Heidi M Sands offers her expert advice on breeding from your bitch.

Many dog owners will consider breeding from their bitch at some time or another. They may want a puppy for themselves off a favourite and much loved companion, or wish to add to their kennel of working dogs.

Whatever the reason for breeding from your bitch, or indeed using your dog at stud, there are several things for you to consider before taking the plunge.

Breeding a litter of puppies brings with it responsibility. Any pups that you aren’t going to keep yourself will require good homes. It pays to vet any new homes as well as you can before you let your pups go. Are you up to making sure that new owners will come up to scratch? It’s not an easy task but the future happiness of your puppies may depend on you.

An X-ray of a pregnant bitch

Rearing a litter of puppies has been likened to having a part-time job. Do you have the time and space needed to rear a litter? You’ll need a whelping box, a specially constructed affair with rails around the sides to stop the bitch from accidentally crushing any of the pups. You’ll also need clean bedding; most people go for old towels or specially produced veterinary bedding that washes well and dries quickly. Newspaper, whilst absorbent, is not recommended. Young pups tend to slide about on it and soft young bones and joints can be damaged in this way.

If your bitch is a working dog, you’ll also need to be prepared to lose her services in the later days of her pregnancy and while she rears her litter. She may also need time off to recover, especially if hers is a large litter and you’ll need to factor in the cost of extra feed for her and the litter as they grow. From three weeks old puppies will need supplementary feeding and as they grow you’ll become sole food provider by the time they are six weeks old.

If all this seems like a lot of work then you are quite right. It can also become a costly exercise. Puppies need the very best of nutrition and special food is not cheap. Factor in any veterinary treatment that the bitch may need during the birthing process along with necessary vet checks as the pups grow and first vaccinations and micro-chipping and you’ll quite likely have paid out quite a lot of money by the time your puppies are eight weeks old. If you have in mind that you are going to regain your expenditure from the sale of the pups consider fully why you are doing this.

There are no guarantees when you breed puppies and whilst we all hope that there will be no problems, in truth the opposite could happen. Worst case scenario could involve large vet’s bills, one or more stillborn puppies or a bitch that dies during the birth. If you honestly can’t face something like this happening, I’d say don’t do it.

If you are still with me the next thing to think about is whether you have the skills needed to attend a bitch that is whelping? The process can be long and drawn out. Large litters can take a long time to be born and it’s not unknown for the last puppy in the litter to be born several hours after the rest. Pups will need to be checked as they are born, not all bitches take to their puppies immediately and mum and babies may need special care and assistance in the first few hours after birth. Weak puppies may need additional feeding and for this you’ll need feeding equipment and milk. If you lose your bitch you may find yourself surrogate mum to six or more puppies that all need bottle-feeding.

You’ll also need to evaluate your bitch for suitability for breeding. Old, infirm, very young, or bitches that are not in the best of health should not be bred from. If your bitch is pedigree and you wish to register her puppies then ensure she adheres to the breed standard. In any case her temperament and that of the sire should be impeccable; don’t breed from parents that aren’t. Ensure too that your bitch has two rows of evenly matched teats down her undercarriage. Eight good teats are best, you’ll often find that the top one on each side nearest her elbows don’t work properly and if you have a large litter some of the smallest puppies may get pushed out and deprived of their fair share of milk.

As your puppies get a little older they’ll need socialising. This involves letting them see a little of the world; the garden, the noise of the vacuum cleaner or washing machine, chatter of children, a music CD or two, the TV, door bell and the general bustle of home. Puppies also benefit from being handled and supported correctly. Remember not to let young children over play with them, they are after all, not toys but living breathing creatures that deserve respect.

If you have stayed with me this far and are still of the opinion that your bitch is good enough to breed from, and that you can provide all the care that she and her litter need

for two months or more, then consider the suitability of the stud dog that will mate with her. As we’ve already said the temperament of the stud dog should be impeccable. He should also be in good health and without obvious defects. If he’s been used for breeding before, ask about previous litters; is it possible to see his progeny or find out how they’ve done? This may be particularly important if they’re working dogs.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t be rushed into making the wrong decision. As we know, a dog is for life, and any puppies that we breed should be wanted. They should also have the best start in life that we can give them.


This article was written exclusively for Smallholder magazine by Heidi M Sands. For more of her expertise on livestock subscribe to the monthly magazine by calling 01778 392011 or emailing subscriptions@warnersgroup.co.uk. It is also available from newsagents.