We at SoftMaple have been active in showing and breeding pure bred dogs since 1979. Active in Curly Coated Retrievers since 1993. We do not earn our income from the sale our puppies. For me raising a litter is a very rewarding, time consuming and expensive passion. We are breeding for healthy, sound, highly trainable, versatile dogs without compromising the correct structure and breed type set out in the standard.
SoftMaple bred and or owned Curlies hold over 200 titles to date in conformation, field, obedience, rally, agility, dock diving, barn hunt, and lure coursing, with over 20 group placements. Most SoftMaple dogs go to loving companion homes, or to personal hunting homes and are never shown. Titles do not make the dog, nor do they make a dog great. We are more interested in producing healthy, cherished companions, than having our primary goal to put letters before a dog's name.
Early puppy stimulation, as well as continued puppy socialization are key in our breeding program. We stress temperament and health. Our dogs are family companions, first and foremost. We are only interested in finding homes for our puppies in which potential owners are genuinely committed to loving a Curly for its life-time, be it a pet, show, or hunting companion. Often times I will lease a bitch for a breeding. This is a good way to expand or diversify bloodlines. Sometimes a breeder falls into the trap of only breeding what they have in their own backyard. The same bitch to the same stud over and over, creating puppies, but not expanding the gene pool. A breeder may become kennel blind, thinking the dog they have currently is the one to put in the whelping box, even if she is not the best choice for the breed as a whole.
Here's the age old question: Is temperament the result of heredity or of environment?
You have already done your homework into the backgrounds of the sire and dam; you've checked on temperament, trainability and stability. The job does not stop here. Do you want to take a chance that the greatest factor is not environment?
In a litter, you are lucky to get one or two good show dogs. You may get a couple of good field prospects, maybe even a future top obedience or agility dog. Every pup should have a super temperament because 90 percent of the litter will end up in pet homes. Their owners will not care about how many titles the parents won, at what age they got their first major, or how many tries it took them to get their SH or CDX titles. These people care that their dogs will be wonderful additions to their family.
When I plan a breeding, I take time off from my full time job to start another full-time job-- the one of raising a litter. It does not matter how wonderful and independent a mom your brood bitch is, you still have a full-time commitment with each litter.
I start working with the pups when they are 3 days old. I take each one and put it through a series of five exercises known as the Bio-Sensor method. (see the May 1995 AKC Gazette for an article on this) In brief, this is a series of exercises that stimulates pups in a way they would not otherwise experience at this early age.
Once the pups have their eyes open and start to venture out of the whelping box, the fun begins! Over the years, I have developed a "puppy playground." This is designed to introduce the pups to sound, texture, movement, vibration and music. It includes "swings" made from carpeted milk crates that hangs from the ceiling. The pups quickly find these and they are not bothered by the swinging movement when they are in them. Often I will find the swing jam-packed with pups sleeping and gently rocking! I also have low, padded and carpeted seesaws. The pups first reaction to these is usually to be startled when they walk up the low ramp and it moves under their weight. however, the puppy urge for exploration gets the best of them and soon you see 6-week old pups trying out their "sea legs" and balancing on the middle of the sea saw like expert agility dogs.
The playground also includes a variety of tunnels made of tall kitchen trash containers with the bottoms cut out. The pups race through these, roll them around, and then all pile in for a nap. There are also ramps of various materials and textures, milk jugs, hanging fleece toys and short steps made by stacking large wooden blocks. One object that the pups love is a fleece octopus with four squeaky arms. It hangs about five inches from the ground, from a rope that has a long line of sleigh bells attached to the top. The noise it makes! There are also low mirrors on the walls and an assortment of balls, toys and chews in the puppy room.
At about 6 weeks, the pups are introduced to water, under supervision. I take an extra large Vari-Kennel bottom, line it with rubber bath mats, and fill it with three inches of warm water. I place this in the puppy room, with a couple of rubber balls floating in it. The boldest pups are soon in there! There is no pushing or forcing; I just let them go at their own pace. Each puppy also gets individual attention every day during which they experience a variety of activities. They may drag around a short leash, be introduced to wings and birds, go for a ride in the car, or have their toenails trimmed.
The playroom setup enables me to sit and watch the puppies for hours to see which are the most adventuresome which have the quickest recovery time, and which are more hesitant. This helps me decide on the homes that will be best for each one.