Dog breeding is brutal, and nothing is worse than wondering how to breed dogs of high quality but not knowing where to start. While we covered many dog breeding questions, we endeavor to educate breeders, one article at a time.
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 your kennel!
There is no shortcut when you want to breed dogs responsibly: there are expenses, difficulties, and 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– and what to expect regarding challenges and expenditures.
How to start a kennel? Well, by learning as much as possible before you even get started. We recently published a post for those breeding dogs for the first time.
Before Starting to Breed
Before beginning to breed a dog, you must be prepared mentally, physically, emotionally, and even financially. Breeding a dog is not as easy as it sounds. Therefore, you must prepare a breeder’s kit to ensure you are ready for your breeding journey.
So, here are some things you need to prepare before starting to breed a dog, plus everything you need to know about pet insurance.
Dog Breeder’s Kit
Every dog breeder should be prepared before, during, and after breeding their dog. Being prepared helps you and your dog to be safe. The breeder’s kit may vary depending on your breed of dog, the way you want to do the breeding process, and the legal requirements in your country or state about breeding.
In general, here are some of the things that your breeder’s kit should have:
- Whelping checklist – whelping box, mat, quiet area, towels, thermometer, training pads, floss or yarn, heating pad, and so on
- Puppy supplies – puppy collar/yarn, bottles, puppy milk, puppy record checklist, nasal aspirators, syringe
- Mother supplies – clean, soft towels, food, water, calcium source
- Veterinarian contact information and clinic hours
Some breeders may deem dog insurance unnecessary since they will only have the puppies for some time. However, the pet insurance will mainly be for the mother dog at risk during breeding.
Since we are unsure of the possible things that could happen to the dam, it is best to have pet insurance to ensure that any birthing and other medical issues can be covered fully or at least partially. Pet insurance may vary depending on how long you want your dog to be covered or what kind of illnesses and circumstances you would like to include in the insurance.
Nevertheless, getting insurance for your mother dog is essential to dog breeding as it gives you more assurance that your dog will be taken care of whatever happens. Aside from getting the mother insured, you can also include the newborn puppies in the insurance to ensure that whatever the circumstance is, they will also be protected.
Your Dog Breeding Program
Outline realistic goals for your bloodline!
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. 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 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 never know if you are succeeding 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 learn more about which bloodlines you will find these desirable traits in. Ask breed judges, local breeders, online groups, and 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 advice.
We have written breed-specific articles to help you work with the following dog breeds:
- Alaskan Malamute breeding
- Affenpinscher breeding
- Airedale Terrier breeding
- American Bully breeding
- American Pit Buller Terrier breeding
- American Staffordshire Terrier breeding
- Australian Cattle Dog breeding
- Australian Shepherd breeding
- Basset Hound breeding
- Beagle breeding
- Bernese Mountain dog breeding
- Bichon Frise breeding
- Border Collie breeding
- Boston Terrier breeding
- Boxer breeding
- Brittany Spaniel breeding
- Bull Terrier breeding
- Bullmastiff breeding
- Cane Corso breeding
- Cavalier King Charles breeding
- Chihuahua breeding
- Chow Chow breeding
- Cocker Spaniel breeding
- Corgi breeding
- Dachshund breeding
- Dalmatian breeding
- Doberman breeding
- English Bulldog breeding
- English Setters breeding
- Fox Terrier breeding
- French Bulldog breeding
- German Shepherd breeding
- German Shorthaired Pointer breeding
- Great Dane breeding
- Greyhound breeding
- Griffon breeding
- Havanese breeding
- Husky dog breeding
- Irish Wolfhound breeding
- Labradoodle breeding
- Labrador breeding
- Löwchen breeding
- Maltese breeding
- Olde English Bulldogge breeding
- Papillon breeding
- Pomchi breeding
- Pomeranian breeding
- Pomsky breeding
- Poodle breeding
- Pug breeding
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks breeding
- Rottweiler breeding
- Saluki breeding
- Samoyed breeding
- Shar Pei breeding
- Shiba Inu breeding
- Shih Tzu breeding
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier breeding
- Tibetan Mastiff breeding
- Yorkipoo breeding
- Yorkshire Terrier breeding
We will write more of these specific articles in the future. Still, 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 breed their dogs if they believe they can all be adopted by responsible dog owners. Abortion is also an ethical decision you must take for your female dog(s). Obviously, if you exclude some female dogs from your breeding program, you must spay them.
Canine Genetics & Heredity
Understand the parents’ influence on a given litter
Once you know where you want to be, you must learn the essence of dog breeding. Canine genetics and heredity are what make 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 remember the definitions.
We aren’t scientists — we are dog breeders. In other words, we only need to master the aspects of canine genetics that we can use to better our bloodlines, generation after generation. Genetics is the foundation of all heredity. If you want to replicate or remove specific traits from dogs, you must 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 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 — the process by which the information contained within a gene, or several genes, becomes a valuable 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.
Remember that humans supervise selective dog breeding, which can be the best way to improve a breed but 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.
Dog Breeding Techniques
Understand what dog breeding strategy to adopt.
You’re wrong if you think you can pick two dogs because they look good to organize a mating. You must fully understand male and female dog reproductive systems and use the right breeding program strategy as a dog breeder.
Once both bodies, organs, and endocrine systems are known, you can decide what breeding strategy to adopt 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 breeding technique, a breeding style is more suitable at a specific time for your particular goal.
- Linebreeding incorporates and passes on specific traits continuously to the next generations.
- Inbreeding will set those characteristics and traits in stone by increasing the homozygosity of recessive genes to uniformize litters.
- Back-breeding is a form of inbreeding in which one dog mates with another dog to 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 must be improved and reinforced.
- Outbreeding (i.e., cross-breeding) is mainly used for breeding hybrid dogs and crosses such as Labradoodle, Cockapoo, and other designer breeds.
A deep understanding of your program, your dogs, and their characteristics is crucial so you can use the most appropriate breeding styles to see improvements over the next generations. Each litter you produce is a beautiful occasion for you to spot the best specimens 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 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 between pregnancies. Usually, breeders favoring back-to-back breeding do so to retire the bitch much earlier.
Dog breeders must be careful not to practice overbreeding: produce too frequent litters from a given bitch or stud. On the marketing side, you dilute your great blood, and scarcity disappears. A buyer can get your female’s blood from her or one of her multiple offspring. On the health side, overbreeding dogs is disgusting malpractice that leads to horrible health complications, including eclampsia, malnutrition, uterine infections, and weak litters.
Many 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 helpful method for dog breeders, is as risky as it can be beneficial. The consequences of inbreeding can sometimes wipe out entire litter of puppies, and it takes an experienced breeder to use this technique with caution. If you’re 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.
Partner Selection & Pedigree Analysis
How to study a dog’s history and pedigree to predict the future?
Dog breeders work in different ways. Some work tirelessly to find their founding breeding dogs, while others 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 outstanding 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 to establish their weaknesses and 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 individually and return 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.
We have access to precious information lately, thanks to public databases, 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 quickly than in the past. Remember that some flaws are not severe but may take several generations to be entirely 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 responsible for a given desired result.
For example, if you breed dogs for running speed, you can either breed dogs whose ancestors were 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.)
A quick and important note – a litter of puppies can have multiple fathers! The breeder must ensure only one male dog mates with the fertile female to avoid dealing with a multiple-sired litter.
Dog Heat Cycle
Understanding seasons and the perfect mating time
The bitch heat cycle and her pregnancy are essential to successful dog breeding. You must understand these perfectly (and it’s not rocket science) 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. Four phases form a cycle that repeats itself throughout a female dog’s life:
- The Proestrus Stage (9 to 11 days) — the 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 mating should occur during the oestrus stage 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, another stud may still breed her, 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 sometimes be a little painful, but please let Mother Nature handle the situation. If you are keen, we’ve written an entire 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 inexperienced studs, who may struggle during their first few times. If possible, introduce the mating partners over 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 look at these two links for visuals and more information about the heat, mating, and pregnancy. If you believe your bitch is going through an abnormal heat cycle, consult a vet to clarify your female’s situation. Unless they get spayed, female dogs do not go through menopause (unlike women.)
A hot topic in dog breeding circles is whether or not back-to-back breeding is healthier for the bitch. We believe 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 (i.e., 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!
Pregnancy, Labour & Delivery
Canine gestation is 9 weeks or 63 days on average from the day of ovulation. Errors are often made when it comes to predicting the exact ovulation date. Indeed, a male’s sperm can live for 10 days in the female’s uterine tubes and fertilize the eggs at any time during their lifespan. 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 can complete its development. Many premature pups go on to live very happy everyday lives, while some struggle with occasional health problems.
This is just a side note reminding you that you cannot confirm your female dog’s pregnancy using a human pregnancy test. Human tests only work thanks to a hormonal pregnancy marker found in humans, not dogs. Pregnancy tests are available for dogs but 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 will generally be confirmed pregnant. Failed matings may happen occasionally; it should not worry you first. These unsuccessful breedings mainly occur at the beginning of a dog’s life, during the first few heats of the female or the teenage years of a stud.
Signs of labor can vary from bitch to bitch, but she will usually be restless, isolated, and get off her food in the last hours. The drop in her rectal temperature will confirm that the labor is coming.
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, calling your vet for accurate medical advice is highly recommended if you witness alerting signs. We’re detailing them in our bestseller, The Dog Breeder’s Handbook. On top of these possible emergencies, you must remain attentive and look out for some sickness symptoms a few hours or days after the delivery.
Canine dystocia, a general term for 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 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 challenging 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 are correctly mated and even show clear signs of pregnancy while, in fact, they are not pregnant at all. This is called a pseudopregnancy, false pregnancy, or phantom pregnancy. It is emotionally demanding on the entire family as everything seems to fall in place, only to discover later 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 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.
Rearing of the Newborn Puppies
The new family needs peace and a lot of rest during the nursing of the puppies. Initially, the mother and the pups are one unit for the first three weeks. 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 excrement.
Some new or occasional breeders are having difficulty going through their first litter with all the crying going on. Often wonder how much a newborn puppy should weigh, what 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. Never interrupt that, as these first milk-feeding sessions will deliver the puppies with colostrum. If the mother fails to nurse her puppies, you must step in to bottle-feed them 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 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 rearing 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
Puppies should start accepting moist, fine-textured solid foods from the third week. From the fifth week, they should be completely weaned.
Puppies have a fragile 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: are worms. They are actually not a huge threat. In fact, 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 no medical definition describes a runt in a litter, ensure you provide enough care and perhaps a special diet plan to ensure your litter’s runt 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 they do differently.
Vaccinating your dog is essential for its overall health and safety. There are certain kinds of vaccines that they need at certain ages. To know more about this, you need to check with their veterinarian. But we have general guidelines on your pup’s vaccinations and when they need them.
|Distemper virus||6 to 8 weeks|
|Parvovirus||6 to 8 weeks|
|Hepatitis||10 to 12 weeks|
|Bordetella bronchiseptica||6 to 8 weeks|
|Parainfluenza virus||10 to 12 weeks|
Microchipping can be done by the breeder or by the new pet parents. Microchipping means putting an electronic chip in your dog’s ear to ensure that your dog has enough information to be found when it gets lost.
Ensure the information in your dog’s microchip is always correct and updated so you don’t have to worry about not finding your dog, as microchipping can also include GPS tracking information.
Registering your dog allows you to make your dog your official property or community member. Getting your dog licensed or registered will give you and your dog ownership protection under the law.
Moreover, if your dog is registered, it will be easier to locate it when it gets lost as it is registered in the community system. It will save your dog from being impounded or euthanized accidentally.
Providing essential training to your puppies before rehoming them will help your reputation as a breeder and lessen the chance of them being sent back to you. Some essential training includes potty training, basic commands, and routine training.
Be patient and gentle with the puppies. Not all of them can learn simultaneously and in the same way. Learn to adapt to their abilities and make sure to reinforce them positively. Avoid hitting or mistreating your puppies as it can lead to more unwanted behaviors.
When to Consider Neutering Your Dog
There are several considerations when neutering or spaying a dog. If your dog is a small or medium breed, you can ask their vet to neuter them at the age of 6 to 12 months since they are less likely to have joint or bone problems. However, if you have a much larger dog breed, you should neuter them around 9 to 18 months.
If your female dog is in heat, it is best to undergo surgery a few weeks after the cycle. It still depends on whether your female dog is mature enough for the surgery or if you need to wait until the second or third cycle to avoid some long-term illnesses and occurrence of infections.