All dogs, whether large or small, are pregnant for about 63 days from the date of conception. However, conception does not necessarily occur at the time of mating.
Female dogs have a heat or estrous cycle twice a year. In the wild, wolves usually have only one cycle per year but domestication over thousands of years has brought about two cycles for modern dogs in most cases. (A few breeds still have only one cycle per year.)
There are four stages to this heat cycle:
- Proestrous -- the female dog, or bitch, has bloody vaginal discharge and males are attracted but the female is unwilling to mate. No conception can occur during this period. This period may last from about 4 to 20 days.
- Estrous -- the female dog has a swollen vulva, there is a clear or yellowish vaginal discharge, and mating can occur during this stage. This period may last from 5 to 13 days. Conception is possible during this time and female dogs are very willing to mate. They will stand and “flag,” meaning that they will back up to the male and hold their tail to the side.*
- Metestrous or Diestrous -- this is the period after estrous or mating. This period will last between 60 and 90 days. If the female dog is pregnant this period lasts about 63 days.
- Anestrous -- This is the period of sexual and hormonal down time between estrous phases when the female dog’s body prepares for the next estrous phase.
During estrous, when the female dog is willing to mate, if mating occurs, the female dog’s eggs may not be quite ready to be fertilized. The sperm of the male dog can live up to seven days after mating. This means that fertilization and conception can actually occur up to seven days after mating.
Your vet can pinpoint the time of conception and fertilization by doing regular progesterone tests on your female dog when she is in the estrous phase. These will measure the amount of luteinizing hormone that her body is releasing. Once her body releases a spike of LH (or luteinizing hormone), then fertilization and conception will occur within 72 hours. If you are hoping to breed your dog and you want to know exactly when to expect the puppies, this can help you know exactly when they will be due later on.
Most pet owners prefer not to go through the trouble of having a female dog in season but if you do want to breed your girl then you should take the precaution of health testing both her and the male dog you have chosen to be the sire. Make sure that they are both genetically healthy dogs so they don’t pass along any health problems to their puppies. All breeds have sets of recommended health tests. You can visit the web site for the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals http://offa.org/ to see what tests are recommended for your breed.
You should also wait to breed any female until she is mature enough, both physically and mentally. This way you will know that she doesn’t have any health problems of her own and she will be able to handle the stress of having a litter.
Before you consider breeding a litter you should also make sure that you will be able to care for the puppies. Newborn puppies are a lot of work, not just for the mother but also for the breeder. You probably won’t get any sleep for the first couple of weeks. There’s also the possibility of complications. Will you be able to care for the puppies round the clock if something should happen to the mother?
The average litter size for all breeds is about six puppies, but some Toy breeds may only have 1-2 pups. Other breeds may have a dozen puppies. You should ask yourself if you will be able to care for 12 puppies when they are six weeks old and running through your house. It’s not easy to clean up poop from 12 puppies several times per day!
Don’t forget that you will also have a responsibility to get the first shots and worming for these puppies. If you have a large litter this can be expensive.
Many people assume that if they have a purebred dog and they breed it to their neighbor’s purebred dog they can make some easy money. That’s not exactly true! After you add up what it costs to care for a litter of puppies for several weeks you will realize that having puppies can be expensive.
You should also keep in mind that you should not sell or place your puppies before they are eight weeks old. Puppies need to learn valuable lessons from their mother about how to act with other dogs, about bite inhibition, and other things that only their mother can teach them. If you remove puppies from their mother too soon they may have behavior problems as adult dogs.
Breeding quality dogs is important and necessary. There are many breeds that would no longer exist without breeders who were committed to keeping them healthy and available to people who love them. But breeding dogs does take work and commitment. Before you breed your dog make sure that you have the time and commitment to do a good job.
*There is a popular misconception that some breeders force female dogs to mate. This seems to come from the use by animal rights fanatics of the term “rape stand” for a breeding stand for mating. A breeding stand is not used to force mating. It is used to help dogs who might otherwise have difficulty reaching each other because of their size differences. These stands may be used by disreputable people, but they can also be used by any breeder who feels that the female dog may need some help to support the weight of the male. Anyone who has ever bred a dog will confirm that normal, healthy female dogs are more than willing to mate when they are in season. There is no “rape” involved. Breeding is a normal, healthy part of life for all dogs unless they are spayed or neutered.