Dog breeding as a scientific field is confusing. Best practices change over time, theory and practice don’t always converge, and the grass seems greener the way other breeders do things. Here are the 33 frequently asked questions about dog breeding.
With so many areas to consider, such as mating, whelping and pregnancy, it is no wonder that there are multiple regularly searched questions about dog breeding. We have collected 33 of the most popular and commonly asked dog breeding questions. Here they are answered and briefly summarised to give you the straight answer you’re looking for.
Regardless of whether you have been breeding dogs for twenty years or have just decided that dog breeding is something you would like to pursue, this article will answer and explain all of your burning questions and give you the base knowledge you need. Even before the moment of insemination, owners possess a multitude of questions about dog breeding from an understanding of behavior, welfare and even the required preparation from before mating to the aftercare and raising of new-born puppies.
Without dog breeding knowledge, it is normal for a breeder to worry about the processes involved. That is why we have built this guide to help even the most experienced dog breeder learn and feel a little more comfortable with the answers of their dog breeding questions. Straightforward summaries take out the stress of searching through endless documents. Hence why we have compacted each answer into easy-to-read summaries.
1. How long are dogs pregnant?
Pregnancy has an estimated length of nine weeks broken down into three periods of bodily changes. similar to humans. Each stage has different hormonal/physiological responses but each lasts only three weeks.
2. When can you breed a female dog?
This question can be separated into two answers. Is she ready to breed biologically and is it ethical to breed her now? Both elements should be considered.
A female may be sexually mature by six months (on average). But it can be as late as two years depending on breed and individual differences. Is the female biologically viable but also could she sustain the difficulties of pregnancy? An estimate of this can usually be made after three heat cycles. A swollen vulva and bloody discharge, both which may last up to three weeks, can identify a heat cycle. Behaviourally a female may also act nervous and high strung, possibly pacing, licking the inflamed area and even whining.
The bitch should be a healthy weight for her breed. You should also consider the female dog’s recent health:
- Has she had any injuries she is recovering from?
- Does she struggle to walk? this would only get more difficult with pregnancy so also needs to be considered.
So the quick answer is roughly two years, the true answer is knowing your individual and their breed.
3. How old does a male dog have to be to get a female pregnant?
Similar to female, male dogs are usually sexually mature by six months. However, responsible breeders often wait until the male is a year or two old to breed. This allows you to check he is healthy, mature and to understand his true temperament (Kustritz, 2007).
Different breeds mature at different times. You can usually predict that biologically your male is ready to mate by one year. This helps guarantee a healthy male who is in his prime and not just sexually mature.
4. How many times should you breed a female dog in her lifetime?
One litter every 18 months to two years. Breeders recommend this time so the female is a suitable age to be a mother, she has healed properly from a previous pregnancy and previous litters have been fully weaned. Every six months a female can physically give birth, but allow her time to let her uterus to return to normal size and her body to recover. Let the female rest and heal after birth, especially if she had to have a cesarean section.
Another school of thought recommends breeding a female dog back to back for several heats in a row, before performing a big or final pause. That way, you optimize the number of puppies produced during the female dog’s prime-time when her body is able to cope with repeat pregnancies. The issue here is the lack of hindsight and how tired the female’s body will be.
The recommended starting breeding age for females is two years old, in reference to an earlier question about dog breeding. Therefore with the average lifespan of a dog being around ten to twelve years, you could expect a female to have six litters in her lifetime. It is worth considering that the AKC only accept four litters per bitch though.
5. How often should the mother feed her puppies?
As soon as the mother gives birth up until the first week of a litter’s life, the puppies will feed roughly every two hours. By two to four weeks this will gradually decrease to around every six to eight hours. Usually, breeders begin the transition of introducing puppies onto dry food at this time. By eight weeks the puppies will have fully transferred onto dry food. Therefore the mother will no longer need to feed the pups.
The puppies should be monitored to check they are latching and all feeding regularly. The mother should be producing milk and not seem to be in discomfort during latching, a possible sign of mastitis. These may all affect the effectiveness of feeding from mother to pup. If mastitis could be a possible explanation, take her to the vet for antibiotics and make sure to allow her extra rest.
6. How long after mating can you tell if a dog is pregnant?
After three to four weeks, multiple methods can be conducted to detect a positive pregnancy:
- blood testing for the hormone Relaxin,
- trans-abdominal palpation, and
- abdominal ultrasound.
All three methods are more reliable after 27-28 days. The most popular method is usually an ultrasound as veterinarians are also able to count the litter size (Tavern, 1985).
Behavioral changes can take place relatively early on including a loss of appetite and decreased activity levels. Although, these may be a result of a number of things including a false pregnancy so are not reliable. Breast tissue may also increase and the nipple coloration can change. These can be signs of pregnancy but may also show changes in health, so again, have low reliability.
7. What age can I stud my dog?
A dog should not become a stud until the age of two, even though they can be sexually mature by six months. It is also important to check their semen quality as usually only 75% motility or over is acceptable.
Any stud dog used must be of good health and possess minimal health defects. It is worth noting that the number of health defects an individual has is often breed-dependant. These factors can be affected by age so it is better to wait until a minimum of one year to stud your male if not two.
8. How many litters can an AKC-registered dog have?
Four litters per registered bitch may be recorded by the AKC, this must be from a female who:
- Is over 1 year of age
- Is under 8 years of age
- The offspring are not a result of direct incestual breeding (ex. Father and daughter)
- Should not have whelped more than one litter within a year
All these requirements must have been filled in order for the female to register a litter, and then that female may register up to four litters but no more.
9. How can I help my dog produce more milk?
Firstly it is important to check that your lactating female dog is receiving the right care and welfare.
As she is providing milk for her puppies and needs nutrients herself, it is often recommended to feed her three times the normal amount of food. This ensures all puppies and the bitch are fed. Further checks should be in regards to her water intake, she will need more than normal to replenish the liquid she is losing from both milk production and usual bodily requirements and functions.
Minimizing stress, keeping the female calm and happy will also aid milk productions as stress can interfere. If milk production remains an issue, it is most likely that her health may be at risk and a vet check will identify the problem.
If her health is okay, vets can often recommend milk production supplements such as increased zinc, but always contact a professional first to make sure both the puppies and female are healthy and if supplements should be provided.
10. Is the heat cycle of dogs the same for all breeds?
Timing can vary depending on the dog’s breed. Indeed, smaller breeds generally become sexually mature with the first few months of life whereas larger breeds can take up to eighteen months. Similarly, smaller breeds may have up to three cycles a year compared to the average of two in larger breeds.
Another difference is the behavior displayed by the female during their heat cycle, larger dogs with a possible calmer temperament may show more anxiety and smaller dogs may show the reverse, it is all breed-specific and individual dependent.
11. From what week can I bathe my puppies?
You will want to avoid bathing puppies until they are a minimum of four weeks old. Until this age, they have a very fragile immune system along with no ability to regulate their temperature (Thach, 2007). Furthermore, when bathing a newborn puppy, their skin is extremely sensitive and soap will irritate it, cause discomfort and pain.
Their mother will lick them to clean them up until this point! If the mother is not participating, encouragement can be given. Try dabbing something the mother can lick off of the puppy, this is commonly seen behavior in first-time mothers.
12. How can I count the puppies inside my dog?
Three weeks into your dog’s pregnancy, a veterinarian can use an ultrasound to count the number of puppies, although the accuracy is increased at around four weeks of pregnancy. During this time a physical trans-abdominal examine can also be conducted for stronger confirmation, again by a trained veterinarian.
13. Can one tie ensure fertilization?
A tie is defined as the swelling of the penis during dog mating which causes the male to stay attached to the female. This allows the ejaculation to be fully released and thereby increase the probability of successful mating.
One tie can increase the probability of successful fertilization, but just because one tie is made does not guarantee this. As a tie occurs when the knot is fully inside the female, the time period during the tie helps aid the sperm to fully enter the female. Therefore a stud with a regular sperm count should have minimal problems inseminating a female. But multiple ties should take place to ensure pregnancy with rests in between for both individuals.
14. Is it safe to spay a pregnant dog?
Yes, it is. There can be a slightly increased risk of blood loss as during pregnancy there is increased blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, for a sustained pregnancy, and therefore it can also increase the price of the procedure (White, 2012). But overall many vets do it and the risk is only increased slightly.
The pregnancy will be terminated and the uterus and ovaries removed to prevent further pregnancies. As the pregnancy is terminated, none of the puppies will survive. Furthermore, due to the surgery having a longer recovery time it is usually considered quite strenuous anyway. With the pregnancy termination, the bitch may have increased fatigue and distress due to pregnancy removal and hormone change.
15. When should bloody discharge stop after whelping?
Discharge can take place for up to three weeks after birth due to fetal and placental remains. However, this discharge should not be bloody and in fact, it should be green in coloring. Once there is no brown discharge left, the placenta has been birthed and there should be no more red/brown discharge coming from the female.
If discharge after birth is bloody or brown after the placenta birth or remains after three weeks, this may be a cause of concern and the mother should be taken to the vets.
16. What is late-cycle breeding in dogs?
Late cycle breeding in dogs refers to mating the bitch towards a later period of ovulation during her heat cycle, this is to ensure that an egg has been released and is in hopes to increase the probability of successful fertilization. Drawbacks with this are that although a female may remain receptive for up to five days at the end of the cycle, breeders may misjudge the timing and leave the mating too late.
If a mating takes place too early, a female will not yet have released the egg through the fallopian tubes into the uterus. And therefore, she cannot become pregnant as it rarely can become fertilized in the fallopian tubes, the sperm usually die before reaching them. Too late of a mating and the female may have bled the egg out already along with the uterus lining, leaving nothing for the male to fertilize.
17. What essential health checks should be done before mating dogs?
Your dog should be eating, drinking, and defecating regularly. Individuals should also be behaving normally for their temperament, i.e. an outgoing dog is outgoing, indicating a healthy and happy individual but should generally have no discomfort or trouble moving. Checking your dog’s body for any injuries, lumps or displays of pain before mating is a crucial step. Your dog should also be of an appropriate weight for their age, gender, and breed.
Specific checks can be made for both genders.
- Males – The testes and penis should be examined for any unusual coloring, cutes, swellings or general abnormalities such as unusual discharge. It should also be confirmed that they are ejaculating normally.
- Females – The vulva should have no abnormalities visible such as abnormal swelling or discharge (other to what is expected) and her breast tissue and nipples should be of good health i.e. not crusty, bleeding or displaying anything abnormal.
18. Can a puppy's temperament change during adulthood?
Gentle introductions through their care, training, and environment can all change a puppy’s temperament. However, the argument of nature-nurture does play a role here and currently, it is argued that an animal’s behavior and personality are 60% nurture, 40% nature. Therefore, during sensitive periods in a puppy’s life, they can become calmer, more energetic, confident. Different encouragement and training can change their temperament (Jones and Gosling, 2005). But a dog will always retain a level of their individual personality and natural behavior from breed type and gender.
19. What equipment and tools do I need when puppies come out?
General whelping kit items are kept by all dog breeders but here we try to explain why and when they are needed.
- Towels and newspapers – for keeping the area clean and warm
- A vet contact number with either the means to travel there or a vet who will travel to you
- A prepared dog whelping box, complete with fresh bedding such as newspaper, guard rails and hot water bottles for the birth
- Surgical gloves in case the bitch needs any aid
- Forceps (multiple in case of excessive bleeding) and scissors in case there are issues with the umbilical cords
Research your breed of dog as some have higher-risk labors than others and may need extra care and equipment. Certain breeds may be prone to small hips or large litters which can be cause for concern.
20. Can I separate newborn puppies from mother?
Puppies should only be removed from their mothers under emergency circumstances. Such as an injured puppy or if a litter is so large one may need to be hand-raised. However, separating a puppy from its mother and litter too early can lead to a number of behavioral issues such as separation anxiety and even lead to poor health and energy levels in the puppy.
Issues may also occur for the mother as she can become aggressive during the separation or even pine after the loss of a single puppy (although this is uncommon with the loss of one), and this can lead to decreased appetite, thereby diminished health in the female and the rest of the offspring. It is usually recommended for a puppy to be separated from their mother at six to eight weeks to allow for a developed immune system and social skills.
21. What tests should be done on the 1st week of puppies?
Monitoring your puppies’ gradual weight gain during the first week is crucial, although it is common for their weight to decrease in the first twenty-four hours so don’t be concerned, usual weight gain is 10% of their original weight each day.
General health checks should be done regularly but quickly so as not to disturb the mother. Checking the skin, latching ability and defecation of each puppy are all-important checks in their first week of life. Lack of vocalization and movement does not necessarily indicate an unwell puppy, it’s about knowing that breed and comparing the individuals in the litter.
22. How can I help stimulate puppy stool and urine?
Ideally, the mother should be stimulating the puppy to defecate and urinate through licking their anus and genitalia. First-time mothers may struggle though or feel overwhelmed.
If human interference is required, offer a warm cotton swab or ball wiped from the genitalia to anus a few times can help encourage the puppy to release stool and urine. Puppies should be urinating and defecting multiple times a day if you find this not to be the case, veterinary help should be sought out. Possible health problems could be constipation or bowel issues, both need professional consultation.
23. How to help a puppy to latch?
With clean hands, move the puppy towards the mother’s teats. The puppy should be able to move around and find the teat to latch onto, however, on occasion, a puppy can still struggle.
Positioning the puppy’s mouth in front of the teat and pressing the teat to allow for some milk to be released can often help along with gently opening the puppy’s mouth and moving it so the teat is then within their mouth.
After this, a puppy will usually latch on due to tasting the milk and feeling the teat, if problems still occur, this is the time to contact a vet.
24. Can I register my unregistered bitch's puppies?
No, In order to register a littler with the American Kennel Club, the mating must have taken place between both a registered female and registered male. Consider all the registration options such as temporary or the option to register your dog even if they were not born in the USA. Other questions about breeding rights concerning the AKC can be answered on their website’s FAQ.
25. How many times a day should I feed my puppy?
Increase the puppies’ amount of dry food (mixed with warm water or milk) from once a day to three times a day. You should maintain this routine change until the puppies no longer use their mother’s milk. When the puppies are below six months old, feed them three times a day, after this, you should feed them once in the morning and once in the evening.
Refer to question five for feeding times up to the age of four weeks.
26. At what age can a puppy start to socialize?
The canine socialization period takes place between 0 to 16 weeks and is one of the multiple sensitive periods in a puppy’s life. Introduce your puppy to everything new and scary in this time period to create strong social foundations that will last them a lifetime (Hiby et al. 2004). Puppies should be gently introduced to dogs and humans as soon as they are able to walk, just make sure they will be tolerant of typical puppy behavior.
Be careful not to take your puppies outside before they have had their appropriate jabs though, also be cautious to introduce them to individuals who aren’t too playful and could injure them.
27. When should I change from puppy to adult dog food?
Deciding when to transition from puppy food onto adult dog food often depends on the breed type. Once your puppy reaches adult height, they are ready for adult food. Small breeds can mature just under a year whereas large breeds can take up to two years to do so. Therefore this is very breed dependant.
To avoid an upset stomach, you should slowly transition your puppy onto adult food. Mix their current food with small proportions of their new food to do this. Keep replacing the old food with the new until no old food needs to be added. This process should take around a week to do.
28. How can I stop a puppy's diarrhea?
The root cause has to be identified first, as there is no one straight forward reason. Although diarrhea is common for puppies, due to how quickly it can dehydrate an individual it can be life-threatening. Therefore mild conditions of diarrhea are usually diagnosable and treatable at home. However, make sure to quickly take your puppy to the vet if it becomes severe.
Usually, diarrhea is usually caused by an upset stomach, due to stress or diet, or from illness. Minimizing stress can aid a puppy, such as moving their whelping box to a quieter area. Make sure all the puppies are latching well, hydrated and if they have progressed to dry food it is worth considering slowly changing the brand to see if this is the cause or even removing dry food entirely for a few days until their stomach has settled. If you suspect illness, not a change in their behavior or appearance, then it is recommended to take them to the vet immediately.
29. Can puppies get Parvovirus?
Dogs of any age can get Parvovirus through direct transmission (fecal matter) or indirect, it is also highly contagious (Evermann et al. 2005).
At six, ten and fourteen weeks of age puppies should be vaccinated for Parvovirus. Monitor your puppies and keep them in safe environments as the contraction is still possible even after vaccination. If contracted, immediately contact your vet and change your puppies’ diet – if they are on dry food, to more bland ingredients.
30. Can a mother dog go through depression after birth?
Postpartum depression can take place in female dogs and be noticeable after birth or up to a few weeks after delivery. It isn’t a commonly known possibility and therefore is a rarely asked question of dog breeding, something which breeders should become more aware of.
Symptoms can be a loss of interest in the puppies, food, playing (once the puppies are self-sufficient) and normal behavior the individual usually shows. She may sleep more, another symptom of postpartum depression, hence why monitoring her closely can help you detect this change after birth. Treat your pet with either medication or increased exercise and attention. Your vet will be able to advise you with treatment is best for the situation.
31. Why does my puppy howl?
Howling is a form of canine communication and there are many reasons it may occur. This may be instinct, reaction to noise or mimicry of the mother and siblings. It could mean something is wrong with their health and it is a sign to alert this. Monitoring each individual in the litter and comparing all their behaviors to one another can help identify the true cause.
32. Why is my puppy scooting on the floor?
Generally, this is because of itchiness in or around the anus. With puppies, the main cause is usually improper hygiene. Encouraging the mother to clean the area through licking or wiping the area yourself with warm damp cotton can help.
Other reasons which would need veterinarian check-ups include worms, their anal glands and skin irritation or pain (Sivakumar et al. 2018). These factors are more prominent in certain breeds. Adults can perform the behavior to attract attention. However, puppies are usually preoccupied with their littermates to have this as a cause.
33. Do older dogs go through menopause?
Menopause does not exist in dogs due to their more spaced out heat cycles. Therefore older dogs can still become pregnant. Although the older a female, the more difficult and risky a pregnancy would be. Which is often why breeders will spay bitches after their fourth registered AKC litter. For ethical and health reasons but also because this is the maximum number of litters the AKC will register from each female.