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Using a Sire From Across the World

Thanks to all kinds of new technology in use in the 21st century, the world seems much smaller than it once did, and dog people now work more collaboratively with other breeders around the world. Importing dogs to the U.S. from other countries, of course, is a practice that originated in the 19th century with the very inception of the sport of showing dogs in America, and it continues today. But in the modern age, fanciers are also much more likely to travel abroad to show their dogs and to attend shows overseas, and are more inclined today to import semen to incorporate into their breeding programs.

It sounds simple enough: you establish a relationship with a breeder whose stock you admire and select a dog you’d like to breed to. The semen is collected, frozen and shipped to the U.S., and then you have a couple of options for inseminating your bitch. These are indeed the basics for how it all works. But the process is a bit more complicated, and it is a good idea to be forewarned, so that you’re prepared ahead of time to get everything in order.

Naturally bringing semen in from overseas is not an inexpensive affair, but it can provide you with a priceless addition to your bloodline. However, since it is fairly costly, I suggest that you acknowledge first that this is a risky venture, with no guarantees that you’ll get a live litter. One of numerous American facilities that specializes in reproduction, and the collection and storage of semen samples, the Canine Cryobank claims to have an 80-percent success rate using frozen semen, but other such banks don’t put a number to it.

A friend and I recently decided that we wanted to have semen available from a dog in Sweden that we both greatly admire and that will make for a beautiful line-breeding with our girls. He is now 10 years old, and who knows how much longer he will sire puppies?

His owner, to whom I had an introduction through a friend here in the states, was kind enough to get a sperm count on the dog immediately after we inquired about him. The dog passed that test with flying colors. The veterinarian who collected him even froze, and then a week later thawed out, the sample to be sure the sperm would still be viable.

Now it was time to consider the stud fee. In Europe and Scandinavia, the practice is normally to pay a per-puppy fee, usually ranging from $200 to $400, depending on the breed, instead of a flat stud fee, to which most of us in the U.S. are accustomed. Neither of the bitches we plan to breed him to is ready yet, as we want them to be over 2 years old so we can do their genetic testing. But we decided to go ahead and bring his semen over while he still has a high sperm count and is still a vibrant dog. Our compatriot in Sweden agreed to go with a flat fee instead of the per-puppy fee she normally charges, since we won’t know for quite some time exactly what we get in terms of number of puppies. I must say that we’re all anxious to see what this dog will sire for us, and they are anxious to know in Sweden as well! Waiting is not our favorite part of this process.

The next expense is incurred when the breeder takes the male to have his semen collected and frozen. The cost can vary, of course, depending on the location. Our male was collected at the local university veterinary school. The fee we paid for collection, freezing and storage for a short time came to U.S. $750. Then you get everything in order for the shipping. Semen is gradually frozen in nitrogen vapor, then stored in liquid nitrogen, the method by which the fewest number of sperm are damaged or destroyed. Samples are also transported in nitrogen. After they are prepared for shipping, the semen straws or pellets are put into an aluminum, vacuum-sealed tank that contains, or is “charged with,” nitrogen. After being sealed, the tank is placed in a larger shipping container.

The frozen semen samples will first be placed in a vacuum-sealed tank like the one at left, containing nitrogen to keep them frozen, then the tank will go into a larger container like the one on the right, for shipping.

If thawed, frozen semen only remains viable for a short period of time, so it is important to transport the tank as quickly as possible. We used FedEx for our delivery, which I believe is quite common, and it went directly to Sanford Animal Hospital in Sanford, N.C., where the semen will be stored until we’re ready to use it. The FedEx charge was a whopping $820. Don’t forget that I said you must be very certain that you want to have the dog in question in your breeding program! We also incurred a $110 administration fee from the university, but considering that they did 100 percent of the work arranging for the packing and transport of the tank, that seemed fair.These containers are quite expensive to buy, so you are essentially renting the one that delivers your samples, and it must be returned. It cost $370 to use the tank.

Regarding where you will store your sample, the AKC website advises that “The collector/storer must be on record with the AKC as familiar with and complying with the AKC regulations for record keeping and identification of dogs.”

If you know others who want to import semen from the same country, you can dramatically reduce your costs by having them share the tank and shipping expenses with you. A tank the size that we used can carry four or five times the number of straws we had shipped. We didn’t know of anyone at the time who wanted semen from Sweden, and assuming the dogs to be collected were owned by different people, coordinating with breeders to have their collections done at the same facility would be added work, but it is something to consider. I know a breeder who brought semen in from five different dogs in Scandinavia in one tank.

We were informed of its departure the day our tank left Sweden, and it arrived safely at Sanford three days later. But getting the semen here is just half the battle. Making sure all of the related paperwork is in order is of the utmost importance, or the time and money you’ve invested may be for naught.

The Importance of Paperwork

In order to register with AKC the puppies that result from using the semen you imported, you need several certificates, letters and other bits of paperwork.

The first thing you must have is a letter from the owner of the dog stating that he or she transfers ownership of the semen to you. When the time comes to register the litter resulting from the frozen semen, you need to be able to sign the AKC registration paper as the owner of the semen.

Then you must have from the registry in the sire’s country of birth – in our case, the Swedish Kennel Club – a three-generation certified pedigree, and it must bear the raised seal of the registry. This pedigree will be submitted to AKC with the application to register the litter.

Once you’ve decided to go ahead with importing the semen, you must order a DNA kit from AKC, which you can have sent directly to the stud dog’s owner. The owner will then do the cheek swab and return it in the pre-addressed envelope included in the kit. It is your responsibility to be in touch with the AKC DNA Operations and Customer Registration Support Department so that you can be sure that the DNA sample arrives and is processed.

You don’t need to have a copy of the DNA profile yourself – that will be sent to the owner – but when you use imported frozen semen, the sire has to have DNA on file with the AKC in order for his puppies to be registered. We wanted to be sure to have our dog’s DNA profile number to keep in our files, since we aren’t using the semen right away.

Once the DNA sample is processed and on file at AKC, it will provide the dog with an AKC registration number, which you’ll use to register your litter.

If, like us, you are planning to use the semen at a later date, I consider it imperative that you get the DNA sample and all of your paperwork in order at the outset. There is, unfortunately, no guarantee that the dog in question will still be living when you finally decide to use the semen. Getting all of the documentation you need from the foreign owner or owners and kennel club might be more difficult if you wait.

You can find out more about AKC’s requirements for using frozen semen and a foreign sire, as well as litter applications for same, here.

We’ve had our samples stored for several months now, and every time I think about it, I become anxious for the day we’ll have puppies from them. While we were getting the semen transported and all of the paperwork in order, there were times when I worried that we were just asking too much from the lovely lady who bred the dog and handled all the arrangements for us. But I know that she will be as pleased as we will when we have her dog’s puppies in the ring in the U.S. How fortunate we are to be able to breed to this wonderful little dog that lives halfway across the world!

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.
  • John F Hilliard July 11, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    Christi, thanks so much for the informative piece on international access to breeding stock. The question that came to mind after reading your it was – how will wider access to genetic material affect the diversity within the small gene pools among purebred dogs? I’m asking because I could see it going either way. From the little I know about genetics, geographic isolation seems to increase diversity and genetic variety — all the finch varieties on the various Galapagos islands for example. This might be a topic for another article. Thanks again for your piece.

  • Christi McDonald
    Christi July 11, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    John, that’s a great question. I actually have recently been reading several papers and journal articles about this topic, so I’ll continue to research and get input from some experts, and put together an article that will hopefully answer your question. I’ve been told that in purebred dogs, in almost every breed, our gene pools — worldwide — are already so small that, even when we think we’re doing an outcross, it is still not diversifying our gene pool to the extent that many scientists feel would be ideal. Thanks again for writing.

  • Sandy July 11, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    Thanks so much for this informative article. Someday when I win the lottery our kennel will import frozen semen from a kennel we really admire in Australia. It’ll cost at least double all the expenses you mentioned, so we’re looking at getting enough straws for 5 or so breedings.

  • Judy Higgins Kasper July 11, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    Having traveled to Europe with a bitch to breed, a breeding that failed ultimately puppies. This seems expensive but way less bother with a greater risk of success. The article was great and I appreciate the information.

  • Kimberly July 12, 2012 at 6:32 PM

    This is really helpful especially as I too would like to use a dog I admire from Sweden! Unrelated lines I want to bring in to mine!

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