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 breeding program where you will layout the foundation of your project: what do I want my dogs to be known for?
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 breeders, you must comprehend and master these specificities. Before breeding your dogs, email your local and national breed clubs to ask for some literatures and pieces of advice. We’ve written a few articles for specific dog breeds:
- American Bully breeding
- Bulldog breeding
- Border Collie breeding
- Boxer breeding
- Cane Corso breeding
- English Setters breeding
- Greyhound breeding
- Griffon breeding
- Labrador breeding
- Löwchen breeding
- Papillon breeding
- Pomeranian breeding
- Pug breeding
- Rottweiler breeding
- Shih Tzu breeding
We will write more of these specific articles in the future but overall, all dog breeds belong to the same species and we’ve written over 300 pages 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.
Remember that dog abortion exists all over most countries but it’s then 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 scare 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 bloodline, 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
- 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
- Dominant & Recessive Genes — each gene may have different forms that are expressed as different traits
- 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.)
If you think that you can just pick two dogs because they look good to then organize a breeding, you’re very wrong.
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
- Outcrossing introduces new characteristics in your bloodline that will then have to be improved and reinforced
- Grading up allows you to start with an average stock and gradually improve your dogs by bringing quality external blood
- Outbreeding is mainly used to breed hybrid dogs and crosses such as Labradoodle, Cockapoo, and so on
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bitch heat cycle and the 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 oestrogen 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 her Oestrus window 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.)
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.
Canine gestation is of 9 weeks or 63 days on average from the day of ovulation. Errors are often made when it comes to predict the exact date of ovulation, this is due to the male’s sperm being able to live for 10 days in the female’s uterine tubes and fertilise the eggs at any time during their lifespan.
Signs of labour can vary from bitch to bitch but she will usually be restless, isolated and get off her food the the last hours. The drop in her rectal temperature will confirm that the labour is on its way.
A normal labour and delivery in dogs has 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 The Dog Breeder’s Handbook. On top of these possible emergencies, you need to remain attentive and look out for some symptoms of sickness few hours or days after the delivery.
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.
The new family needs peace and a lot of rest. Initially, for the first three weeks the mother and the pups are one unit. The mother ends up doing everything for her litter; keeping them warm, feeding them, stimulating them so they can defecate and even 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.
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 & Hydration Of The Mother
- Hygiene Of The Whelping Box & 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 defence 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.