Pet owners breed dogs for many reasons. Some are excited at the prospect of observing, or having their children observe, the excitement of birth. Others want to profit financially or to replicate a beloved pet. Serious breeders are, on some level, concerned with improving the breed itself. This has been the primary reason for dog breeding through the generations: to strengthen the positive attributes and to diminish the negative traits of a particular breed. It is always wise to consult with a reputable breeder before attempting to breed dogs for the first time.
Dog breeders should do research to understand the American Kennel Club (AKC) standards for the chosen breed as well as any genetic weaknesses it may harbor. Pre-breeding health checks for both the sire and the dam are necessary and it is helpful to understand each dog's deviation from the standard of perfection so that a mate will be chosen with suitably balanced characteristics.
Dog breeders must be aware of potential hereditary tendencies or defects in the breed they are working with and should familiarize themselves with the basic principles of genetics. Certain large breeds are prone to hip dysplasia, although many small breeds may have a tendency to this problem as well. Other inherited disorders include:
- Eye problems
- Joint problems
- Endocrine disorders
- Heart conditions
- Clotting disorders
- Digestive disorders
Breeders should also be aware of temperament since part of being a "perfect" specimen includes having the temperament considered appropriate for the breed.
The stud fee is paid to the stud owner and should be agreed upon and included in a legal contract signed by both parties. Often the stud owner will receive financial compensation plus the pick of the litter.
Mating will only result in a pregnancy when the female is in estrus, or "in heat." It is well-known that female dogs (bitches) are generally less sensitive to new environments than their would-be mates, so the bitch is usually brought to the stud. Often the mating will be easier if a young stud is paired with a more experienced bitch. The owners are normally both present during the mating process and there are cases in which human handlers must intervene or assist. This is usually due to the anatomy of certain breeds, such as bulldogs, that have trouble with consummation on their own.
During mating, the male dog mounts the female from the rear, thrusting until ejaculation. Afterwards, the two dogs remain connected during a period known as a "tie" which can last from 10 to 30 minutes. This occurs because of the way part of the male's penis swells. It is dangerous to separate dogs during a tie because one or both may be injured. During this period, the dogs may position themselves rear to rear.
When natural mating is impractical, artificial insemination of dogs is possible with fresh or frozen semen.
Signs that a female dog has been impregnated include:
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Enlargement of nipples
Females may experience these same symptoms with a false pregnancy, but by 28 days, a veterinarian will be able to determine whether the female is actually pregnant through palpation or the use of an ultrasound scan. Canine gestation lasts approximately 63 days. During gestation, the female may have special feeding requirements so a veterinarian should always be consulted about gestational care. The vet will also advise the breeder about how to handle any emergencies that arise during the pregnancy.
Breeders should prepare a whelping box and get the pregnant female accustomed to it prior to the birth so the puppies will be delivered in a safe and healthy environment. The box is usually lined with newspaper that can be easily changed if soiled. The box should be warm and dry, placed in a location that is free of drafts and relatively quiet. Once whelping has occurred, the newspapers can be replaced with non-skid mats or outdoor carpeting so the puppies can get their footing more easily.
Puppies begin weaning at 2 to 4 weeks of age. Most breeders start offering the puppies some puppy formula mixed with dry puppy food or baby rice cereal at this time. As they grow, the puppies should be offered more food and less formula. By 8 to 12 weeks, puppies are able to be adopted and separated from their mothers.