Dog Breeding Tips
To Breed or Not to Breed
Depending upon the breed and size of the dog, unaltered females can go into heat every 5–6 months. A female in heat is not something you want to mess with unless you are prepared to breed her. By prepared I mean:
• FINANCIALLY–the medical costs associated with a litter can be very expensive.
• SPACE– most people don’t have the appropriate space for a litter of 5–9 growing puppies.
• TIME–caring for a postnatal dog with a litter of puppies is a full-time job.
• EXPERIENCE–lots of things can and will go wrong. Not having the right training or experience can result in the death of one or more of the puppies as well as possible death to the mother dog.
With this said, I strongly suggest that if you are not going to show or breed your female dog, she should be spayed. The best time to spay is between the age of 4–5 months, (Some breeds can go into their first heat at 5 months of age, and it is easier on you and your dog if she is spayed before her first heat). Unlike what you might have heard or read, female/male dogs do not differ in the benefits of spaying/neutering. Spaying/neutering will not change your dog’s playfulness, friendliness, and or socialization with humans. With female dogs, spaying will eliminate the monthly heat cycle, drastically reduce her dominance tendencies, territorial urine marking, and will smooth out mood swings.
It is not uncommon for some pet owners to get talked into breeding their dog. Family or friends may want a puppy just like yours. While this is very understandable, it is not a guarantee that your dog’s offspring will have his same temperament. Each dog/puppy is unique, and the genetic pool accounts for very large variations.
Unless you know the temperament of your dog’s parents, grandparents, and so on, you can never fully know the size, color, or temperament of the offspring.
When people ask me to see the parents of my puppies, so that they can determine what size, color, and temperament the puppies will be when they are full grown, I laugh and give them this example: I am 5 foot 2 inches, and my husband is 5 foot 10 inches. I weigh 150 lbs., and my husband weighs 180. Both my husband and I have dark hair. All three of our grown children are 6 foot tall. My daughter has dark red hair, and my two sons have sandy blond hair. My husband and his father have very thick hair, and my youngest son, at age 26, is already showing signs of "Male Pattern Baldness."
On both sides of our family (mine and my husband’s) we have all been big meat eaters. My husband is Italian, and his family owned an Italian restaurant while he was growing up. Our daughter is a vegetarian! Well, I think by now you get my point. There is really no guaranteed way to determine the color, size, and temperament of your dog’s offspring.
Breeding and Vaccinations
The safest way to vaccinate animals and offer optimal protection for the offspring is to vaccinate the mother a few weeks before she is bred. This will ensure that the antibodies will be at good levels (barring any unforeseen health problem of the mother) and offer the best chance for antibody absorption by the newborns.
The age at which you should breed your dog(s) depends upon many factors. Most male dogs can become sexually active as early as 6 months of age (this is why most veterinarians recommend neutering at 16 weeks 4 months), but the spermatozoids in such a young male are still immature and could produce a litter of unsound puppies. It is better to wait until your male dog is at least 1 year old before mating. If you decide that you are going to breed your female dog, it is best to wait until her second heat cycle.
Owner of the Female
If you do not own a male, you will need to find a suitable stud when the time comes. There are lots of things to consider when selecting your breeding stock, things like temperament, genetics, size, color, etc.
Once you have selected the perfect mate for your girl, it is always a good idea to have a written agreement with the owner of the “stud” dog, even if the other party is a friend or family member. I have seen what use to be great friendships come to an end over breeding issues. An example of a “Stud Service” contract can be found in the appendix of this book. Remember, as with any contract, it is best to check with your attorney before entering in to any written agreement.
There are many ways to "partnership" in breeding. One way is to pay the owner of the male dog a "stud" fee. Most stud fees are paid at the time of service, and in the event that the female does not conceive, a return visit on her next heat is allowed free of charge.
Pick Of the Litter
Another popular agreement is "Pick Of the Litter." In this agreement, no stud fee is paid to the owner of the male dog. In place of payment the owner of the male dog has the right to pick the puppy of his/her choice from the litter. The puppy is then turned over to the owner of the male dog when it is 8 weeks old and weaned.
A third option is to sell all the puppies and split the sale price. In this type of agreement, the owner of the female dog is entitled to a higher split to compensate him/her for the expenses incurred while the puppies were in his/her care.
Female Heat Cycle
The heat cycle in most dogs runs for approximately 21 days as follows:
• Days 1–7: The exterior vaginal area (Vulva) swells noticeably and within a couple of days bleeding begins. During this stage the female usually will not allow the male to mate with her, and she will actually growl and possible bite him if he tries.
• Days 7–14: It is during this stage the female is in what is called Estrus and will now allow the male to mate with her. She will normally stand still and move her tail out of the way.
• Days 14–21: If successful mating occurred during days 7–14, this is the stage where the embryos are forming. No external signs are present.
Based upon the above information, most breeders try to mate their dogs within the 7–14 day time period. Note: Not all female dogs come in to Estrus on day seven (some a little sooner, some a little later) this is not an exact science.
Some breeders try to mate their dogs on days 14, 16, and 18 from the moment they discover the enlarged vaginal area (or) days 7, 9, and 11 during the Estrus stage. I, on the other hand, leave my stud and female together the entire 7–17 days whenever possible. If and when you see the two dogs mate (tie), be sure to note this date on your calendar. If successful mating occurred, then the puppies should arrive in approximately 58–63 days from the date of matting.
You might want to try Artificial Insemination. There are AI kits available online that come with a complete set of instructions. However, if this is something that you do not feel comfortable doing yourself, most Veterinarians offer this service for a fee.
How do I tell if my dog is pregnant or not? You can check with your Veterinarian concerning X-rays. The actual puppies themselves do not show up on the X-rays, but the skulls and spinal cords do. However, I do not allow my pregnant or possibly pregnant females to be X-rayed for the same reason that medical personnel will not X-ray a pregnant human.
As an alternative to X-rays, Your Veterinarian can perform a physical exam. During the exam, you can request that a simple blood sample be taken. A blood test will provide your Veterinarian with the hormone called "Relaxin" levels, which is a reliable indicator of pregnancy. Relaxin can be detected in blood samples soon after the eggs are fertilized and implanted in the uterine horns. This occurs in most dogs 22–27 days after mating.
Signs of Labor
Ideally you noted on a calendar when you saw the two mating dogs “tie.” This date will give you a clue as to when to expect the puppies. Most pregnant females will give birth within 58–63 days after successful mating occurred. Approximately one week before the expected “due date” approaches, I suggest that you start taking and recording the temperature of the expectant mother. This should be done at the same time each day if possible. The normal dog temperature is between 101–102.5. In most cases, when the expectant mothers temp drops below 100, she will deliver within 24 hrs.
Some people will try to "feel" for the puppies in an effort to count how many there are. Strongly advise against this unless you have lots of experience. Trying to feel for the puppies can cause them to become dislodged from the wall of the Uterus.
When the time to give birth arrives, the mother will show signs of contractions and possibly begin to shiver. After each puppy is delivered it will be followed by a greenish, fluid-filled sac (placenta). Each puppy is attached to a placenta by an umbilical cord. In larger litters, you may not see one placenta passed immediately after every puppy. Some placentas may be retained and expelled gradually days after all puppies are born. Most puppies are born head first, but as many as one-third may be born hindquarters first. Either position is considered normal.
Normally, the “afterbirth” will follow each puppy but that is not always the case. It is not uncommon for two afterbirths to pass at the same time; what is important is that all the afterbirths eventually pass. In some cases the mother may pass the afterbirth when let outside for a potty break. Of course, this makes it difficult for you to know whether she passed that last afterbirth or not. It is best, if possible, to limit the amount of outside potty space the mother is given during this time and to inspect that area after she finishes.
Diarrhea and Signs of De-hydration
Diarrhea is normal for a couple of days due to eating the placentas and afterbirth. It is also normal for her to have a vaginal discharge that may appear bloody or a greenish-black color for a few days to 2 weeks. However, this does not indicate a problem unless it persists beyond 4 weeks of whelp.
It is never a good thing for an animal (or a person for that matter) to have prolonged diarrhea, but it is even worse for a nursing mother. We need to keep an eye on her to ensure that she does not become dehydrated.
One way you can check for dehydration is to do the following: Using your thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger, pinch a good amount of skin/fur at the base of the head between the shoulder blades. While you have a hold of the skin/fur, pull up and away from the body, forming a tent, then release and observe how fast/slow the skin/fur returns to normal. If it returns quickly, she is well hydrated; if it is very slow, or remains tented she is dehydrated. If after performing the test you feel she is dehydrated, you can feed her water using a turkey baster or something similar. I would feed her water every 30 minutes until the skin/fur snaps back quickly. It is wise to make an appointment to see your Veterinarian.
C - Section
X-rays and/or an abdominal ultrasound can assist your Veterinarian in determining the size and number of puppies. They can also help your Vet in determining your dog's pelvic conformation and help determine if she can deliver the puppies naturally or if a C-Section will be required.
When the time comes and your female goes into labor, keep a very close eye on her and be prepared to seek medical attention if necessary. In some cases, a puppy can get stuck in the pelvic canal, and if this happens it will require assistance. An experienced breeder or a Veterinarian may be able to help the puppy out manually without the need for a C-Section, but this is not something an inexperienced breeder should attempt. Also prolonged labor can cause shock and/or dehydration in the mother that may call for IV fluids. The size of the fetus in relation to the size of the mother is a factor, especially if it’s a one-puppy litter. Such litters often result in an oversized fetus. Often a single fetus cannot produce enough hormonal stimulation for a normal birthing process. If you observe signs that the mother to be is straining for more than an hour without producing a pup, it is time to seek medical attention. Your veterinarian may administer intravenous calcium and oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates uterine contraction. It should be noted, however, that calcium has the potential to disturb the normal rhythm of the heart and therefore must be used by a professional and where the animal can be closely supervised. If the mother-to-be does not respond to this medication, it may be necessary to resort to caesarean section.
Caring for the New Puppies
It is very important that the puppies are kept warm and free from any drafts. I use a professional whelping box but some people find that a child's plastic wading pool works just as well. If you cannot find a wading pool, then you can purchase a large plastic storage bin at Home Depot, which also works well. Cut a door in one side so the mother can come and go, but not all the way to the bottom–that way the puppies can't get out. Keep the bottom covered with clean dry towels, blankets, etc.
During the delivery process, I keep a box, clothes basket, or something similar close by and ready. Inside the basket I have a heating pad turned to medium heat selection and cover the heating pad with a clean bath towel. After each puppy is born and while mommy is busy delivering the next, I put the puppies in the basket with the heating pad to keep them warm. This is a safe place for them to rest until all the puppies are delivered and mommy can give them her full attention.
Before removing the puppy to the basket/heating pad, let mommy clean each puppy and even begin to nurse. However, when the mother becomes restless and the contractions start again, this is a good time to remove the newborn pup to the basket/heating pad. Note: Always double check the temperature of the heating pad. Usually low or medium settings are fine. I actual know a new breeder who put the heating pad on high and left the puppies. When she returned all six of the newborns had died.
It is important that the new mother and puppies be kept in a secluded place away from high traffic areas, other pets, and drafts where the mother can tend to her new puppies in peace. If there is too much action or too much outside help, the mother can become stressed. Stress can cause the mother to hide, lose her milk, and in the most extreme case, reject her puppies. It is very tempting to want to show off the puppies, but it is best not to allow friends, neighbors, and/or lots of family members to visit during the first three weeks.
I strongly suggest that you purchase a postal scale and have it handy during the birthing process. After each puppy is born and while the mother is preparing to deliver the next puppy, you should weigh each puppy and record it along with any identifying marks on a piece of paper. Example: Puppy One–Black with one white paw, weight 13 oz. Twice a day (morning and evening), at the same time, if possible, weigh the puppies and record. If the puppies are gaining weight, all is well. As long as the puppies are gaining weight and the mother is taking care of them, I strongly suggest that you leave them alone. Let mommy be the mommy. However, if you discover that one or more of the puppies are not gaining or, in fact, is losing weight, then it will be time to offer supplemental feedings. Please believe me when I write that if you can see, with your eyes or feel with your hands that a puppy is losing weight, you have probably already lost the puppy. Only by daily weighing the puppy on a scale can you accurately determine if the puppy is thriving or if extra care is needed. If you discover one or more of the puppies are not gaining, you should offer supplemental feedings. I suggest K-9 Gold for supplemental feedings, and I also suggest adding a scoop to the mother’s food each day.
Most puppies are weaned between 5–6 weeks but this is normally left up to the mother dog–she knows the best time. When the mother dog stops feeding the puppies, it will be time to begin introducing them to dog food. This is normally done by crushing up dry food and making an oatmeal-like paste by adding K-9 Puppy Gold Puppy Powder and water. At this point, you should be feeding the puppies 3–4 times per day. Gradually, over the next couple of weeks, you will add less and less of the liquid until the puppies are eating the dry food alone.
During this time you should keep a close eye on the mother dog’s mammary glands. If, after weaning the puppies, she continues to produce milk, her breasts could become engorged and painful. Hot towels and a gentle massage can help reduce the congestion. Complete withdrawal of all food and water for 24 hours often works well. If you discover that the mammary glands have become red, hot to the touch, or seem to be painful, you should contact your veterinarian ASAP for all of these symptoms could be the sign of an infection.
In closing, I want to point out that the above suggestions are only a few of the many things that a breeder needs to know, and in no way do I suggest that I have covered everything. Good luck, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have additional questions.