How to Breed Puppies (part one)

Advice on breeding puppies, whether to breed your dog, choosing a stud, caring for the pregnant bitch
Difficulty: Moderately Challenging
Should I breed from my dog?
Many professional breeders state that you should not breed your dog unless you intend to improve the breed. While there is some truth to this (you certainly don't want to have unhealthy puppies) it does not have to be the primary reason for breeding. In fact for breeders it is not really the truth either - they may want to breed a show winning champion but that is only 'better' by a very artificial set of rules that don't necessarily have much relevance to the average family pet. One questionable motive is to consider it a money making venture, while there is no doubt that puppy farms (aka 'puppy mills') can make money, they do not produce good quality friendly puppies. You must be sure that you can raise them in a family atmosphere so that they are used to being handled and around humans from the start. That said, having puppies is great fun as well as a huge responsibility. All the puppies we sell we guarantee to take back and rehome if there is ever a problem. Once you have decided that you can cope with breeding you have to decide whether your dog is suitable. Each dog breed has different hereditary problems that you have to ensure that your dog is not likely to pass on. This may entail a visit to a vet to check that their eyes are ok and maybe a general anesthetic while they are strapped into a jig and x-rayed which checks the amount of movement in their hips (and possibly elbows). This gives a 'hip score' (lower numbers are better) and gives an indication of whether they are likely to suffer from hip dysplacia, or likely to pass it on (the US has a different scheme run by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals that rate dogs hips as Excellent, Good or Fair etc. Dogs should be of the right age (between two and five for a first litter),have had at least two seasons, be generally in top health, free of worms and fed a good diet.
The Mating
Assuming that you have a bitch to breed the next thing is selecting the right stud dog. If you are looking to breed a pedigree litter and register it with the Kennel Club then you will need to find a Kennel Club registered dog (and of course your bitch must be KC registered). Finding an experienced breeder via the Kennel Club is definitely a good idea. Taking your bitch to stud can be quite expensive and you want to ensure that it goes without hitch and the bitch does get impregnated. Have a look at the stud to get an idea of what your litter will look like, make sure that he has good hip scores and clear eyes (or whatever is appropriate for your breed), that the dog himself is experienced (a young inexperienced dog can be a complete waste of time) and that he won't have serviced a bitch for a couple of days before your bitch's appointment. The traditional price of a mating is 'a puppy', once upon a time this was literally the choice of the litter but now usually roughly the price of a puppy although in my experience the price of puppies has gone up faster than the price of stud (quality Labrador puppies sell for around £600 in England and matings about £350). Timing the mating is crucial, to do this you must note the day she goes into season (some bitches are extremely regular, coming into season each six months - others may be every nine or twelve months. Keeping a diary is very useful to track their seasons). This is indicated by spots of blood from the vulva. Between the 11th and 14th day into the season is usually optimal, her readiness is signalled by her putting her tail to one side when stroking her lower back, a day or two after she first does this is when to take her to stud. Once the mating is over the bitch must be kept quiet for a couple of hours while the sperm impregnates the eggs. Some stud owners will recommend a second visit a couple of days later. Apart from the stud dog it is important that the bitch is kept away from all other male dogs ro the entire duration of the season, bitches can have puppies from multiple dogs in one litter !
The Pregnancy
You won't notice much difference in your bitch for the first four weeks or so, but she will start to get bigger, her nipples more noticeable and she may become less active. A little extra food can be given in the last two or three weeks. How much extra can be hard to judge, you don't want to overfeed her because the puppies can get too large, under feeding will be more problematic when the time comes to whelp as she may not have the energy for a natural birth and the puppies will not be strong either. One of the guides is to look at her back before she is pregnant and use this as a comparison, there should be ample flesh over her spine - an undernourished dog has a very bony back with only a thin layer of skin covering the spine. If your pregnant bitch is bony then make sure that her diet is supplemented. As the time for whelping approaches she will look for potential places to nest (don't leave piles of newspaper around - if she is anything like mine she will shred them). Now is the time to build and place the whelping box. Ours is based on the sort of crate that building supplies come in, its very solid, measures about 1m x .8m and 0.6m high. The front of each side has slots into which planks can be dropped to make the front. This gives the versatility of having one plank in place while the litter is young keeping the puppies safe but allowing the dam easy access as and when she wants to get in and out. The whelping box needs to have solid sides (we use 3/4" ply) so there is nothing the puppies can chew. It should be placed in the final week, it needs to be situated somewhere warm (not hot), without a draught and the bitch needs to be sleeping in it to make her familiar with where you want her to whelp. It is also a good idea to make up a 'puppy box', which is a place to put the new born puppies as the next is being born, we use a washing basket lined with fleecy material over a hot water bottle. Other equipment that might come in useful is old towels, scissors and disinfectant (we have never needed to cut the cords but it may be necessary), rubbish bin, lubricating jelly and Dopram V (obtainable from vets, a couple of drops under the tongue can stimulate a puppy to breathe). You will also need some fleecy bedding cut to fit the whelping box (we have half a dozen of the right size so that they can be changed frequently). We have found our bitches to whelp exactly when due, 9 weeks after the mating. It always tends to be in the early hours of the morning. You do however need to be prepared for earlier surprises.
Items needed
  • Female dog