Dogs are everybody’s best friend but they have to come from somewhere, right? That’s why dog breeding is important. A lot can go wrong when animals give birth, so breeders need to practice responsible breeding to make sure the pups are healthy, happy, and will go to happy owners across the country.
This guide details everything you need to do to breed dogs responsibly. To make it easier to read and address the concerns of certain readers, we’ve divided this guide into sections so you can find the information you need. If you’re new to all aspects of dog breeding, you should check the whole thing out to get well-rounded knowledge on the topic.
- Getting Ready To Breed A Litter
- Breeding To Improve
- Whelping Supplies
- When The Puppies Are Born
- Selling The Puppies
Bringing new life into the world is a huge responsibility, so we’ve provided sources and references for many of the subjects that have been covered. You can use these to read deeper into dog breeding and verify the information in this guide.
With that covered, let’s tackle dog breeding from the very beginning.
Table of contents
Getting Ready To Breed A Litter
The process of breeding dogs doesn’t start at conception – you need to be prepared first! Like the birthing of any animal, some specific practices and traditions have been used for centuries. It’s not just about the science involved, it’s also about the attitudes you have to the animals you’re breeding. We cover more on this later but the foremost goal of breeding should be to improve the dog breed, not just print more dogs for selfish purposes.
It is challenging and can be sad sometimes, but that can be minimized when you know exactly what you’re doing. Fortunately for you, you can specialize in a certain breed instead of becoming an expert in the entire canine species. Pick your favored breed and then learn as much as you can about their health, temperament, training, and the red tape that comes with breeding, owning and selling multiple dogs in your state or country. We’ve covered some of these below but we can only give generalized information that applies to all breeds.
Understand The Commitment
As we said, it is a big responsibility to bring any life into the world. Newborn animals are very vulnerable, so raising puppies is as time-consuming as a job. It’s not a job, however, and there is even a financial cost for breeding and raising puppies. Health testing and genetic screening don’t come cheap and neither do the food, supplies, or additional medical costs that come with new life, especially if there are abnormalities.
Even when getting rid of the pups, you should do your due diligence and make sure they are being sold to owners who will take care of them. Screening these owners comes with travel costs and time sunk getting to know the buyers and their homes. You also have to educate buyers about the dogs and how to care for them, especially when it comes to the unpleasant and negative aspects of ownership. If the dog’s size or coat style comes with specific requirements, it’s your job to know and tell the buyers when you make that sale.
Breeding To Improve
One of the foremost principles of breeding purebred dogs is to breed to improve. What does that mean? Well, you could gather a lot of canines with developmental and temperamental issues and use them to breed even more dogs with those issues, and then sell them on. This is irresponsible and doesn’t produce quality pets, so both the pups and the owners will have a worse experience. Breeding to improve is about advancing the work of the long line of breeders that have come before you, by taking a dog breed and adding another distinguished member to the species.
Here is how you can practice this mindset when researching and breeding dogs:
- Avoid kennel blindness, where you fail to evaluate the pros and cons of a dog breed before buying.
- Recognize the flaws of the dog, both at the breed level and on an individual level.
- Then, find a mate that compensates for those flaws.
- Find ways to objectively test the dog. A great way to do this is to attend dog shows where you can judge how the dog performs against the best examples of that breed.
Choosing A Suitable Mate
A pup is a mix of the sire and the dam’s best and worst traits, so you want to choose the best dogs you can. Once you have one of the breeding dogs, the mate also needs to be suitable to produce a good pup. A great way to ensure some quality is to make sure that the dogs are registered with organizations like the American Kennel Club and other local state-wide alternatives. If you wish to register the pup with the American Kennel Club, both parents will need to be registered with them too, so keep that in mind when selecting your dogs.
Remember that your dogs should complement each other. For example, if your dog has a poor coat then you should partner them with a bitch that has a good coat and has demonstrated that her family line has a trend of good coats. Even when doing this, you won’t be able to stamp out every issue that may arise in your animals. Just like with humans, no dog is perfect.
The issues that dogs commonly have come in two forms, health, and temperament. Health is simple enough, try to avoid hereditary defects but accept that pretty much all life on Earth has some problem areas running through their genetics. At least try to avoid the ones that are crippling or outright fatal, however.
Temperament is much more complicated. The nature versus nurture debate has been raging for centuries and isn’t ending anytime soon, so you can expect both genetics and environment to affect the attitude of your dogs. There’s a reason that our dogs don’t act like wolves, they have had cooperative behaviors bred into them, so you want to breed dogs that continue this long line of temperamental discipline.
No, we’re not expecting you to become a geneticist. When breeding dogs, or anything for that matter, you should at least have a basic understanding of genetics. You can do this without worrying about the specifics, you just need to know how genetics work on a larger scale and whether a dog’s lineage has genes that point to good health, mental soundness, good looks, and a calm but suitable temperament for the breed. You can identify most, if not all, of these just by looking at the parentage of the dogs. For purebred dogs, they should have pedigrees that you can easily consult to find relevant genetic information.
Choosing dogs based on genes alone is a recipe for disappointment. You should know the genes present in that dog’s line but judge the final product, the dog themselves. Recessive genes exist, too, so issues that may be present in the bloodline may not be present in the parents or even grandparents of a dog.
Here’s a brief rundown of the types of genetic issues you can expect:
- Dominant Inheritance Patterns – These are where just one abnormal gene is affecting the dog and its offspring consistently. The severity of these varies, as does the difficulty you’ll have in diagnosing them.
- Recessive Inheritance Patterns – In dogs with two abnormal genes, their offspring will sometimes only inherit one of them. This makes them present as normal but then their offspring can then have an active form of that condition too.
- Polygenic Disorders – When multiple genes collaborate to create a condition, it’s a polygenic disorder. How many genes and what they affect can be difficult to figure out and they can present as dominant or recessive inheritances, making misdiagnosis common.
- Chromosomal Anomalies – Defects in the shapes and amounts of chromosomes cause genetic conditions. For canines, they have thirty-nine chromosome pairs that house the animal’s genes. There’s a whole list of defects that come from chromosomes that have developed poorly.
Once you’ve found suitable canines to breed and you’re clued up about the ethics and genetics of dog breeding, you then need to mate them. There’s a lot you should check out before you start and there are several ways you can do this.
Finishing Stud Contract
Once you’ve fully analyzed the dog that you have, which is likely a bitch, then it’s time to find a stud. Owners of healthy male dogs, or studs, sell their services so that breeders can get their female dogs pregnant and produce pups that have a traceable and problem-free lineage. When you use these services, you should create a stud contract with the owner of the stud dog.
Stud contract agreements detail the fees that you’ll pay and the obligations of all parties, as well as the circumstances of the breeding. It needs to be signed by everybody involved and copied multiple times so all parties retain a copy of it. You can find an example of a stud contract here.
The stud fee is set by the owner, so you may want to shop around for an acceptable offer. Other stipulations can be added too, like splitting the litter between both dog owners or allowing the stud owner to pick one favorite pup, the “pick of the litter.” Stud owners who know what they are doing won’t sign any litter registrations for organizations until they have been paid.
Pre-Breeding Health Checks
Dogs need conditioning if you want to get the best offspring from them. Knowing any genetic problems is great but the care of the parent dogs is also important and so pre-breeding health checks are vital.
You should make sure both dogs have had regular veterinary care, regular exercise to keep them physically fit, and a good nutritional diet. Before breeding, bitches should have decent muscle toning and not be overweight as this can cause complications. They also need to be docile so you can work with them when they are giving birth. If you have a dog that is snappy and insecure with people getting close to them, you won’t be able to help as much when they give birth.
The bitch should be checked by a veterinarian approximately a month before the breeding takes place. During that visit, they should make sure that the dog is fully vaccinated and that she is free of parasites. It’s also a good idea to check both dogs involved for brucellosis.
Of course, the dogs should also be ready to breed. Larger dogs reach sexual maturity much slower than smaller ones and you want to make sure that the dogs are fertile and able to breed without causing any issues. This is more of a concern for female dogs than it is for male ones.
You should also know the breeding cycle of the average bitch. We generally divide the cycle into four distinct parts:
- Proestrus – This is where the bitch attracts males and has a swollen vulva, which is typically accompanied by bloody vaginal excretion. The bitch doesn’t allow breeding during these nine days.
- Estrus – This is another nine-day period where the bitch accepts breeding with the male now that she is fertile. In the first forty-eight hours of this period, ovulation typically occurs though it can happen later too.
- Diestrus – Diestrus is where the reproductive tract of the female dog is influenced by progesterone. It’ll last sixty to ninety days depending on the breed and the size of the dog. This is not proof that your bitch is pregnant because it happens when they aren’t, too, creating something called false pregnancy.
- Anestrus – This is where no sexual activity happens for about three to four months, depending on size and breed.
If you’re going the natural route when breeding your dogs, you should not breed a female dog during its first heat. The dog is still young and so the stress of pregnancy and then lactation will be even more intense on them. They should have gone through a heat cycle or two before you breed them. Don’t breed them on consecutive heat cycles either, that’s too much stress in a short period and can have negative effects on your dog.
A common practice is to recognize the start of the proestrus period and then wait for ten to fourteen days, after which you can breed the dogs naturally as long as the bitch is accepting of the male. Mating should occur three times over approximately six days (leaving a day between each mating) to make sure it’s a success.
Breeding tends to go more smoothly if the bitch is taken to the stud’s environment. If the stud is inexperienced, an experienced bitch is a better match. When the breeding does occur, the dogs will be inseparable for a short while. A swollen segment of the stud dog’s penis causes them to be stuck together for a time, typically a maximum of half an hour. They arrange themselves so they are standing rear to rear when this happens, so leave them be and they will separate independently.
With all the considerations that come with natural breeding, some opt for artificial insemination instead. This is more expensive and can take a while since there’s more paperwork involved in finding the semen (which needs DNA certification) and scheduling the insemination.
Getting your dog pregnant is only the beginning, you now have to navigate pregnancy and make sure your dog stays healthy during that period.
Stay Alert For Signs Of Pregnancy
First, you need to figure out if your dog is actually pregnant. Gestation should occur after sixty days. When gestation is complete, you should look for changes like:
- An increased appetite
- An increase in weight
- An increase in nipple size
Unfortunately, these signs can also present themselves during a false pregnancy too. A veterinarian should be able to confirm that tiny heart palpitations are present after thirty days of your dog being pregnant. While you’re there, you should discuss the feeding requirements that pregnant dogs need and other important information about labor and birth. You should treat the impending birth as an emergency and react in kind, with a calm but urgent demeanor.
Nutrition For Your Pregnant Bitch
Every animal needs a balanced nutritional profile that keeps them happy and healthy. This becomes even more important when an animal is eating for two. First, you should keep your pregnant dog on the same diet as usual. Then, about five weeks before you expect whelping, you should notice a change in body weight. This is where you should start increasing intake until they’re eating nearly fifty percent more food.
Introduce The Bitch To The Whelping Box
As the whelping approaches, buy or build a whelping box and give your dog plenty of time to become comfortable with it. The best whelping environments are quiet, warm, and free from distractions or drafts, and they should be appropriate for the size of the dog. There should also be room for you to reach in and help.
Many advise coating the floor of the whelping box in newspapers as it’s easy to replace once soiled. Then you can replace it with something more comfortable when the whelping is over. There should also be roll bars or small shelving on the sides of the box so that the pups won’t get rolled over by the mother.
Watch For Signs Of Labor
Now it’s time to play the waiting game. This is where you look for the signs of labor. What are they?
- They stop eating.
- They try building a nest.
- Their body temperature drops, after which whelping starts within twenty-four hours.
- Then, your bitch will pant and appear restless.
When expecting whelping, you should have the numbers of your local veterinarians on hand.
You’ll need quite a few whelping supplies to make sure everything goes smoothly. You should have the following when expecting pups:
- Newspaper – To be used as disposable bedding for both the dam and her new puppies.
- Bath Mats – More permanent bedding once the whelping is over.
- Clean Towels – To clean the pups during the whelping.
- Paper Towels – To clean up the whelping area afterward.
- Thermostat – To check the bitch’s temperature before the whelping.
- Unwaxed Dental Floss – Used to tie the pups’ umbilical cords.
- Heating Pads – Used to keep puppies warm (but be careful, not too hot!)
- Scissors – Used to cut the pups’ umbilical cords.
- Iodine – To be rubbed on the puppies’ abdomens once the umbilical cord is cut, to clean them.
If you’re worried that you don’t know how to use many of these after the whelping, don’t worry! We’ve explained it all in the section below.
When The Puppies Are Born
Once the puppies have been born, there are still some things that you need to do before you’re done.
First and foremost, you should make sure that nothing is going wrong during/after the whelping. There are a lot of issues that could arise. You should keep track of the placentas to make sure there isn’t one still inside your bitch. You should also use clean towels to rub the mouth and nose of the pups to clear them of mucus.
There should be some cause for concern if any of these six symptoms become noticeable.
- Evidence that your dog is in pain.
- Disruptive trembling and physical collapse.
- Contractions last longer than forty minutes without any pup delivery.
- With or without contractions, two hours have elapsed between pup delivery.
- Blood, dark green fluid before any pups are born. This discharge usually emerges after the first pup is born.
- No signs of labor after the sixty-four days in which whelping typically starts.
With any of these or anything else that gives you pause, you should call your veterinarian for guidance. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Pups are new to the world, so their bodies need to be kept warm. If they get too cold, they can catch diseases and suffer from mental stress. If they get too warm, they can die from overheating. As we said above, a heating pad or a heating lamp should be enough to keep them suitably warm. Keep a shady place in the whelping box where they can cool off, too. The pups should be kept eighty-five to ninety degrees Fahrenheit for the first week of their life, after which the temperature can be reduced slowly. By week four, it can be as low as seventy-five degrees.
Your puppies need to consume colostrum within their first day. What is colostrum? This is the first milk liquid that is created by the bitch shortly after whelping. It’s full of substances and nutrients that help the pups, specifically, things called immunoglobulins that translate the mother’s disease resistance to her pups.
When the pups nurse, be aware of canine mastitis. This is a breast infection caused by repeated nursing that causes them to become hot and red, and painful if touched. If you think this has developed, contact your veterinarian. If allowed to advance, the breasts will turn very dark and become very painful and hardened.
Caring For The Bitch After Birth
After the whelping, it’s normal for the bitch to have less of an appetite. After three days, their nutritional needs increase until three weeks, in which they’ll need plenty of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. If your dog’s diet is sufficient, these nutrients should already be present. Just give them double or triple during those three weeks after the whelping so they can produce milk. Divide their meals into three or four, which is more manageable for them.
Caring For Orphaned Puppies
If the mother doesn’t want to feed one of her pups then guess what? You’ve just got a promotion! It’s your job to nurse them yourself. They need a special puppy formula that you can buy on the market, so keep your shirt on and the cow’s milk away. Weigh pups every day and calculate how much you give them. If diarrhea develops, half the amount of feed you give them and then gradually increase how much you give them. Diarrhea may not be from overfeeding, so consult a veterinarian too.
Milk grows bacteria fast, so only prepare how much you need and warm it to body temperature. When feeding, hold the angle at an angle to stop air bubbles from forming. Urination and defecation may not come naturally to newborn pups, so you should use a warm and wet cotton ball to massage the pups’ anal region to encourage these biological processes.
Weaning practices are different for so many breeds, so comparing notes is the best way to find out which ones are best for your pups. A veterinarian should also be consulted, as per usual. Weaning should start two to four weeks after they have been born, and puppy formula/gruel is specifically sold for when this happens. As they get older, add more solid food and decrease the liquid formula that you’re giving to them.
Selling The Puppies
In most breeding scenarios, even when your dog has gotten pregnant accidentally, most of the litter is sold off. It’s simply too much of a burden to take care of so many dogs for most people. There are two main interrelated things you should do when this time comes, vet the buyer and then make sure the pups are going to suitable homes.
Vetting The Buyer
The best way you can vet the buyer is by asking many questions. Which questions? Here are several to start you off:
- Who is caring for the dog? Is it the buyer or somebody else that’s responsible?
- Why do they want this dog? Do they have reasons for choosing the breed?
- Are they from a family? Are there children, and how old are they?
- Can they properly treat, feed, train, and exercise the dog?
- Are there allergies present in the home?
- How often is somebody home?
Finding The Right Home
Finding the right home for your pups isn’t just in their best interests, it’s also good for you too. You’ve likely developed some form of emotional attachment to the little furballs, so you want the best for them. If not, they could still be returned to you at a later date, so you also have an economic incentive to get it right the first time!
The surest way to stop that is to make sure that the buyers know what they are getting into when they buy your pups. They should have experience with dog ownership and know about the breed. If it will be their first pet then make sure they know to make them comfortable and build solid experience from owning the dog. They should also have enough space in their home, or at least community, for the dog to exercise and play once they have reached adulthood.
It’s also a good idea to recommend that the buyer get the pet registered onto an insurance policy to protect their purchase.
The last thing is something you should do – be honest! Be honest about the temperament and maintenance level that the dogs need. A misled owner can become frustrated and struggle to keep up with the new pet, increasing the chances that the owner gets rid of the pet.
You should now know pretty much everything you need to know about breeding dogs and doing it responsibly. As always, you should consult with veterinarians and other medical professionals who are qualified to answer more specific questions and address other concerns. Since we’ve included sections on what to do during the whelping and right after, it’s a good idea to keep this information around for when you need it, so you can work through it as if it were a checklist.