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. If possible, introduce the mating partners over the course of a few days through play dates.
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!