, and prepare. They can also look at the dogs being recalled for training during that year to talk to specific raisers about re-raising.  The breeding department meanwhile can look at upcoming heat cycles and plan breedings around whelping bay capacities and even major holidays when there is typically a strain on volunteer/staff resources. 

If an increase in output of graduated dogs is expected, the breeding colony also needs to be increased by the number of broods about 2-3 years prior to starting training.  Increased studs are also needed to maintain genetic diversity.  Projecting dog supply for the upcoming 3 to 5 years, ensuring that the organization has proper physical space to support the number of dogs needed, and has ample staff and volunteers to support the organization needs is key to production planning. 

Other Factors within the Organization

Other factors that affect production planning success can be mitigated by clear communication, defined processes, and strategic planning.  Early socialization, puppy raiser skills, vet criteria, trainer skills and experiences, and client’s needs all factor into successful placement and influence production needs. 

Early socialization is critical in developing a dog’s confidence and ability to adapt to new and novel stimuli and situations.  Creating a program that gives the puppies safe and positive experiences is essential for long term success and stability. 

Puppy raiser skills and experience should be considered when placing puppies into their homes.  Identifying the top 5 behavioral reasons for dog failure in your program and knowing which are more strongly influenced by the environment provides focus for increased attention to puppy matching, training, and support of puppy raisers.  Accurate End Reasons stored in IWDR are used to create a summary graph of failure reasons.

A puppy raising program that emphasizes support, continuing education, and creates an environment for clear and open communication helps set the raisers and puppies up for success. 

Having concise protocols and processes for veterinary care allows for clear communication and standards for success. This can be achieved by setting up scheduled exams, assessments, talking to veterinarian partners about communicating clear diagnoses (i.e. ear debris vs ear flush vs otitis), and gathering basic health clearances. Understanding your colony’s health can create a sustainable production plan. 

Trainer skills and expectations influence successful placements. Creating a common language around temperament and training is key to making sure trainers, breeding staff, and puppy raising staff are communicating in productive ways.  The Behavior Checklist or BCL helps standardize terminology across all users and leads to clearer understanding of organizational needs. 

Keeping track of the needs of clients served, potential clients, and repeat clients will help steer production needs.  It is important to take into consideration the kind of breed and personality that makes up the majority of placed dogs.  It takes most dogs around 2 years from birth to client placement so knowing the demographic of clients currently utilizing your organization and clients who could be or will come back will help make breeding decisions based on breed and temperament.  

Making the External Influences Work for You

When it comes to production planning and considering the above factors, communication is key.  Communicate regularly with colleagues who influence breeding, puppy raising, veterinary, training, client services, and strategic planning.  Knowing what the organization as a whole needs to make a successful match will help in making long term decisions.  Additionally, utilizing industry best practices to help alleviate issues that arise from fertility and capacity issues, training, staffing, and limited resources.  Finally, follow the basic rule that the number of puppies entering the program must equal the number of young dogs needed to be recalled to training every 12 to 15 months.  Include losses due to health, temperament, and accidents in those calculations.

Production Plot Workbook & Logic for Production Planning

The production plot workbook is a great tool to help strategically plan for the future. Below are some slides with the logic and descriptions for production planning, and underneath those slides our production planning workbook is available for IWDA members to download.

This content is for members only. Please login or register to view it.

Effective Population Size

Effective population size (Ne) is a key parameter in population genetics. It is the number of individuals that effectively participates in producing the next generation.  It also quantifies the magnitude of genetic drift and inbreeding within a breeding colony.  The overall goal is to have Ne be as high as possible. 

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