In general, it is best to begin your breeding program with a show-quality bitch rather than a male. This way, you have the flexibility to breed to stud dogs who best complement her qualities. In addition, if the litters are outstanding, you have foundation stock on which to base your bloodlines.
Before making a decision to breed your female, carefully consider the effort and expense that goes into producing a litter of healthy and active puppies. It can be both time consuming and expensive. Many pedigreed puppies cannot be sold locally because there aren’t enough buyers. This means advertising and the effort and cost of finding just the right home in which to place the pups.
A reputable breeder is responsible for the puppies they breed for their entire lifetime. So if a dog you bred is in a family who is undergoing a divorce and needs to be returned to you at 8 years of age, you should be ready, willing, and able to take that dog back. Shelters and rescue groups have very few dogs show up who came from reputable breeders but many dogs from people who are not willing to put the time and effort into truly planning and taking responsibility for a litter. Also consider whether you are financially and emotionally prepared if something goes wrong, such as an emergency c-section or having to bottle- raise puppies.
Also consider your bitch’s overall conformation, health, disposition, and the qualities she may pass along to her puppies. If the bitch is not of breeding quality, she should be spayed. Not every dog, even a champion, needs to or should be bred. Despite popular belief, a bitch does not need to have a litter in order to be psychologically fulfilled.
A bitch should not be bred until her second or third season, at which time she is physically and emotionally mature and able to adjust to motherhood. This usually does not occur before 18 to 24 months of age. Most reputable breeders wait until the bitch is at least 2 years of age so that health clearances, such as those for hip dysplasia, can be done.
Be sure to check local and state laws concerning dog breeding. In some areas there are new regulations designed to control the explosion in the dog and cat populations. They may only apply to commercial establishments, but they may apply to all breeders regardless of how many litters they have a year.
Brood bitches should be kept in excellent physical condition. Overweight bitches and those depleted by improper diet, excessive breeding, and unsanitary living conditions often do not come into season regularly, are difficult to breed, and experience problems during delivery. They should not be bred until all such problems have been corrected.
Maternal behavior is believed to be inherited. Check to see if your bitch’s dam and other female relatives showed good mothering abilities. Temperament is also extremely critical in a brood bitch. Not only will she contribute her genetic behavior tendencies, but she will also directly influence her puppies for the first 7 to 10 weeks of their lives. A nervous bitch may produce nervous puppies.
The Prebreeding Examination
Schedule a veterinary examination at least one month before the date you plan to breed the bitch. Maiden bitches over 15 pounds should be examined with a gloved finger to make sure the vaginal canal is normal and that there are no constrictions or abnormalities that could interfere with breeding or conception.
A prospective brood bitch should be screened for hereditary diseases for which she may be at risk. For example, if her breed places her at increased risk for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, or luxating patella, it is highly desirable to obtain certification from the OFA or GDC before breeding. Breeds at risk for inherited eye diseases should be screened by CERF. If any of these tests are positive, do not breed the bitch. The number of tests for individual health problems in each breed is growing all the time, so it’s important to find out what screening is available before a bitch is bred.
Be sure to have her checked for dental infections. Bacteria from the mouth can be transmitted to newborn puppies when the mother bites and severs the umbilical cord. A stool test will show whether she has intestinal parasites. If found, they should be treated with appropriate medications (see Deworming Adult Dogs).
Because of the seriousness of brucellosis, a sexually transmitted disease, it is extremely important to obtain a brucellosis blood test on all bitches (and stud dogs) one month before breeding. Repeat this test before each subsequent breeding. Other blood tests that may be necessary include canine herpesvirus serology, a screen for von Willebrand’s disease, and a test for hypothyroidism.
Bitches who live in areas where heartworm is a problem should have a heartworm antigen test, unless they are already receiving heartworm preventives. If the test is negative, begin the preventive medication. Most heartworm preventives are safe to use during pregnancy. As an added benefit, many control intestinal parasites.
A brood bitch should be given a distemper and parvo booster shot two to four weeks before breeding, particularly if she is heading into year three of a three-year vaccination cycle. This boosts immunity to the common infectious diseases. In addition, high antibody levels will be transmitted to her pups in her colostrum. These maternal antibodies are the primary protection for puppies during the first three months of life.
Choosing the Right Stud Dog
Part of the preparation for breeding your bitch is to choose the stud dog well in advance. If your bitch comes from a show or breeding kennel, it is clearly a good idea to talk to her breeder before making a final decision. The breeder will be familiar with the bloodlines that lie behind your bitch. If you have an outstanding bitch, you should seriously consider using a stud from that same bloodline to reinforce her best qualities.
The show record of a prospective stud dog may include a Championship, multiple breed wins, Group placements, or even Bests in Show. Unfortunately, not all great show dogs are outstanding producers. A show record beyond a Championship is not as important as the record of the dog’s offspring. If the dog has sired outstanding puppies, particularly out of several bitches, you have evidence that he is a good producer. Much of the credit, however, may belong to the breeder for using the dog wisely and with bitches who complement his attributes.
It is the responsibility of the breeder (that is, the owner of the bitch) to come to a clear understanding with the owner of the stud dog concerning the breeding terms. Usually a stud fee is paid at the time of the mating, or the stud’s owner may agree to take a puppy of his or her own choosing. If the bitch does not conceive, the stud’s owner may offer a return service at no extra charge. However, this is not obligatory. Terms vary with the circumstances and policies of the kennel. If the terms are in writing, there will be no misunderstandings later.