An Introduction to Dog Breeding

Are you a first time dog breeder? This article will give you an overview of the basics on breeding dogs and everything else you need to get started.

Written by Julia Fletcher
A white swiss shepherd dog with three of her puppies

Are you interested in breeding dogs? It can be a very rewarding experience, but it's important to know what you're getting into and what your responsibilities are. This article will give you a basic introduction to dog breeding, including the different types of breeders and the basics of reproduction. If you're thinking about becoming a dog breeder, this is a great place to start!

Are you ready to be a dog breeder?

As the owner of a pure-bred dog, you may have considered breeding your pet at one time or another. 

It’s always important to remember what your motivation to breed is in the first place.  

You’re probably here because:

  • You love your dogs
  • You enjoy your dog’s company
  • There is something special about a dog’s need for human companionship that makes us better human beings
  • Dogs are quick to reward us with loyalty and unconditional love
  • They teach us that temper and impatience have no place in a positive relationship

Breeding is not for the fainthearted. It’s not necessarily a money maker. It’s not a part-time or spare-time venture. But rather a complicated, demanding vocation that should not be dabbled with.  

If you ever get to a place where you find yourself seeing dogs as ‘possessions’, ‘breeding stock’ and ‘collections’ then it’s time to stop and think - is this still the right thing to do? 

Some people think that the only way to be a good breeder is to think of dogs in this way, and while this article will talk about dogs in a very clinical and detached way, if we lose sight of our initial basic principles then we lose the most important aspect dogs give to our own lives, and what we as breeders, can offer to enrich the lives of others in placing a puppy with them.

Being a responsible breeder

A responsible breeder should be knowledgeable about the obstetrics involved in breeding dogs and be prepared for all eventualities. They should be fully competent in the field of health & genetic concerns, temperament, appearance, and type. They also need to know about general dog behaviour, training and health care. In short, they should be canine experts.

A responsible breeder should be a source of knowledge about the breed and a resource for the owners of the puppies they produce. Puppy buyers will ask a lot of questions; breed specific questions, training questions and behaviour management questions. Expect to be the first person the puppy buyer contacts with their questions.

Time for some tough talking.  Many people have thought of breeding as an easy-money opportunity – the rule of thumb is if you’re making a serious profit from breeding then you might be doing something wrong.

Do you have the time to be a dog breeder?

Raising puppies is a full-time job. For the first 2-3 weeks the dam usually takes care of the puppies needs. In case of a bitch who has insufficient or no milk, or an orphaned litter, then the breeder must take on the role of the dam. 

Puppies are even more work when they are weaned. They require stimulation, enrichment, socialisation and training.

You also need to consider the time and effort involved in getting your bitch into breeding condition and to sustain her throughout her pregnancy as well as afterwards as she nurses her pups.  

Have you got the space for whelping and realising a litter? A corner of the kitchen will not be sufficient. Are you prepared to stay up all night, sometimes even 48 hours or more to monitor your bitch throughout her labour and whelp? Are you prepared to cope with a large litter of 10-12 pups?

Providing a lifetime of care and support

A responsible breeder is for life! Knowing they have found the right family for their pups and the rewarding feeling when they place the puppy in the arms of the person who is going to love them as much as they did is wonderful. 

Responsible breeders are there for all situations – both good and bad. They know they were responsible for this puppy being born, so they are responsible for it until the day it dies. They are willing to provide guidance, answer all questions, and they are always concerned about their puppies.

The tough questions you need to ask yourself

We don’t want to put anyone off, but we believe it’s important to understand that there are going to be some difficult times as a breeder.

Mother nature is cruel, and whilst you might not want to think about these things now you need to be prepared for them if they arise.

  • How long will you try to revive a puppy that has been born dead and what are you willing to do to revive it?
  • If a puppy is born dead and cannot be revived, or is born with its intestines on the outside and dies shortly after birth, what will you do with the body?
  • How long will you try to help a puppy that will not nurse? Will you tube, bottle, sponge or syringe feed and when?
  • Will you keep a puppy with a cleft palate alive?
  • Will you keep a puppy with a neurological condition?
  • Will you keep a puppy with a congenital problem that will require lifetime management?
  • If you have a puppy that is going to die, will you take it to the vet to be euthanised or let it die naturally?
  • If mum dies after a c-section or a natural whelping at home, are you prepared to hand rear the entire litter?
  • If a new owner no longer wants their puppy, or has to give them up through no fault of their own, are you willing to take back and rehome that puppy?

Vet's View on Becoming a Dog Breeder

Are you interested in breeding dogs? It can be a very rewarding experience, but it's important to know what you're getting into and what your responsibilities are. This article will give you a basic introduction to dog breeding, including the different types of breeders and the basics of reproduction. If you're thinking about becoming a dog breeder, this is a great place to start!

Jon Bowen

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Is your dog ready to be bred? 

The route to happy, healthy puppies begins long before their parents are bred. Breeders should ensure that both sire and dam are in the best condition for breeding healthy pups. This involves regular veterinary care, screening for genetic problems, pre-breeding health tests, regular exercise and good nutrition. 

This also includes mental health. Stressed animals can have fertility issues and it is widely believed that the dam’s temperament affects the puppies. Good puppies come from good mothers. Breeding shy or unstable dogs is not going to result in happy, stable puppies.

Temperament is an hereditary trait in dogs, and can be influenced by external factors. The inheritance factors of temperament are complex; However, you should never consider breeding a dog with a questionable temperament. 

When it comes to health testing, you need to be aware of the hereditary defects, some of which are crippling or fatal, that affect your breed. If you decide to breed, this should be to produce dogs that are not affected by the major known hereditary defects in the chosen breed. We’ve gone in to a lot more detail on this topic in another article in this series.

Glossary of Breeding Terms

Term Definition
Bitch A female dog
Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) A way of measuring how closely related a potential mating pair are. The score is given in a percentage, with 0% meaning there is no relation between the mother and father
Dam The mother of a litter
Sire The father of a litter
Heat (or season) When a female is fertile and can become pregnant. Often lasts for around 10 days.
Litter The group of puppies that are born during one whelping.
Stud A male dog who will impregnate the female
Whelp/Whelping The act of a female dog giving birth.
Line breeding Breeding two dogs who share the same bloodline but are not closely related in order to emphasise and fix certain genetic features.
Outcrossing Breeding between dogs who are completely unrelated.

Other things to consider

How long is a bitch in season?

 A ‘season’ or ‘heat’ is part of what is called the oestrus cycle. The female canine oestrus cycle has four stages:

  1. Proestrus: This is the beginning of heat and lasts between 7 and 10 days. During this time, the vulva begins to swell and the dog begins to bleed. She will start attracting male dogs, but she isn’t ready to mate yet.
  2. Oestrus: This is the mating period of the oestrus cycle. It lasts 5 to 10 days. Bleeding may reduce or stop. Your dog is ready to mate during this time.
  3. Dioestrus: This period lasts anywhere from 10 to 140 days. Your dog is either pregnant during this time or she is in a period of rest.
  4. Anoestrus: This is the period of downtime before the next heat cycle, lasting around 6 months.

So, the bitch is ‘in season / on heat’ between stages 1 and 2 of her cycle. Mating and her most fertile period occur during stage 2.

How long is a dog pregnant?

A female dog is pregnant for around 9 weeks (63 days) from conception.

Fertilisation takes place around days 2 – 4 from mating. By week 2 embryos have implanted into the womb. Weeks 2-4 sees the development of all the major organs and by day 29 the foetus is recognisable as a dog. For the remaining 5 weeks there is rapid growth in size of the foetus. The bitch begins to show signs and symptoms of her pregnancy around week 5.

What should you expect from a female or male dog before mating?

Normal mating behaviour of the bitch

Along with an interest in male dogs and flirtation with them (proceptive behavior), there is progressive vulval swelling and some bleeding during proestrus.

If males try to mount a bitch in proestrus, she will often turn and growl or snap to rebuff their efforts. Ten days or so of proestrus leads to the internal release of ova, and the beginning of true or “standing” heat, in which the bitch will allow herself to be mounted by an interested male.

To attract the attention of a disinterested or otherwise distracted suitor, they will often back into him, deflecting their tail in a provocative way, so that he can hardly ignore what has been placed before him.

Normal mating behaviour of the stud.

Surprisingly, male dogs appear to be more stress sensitive than females during mating and successful breedings happen more often in the male’s own environment. This is the reason that females are usually taken to the male’s home for breeding.

One of the most striking behaviours among dogs is the incredible desperation that overcomes them when he comes into contact with a female in heat. They are totally focused on the bitch to the point of not eating, leaping walls, breaking through doors and eating through cages!

Their behaviour may include:

  • Stiffly wagging elevated tail
  • Sniffing nose, ears, neck
  • Sniffing flank
  • Sniffing or liking of vulva
  • Licking ears, neck, back
  • Play bowing
  • Wrestling or chasing bitch
  • Urinating
  • Standing parallel to bitch
  • Standing with head over bitch’s back
  • Placing one or both paws on bitch’s back

What should you expect from a female or male dog after mating?

Mating a dog can have an impact on their behaviour, especially males. Bitches can become clingier and quieter following a mating, but in general the bitch will be the girl you’ve known and loved before and after mating.

The boys however, often change following serving a bitch.

Their temperament will remain the same but they will have a desire to repeat the mating process. If you do plan to stud your boy, its important to make sure he will have regular work to keep him happy.

One undesirable behaviour they may begin to exhibit is frequently marking in the house, if they have not already done so, urinating on other household dogs as well as furniture etc. When out with your dog you may find him more distracted and training commands may well be ignored if he thinks there is a bitch in season in the vicinity. 

What’s the average litter size?

The average litter size is really breed dependent. As a general rule, the smaller the breed the smaller the litter size. But I have known a Chihuahua to self-whelp and raise 9 healthy babies and a St Bernard to have a singleton.

The most prudent advice is to have your dog scanned 4-5 weeks from their last mating. This will give you an idea of numbers and, of course, confirm she is actually pregnant.

How old should dogs be before they are mated?

For stud dogs this depends on the breed. Small breeds are not considered mature until they are at least 12 months old. For medium breeds this is 15 to 18 months, and for large breeds, 18 to 24 months.

For the dam, this can also depend on the breed, but as a guide the Kennel Club say that dams must be at least 1 year old at the time of their first mating, and no older than 8 years at the time of the whelping.

Responsible breeders will also wait until the necessary health testing has been carried out, and as a minimum the dog/bitch to be 2-2.5 years old.

How many litters can one bitch have?

The KC guidance states four. However, only two litters may be delivered via caesarean sections in which case 2 is her maximum.

You must also take account the fact that the KC will not register more than one litter to any given dam in a 12-month period.

Do you still want to become a breeder?!

Breeding is most definitely not something to embark on lightly and can lead to much heartbreak, however, there are many joys to experience for those that take up the challenge. It is a true pleasure watching pups grow and develop from tiny, fairly helpless creatures into robust and healthy puppies in just a few short weeks.

Hard work yes, but hours of fun watching them open their eyes, learn to walk and explore new things. Playing with each other as they develop their own little characters and personalities. Beginning training these precious bundles for their new adventures that lie ahead when they go on to their new homes.

The sadness when you hand them over to their new owners quickly transforms into happiness and pride as you see those new owners beam with happiness, full of love and anticipation of a life with their new companion and family member that you, the breeder, have created for them.

Are you a breeder? Or planning to start breeding soon?

Sign up to Tailwise for free today and join our community of breeders who are focused on the health and welfare of their dogs. You can start receiving applications for your puppies and building your waiting list, saving you the time and effort of all that admin when your puppies arrive.
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