By Kathy Diamond Davis
Author and Trainer

Breeding Your Dog

Do you know the signs of your female dog being in heat? Have you been considering breeding her? Does it seem like maybe it would be easiest to just let it happen and see how things go, rather than making a plan one way or another? That has worked out since time began for human babies, but will it have the same happy ending with your dog?

Most people who breed their female dog one time wind up spaying her and never breeding again. They had no idea until they did it just how much it would cost, what a huge amount of work it would be, how hard it would be on the female dog, and the other problems. It's normal for a third of the puppies to die, sometimes more and sometimes fewer. The whole litter can easily get sick. When a breeder provides proper care to the mother and pups, a profit is unlikely.

Puppies and dogs bred from proven parent dogs are not part of our dog overpopulation problem. The puppies being produced that contribute to overpopulation are the ones with no special reason for being bred. The special ones have waiting homes. There are not enough properly-bred dogs to go around to the homes who want them. There are far too many dogs from untested, unproven parents for the homes willing to take them. Large dogs have big litters, and the large dogs are the most likely to wind up homeless when they come from poor breeding.

What's at Stake?

Female dogs of any age can die giving birth, and the risk is higher for those who are young or old. She might be a poor mother, too, further damaging the potential of the puppies by giving them a bad start in life. Breeding puts a female dog at risk of death, permanent illness from the stress, and negative changes in temperament.

Male dogs of small breeds are more difficult to housetrain when kept intact. If the small male dog is used for breeding, you may never be able to housetrain him. A male dog living in a house with a female dog in heat may not eat, may cry and show other signs of being miserable, and may even behave aggressively.

Even if they are going to be bred, the two dogs need to be kept apart to prevent injuries from an unsupervised mating. A knowledgeable person needs to attend the mating to aid the dogs, preferably with a helper for the second dog. It's typical for two matings to be done a few days apart. It only takes once, though, so don't bank on a tie that happens accidentally to be a miss when you didn't mean to breed.

The right male for your female is not likely to be a male that you own. It's normal for dogs to be carrying a recessive gene for a serious problem that won't show up unless it's combined with another recessive. Your male could so easily be carrying that other recessive gene to complete the problem and afflict the puppies with something serious. And there is no reason for it to be only one serious problem, since dogs have multiple genetic problems. 

Most breeds should not be bred prior to a minimum of 2 years of age when basic testing can be done for things like hip dysplasia and eye disease. The world does not need any more dogs born to be disabled because their owners behaved irresponsibly in the breeding. The rate of hip dysplasia in dogs is shockingly high.

Every parent dog should be carefully proven before being chosen for breeding. This means besides the health testing, the dog needs to be proven either as a championship conformation dog, an assistance dog to a person with a disability, a solid hunting or field trial dog, drug-sniffing dog, or something else that justifies passing on those specific genes. Unless they are bred to be special, puppies from that litter just knock other homeless dogs out of their chance for a home.

In the case of a small dog, proven ability as an excellent companion dog is acceptable, provided the health clearances are done, because there is a huge need for small companion dogs. There is not a need, though, for dogs who bite, dogs who can't be housetrained, or dogs who will have painful and expensive medical problems. These dogs suffer, and that breaks people's hearts. If you want to breed dogs, make sure you're breeding dogs who have the best chance of being happy and making their families happy.

How to Do It Right

Every new breeder needs a mentor. This should usually be the breeder you got the pup from, who should know the bloodlines and be in a position to help you choose a mate whose genetics will be right for your dog. A reputable breeder will also have other breeders willing to breed to the bloodline. Responsible breeders will not get involved with an irresponsible breeding. They feel a duty to those puppies for life. That starts with making sure the genetics are what they should be.
Responsible breeding depends on your dog having the genetics to belong in a breeding program. Even when a dog is beautiful and trains well, if he or she is not from a carefully-bred genetic bloodline, that dog cannot be expected to breed true and pass down the good qualities. Good - and GREAT - dogs come from everywhere, including strays, rescues and shelter dogs. They can be heroes and do amazing things. But they can't be expected to reproduce their good qualities through breeding unless they come from stable bloodlines.

One place to start in finding out if your pups have the right genetics for good breeding potential is to contact the national breed club for your breed, and the national rescue. These people will be willing to help a serious-minded owner determine whether your pups are from suitable lines for breeding. Be patient about them getting back to you. They are all volunteers and are overwhelmed with the work they have on their hands. You can find their contact information on the American Kennel Club website,

How does a good breeder operate? She or he is a highly committed person who does things like import dogs to bring in healthy new genes and shows the dogs to their conformation championships as well as various forms of advanced training. She conducts a socialization and training program with every puppy before they leave her, to prepare them during their critical developmental stages so they will be able to do well in life. She will take them back at any age if they ever need another home. So many people want her great dogs that she can always find a new home for one of them. She is an expert trainer and is always ready to help with one of the dogs she has produced.

Your Choices

There is clearly a great deal to consider in whether or not to go ahead and spay or neuter a dog. One thing is how serious you are about getting involved in dog breeding. If you are willing to do all the work of proving the dogs before breeding, willing to take the risks of what can happen to the female, willing to bear the expenses, and willing to take those puppies back at any time in their lives, then maybe you need to try to keep your dog intact and the breeding option open.

No dog is so important to the breed that removing that dog from the gene pool would ruin the breed. The breeder may want the dog for a bloodline, and if you've made a commitment to breed the dog that is something to work out with the breeder. Certainly the dog's welfare should come first, and the dog's welfare may depend on fitting into your family.

Spayed and neutered dogs are safer for children. Spayed and neutered dogs can have richer social lives than intact dogs, because they do not have to be separated during heat cycles. They also experience less stress and fewer health problems. If you prefer life with a spayed or neutered dog, there is no reason to regret this decision. It's usually ideal to spay or neuter by around a year of age. Your veterinarian can help you choose the best timing for your dog.

If you have both a male and a female, leaving her intact and neutering him prevents pregnancy, but you'll still have to separate them when she's in heat to avoid injuries. A neutered male can still tie with a female dog, and for a short time after the surgery may even be able to get her pregnant.

A neutered male will still be stressed when a female in the household is in heat, and may be somewhat more aggressive than usual. Female dogs in the household are also more likely to fight when one of them is in heat. Having a female dog go through one heat cycle is enough to convince most loving dog owners that they don't want to go through another one!

A High Calling

Reputable dog breeders are needed, especially for the small dogs popular as family companions and for dogs who are needed to do important jobs. Dogs truly suited as assistance dogs for people with disabilities, as police dogs, for the military, and other essential functions are always in short supply.

If you have the desire to breed top dogs and the means to do it without expecting financial gain, you can make the world a better place by getting involved with dog breeding in the right way. That starts with finding a mentor to help select the right breeding dogs and to be there every step of the way for breeding, whelping, raising and placing pups in suitable homes. There is so much to learn!

Date Published: 7/31/2005 3:02:00 PM


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