Dog breeding not as simple as you think

The AKC says a breeder’s motto should be ‘breed to improve.’ Due to pet overpopulation, if you aren’t contributing to the breed’s health or temperament, you should reconsider.

Breeding dogs is not profitable and can even be expensive or heartbreaking. It requires extensive research as it’s not as simple as throwing two dogs together.

Four little puppies in hands

Read on to find out everything there is to know about dog breeding.

Should I breed my dog?

If you did not get a dog specifically for breeding, you probably shouldn’t allow it to reproduce. Breeders select their dogs very carefully to ensure they’re making the breed better.

Jack Russel Terrier mother dog and her puppies
A portrait of Jack Russel Terrier mother dog and her puppies

Allowing your dog to have one litter before spaying her is a common misconception.

Unlike humans, dogs don’t obtain any fulfillment from mothering offspring. There are no advantages, either physically or mentally, from allowing your dog to have a litter.

Leaving your dog intact or allowing your dog to breed might even cause fatal health problems. Your bitch and puppies could die, and you’ll have nothing to show for it.

There’ll be no wonders of birth and life to show your children, no revenue from puppy sales, and you sure won’t get to keep a puppy born of your beloved pooch.

What do I need to know before breeding my dog?

Selecting two dogs to create more puppies similar in temperament or nature is called breeding. This practice has given birth to various dog groups such as hunting dogs, shepherds, guardians, companionship, etc.

When kennel clubs were established in the mid-19th century, dog breeding became more regulated.

After the implementation of breed standards, dog shows became very popular. A divergence in certain breeds occurred, so they became working-class and conformation dogs.

Back then, owning dogs was a sign of wealth, and many nobility took an interest in breeding. Queen Victoria had her Pomeranians. Queen Elizabeth produced Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Today, breeding is an expensive hobby when done right. Animal rights groups are also quick to point out the contribution breeders have on the overpopulation of strays and question the ethicality of breeding.

If you’re aware of everything that breeding entails and still want to proceed, the first thing you should establish is what you hope to achieve by breeding your dogs.

Primary goals often include show quality and working ability, but health can also be an objective, such as correcting the GSD’s sloping back or the Frenchie’s overly squashed face. 

Building on what you hope your dogs will inherit and any problems you wish to eliminate, you will need to understand canine genetics. You should also be an expert on the breed you intend to work on. 

Glossary of dog breeding and pregnancy terms

There are terminologies used in breeding that can be confusing to those with no experience. Here’s a list of common words you might come across:

Bitch – female dog

Dam – mother of a litter

Stud – male dog used in breeding

Sire – father of a litter

First pick – meaning you get to choose whichever puppy you prefer from a litter

Litter – refers to all puppies born from the same pregnancy

Whelp – newborn pup

Whelping – labor

Whelping box – your dog’s maternity ward

Water bag – the sac that the puppy is born in

Heat cycle – the bitch’s reproductive cycle

Gestation – the entire period of pregnancy

Tie – after a male ejaculate during intercourse, the male’s penis swells while still attached to the female, tying them together while semen is delivered

5 Things to do before breeding your dog

Veterinarian examining two Jack Russel Terrier dogs

As a dog breeder, you should know precisely what you want your dogs to be known for and what traits they shouldn’t have.

Abortion is legal in many countries, and if your dog is pregnant but you’re unable to procure good homes for your puppies, it’s entirely acceptable to terminate the pregnancy.

It’s better than a life of hardship for the little ones. 

Take a moment to read through and decide whether you genuinely want to breed dogs.

1. Be aware of your dog’s genes

Breeding is all about genetics. From the common health problems of hip dysplasia to a dog’s soundness, it’s all determined by their lineage.

Why is dog breeding bad?

Dog breeding is not bad. It’s the implications that go with it.

In a world filled with strays and overbred dogs with hereditary problems, it does stand to reason that breeding is unnecessary and unethical breeding is downright cruel

2. Considering a breed 

Many reputable breeders focus on one particular breed they find they have an affinity for. While others choose to create designer breeds to fill a specific demand – Labradoodles, anyone?

Make sure to deliberate very carefully as some mixed breed dogs might not be as desirable, which makes finding them a home so much harder.

How can you tell if your dog is ready to breed?

If someone told you that you would make money from breeding, someone lied. You have expenses to consider – from vaccinations to stud fees. 

Picking out a good bitch that embodies the breed standard can be pricey, and you’ll need to rear her well till she’s old enough.

Some dogs might start out promising but don’t grow up to be breeding material, which will be an unrecoverable loss.

AKC doesn’t accept any breeding done on a bitch younger than eight months, but many recommend waiting two years. They also don’t accept registrations for puppies born to a dam older than twelve years old. 

Before you breed, ask yourself whether you have the resources of knowledge, time, and money.

3. Choosing a suitable partner for your dog

Determine your bitch’s weaknesses and find a stud that can complement your bitch suitably. He should not be older than twelve years as per AKC’s standards or younger than seven months.

Temperament

How does the male dog behave? Shyness or aggression should never be present in a stud dog. 

Pedigree Research

You should look for a stud with papers. Check his pedigree for champion titles and see if he has any genetic disorders that might pass down to his offspring.

4. Perform Pre-Breeding Health Checks

A few things you should know about hereditary disorders:

Dominant diseases only need one gene, meaning one affected parent can pass it down to their offspring. 

Recessive genes need two copies to be inherited, making it harder to detect and might show up generations down the line when paired with another dog who carries the same gene for the recessive disorder. 

Colors can also be dominant or recessive, which is how coat color is inherited and why specific colors cannot be bred out of a breed such as the Labrador’s yellow.

Polygenic disorders come from a few different genes and seem to occur spontaneously. Its complexity is a problem when attempting to breed-specific issues out of a particular breed.

In an attempt to minimize health problems from being passed down, your dog should be screened for common ailments in their specific breed.

5. Finalize Breeding Contract: Have everything in writing

You should have a contract drawn up to avoid future disputes once you’ve decided on a stud. Some owners will request for the pick of a litter, whereas others might not budge on their stud fee. 

The breeding process: How does dog breeding work?

Two happy Border Collie dogs playing on the grass
Male and female Border Collie dogs playing together

Whether it’s your dog’s first time or a year old or merely a few months of age, once she comes into her first season, she has the potential to get pregnant. The whole courting and breeding may look something like this:

The two dogs will play and get acquainted. The female will then flag the male when she’s ready. Flagging includes putting her tail by the side of her body and standing quite still.

The male will mount the female, thrusting to achieve penetration. 

Upon ejaculation, the base of the stud’s penis (bulbus glandis) will swell up, joining the two dogs together. This tie should not be interrupted as you may injure one or both dogs.

Involuntary excretion may occur during this time, and the male dog will usually get off the female, leaving them conjoined at the rear. 

A tie can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 40 minutes, averaging 15 – 20 minutes.

Dog Breeding Techniques and Strategies

Several strategies are commonly employed in breeding, such as the following:

Linebreeding

Breeding between grandparent and grandchild, aunt and nephew, half-siblings, or other indirect relatives.

Inbreeding

Breeding between direct family members such as father and daughter, brother and sister and often avoided unless an acceptable reason may be provided.

Outcrossing 

Breeding between two unrelated dogs.

Outbreeding

Breeding that takes place between two different breeds.

Back-breeding

A sire-dependent breeding program whereby the best female produced in the litter will be bred to the sire, spanning over generations but essentially breeding father to daughter. 

Grading up

Breeding between an exceptional male specimen and an average female to cut costs of purchasing two stellar dogs.

Dog Heat Cycle & Mating

Depending on your bitch’s breed, she might come into season as young as six months old or as old as twelve months. Some giant breeds don’t have their first heat until they are two years old

Breeding on the first or second heat is generally frowned upon, and so is back-to-back breedings whereby the bitch produces puppies for consecutive heats.

However, this is dependent on the breeder. Some breed their bitches back to back for two seasons and retire her for good.

Allowing your bitch to breed consecutively also depends on her condition. If she had a large litter, you might want her to recover. If she’s still in tip-top shape, it should be fine with clearance from your vet.

Estrous cycle

Proestrus is the start of your bitch’s heat or season. During this time, the bitch will release certain hormones and attract male dogs. Her vulva will be swollen, and you might or might not notice a bloody discharge.

Some dogs keep themselves relatively clean. This period lasts around nine days, and she is not ready to receive males at this time.

Oestrus or Estrus is the bitch’s fertile period, and it lasts up to 9 days, with ovulation generally occurring in the first two days. She will allow mounting during this stage.

Fresh sperm from a young and healthy dog lives for 4 – 6 days, whereas frozen sperm might only be viable for up to 48 hours. 

Diestrus is a 60 to 90 day period where progesterone takes over the reproductive tract, and your bitch might show symptoms of being pregnant even if no mating occurs.

This is called a false pregnancy. If fertilization takes place, she will carry her puppies for roughly nine weeks. 

Anestrus is the rest or recovery period where no sexual activity takes place.

Mating / Breeding Methods 

Putting a stud and bitch together and letting nature take its course is known as natural breeding. Bitches are brought to the stud instead of the other way around so the male dog may feel more at ease.

Young dogs are often paired with experienced females. 

Some human assistance may be required whereby the breeder may help the male mount or hold the female still.

Artificial insemination is another option for breeders. They will collect sperm from their desired specimen, whether from out of state or even out of the country.

This method is often used for breeds that can no longer copulate naturally, such as the French Bulldog. 

Collected sperm (whether fresh or frozen) is injected through a catheter into a bitch’s uterus. Special steps are required for registering puppies as a result of artificial insemination.

What to know and what to do before the actual dog breeding

Health checks should be undertaken for both dogs a month before the breeding. Ensure that they are both up to date on their vaccinations and deworming. 

The dogs should be of sound temperament and not have any health, behavioral or physical problems.

The whelping process: Pregnancy, Labour & Delivery 

Certain breeds may need human intervention due to dystocia or the inability to whelp. Small breeds or those with overly large heads such as Chihuahuas and Pugs might be unable to whelp naturally.

Portrait of Pregnant English Bulldog
A pregnant English Bulldog

The puppies will have to be delivered via c-section. This is another cost to consider.

Preparing for your dog’s pregnancy and whelping

Gestation can be anywhere between 58 to 63 days. You can do some things to confirm your bitch’s pregnancy and how to care for her during this time.

Watch for Signs of Pregnancy 

The first signs of pregnancy include swollen nipples or the appearance of teats. Weight gain can also be a telling symptom. 

A vet can confirm the pregnancy through abdominal palpation at 26 to 35 days. They can also use ultrasound or an x-ray.

The latter should only be done when the puppies bones have calcified at around 45 days, giving you the chance to see how many pups the pregnant dogs are carrying.

Provide Proper Nutrition for your Pregnant Bitch 

Adjust your bitch’s diet with your vet’s advice. Gradually increase her intake as she gains weight, which generally occurs around the five-week mark.

She should be eating 35 – 50% more than her regular amount at the end of her pregnancy.

Small, frequent meals or free-feeding is encouraged. You don’t need to supplement her diet if she’s already on a high-quality, balanced diet.

Still, some breeders give additional protein or calcium to aid with puppy development and promote lactation.

Accustom your Bitch to the Whelping Box

An appropriate whelping box should be roomy and have some small shelves or bars running along the inside so that puppies can be protected from being squashed or suffocated.

You can line the box with newspaper, which is preferable since it’s easy to clean once soiled. 

Buying a whelping box may be expensive, but you can DIY one with Ken Wignard’s instructions: 

Introduce the dam to her whelping box in advance, so she gets a chance to get comfortable. You should place the box in a quiet and draft-free area. Here is a list of whelping supplies you should have on hand: 

  1. Newspapers – disposable bedding to keep the area clean
  2. Bath mats – bedding after whelping
  3. Towels – for cleaning puppies with
  4. Paper towels or wet tissue – to clean with
  5. Thermostat – check bitch’s temperature for signs of whelping
  6. Unwaxed dental floss – to tie off puppies’ umbilical cord prior to cutting
  7. Heating pad – to help keep puppies warm
  8. Scissors – in case you need to cut puppies’ umbilical cord
  9. Iodine – to clean puppies after their umbilical cord is cut
  10. Puppy formula – in case the dam rejects her puppies or requires assistance feeding her pups if it’s a large litter
  11. Weighing scale – you will want to pick up a food scale for your pups so you can check on their growth
  12. Milk bottles and eye droppers – for feeding purposes

Be alert and watch for signs of labor

In the last week of your dog’s pregnancy, you should keep an eye on her. There are a few signs that she’s going into labor. A few days before whelping, your bitch may stop eating and start nesting. 

3 Stages of normal labor and delivery in dogs

Mother dog with litter of newborn Jack Russel Terrier puppies
A Jack Russel Terrier mother dog with a litter of newborn puppies

During labor, she should pant, strain, and pace. If no puppies appear within two hours, you should call your vet.

The Body’s Preparation For Delivery

Right before whelping, your bitch’s temperature will drop. Normal temps are 100 – 102.5°F (38 – 39°C), before whelping, it should be 99°F (37°C) or lower.

When this happens, expect her to start whelping in the next 24 hours.

Puppies Are Born

Once a puppy is born, make sure it is removed from the sac immediately. Puppies can only survive a few minutes until it suffocates.

If the mother doesn’t do this, you will need to tear the sac near the head and slide the puppy out. 

You may also need to rub the puppy gently to remove the fluids and mucus if your dam doesn’t start licking the pup. It might look rough to you, but it stimulates the puppy to start breathing. 

If the dam doesn’t bite off the umbilical cord, tie it off about two inches from the abdomen and snip it. Apply iodine to where you cut to prevent infections from setting in.

Place the puppy near the mother’s nipple so the puppy may be able to drink colostrum, a rich immune-boosting fluid containing antibodies and immunoglobulins.

This is crucial and especially important for the runts that often miss out on this liquid gold. 

You should track and weigh puppies during the first two weeks to ensure they receive proper nourishment.

The Passage Of The Placenta

Keep count of the number of expelled placentas as the mother dog may try to eat it. You shouldn’t let her consume more than two as it may cause diarrhea.

Dispose of it discreetly as taking it away while she watches might cause her distress. 

Placentas naturally follow within fifteen minutes after a puppy’s birth, but some may be expelled after two puppies or at the very end. A retained placenta could be fatal, so make sure you keep watch. 

Consult your Veterinarian if complications arise

If you notice a dark green or bloody fluid before the birth of her first puppy, you should be worried and take her to the vet.

If it makes an appearance after she’s started giving birth, that’s completely normal. Sometimes it occurs after birthing is complete. 

Watch out for indications of extreme pain or symptoms of trembling, shivering, or collapsing during whelping. If this happens, send her to the vet immediately.

The same goes for contractions lasting more than 45 minutes without a puppy’s delivery or if two hours have elapsed since her last puppy. 

No signs of labor by the 64th day after her last mating are also cause for concern. Even after having her puppies, she’s still not in the clear yet. Canine mastitis, eclampsia, and other complications may arise. 

If you notice lethargy or shaking, foul discharge, or a fever developing after birth, don’t wait around. Bring your dam to the vet immediately.

Caring for your dog and her newborn puppies

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog nursing her pups
A mother Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog nursing her puppies

What to expect when your bitch becomes a dam? New mothers do need special care and attention to ensure that both dam and the puppies thrive.

Post-whelping: Caring for your bitch after whelping

The new mother might show no interest in eating, especially during the first two days after birth.

Dams should be given adequate amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D to prevent eclampsia, a fatal problem. Symptoms include whimpering or whining, nervousness, spasm, and the inability to walk properly.

She will also need two or three times the food she was eating before whelping to help maintain her milk supply and provide her with adequate nourishment.

This should go on for at least three weeks, but take care not to overfeed her!

After whelping, she should be the same weight as when she was bred, but an allowance of 5 – 10% heavier is allowed.

Placing the puppies

Finding each puppy in the litter the right home is one of the responsibilities of a dog breeder. You want to ensure they get the best life and not end up at a shelter.

Some breeders have waiting lists for this reason so they can ensure they have a home waiting before they even breed their dogs. 

Rearing and caring of the newborn puppies

Most of the time, you won’t have to do anything as most dogs have strong mothering instincts. In that case, all you need to do is focus on the mother and trust her to care for her brood.

However, some dogs just aren’t cut out to procreate and may not know what to do with her new litter, and you will need to step in.

Temperature

Newborn puppies cannot regulate their temperature and will need to be kept warm. Take care not to overheat them as this could also be fatal.

Their environment should be between 85 to 90°F (29 – 32°C) for the first five days, before being reduced to 80 °F (27°C). When they are a month old, you can further reduce this down to 75°F (24°C).

Care for Orphaned Puppies 

If your bitch abandons her puppy, you will need to provide round-the-clock care. Are you prepared to take a week off from work to provide this for the puppies? 

When hand-feeding puppies, never hold them like a human baby. They should be fed on their stomachs, in the palm of your hand.

Puppies that are too cold will not feed, and you’ll need to raise their temperature to 95 – 99°F (35 – 37°C), the same as the formula.

Start by giving little amounts of formula. If you introduce it too quickly, your puppy might develop diarrhea, which can be fatal.

If any puppy shows signs of diarrhea, cut its formula intake by half and immediately consult a vet.

Cow’s milk is NEVER recommended. Only use puppy formula, which you can get from a pet shop or the vet. It should be prepared as required as bacteria thrives in milk.

Don’t cross-contaminate bottles and other feeding equipment. If nursing pups by hand isn’t going well, a vet can teach you how to tube feed.

After feeding, you will need to stimulate the puppies to defecate and urinate with a damp cotton or towel. Wipe the puppy’s anal region gently till they have evicted their bowels. 

You can also massage your puppies to stimulate circulation. You should do this when the puppies are getting ready for a feed. 

Weaning Puppies from Their Mother

Introduce solids to your puppies around two to four weeks old. Prepare a shallow bowl that’s tall enough, so your puppies don’t fall in but shallow enough that they can reach the food.

Offer them some wet food or kibble soaked in water or formula.

As the puppies grow stronger, reduce the amount of water or formula and add more dry kibble.

Whenever you’re switching or adding new food to their diet, make sure to do so gradually to avoid upset stomachs.

Register your litter with the AKC soon after whelping

Healthy newborn Aussie Kelpie mix puppies
Cute and healthy newborn Aussie Kelpie mix puppies – Image source

Some breeders sell their puppies with breeding rights and AKC papers. Others might forgo the papers, mostly when dealing with a family looking for a companion dog.

Registering with the AKC offers ample opportunities for new owners to learn about events and services. It’s very much recommended to register all litters for tracking purposes and AKC member benefits.

Sending your pups to their new homes

Finding a suitable home can be challenging. Some people might give you all the right answers, but there’s no guarantee that they will offer your pups the best home.

You can draw up a contract saying you’ll take the puppy back if the owners do not fulfill their end of the bargain and keep them in favorable conditions.

To avoid this from happening, get to know the potential buyers as much as possible and ask them questions that they might not have considered. For instance:

  • Who wants the dog?
  • Why do you want a dog? 
  • How did you select this particular breed?
  • Who will be the primary caretaker?
  • What will happen when you go on vacation?
  • In the event you are no longer able to care for the puppy, what will you do?
  • What is your schedule like?
  • Do you have any children or plan to do so?
  • Does anyone you live with have allergies?
  • How do you envision your life with the new puppy?
  • Are you planning to enroll your dog in obedience class? 

Breeders should give potential owners the unfiltered truth about owning a dog. Spare them no detail, including all the breed’s pros and cons and the benefits of an AKC registration.

You will also need to guide them along if they need help with registration and explain the conditions of ownership where applicable.

Frequently asked questions:

Two dogs looking up begging for treats

I want to breed my dog to reduce his sexual activities. Does this work?

Expecting that breeding your dog will reduce his sexual appetite will backfire horribly. Neutering is the only way to eliminate your dog’s sex drive. Training is also useful in distracting your dog. 

Can my dog still get pregnant if the tie does not occur?

Yes, a tie is not an indication of successful mating, and neither does a lack of one mean that the mating failed. The chances of getting your bitch pregnant by slip mating reduce somewhat, but it’s still there

If this happens, you can request another breeding session with the same dog. Do not attempt to breed your bitch to a different stud, as one litter can have multiple sires.

This may create inaccurate records if you plan to register the litter unless you’re open to the idea of costly genetic testing after the puppies are born.

My male dog mounted on my female dog that isn’t in heat and ejaculated inside her. Will the sperm live until she goes in heat, and will she get pregnant immediately because of that? 

A female dog that isn’t in a fertile state would never allow a male to mount, much less ejaculate. 

My female dog lets my male dog mount her, but then she runs away and yelps. What should I do?

It could be too early for her, or she might require some assistance in the case of an inexperienced bitch. You can hold her still or ask if your vet is willing to aid you in your endeavors. 

If I don’t breed my dog, how can I get another dog with similar characteristics?

First, go to your local shelter. There are so many homeless dogs in the world, many with wonderful characteristics. The volunteers or caretakers there should be able to match you up with what you’re looking for.

If that doesn’t work out, you can go back to the breeder you got your dog from and explain what you want. 

If I do decide to go ahead and breed my dog, is it likely that the offspring will have the same desirable traits? 

Science dictates that the odds are not in your favor. Just like humans, all dogs are created equally as individuals.

English Bulldog mother laying beside a litter of puppies
A proud English Bulldog mother laying beside her litter of puppies

However, the entire concept of breeding is to make more of the same, and you might notice that the dam’s offspring have inherited something of hers – whether temperament, behavior, or appearance – but they won’t be identical.

When you breed two different breeds together, what kind of variation can you expect?

You can expect any combination of the sire and dam. If the sire is curly-haired, whereas the dam has a short coat, the puppies may inherit one or the other. It’s the same with coloring, temperament, and health problems.

If a purebred dog of breed X mated with a purebred dog of breed Y, both meeting health standards for their breed, is there a better chance the offspring would be healthier than a same breed mating because the gene pool is larger?

This is a complicated question because of the way genetics work. If neither breed carries a recessive gene for a recessive health problem that either breed is prone to, then the answer would be yes.

First-generation hybrid vigor or heterosis often results in offsprings with desirable traits of both parents.

However, problems can crop up further down the line if those hybrids were to be bred with similar but unrelated hybrids as we do not know what hidden genes they carry.

What are like-to-like matings and compensatory matings?

Like-to-like matings include breeding two dogs that are incredibly similar to each other in hopes of creating more. On the other hand, compensatory matings use dogs that contradict each other to form a complementary union.

For instance, a dog with a desirable coat but questionable temperament is bred with a dog that has a poorer coat but superb temperament to create a perfect puppy.

However, it is not ideal because the puppies may inherit the qualities you want to eliminate

What Causes Small Litters?

The breed’s size isn’t an indicator of litter size, although most small breeds do have smaller litters. A Golden Retriever is more likely to have eight puppies than a Chihuahua. 

Genetics aside, breeding at the wrong time may cause small litters. The optimal time to breed is two days after ovulation. 

An abrupt change in diet may also cause small litters, as will a poor diet. Artificial insemination often yields fewer pups, too, as there are fewer viable sperm in collected semen.

Was the Runt Conceived Later Than His Littermates? 

Runts are caused by a poor placenta and have nothing to do with the time of its conception. 

Be a committed breeder to the puppies

Six newborn puppies inside the basket

As a responsible breeder, your duty to your puppies doesn’t stop when they go to their new homes. You should be ready to be the go-to person for every milestone, good or bad.

The new owners should be able to call you whenever even ten years down the line. 

Be prepared to foster a relationship with everyone that brings home one of your pups. Are you ready for that commitment?

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