Dog breeding is tough and there is nothing worse than wondering how to breed dogs of high quality, but not knowing where to start.
After a long time running Breeding Business, and hundreds of email exchanges with you, my loyal audience; I decided that it was time to put a reference page together with the information you need to get started with your dog breeding ambition. Some of you are even starting their own kennel!
There is no shortcut when you want to breed dogs responsibly: there are expenses, difficulties, emergencies, but these are not what matters right now. Knowledge is what every single breeder should have. Knowledge of how dog breeding works, how to improve your dogs generation after generation, but also knowledge of what to expect in terms of challenges and expenditures.
How to start a kennel? Well, by learning as much as possible before you even get started. Additionally, we recently published a post for those breeding dogs for the first time.
Scroll down to know what you should do, step by step, to succeed in dog breeding and don’t forget to sign up to our free dog breeding email course (+ several bonuses!)
It all starts with establishing a realistic dog breeding program where you will lay out the foundation of your project – what do I want my dogs to be known for? Answering this question requires you to think about how you start a kennel and establish its primary goals. In order to grasp most dog breeding concepts, you will need to do a lot of reading ranging from Mendelian inheritance to dog championship titles.
Successful dog breeding has never been easy and I would even say that a huge majority of ethical breeders produce dogs that do not necessarily improve after several generations. It doesn’t mean they are bad breeders, though. It simply means they do not better the breed as a whole. They may advertise themselves as certified dog breeders but the proof is in the pudding.
How to breed dogs is not necessarily the right question to ask because it is too vague. A dog breeding program is here to precise your short, mid and long-term goals and objectives. Before thinking about finding the right sire or bitch, you must clearly outline your dog breeding program. About 90% of dog breeders do not think of doing it, and that’s why most fail.
If you do not have a clear idea of your short and long-term dog breeding objectives, don’t even start. You’ll get lost and will never know if you are succeeding or not because you’ll have no scorecard.
A dog breeding program is a document you start with two columns:
- What I want my dogs to have — abilities to perform a job, specific looks
- What I don’t want my dogs to have — inherited medical conditions, subjective defects
Once you know what you want and do not want, it is time to start learning more about which bloodlines you will find these desirable traits in. Ask breed judges, local breeders, online groups, mentors. Try to get “the eye” of the breeder.
Obviously, each breed is different in some aspects and as a responsible dog breeder, you must comprehend and master these specificities. Before breeding your dogs, email your local and national breed clubs to ask for some literature and pieces of advice. We’ve written a few articles for specific dog breeds:
- American Bully breeding
- American Pit Buller Terrier breeding
- Beagle breeding
- Bernese Mountain dog breeding
- Bulldog breeding
- Border Collie breeding
- Boston Terrier breeding
- Boxer breeding
- Brittany Spaniel breeding
- Bull Terrier breeding
- Bullmastiff breeding
- Cane Corso breeding
- Chihuahua breeding
- Chow Chow breeding
- Corgi breeding
- Dachshund breeding
- Doberman breeding
- English Setters breeding
- French Bulldog breeding
- German Shepherd breeding
- Great Dane breeding
- Greyhound breeding
- Griffon breeding
- Havanese breeding
- Husky dog breeding
- Labrador breeding
- Löwchen breeding
- Maltese breeding
- Olde English Bulldogge breeding
- Papillon breeding
- Pomeranian breeding
- Poodle breeding
- Pug breeding
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks breeding
- Rottweiler breeding
- Samoyed breeding
- Shih Tzu breeding
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier breeding
- Tibetan Mastiff breeding
- Yorkshire Terrier breeding
We will write more of these specific articles in the future but overall, all dog breeds belong to the same species, Canis familiaris, and we’ve written over 500 articles on dog breeding, where these breed-specific articles are just one page long. Focus on dog breeding first because heredity works the same way for all breeds, and once you are ready, learn as much as possible about your particular dog breed and its peculiarities.
Remember that dog abortion exists in most countries. Pet overpopulation exists and we recommend people to breed their dogs if they believe they can all be adopted by responsible dog owners. Abortion is also an ethical decision you must take on behalf of your female dog(s). Obviously, if you are excluding some female dogs from your breeding program, you must absolutely spay them.
Once you know where you want to be, you have to learn the essence of dog breeding. Canine genetics and heredity are what makes everything possible. It is not the easiest part but if you want to improve your breeding skills, you’ve got to take the minutes or hours to understand the role of canine genetics in dog breeding.
Just mentioning canine genetics usually scares people off. I get it, people think about DNA, chromosomes, genes, alleles, and other words we don’t really remember the definitions of.
We aren’t scientists — we are dog breeders. In other words, we only need to master the aspects of canine genetics that we can then use to better our bloodlines, generation after generation. Genetics are the foundation of all heredity and if you want to replicate or remove specific traits from dogs, you have to understand the mechanisms behind genetics and heredity in dogs.
Amongst everything we can find in the genetic field, I believe the below is the minimum to baggage to learn by heart in order to breed quality dogs:
- Cells, DNA, Chromosomes & Genes — definitions we should all know by now
- Dominant & Recessive Genes — each gene may have different forms that are expressed as different traits
- Genetic Expression — process by which the information contained within a gene, or several genes, becomes a useful and functional product
- Gene Pool — set of all genes, or genetic information, in a population such as a dog breed
- Genetic & Environmental Influences — the dog’s phenotype is influenced by its genotype but also by environmental factors
To most of you, this sounds very confusing but this is the essence of breeding dogs or any other species. Go through our canine genetics articles or if you want everything clearly laid out for you, check out our dog breeding master course.
Keep in mind that selective dog breeding is supervised by humans and can be the best way to improve a breed, but it can also destroy one (e.g. the English Bulldog). When you let random dogs mate, you let their instincts decide whether or not they are suitable for each other. When you select what sire will mate with what dam, you are responsible for any wrongdoings and achievements.
If you think that you can just pick two dogs because they look good to then organize a breeding, you’re very wrong. As a dog breeder, you initially need to fully understand both male and female dog reproductive systems.
Once both bodies, along with their organs and endocrine systems, are known you can decide what breeding strategy to adopt in order to meet your goals. Remember that there is no absolute best breeding technique. Some provide results quickly but come with bad traits (e.g. inbreeding) while others may dilute qualities you got in your bloodline currently but bring more hybrid vigor (e.g. outcrossing).
Although there is no absolute best way of breeding, there is a breeding style that is more suitable at a certain time for a certain goal that you have.
- Linebreeding incorporates and passes on specific traits on a continuous basis to the next generations
- Inbreeding will set those characteristics and traits in stone by increasing homozygosity of recessive genes to uniformize litters
- Back-breeding is a form of inbreeding where one dog mates with another dog to then mate with the strongest from that litter
- Grading up allows you to start with an average stock and gradually improve your dogs by bringing quality external blood
- Outcrossing introduces new characteristics in your bloodline that will then have to be improved and reinforced
- Outbreeding (i.e. cross-breeding) is mainly used to breed hybrid dogs and crosses such as Labradoodle, Cockapoo, and other designer breeds
Having a deep understanding of your program, your dogs and their characteristics is crucial so you can then use the most appropriate breeding styles to see improvements over the very next generations. Each litter that you produce is a wonderful occasion for you to spot the best specimens that you will want to keep for the future of your bloodline; this is called the first pick of the litter. You may also grant that right to the stud owner instead of a cash payment for a stud service.
Just a precision: back-breeding, as defined above, should not be confused with back to back breeding. Breeding a bitch back to back means making her have a litter over several consecutive heats instead of giving her some rest in between pregnancies. Usually, breeders favoring back to back breeding do so in order to retire the bitch a lot earlier.
Dog breeders must be careful to not practice overbreeding: produce too frequent litters from a given bitch or stud. On the marketing side, you are diluting your great blood and scarcity disappears. A buyer can get your female’s blood from her, or from one of her multiple offsprings. On the health side, overbreeding dogs is a disgusting malpractice that leads to horrible health complications including eclampsia, malnutrition, uterine infections, and weak litters.
A lot of new dog breeders tend to obsess over the idea of inbreeding their dogs as if it is the key to success. Inbreeding dogs, while being a useful method for dog breeders, is as risky as it can be beneficial. The consequences of inbreeding can, in some cases, wipe entire litters of puppies and it takes an experienced breeder to use this technique with caution. If you’re just starting with dog breeding, avoid inbreeding for now. We also covered specific cases of inbreeding that nobody should do: father to daughter, and brother to sister.
Dog breeders work in different ways. Some work tirelessly to find their founding breeding dogs, while other stumble on the right stud or dam that makes them look into dog breeding. Regardless of the breeder’s personal “why”, what matters is that dogs are only selected due to their great characteristics, not because of subjective feelings.
A reputable dog breeder never breeds two dogs because of intuition. Instead, it is a long period filled with studies of dozens and dozens of bloodlines and pedigrees of potential matches.
Pedigree analysis means the thorough research of the ancestors of a given dog in order to establish their weaknesses, strengths, and whether or not we can spot a pattern or repetition of desirable or undesirable traits and characteristics. Some valuable pieces of information you can quickly find from a dog’s pedigree chart include:
- Titles and Awards
- Inbreeding Level
- Patterns of Desired and Undesired Traits
- Coat Types, Colors and Patterns
- Stud Book and Ancestry
Because we don’t have access to the potential matches’ genome, we must study each dog’s ancestors one by one and go back to as many generations as possible. Some traits are recessive and can be carried over each generation without showing. If you only study one generation, you can be tricked; but if you study ten generations, you will see the defect or pattern at some point.
Extremely valuable information that we have got access to lately thanks to public databases is whether or not a dog is affected by a given inherited (or not) medical condition or disease. Indeed, DNA screening tests have helped breeders breed defects out of the breed way more easily than in the past. Remember that some flaws are not that serious but may take several generations to be completely out of your bloodline.
Lastly, when you read a pedigree for desired traits, you can tackle a pedigree analysis in two ways:
- selecting dogs that show the desired results, or
- selecting dogs that are proven to have clear measurable physical features that are responsible for a given desired result.
For example, if you breed dogs for running speed, you can either breed dogs which ancestors where known to run fast, or you could study what makes a dog run fast and focus on picking partners with these characteristics (longer legs, high muscle mass, lean body, etc.)
The bitch heat cycle and her pregnancy are both essential components of successful dog breeding. You must understand these perfectly (and it’s not rocket science) in order to put all the chances on your side for a successful litter.
Let’s start with what comes first: the season and the heat cycle. There are four phases forming a cycle that repeats itself throughout a female dog’s life:
- The Proestrus Stage (9 to 11 days) — start of the heat/season, her estrogen levels start rising and her body and mood are both changing
- The Oestrus Stage (9 to 11 days) — eggs are released from ovaries, male and female are both attracted to each other and mating should occur during this window
- The Diestrus Stage (58 to 63 days) — if the mating is successful, the pregnancy takes place now and will last 63 days; if not, her body will slowly come back to normal
- The Anestrus Stage (4 to 5 months) — the quiescence and recovery period where her sex hormones are at their lowest
The heat lasts approximately three weeks (proestrus + oestrus), and it is during the oestrus stage that the mating should occur to be successful. We’ve got an in-depth article about the signs and stages of the dog heat cycle that you should absolutely read.
Mind that once the bitch is bred, she may still be bred by another stud and you may end up with a litter having different fathers. It is totally possible.
The mating itself, often called tie or coitus, can be a little weird to witness as once the stud has penetrated the female, he will often turn his back around. It looks odd and scary and can be a little painful at times, but please let Mother Nature handle the situation. If you are keen, we’ve written a full article about the copulatory tie in dogs (i.e. sexual intercourse in the canine species.) The mating should be held in a stress-free area, ideally at the home of the least experienced partner. Be patient and helpful with unexperienced studs as they may struggle during their first few times.
We’ve got an illustrated coit and whelping timeline that shows you everything, step by step, from the mating to the delivery of the puppies, including what’s happening in the womb throughout the pregnancy.
I hope this makes everything a little clearer now, but have a look at these two links to see visuals and more information about the heat, mating, and pregnancy. If you believe your bitch is going through an abnormal heat cycle, you must consult a vet in order to clarify your female’s situation. Unless they get spayed, female dogs do not go through menopause (unlike women.)
A very hot topic in dog breeding circles is whether or not back to back breeding is healthier for the bitch. Our answer is that it actually depends: breeding back to back is better for the uterus of your dam, but not necessarily for the rest of her body (ie. tiredness and nervous system). It’s important to remember that it’s commonly forbidden to breed your female dog on her first couple of heats for health reasons — read our article about when to breed dogs for more information on the best age to breed a dog!
Canine gestation is of 9 weeks or 63 days on average from the day of ovulation. Errors are often made when it comes to predicting the exact date of ovulation. Indeed, a male’s sperm is able to live for 10 days in the female’s uterine tubes and fertilize the eggs at any time during their lifespan. A pregnancy has three stages of development before the dog gets into active labor:
- Initial Gestation – embryos make it through the uterine horns
- Visible Growth – growth in the developing fetus
- Fetal Development – fetal development should be complete by around day 58
Puppies born before the 58th day of pregnancy are considered premature. A premature puppy is a puppy delivered preterm before he or she could complete their development. Many premature pups go on to live very normal happy lives while some do struggle with some occasional health problems.
Just a side note to remind you that you will not be able to confirm your female dog’s pregnancy using a human pregnancy test. Human tests only work thanks to a hormonal pregnancy marker only found in humans, not in dogs. There are pregnancy tests available for dogs but they are not as convenient and generally require a veterinarian.
Unsuccessful matings between two dogs happen just like they do in humans. Not every mating will result in a pregnancy but if you get the timing right, the female is generally going to be confirmed pregnant. Failed matings may happen here and there; it should not worry you at first. These unsuccessful breedings especially occur at the beginning of a dog’s life: during the first few heats of the female, or during the teenage years of a stud. With more time, maturity starts to make both dogs a lot more fertile and ready for parenthood.
Signs of labor can vary from bitch to bitch but she will usually be restless, isolated and get off her food the last hours. The drop in her rectal temperature will confirm that the labor is on its way.
Normal labor and delivery in dogs have three stages:
- The Bitch’s Body Prepares For Delivery
- The Delivery Of The Puppies
- The Passage Of The Placenta
In some rare cases, it is highly recommended to call your vet to seek real medical advice if you witness alerting signs. We’re detailing them all in our bestseller, The Dog Breeder’s Handbook. On top of these possible emergencies, you need to remain attentive and look out for some symptoms of sickness a few hours or days after the delivery.
Canine dystocia, which is a general term used to describe birthing difficulties in dogs and miscarriages, may happen for the entire litter, or just for one or several puppies within a given litter. There are many types of canine dystocias in dogs and the most common are the following:
- uterine insufficiency (or inertia)
- gestational diabetes
- uterine infection
- birth canal and reproductive tract issues
- malpresentation of a puppy
- defects in fetus or puppy
- dead fetus
Most pregnancy difficulties in dogs are invisible to us humans: they happen and we do not even notice them. Female dogs are exceptionally resilient beings when it comes to going through their term! However, during the last weeks and days of a canine pregnancy, puppies are larger and made of harder tissues and bones so any complication will be difficult to hide and ignore. Emergency cesarean sections may be required and you must be able to prepare your dog and yourself for it.
Some female dogs correctly mated and even show clear signs of pregnancy while in fact, she is not pregnant at all. This is called a pseudopregnancy, false pregnancy or phantom pregnancy. It is emotionally hard on the entire family as everything seems to fall in place only to later discover there was no pregnancy in the first place. In some other situations, the problem could be fetal resorption in which the female dog absorbs one or many of her own puppies.
Common causes of dystocia in dogs are an inappropriate breeding age (too senior, too young), obesity, brachycephalic and toy breeds, environmental stress, and breeds with known birthing difficulties like English Bulldogs, Frenchies or Boston Terriers.
The new family needs peace and a lot of rest during the nursing of the puppies. Initially, for the first three weeks, the mother and the pups are one unit. The mother dog ends up doing everything for her litter:
- providing them with immune defenses,
- keeping them warm,
- feeding them,
- stimulating them so they can defecate, and
- cleaning their excrements.
Some new breeders or occasional breeders are having a difficult time going through their first litter. Often wondering how much a newborn puppy should weigh, how do they look like and what to look out for?
In the first few hours after their delivery, the puppies will be fed by their mother every two hours or so. Never interrupt that as these first milk feeding sessions will deliver the puppies with what is called colostrum. If the mother fails to nurse her puppies, you will need to step in in order to bottle-feed the puppies with a puppy-specific milk formula; do not hesitate as it is a matter of life or death during the first days. If your puppies are way too small to suckle on a bottle’s teat, you may need syringes to practice tube-feeding instead.
There is so much to say about the rearing of newborn puppies so it is an actual module in our dog breeding master course. Crucial focus points include:
- nutrition and hydration of the mother
- hygiene of the whelping box and the whelps
- weighing of each puppy daily
- keep the room temperature at 30°C (or 86°F)
- balanced nutrition of the growing puppies
- stimulation of the puppies for sanitation
From the third week, puppies should start to accept solid foods that are moist and fine-textured. From the fifth week, they should be completely weaned.
Puppies have a fragile and weak immune system during their first weeks. Their only defense comes from the colostrum delivered by the mom during the first hours after delivery. First parasites to eliminate: worms. They are actually not a huge threat, they do not want to kill, they simply want to use the puppy as a dinner plate.
A vaccination course is recommended to prevent a particular illness. They must be given by a professional following a particular timeline. The most convenient option is to use a multivalent vaccine to protect the puppy against multiple diseases in one injection.
Throughout the nursing of the litter, you may notice that one or several puppies may seem weaker, smaller, and less alert than their littermates. Such a puppy is colloquially called the runt of the litter. Although there is no medical definition to describe a runt in a litter, just make sure you provide enough care and perhaps a special diet plan to make sure the runt of your litter has a steady weight growth.
Over the last decade, there has been a surge in a more natural, ethical, and responsible approach to nursing a litter of puppies. We’ve written an article on holistic dog breeders to highlight what do they do differently.