The Breeding Bitch

Mr Paul Boland
 B.V.Sc. M.R.C.V.S.




To Breed Or Not To Breed?
First of all we need to decide if we really should breed from one of our bitches. An example where we would not want to breed from a bitch is where she has so many serious faults that, even when an
excellent stud dog is used, the offspring would still carry many serious faults. Surely, it would be better for the breeder to buy a better quality bitch! If she has a serious hereditary complaint, for example, bilateral medial luxating patella or HC then we would not want to breed from her. However, in the vast majority of cases the answer is not so simple and we must consider the bitch as a 'whole' specimen and look at her good and bad points before making the decision as to whether or not to breed from her. A good example for such consideration is where a bitch has demodicosis and I refer readers to my article Demodicosis in the SBT
If one has decided that a particular bitch is not going to bred from then she should be spayed at an early age. We recommend that this be done before the first season i.e. at 6 months of age. Although you will find others who disagree, the medical reasons for the early spaying of bitches is that it reduces
the risk of mammary cancer and diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes), it also prevents pyometra, unplanned pregnancies and false pregnancies. People argue that it causes a bitch to put on weight. However, that besides hypothyroidism a dog only puts on weight if it eats more calories than are burned up during exercise and normal bodily processes. If not enough calories are consumed then the dog will obviously lose weight. So, if your dog is overweight and 60% of dogs are, then decrease its food consumption and increase its exercise.

Planning The Mating
This important part of dog breeding must be properly planned and thought through. First one must decide at what season to mate the bitch. The answer is when the bitch is physically and mentally
mature. For most bitches this would be the third season but for some it could be the second season. I would be interested to have people's thoughts on this. Don't leave it too late as then the bitch may
become infertile, stop having seasons or develop pyometra and need to be spayed. If your bitch has stopped having seasons then it is not the end of the world; we can do something for her. Infuture articles 1 will try to explain this complicated medical complaint and its treatment.
Next one must pick the stud dog. All I will say on this issue is pick the dog that you want to use. Don't be bullied by so called 'experts'. However, you must know and understand the reasons for your choice of stud dog. It is important before the mating to agree a stud fee and whether any return mating due to pregnancy failure are free or not. If at all possible this should be writing thus affording any future confusion.
Finally, inform the owner of the stud dog when your bitch is likely to be in season so that they are ready for you.

The Oestrous Cycle
A bitch can have her season (oestrous cycle) from 6 months of age. Then she usually has two per year. Pro-oestrus is the beginning of a season and lasts on average for 9 days. The vulva swells and
there is bloody discharge from the vulva the quantity of which varies greatly and is of no clinical significance. Indeed, some bitches remove most of it by licking. The bitch passes small quantities of urine more frequently to disseminate pheromones (sex hormones that attract male dogs). At this stage, while she is attracted to male dogs, she will not usually stand to be mated. Ovulation (release of eggs) may occur towards the end of this period. Oestrus lasts on average for 9 days but is very variable. The start is when the bitch will stand to be mated and ends when she refuses. The bloody discharge tends to become less copious and bloody but this is not a constant feature. Ovulation tends to occur towards the beginning of oestrus. Some important facts are:
I.  ovulation may occur as early as day 5
2. ovulation may occur as late as day 23
3. ovulation may not be consistent during successive seasons in the same bitch. Therefore, it is obvious that mating on day 11 and 13 because this is when my bitches are ready is a risky game.
4. because dog sperm can live for up to 7 days in the bitch, and because ova (eggs) are not ready for fertilisation until 3 days after ovulation, bitches which are mated by more than one dog can have mixed litters!
Dioestrus starts when a bitch first refuses to stand to be mated and lasts about 60 days. The vulva becomes less swollen and the bloody discharge gradually ceases. False pregnancies frequently occur during late dioestrus. Anoestrus refers to the period between seasons when there is no ovarian activity. It can last from I month to 2 years but usually lasts 4 months. An interesting fact is that bitches kept together often exhibit proestrus/oestrus around the same time. This is thought to be due to the release of pheromones from one oestrus bitch stimulating the others.

When To Mate The Bitch
Most bitches are mated 10-13 days after the beginning of proestrus with good results because sperm can survive for 7 days in the bitch and ova (eggs) are not ready to be fertilised until 3 days after
ovulation, so that matings after ovulation may be fertile. Obviously, repeated matings 24 - 48 hours apart increase the likelihood of conception. However, help in detecting ovulation is required when,
1. only one mating is feasible i.e. stud dog lives on the other side of country or bitch needs to be restrained during mating
2. artificial insemination is being used
3. the bitch ovulates much earlier or later than average and has therefore 'missed' before. Remember a bitch can ovulate from day 5 - 23.
Ovulation time can be detected using vaginal cytology (looking at cells from the vagina under a microscope) or by measuring blood progesterone levels. Vaginal smears should only be taken by and examined by experienced people. The best person for interpreting vaginal smears is Dr Chris Belford who is veterinary specialist in cytology (the examination of cells under a microscope).
The first smear is taken 5 days after the first observed signs of proestrus, then every 2 - 3 days if required. I have yet to use this method as we measure the blood progesterone levels using the Premate
blood test. Rising levels of progesterone indicate that ovulation is about to occur or has occurred. This particular test does increase the conception rate and has been shown in Greyhounds to increase the
litter size. However, it is not 100% accurate but I personally feel that when it fails it is usually because of operator error or there is a problem with the bitch or the dog. Premate tells you when to mate the bitch and usually only one mating is required. I find it is a very good test but it costs about 25 - 30 per test and a bitch may need 2 - 4 tests per season. But if your champion bitch has missed before then surely it is worthwhile.
In summary, if one doesn't try to detect ovulation then mate the bitch every 2 days from when she will stand to be mated for 2 - 3 occasions. If ovulation detection is tried then use a person or veterinary surgeon that has experience of the appropriate procedure.

Mating The Dog And Bitch
Most readers will have far more experience than myself and I don't want to teach a 'Granny to suck eggs'. However, the following is for the novice. Have at least three people present, one of whom must be experienced. If possible the dog and bitch should be allowed to sniff each other, as this will tend to relax them.
Occasionally, some bitches will need to be muzzled or even sedated with ACP sedative tablets to prevent them from biting the dog or handlers or scarring an inexperienced dog. However, don't confuse general snappy behaviour with a bitch who simply isn't ready to be mated. If a bitch snaps at the dog, and refuses to allow him to mount her, it is often because you are trying too early and she simply isn't ready. The answer is to try again the next day. When the bitch is co-operative she will eventually stand still to allow the dog to mount her from behind, and she will raise her tail to one side and lift her vulva to facilitate intromission (penetration). The dog then mounts the bitch with his forelimbs gripping her tightly in front of her pelvis. After ejaculation the dog will want to dismount. With help from the handlers both front feet are placed to one side of the bitch, then the opposite back leg is lifted over the bitches back whilst turning round. Now the dog and bitch are bum to bum in the 'tie' position, which lasts for about 15 - 45 minutes. The conception rate is higher if a tie has occurred because this means that ejaculation has more likely occurred. However, the effect of the length of a tie on fertility is not known, although many breeders feel that a long tie increases the conception rate. A final point is don't leave the dog and bitch to run in the garden all afternoon just because sexual intercourse between dogs embarrass you!