There’s a lot that goes into breeding dogs, both in terms of the business as well as the resulting puppies. If you’re looking at getting into reputable dog breeding, consider this your beginner’s course on everything you should know. Below, you’ll find al list of important terms for dog breeding, a list of steps for dog breeding itself, and some important reminders to help you make the most out of dog breeding professionally and respectably.
The beginner’s guide to dog breeding includes following the steps to make sure both your business and litters of puppies are successful, which are listed below. By preparing for these steps, and following all of them to the letter, you’ll be well on your way to being a reputable and professional dog breeder that makes the competitive world of proper dog breeding a better place. Let’s dive in!
What terms should I know when learning about dog breeding?
- Bitch: This is the term used for the female biological mother of the puppies you are hoping to breed. She often raises the puppies herself, too.
- AKC: Standing for the “American Kennel Club”, the AKC is a globally recognized dog breeding hub that is responsible for certifying that dogs are a certain pedigree, complete with all of the best genes and reputable backgrounds needed.
- Sire/Stud: Used interchangeably, for the most part, a sire is a formal term for the father of the litter and the stud is the dog that actually breeds with the bitch.
- Whelping: This is the formal term used for when a dog gives birth. She whelps her puppies in a whelping box (her den for giving birth).
What are the steps of dog breeding?
Feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of to-do list items? Take a breath and see how they all come together to form the complete picture. You’ll find it’s not as overwhelming as you think!
Take a refresher course on genetics
You don’t need to go back to school and get a degree in genetics or anything. Just make sure you’re familiar with how genetics work. How are they passed down from generation to generation? What factors do you need to keep in mind? Do you understand the difference between inbreeding, line breeding and outcrossing? Have you sorted out what you want to do with breeding, or at least are working with someone who does? This will determine what you should be looking for when it comes to sourcing your dogs!
Get very familiar with your breed of choice
Next is figuring out what kind of dog you’d actually like to breed. Some people enjoy going with whatever dog is popular at the time, and others tend to enjoy going with a more stable breed that will earn them a more steady influx of cash long-term. Whatever breed you decide to go with, make sure you take the time now to get familiar with the breed.
Even if you grew with a dog that you want to breed, you still need to make sure that you’re educated intimately on everything you can possibly know about that dog breed. For example, what genetic factors do you need to consider? What kind of health conditions are they prone to, and how — if possible — can you avoid those through selective breeding and careful rearing? What are the breed’s needs short- and long-term in terms of health and potential complications? What kind of temperament does your dog breed have? Are they good with kids? Are they guard dogs or watchdogs?
The potential owners of your future puppies are looking to you to be the expert on your dog breed. Make sure you can fit that need! Plus, it helps confirm that you are choosing a dog breed that interests you, too.
Bring home a bitch
Once you’ve got your breed all taken care of, you can start by picking the bitch (Mom-to-be) that you want to use for breeding. You’ll want to, of course, make sure that she is in good health and has a great genetic line. You can find many registered and reputable breeders that will sell off bitches for breeding purposes. Double-check that she is registered with AKC and have a veterinarian verify that she is in good health.
Source an AKC-registered sire
Now that your mom-to-be is ready to go, you can now take a look at finding the best stud to produce the best litter of puppies. As you can imagine, this may take some time to do right. You’ll want to limit your search to AKC-registered sires and studs, as these will have the same genetic requirements and certifications that are responsible for a healthy and properly bred litter of puppies.
You’ll want to follow the same steps with him as you did with your bitch. Confirm the certification details as well as ask for an up to date vet’s report. Both of these things are standard when hiring a sire, so the owner of the stud should never have a problem complying. If so, it’s a sign that you need to be very careful with your choice!
Finalize and formalize the contract for the stud
When you’ve found the right stud, you’ll want to make sure that you put together a contract for the stud’s job and have it signed and legally binding before the breeding itself this takes place. A lot of people who consider dog breeding don’t prioritize this because they just want to have them “do the deed” and be done with it. However, the stud doesn’t belong to you and you have to make sure that the terms (including payment and rights to the puppies) are sorted out before any breeding takes place. Keep in mind that a dog breeding contract is standard and, all things considered, a business transaction.
Your sire’s owner should never be concerned about signing a contract after he has someone look it over. Be prepared for conditions, however, and make sure you know what ones you’re okay with accepting. For example: what is your maximum payment? Would you like to substitute that for a “pick of the litter” with the resulting puppies? Make sure you know where you’re okay with bending and where you draw the line!
On that note, many beginning breeders will also make the mistake of deciding to buy their own sire, too. However, this not really a good idea unless you’re interested in wading through deep genetics to make sure that you are not accidentally line breeding, especially as you get a new bitch or you decide to keep one or two of the puppies, etc. To keep things safe and healthy, simply stick with your bitch and puppies, and “outsource”, if you will, to an AKC-sire.
Make sure your sire and bitch are in their best form
With all of the legal and sourcing details taken care of, you can now prepare for the breeding process. Before you prepare either dog, you’ll want to make sure that both are in top form. Diet and exercise are great, but also take into consideration mental and emotional health. This can impact the pregnancy as well as the actual turnout of the puppies themselves. Both should be in their best possible shape and not overly stressed or sick.
Pick the right time in the bitch’s cycle
Next on the list is to get to know the fertility cycle of your bitch. For the best chances of pregnancy, you’ll want to attempt breeding during the estrus cycle. Ovulation, which is critical for proper fertilizing of the egg, will often happen between 48-72 hours into this section of the cycle, so this will important to keep in mind for scheduling purposes.
When learning about breeding, a lot of beginners can make the mistake of throwing the male and female together as soon as she shows signs of going into heat. However, during this first part of her cycle, she won’t allow any kind of intercourse, and all it does is create frustration in the breeder. As “natural” as it seems, breeding is a very delicate process and the proper timing within the cycle is going to be important to keep in mind.
You’ll also want to think about your bitch’s needs, too. Technically, she can be pregnant anytime after 4 or 6 months of age. During this time, she will show all of the signs of going into heat, but you should make sure she is old enough to be able to have a healthy pregnancy, delivery and puppy-rearing cycle before you attempt to breed her. For this reason, only bitches that are above 8 months of age should ever be bred and this is a requirement for AKC certification. It’s thought that females over the age of 15 month are a good standard age for healthy pregnancies.
Make sure that you don’t turn your bitch into a puppy factory either. She can become pregnant any time between 8 months and 12 years of age, but you’ll want to make sure that she has time to properly recover between pregnancies. You’re best waiting at least one or even two heat cycles between her pregnancies. Since both pregnancy and birth are traumatic on the body, this allows the body to heal for a future pregnancy and makes sure that both mom and pups will be healthy and strong.
Breed naturally or artificially
Once the moon and stars align so that everything is in place — joking, joking — you can then decide whether or not you want to look at breeding naturally or artificially. Some breeds, such as French Bulldogs, can’t breed naturally and require artificial insemination. Other dog breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, can breed naturally or artificially. Making the choice comes down to ensuring both the stress levels and health of both sire and bitch are prioritized.
Check and verify pregnancy in your bitch
Once she has been inseminated, the waiting game begins! It’s common for her to show “false pregnancy” signs in the following stage of her cycle, so you’ll need to be familiar with where she is in her cycle to see if the pregnancy is real or not.
Common signs of early pregnancy include an increased appetite as well as uncommon weight gain, particularly in her middle section. Her stomach will start to get larger on the sides first, which is unlike simple weight gain. These signs can take a few weeks to show up, but they are often the first indicators that you’ll see!
Right around the 30-day mark from the breeding date, you can take your pooch to a veterinarian to see if she is pregnant. You can get a palpation test (inspecting her tummy from the outside for the telltale shapes of puppies), an ultrasound for an interior view of her tummy, or an X-ray (though this is normally done later for more accurate details on the number of puppies).
If she isn’t pregnant, allow her to go through a full heat cycle before you try it again. This allows her body to be ready to properly take the fertilization with no stress from it happening too often or, worse, under duress.
If she is pregnant — congratulations! — you’ll want to start preparing for the very exciting stage that comes next: puppies!
Prepare for puppies
Now that you’ve got the good news, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got everything in place for a successful pregnancy for your bitch. This includes supplies for giving birth (more on that in a moment) but also supplies for her during her pregnancy.
She’ll need to eat a diet that is rich with nutrients and vitamins to help her and her puppies grow strong and healthy. You can do this through a pregnancy food diet or you can look at supplements that you inject into another kind of food. Her amount of food will also double to triple. She’ll also need regular exercise to keep her weight at the right amount, and lots of rest.
You will, of course, also need supplies for the birth of the puppies themselves. These are key pieces of dog breeding equipment, so make sure you source these from reputable spots. Some of the must-haves are a whelping box and newspapers for the bottom of the whelping box. You can use plain paper or towels too if you wish or rubber-backed bath mats which will help insulate and minimize the mess during whelping itself.
You’ll also want plenty of dry, clean and soft towels for the birthing process. A thermometer is also a good idea (more on that in a moment) for monitoring your bitch’s temperature.
You will also want unwaxed dental floss, clean and sharp scissors, a suction bulb, examination gloves, and iodine. To finish off, have a good kitchen or baby scale (measuring in oz or kg) and a hot water bottle to fill after birth, which is used for hone puppies need to be kept warm away from mom for one reason or another.
Naturally, you will want to have your preferred vet on speed dial or even onsite if this is your first whelping. It can ease a lot of your tension to know that he or she is there to help walk you through the process and make sure that everything goes smoothly.
Settle her into her whelping box
Now that you have all of the supplies that you will need for her to whelp properly, you have to show her the whelping box itself. Make sure it is properly sized for her needs (with room for her and her puppies) and that you have it placed in a spot where it is quiet and calm. You’ll also want to go ahead and line it with your paper or towels or mats as well.
Put the whelping box in place a few days before she is expected to give birth and allow her to get familiar with it on her own. You’ll find that she may go ahead and rearrange a few things — a woman’s prerogative, right? — and you should always let her do this as she sees fit!
Right around her due date, you’ll notice that she’ll start to nest in the box. This is a sign that she is getting close to birth and she’s preparing her space accordingly.
Watch for signs of labor
Typically, you can expect that your mom is pregnant for 60 days. This may be shorter or longer depending on how many puppies she is expecting, as well as other pooch-specific details.
When she is getting ready to give birth, she’ll first stop eating. This can happen the day before or the day-of. If she stops eating, don’t force her to eat — she knows where to find it if she decides she wants a nibble! Another pre-labor sign is that her temperature will drop. This is where your thermometer is really going to come in handy. Since she normally hovers around 104 degrees F (40 degrees C), her temperature will drop to about 99 degrees F (37.2 degrees C). This is a sign that she is getting ready to go into labor and that her birth canal is widening.
Throughout both pre-labor and active labor, you can expect her to start to become comfortable. Typically, she’ll pant, appear to prowl around and rearrange her nest, and so-on. These are all normal signs of her preparing to give birth.
At this point, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your pooch to see how she does. Signs of distress are sometimes hard to spot, so you’ll want to either stay up with her overnight or at least put a camera on her with audio so that she can watch her even if you are away from her whelping box for whatever reason.
Monitor the birth of puppies
Once she starts into active labor, it’s go-time! Once the first puppy comes out, it’s normal for there to be several minutes or even half an hour until the next one comes. Unlike humans, pets can often somewhat control their labor, so they will rest in between rounds of contractions so that they can safely deliver the next litter of puppies.
While it can be hard for you to simply watch, make sure that you don’t interfere unless she has been several hours in labor with no puppies, or is showing signs of pain or distress (for example, whinging, lethargic or severe trembling). Dogs safely deliver their own young regularly, so you can leave them to do it on their own if she’s okay.
One detail you will need to jump in on is making sure that puppies come out of their gestational sacs (basically bags for them to live in within the womb), almost immediately after birth. Most of the time, your bitch should gently bite or lick them off. She may or may not eat them. If she doesn’t eat them, you can wipe them away (cue the paper towels). She’ll then stimulate breathing in the puppies by licking vigorously and clearing the mucus from their faces.
However, if her puppies are coming close together, she may not have time to do all of those important steps. This is where you step in! You’ll want to gently and carefully peel back the gestational sac (this is where your gloves come in…) and free the puppy from it. Using your suction bulb, make sure you gently remove the liquid from your puppy, focusing first on its nose, mouth and eyes.
Using the soft towels, you’ll need to gently but firmly stimulate puppies like mom would do to help them start to breathe on their own. Once they are breathing, you can continue cleaning them off. Working quickly, you can cautiously snip their umbilical cords within a few inches of their lil tumtums and tie those off with dental floss. Then place them back with Mom. Remember to only step in on these important parts if your bitch isn’t doing so. If she’s got it handled, leave her to it!
After a baby is delivered, she’ll start to tend to her puppies by licking and cleaning and encouraging them to suckle. This should happen soon after birth, even if she is still delivering! Make sure you don’t discourage her or try to remove her puppy, as it may cause her to abandon them and reject one or all of her puppies. Once all puppies are born and she finishes her labor, you’ll notice that there’s quite a bit of discharge. This is similar to afterbirth in humans and is considered normal.
Keep a watchful eye on bitch and puppies
Phew! Now that the action is over, you can take a breath. From here-on-in, you’ll basically be a glorified nurse. Mom will make sure she cleans and feeds her puppies. You have to keep her fed and hydrated and you’ll also want to keep an eye on your new puppies. This includes daily and even hourly weigh-ins and also checking for any signs of distress in your newborn puppies as they make it through the first shaky weeks of life. Since mom and pups can easily go into distress, you’ll want to watch them all carefully and act quickly by calling a vet if you need to.
Keep in mind that there may be situations where not all puppies can make it. As a beginning dog breeder, it’s easy to think that it’s something you’ve done, but nature does play a role, too. This could be stillborn births or simply failing to thrive and passing away. Proper monitoring and intervention are crucial, but sometimes not all pups can make it. This is especially common with larger litters and smaller or younger bitches. Be kind to yourself and do whatever you can to learn from every death so that you know what to watch for in the future!
Register your litter with AKC
Soon after whelping, you’ll need to register your entire litter with AKC. Doing this early means that you can have all puppies formally and officially registered complete with unique IDs that will follow them throughout their life.
Just don’t forget to update the litter registration with deaths if the need arises. It’s painful, of course, but it is part of the process and the AKC is more than used to it. Accurate information is key to keeping everything in line with no red tape issues down the line!
Advertise your puppies for potential homes
While most breeders will advertise their puppies before their bitch gives birth, you’ll want to start formally accepting applications after they are born and you can see how many make it through the first few days and weeks. These advertisements should have all of the relevant information that interested buyers want to know (including price) and make sure there is a way for them to fill out an application form and send it directly to you.
These applications should include a lot of the common questions that you’d ask to make sure your puppy is going to the right home. Some examples include: “what do you know about this dog breed?”, “are you aware that they have underlying health conditions, and are you prepared to provide for your puppy if they arise?”, “why do you want this dog breed?”, “how many hours do you intend to leave your puppy alone?”, “do you have kids/other pets?” etc. A vet and/or breeder forums can help you find templates to work from specific to your dog breeds to make sure you’ve got all of the bases covered.
Remember that the goal here is to make sure that the customer knows what they are getting into, including any pre-existing health conditions specific to the breed. Be transparent, upfront and honest with your customer. Even if it scares them away, you have to do your part to make sure that they know what they are taking on (or not) before they walk away with your puppy.
Wean the puppies from their mom
You can safely wean puppies for their mom at about 2-4 weeks. This is a natural process for most, and mom will show them what to do. Make sure you have slurry (wet puppy food) available for them and then gradually transfer them over to vet-approved and breed-specific puppy chow. This will help them to detach from their mom without having their nutrition compromised.
One mistake that beginners can make is to force the puppies to wean before they are ready. Not only can this be emotionally and mentally upsetting for mom and pup, but it can also have negative health impacts on the puppy, which is not what reputable breeding is about (more on that later). Let nature take its course and consult a vet if you need help or you aren’t sure of the timing.
Vet the applications to find the right homes
Now that you’ve got all of the proper applications in place for those who are interested in your puppies, you need to vet them! After all, not everyone is going to be a good candidate for a puppy and you have a responsibility to make sure that you are only sending your healthy (and, let’s just say it: expensive) puppies to a good home.
This can include an interviewing process or be done simply through the completion of the application itself. It’s normal to meet the potential owners of your puppies at least once or twice. You’ll also find that this can help you can build up a good reputation as a dog breeder, too, which is always great for business!
Encourage new owners to register puppies with the AKC
After at least 8 weeks has passed, you can allow your puppies to go to their new homes safely. Anything before 8 weeks can possibly put your puppy’s health at risk. If you are nervous about doing it too early, you can always check with a vet! Just to be safe, many breeders will want to wait until 10 or 11 weeks, which is a great idea.
But, wait! Before you actually hand over the puppy for the cash, you’ll want to make sure that they have signed the contract for their new bundle of fur! This, similar to the dog breeding contract for the stud, is intended to make sure that both you and they understand the legal possession of the puppy as well as what terms come with it. This often includes the extent of the vet coverage (pre-existing conditions, for instance), AKC certification information, and even proper care and future breeding if applicable.
Most breeders also have a clause in there in which the owner is obligated to notify the breeder of any health conditions that arise so that you can make sure you reach out to all of the puppy parents and alert them to a possible issue. This again comes down to be a reputable and professional dog breeder.
Some reminders in reputable dog breeding
Speaking or reputable dog breeding, you will want to put some time and effort into making sure that you are going into dog breeding for the right reasons. If you are going to look at advertising yourself as a breeder, it’s important to make sure that you are focused on all of the details instead of just focusing on the money. Here are some questions to consider.
Are you truly prepared to breed a litter of puppies?
Even if mom does all of the work of raising the puppies, it’s still a lot of time, effort, money and work to raise a litter of puppies. From paperwork to cleaning poopy bums, it all adds up and it can be really overwhelming to those who are still getting used to it. Raising a litter of puppies is something to seriously consider before you actually take it on!
Are you breeding strictly for financial reasons or to offer healthy puppies?
To be clear, most dogs get into the world of breeding because it pays well. People will pay good money to breeders for AKC-certified, healthy and purebred dogs. However, even with the high payday, there are still a lot of details to consider. For example, if the financial payout is the only reason that you are looking at breeding puppies, you may want to consider another option.
Whenever you go into breeding dogs, the goal should always be to make sure that you are breeding responsibly. From genetics and heritage to proper diet and health, to safe pregnancies to adoption paperwork and vetting. It all matters and it all plays a role in selling healthy and stable puppies. Not only are healthy puppies good for business, but they’re also key to being a real, reputable dog breeder.
Are you prepared for the commitment that reputable dog breeding will require?
There are many trips to the vet, expensive food, consultation with experts, red tape and paperwork, and a lot of mental and emotional stress that goes into reputable dog breeding. Even if you are looking specifically for dog breeding tips for beginners, there is still a lot to absorb and do when the time comes to put it all into action.
Is dog breeding a profitable business?
Yes, it definitely is a profitable business and it can be especially lucrative as you adapt, learn and get better it. However, it comes with challenges such as sicknesses in your bitches, sires and puppies, contract disputes, unsatisfied customers returning their puppies for a refund (or abandoning them), and so-on. You have to be able to accept the bad with the good and stay focused on what you are looking to do.
Dog breeding 101 may have been more intense than you had originally planned when you first started planning for it, but it’s ripe with information that will help you to get into dog breeding safely and comfortably. Plus, when you’re properly informed, you can focus on the right details to do it with the best results!