Dog Breeding for Beginners. What to Consider

All medical claims reviewed by Dr Pippa Elliott. BVMS, MRCVS.

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Breeding Dogs the Responsible Way

Do you have a fantastic dog and would love to have one of their puppies?

If “Yes”, this is all very well, but warm fluffy feelings aren’t a good enough reason to breed from a dog. A responsible dog owner thinks carefully before going ahead. Only breed dogs if you have an outstanding animal that also has a superb temperament.

Before Breeding for the First Time, Consider the Big Picture

You love your dog and would never wish to harm her or cause long term distress. However, as a first-time dog breeder (beginner) it can be a daunting task. With this in mind, know there are right reasons and wrong reasons to undertake a breeding program.

Basic questions to answer before considering breeding include:

  • Is the dog free from health problems?
  • Does the dog have an outstandingly good temperament?
  • Is the dog free from all forms of inheritable disease?
  • Are you prepared to screen a purebred dog for genetic diseases? (Such as hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy)
  • Can you find new homes for all the pups or, if not, commit to keeping them all
  • Can you afford to vaccinate the female dog ahead of mating, undertake worming, and provide for expensive vet fees?
  • Can you cover the cost of emergency caesarian (££££s) in the event of a difficult whelping?
  • Are you prepared to put in the hard work of up every 2-3 hours 24/7 if the mother is unable to feed the pups?

If you can answer “Yes” to all of the above, only then should you even consider breeding. And as a final thought last, remember, rescue centers are full to overflowing with unwanted dogs. Is it right to bring more pups into the world because of your desire to continue your dog’s current lineage?

Dog Breeding for Beginners. Next Steps

Congratulations! You carefully considered the pros and cons, and are in the exciting position of ticking all the right boxes. For the first time dog breeder here are the basics.

Breeding Purebred Dogs

If your dog is registered with the Kennel Club then you will want to look for matching purebred stud dogs. A good place to start the search is by researching breeders registered with the KC. (AKC in the US).

As a purebred owner, you have a special responsibility for promoting the future welfare of the breed. To do this a responsible breeder researches the genetic health problems to which the breed is prone.

Then they screen potential breeding stock to ensure they are free from those inheritable diseases. This reduces the chance of passing on disease to the next generation. This is also why inbreeding is so frowned upon. Closely related individuals are more likely to share common genes, which may well code of problems which then show up in the puppies.

Once you find a potential stud dog through a breed club or the like, ideally check out their health. A good starting point for checking out a potential sire or dam is the Kennel Club’s Estimate Breeding Value tool. This allows you to enter the potential parent’s name, to see if they have been tested for genetic disease and what their score is. (NB This is only available for certain breeds where enough data has been collected, such as the Labrador Retriever, Clumber Spaniel, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Border Collie, Bearded Collie, and Rottweiler.)

Thinking ahead, know that certain breeds, especially the bulldog, are prone to whelping problems. If this is the case, consider taking out pet insurance, but (and it’s a big but) read the policy small print carefully. Some policies won’t payout for a caesarian in certain breeds, precisely because the risk is so high.

All About the Mother Dog

Pregnancy and raising pups is hard work for the mother, even when everything goes well.

Ideal Age

The to-be-parent must have finished growing, had at least one season, and be physically mature, before you think of breeding her. Thus a small breed such as a toy poodle, Dachshund, or Chihuahua that matures early could potentially breed at one year old. But a giant breed, such as a Great Dane or Rottweiler will be nearer to two years old.

There is also an upper age limit. Generally, a first-time mother should be less than four years of age. Older than this and there’s an increased risk of maternal complications.

In Good Health

Growing puppies put a strain on the mother’s health, so she needs to be in tip-top condition ahead of breeding. This means being neither too fat (this carries an increased risk when it comes to whelping puppies) or too thin.

She should also be up-to-date with her vaccinations. This means she passes vital early immunity onto her puppies. Regular deworming is important to reduce the number of worms passed across the placenta to the foetuses. Also, treat the mother against fleas and external parasites, so that she doesn’t infect the newborn pups.

Screening Tests

Contact your vet to discuss any screening tests required as part of the breed standard. This may involve x-rays of the hips to be assessed by the BVA hip screening panel, or visiting a specialist veterinary ophthalmologist to screen for retinal problems.

Only dogs with excellent scores should be bred from so as to produce healthy puppies that grow in strong adult dogs.

The Reproductive Cycle

Female dogs have a heat cycle roughly once every six months. This oestrous or ‘season’ lasts approximately 3 -4 weeks. The female is most likely to conceive when she ovulates, at around day 7 – 10 in the cycle (this varies depending on the individual).

To increase the chance of pregnancy, some dog breeders have their vet run a blood test every few days once she is in heat. This helps detect a rise in hormone levels that are linked to ovulation and therefore make conception more likely. This is especially helpful if artificial insemination is used since the female doesn’t get to show whether she’s interested in males or not.

Pregnancy in the dog is approximately 63- 65 days but with variation either side of up to a week. Often the first hint mating was successful is ‘pinking up’, whereby the female’s nipples enlarge and become more noticeable. Your vet can confirm pregnancy with an ultrasound scan (from days 21 onwards) or a blood test ( 28 days after mating).

The Pregnant Dog

A mistake commonly made by pet owners is to feed extra to the expectant mum, too early in the pregnancy. This leads to early weight gain, which increases the risk of complications when giving birth.

Keep the mother-to-be on her normal good quality balanced diet until the final third of gestation. Only in the final third of the pregnancy should you swap to a higher energy food, puppy food is ideal, feeding her little and often.

Much like a human expectant mum, in early pregnancy, the mother can pretty much enjoy life as normal. It’s when her belly gets big and cumbersome that she needs to slow down and go for more sedate walks rather than chasing the ball.

pregnant dog going on a calm walk

In the final two weeks of pregnancy, prepare a whelping box ready for the big day (or night) when the puppies arrive. This box should be roomy enough for the mother to lie down, legs extended, to feed her pups. It should also have low rails down either side so the puppies can wriggle away to a safe place when the mum lies down.

Line the whelping box with newspaper or puppy pads, and make a comfy nest of clean towels that smell of home. Get the mother used to the box by lacing it with treats, so that it becomes an attractive place to hang out.

Giving Birth

A good breeder is well informed about the birthing process so they can spot if the mother gets into trouble. Do some reading up well in advance, and if necessary write a cheat sheet of key timings to help you spot if the mother is struggling.

First stage labour is when the womb starts to contract and tone up, in preparation for pushing out the puppies. This stage can last 24 hours. It is characterised by restlessness, nesting, and sometimes staring at her flanks. During this phase, the mother’s body temperature drops a degree below normal. If you get into the habit of checking her temperature, then this provides a handy way of confirming she’s in labour.

  • Normal body temperature 37.6 – 38.9 C
  • During the first stage of labour, this decreases by one degree.

Second stage labour is when the dog actively strains to give birth to the puppies. She will lie down and push hard. If she is actively straining and no puppies appear after one hour, then phone the vet for advice. The mother may take a short break between puppies, and this is normal. However, if there are more puppies to be born and she stops labouring for more than an hour…phone for advice.

Nursing the Puppies

Where possible, back off and let the mother take the strain. If you interfere, she may be put off her mothering duties. She won’t want to leave the pups for long, so provide food and water within easy reach of the whelping box.

Make sure the room is pleasantly warm, but not hot. And during the first few days keep visitors to a minimum. Yes, socialisation of the puppies is important, but in the early days it’s more important to mum to bond with her babies and feed them.

And last but not least, things do go wrong. Be prepared and make sure you have some puppy milk replacer and feeding bottles at home. Then if you have to take over feeding duties, there’s no big panic.

Still feel the same about breeding from your dog? Great stuff…now go and some research into the health problems linked to the breed.

Have you ever bred dogs before? What was it like for you? Would love to read your comments below!

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