Dog Breeding 101 - know your dog's cycle, progesterone testing & ethical breeding
Becoming a dog breeder
There are many reasons why people decide to breed their dog and in doing so become a dog breeder. Families with a female dog may want to keep a puppy from her litter and raise it during the first few critical weeks of life to ensure the puppy has the best start to life in terms of training, nutrition, vet care and socialisation. Some people want to experience having a litter of puppies and feel their female dog has traits (behavioural, conformational, exceptional health test results etc) that they would like to continue on with for other families to enjoy the many benefits of dog ownership.
If you’re considering breeding your dog it’s important to consider the time and effort that goes in to preparing a female dog to carry a litter (optimum nutrition, relevant health testing, adequate space and finances), the mating process (selection of a healthy, fertile stud, determining the best time to mate), care during pregnancy, whelping and raising of the litter (nutrition, training, socialisation, vaccinations, microchips, worming, flea treatment etc) from birth till the time they leave at 8 weeks old. With becoming a dog breeder comes the responsibility and commitment to the health and welfare of the puppies you breed from finding them suitable homes to supporting new owners throughout the life of the dog. We have helped many families enjoy the experience of planning a litter, booking a stud dog and raising puppies, view some of our client’s previous litters here.
Dog breeding cycle
Female dogs generally cycle twice per year or every 4-6 months and the age at which they have their first season varies between breeds and bitches however normally occurs from 6 months to 15 months of age. In NSW, the legislation states that you cannot breed with a female dog that is younger than 12 months of age – check the dog breeding laws in your state before commencing breeding. The breeding cycle lasts 3 to 21 days and bitches can get pregnant during this time, most commonly from day 10-12 however some females (though rare) ovulate as early as day 3 and as late as day 21. It is due to this variation between bitches and cycles that we recommend progesterone testing to ensure mating occurs at the optimum time for conception to take place.
For the health and wellbeing of mother and puppies, it is important to make sure your female is fully mature physically and mentally before she is mated and she should be over the age of 12 months. Larger breeds take longer for their bones to develop and should not be bred before they have finished growing. Some bitches cycle once per year or every 12 months. If you’re planning to mate your female, timing is critical to achieving a successful outcome and you should check your dog daily for signs of coming into season such as a swollen vulva and wiping her vulva with a tissue, looking for any signs of bleeding.
If you’re confident that you’ve noticed the first day of bleeding note this down and on day 5-8 of bleeding we recommend getting a progesterone blood test to get some idea of how her cycle is progressing. If you’re not sure when your dog came in to season, get a progesterone test immediately to navigate her cycle and ensure you’ve not missed her fertile window. Check out our breeding basics for more information on cycles, matings, artificial insemination, booking a stud and confirming pregnancy by ultrasound or X ray.
Ovulation & mating
Dogs normally ovulate around day 9 of bleeding but it can vary (though less common, we have seen some females ovulate late in their breeding cycle, around day 16 and others as early as day 5). Due to this variation and inherent guesswork in ascertaining the timing of ovulation, we recommend progesterone testing to accurately identify the most fertile days for your girl to visit for her matings. The blood generally lessens and goes from bright red to a diluted/straw like colour but not always. Some female dogs will also commence flagging (pulling their tail to one side when their lower back is rubbed) and their vulva also becomes more swollen when they are ready to mate with a stud.
Progesterone is the hormone which is produced from the ovary of the female dog when she is ovulating. A simple blood test carried out at a vet clinic that specialises in reproduction is analysed and tells us exactly when is the ideal to mate or AI in order to maximise our chances of a pregnancy. If you’re confident that you’ve noticed the first days of bleeding, a progesterone test is done around day 5 of bleeding. For those few bitches that ovulate early in their cycle (Day 3 onwards), you would obviously miss them if you waited until day 9 to do a progesterone test, therefore if you’re wanting to be cautious and not miss your female’s breeding opportunity, commencing testing around day 3-5 onwards will ensure you’re accounting for this scenario and early testing is helpful as it provides a baseline from which it’s easier to determine how quickly a progesterone level is rising coinciding with ovulation.
Our tip would be to find a vet that specialises in reproduction and does in house progesterone testing, to ensure you receive the result within 1.5 hours. Many vets will offer progesterone testing but send the blood away for analysis and you’ll get the result the next day, which is sometimes too late. Some vets also now have an option to pay an additional fee and get a result within 30 minutes.
The ideal progesterone level for mating within 1-3 days is 19-31 nmol/L or 5.97-9.75 ng/mL, readings within this range indicate that ovulation has recently occurred. If your female’s progesterone reading is 32-64 nmol/L or 10.06-20.13 ng/mL the eggs have matured and mating should occur within 2 days for optimal fertility. Progesterone readings beyond this level can still result in pregnancy but the window of opportunity for mating is reduced and sometimes must be carried out immediately to ensure the sperm have time to swim to the eggs that have already matured but may have started ageing resulting in decreased potential for fertility (Progesterone readings of 65-90 nmol/L or 20.44-28.30 ng/mL).
Booking a stud
When your female is ovulating you make an appointment for your female to meet with our stud dog in Penrith, NSW and usually when the female is ready to mate our stud dog will mate (tie) within 10 minutes of them meeting and they stay locked together for about 15-30 minutes. We also offer on site artificial insemination for larger females or dogs that cannot be mated for whatever reason, this takes 20-30 minutes.
For interstate clients we can organise chilled and or frozen semen to be shipped to you for transcervical insemination (Trans-cervical insemination is a method used by a vet that specialises in reproduction; it delivers sperm directly into the uterus) or surgical implantation (In a surgical implant, the dog is placed under general anaesthesia, a small incision is made in the abdominal wall, the uterine horns are elevated, and the semen is injected into the horns).