Mating: A Crash Course

Mating: A Crash Course In The Reproductive Cycle

Mating: A Crash Course In The Reproductive Cycle

There used to be a time, long ago, when our population was common to have dogs that were hunters which would go out and retrieve game, some were shepherds herding sheep, and others had the job of guarding property. And during these times, man would let their canine workers roam the lands with free reign.

Eventually, old dogs had to be replaced with new ones; new blood was needed to carry on the tasks of simple existence. However, populations are no longer sparse in today’s world. Millions of homeless dogs die on the streets and in animal shelters every year. Unfortunately, when it comes to breeding these animals, the old ways still persist. Dogs are bred indiscriminately and little thought is given to the ultimate future of the scores of unlucky offspring which result from such matings.

In direct opposition to the methods used to control human overpopulation, current methods of controlling pet overpopulation are frequently aimed at incarcerating stray, unwanted pets. In their efforts to perpetuate a worthy species, a serious breeder chooses good stock, exercises discretion, and familiarizes him or herself with the basics of reproduction. Hopefully, the following discussion will provide some worthwhile insights into the reproductive process.

The Reproductive Cycle

“Proestrus” is the active stage of the reproductive cycle, occurring just before mating.  Biological changes in the female reproductive organs during proestrus are far-reaching and affect many body systems. For our purposes, the most important changes are: a dramatic increase in the size of the female’s external sex organs and the onset of a blood-tingled general discharge (which is used to estimate breeding time).

Eleven days after the general discharge begins, females are ready to mate. This is an average based on statistics. Every dog is an individual and may vary from the norm by one or two days. During proestrus, male dogs are ready, however, females rarely except the male during this period. Proestrus lasts about nine days.

“Estrus” is the active stage of the reproductive cycle and follows proestrus. During estrus, the female accepts the male and the mating occurs. Mating takes place early in estrus, which is at the time of ovulation.

“Metestrus” immediately follows estrus provided pregnancy does not occur.  In this stage the reproductive organs slowly return to a quiescent state. A condition called false pregnancy may occur during metestrus. It results when sex hormones function abnormally to stimulate pregnancy.

“Anestrus,” a time of complete inactivity of the reproductive organs, follows metestrus and lasts three months. The onset of proestrus marks the completion of the cycle.

Mating: A Crash Course In The Reproductive Cycle

Dogs mate early in estrus in association with ovulation. There are three ways to determine when a female dog is ready to mate:

(1) Put her with a male and see if anything happens.

(2) Note when proestral bleeding starts and mark the 11th day on the calender, taking into account individual variations, then put her with a male and see if anything happens.

(3) When your dog is delivered from home to spend a night or two with a male, you may need an accurate account of the most likely mating time. Ask your vet to examine a vaginal smear. (It is often necessary to examine a series of smears on subsequent days to determine the proper time to mate.)

Anatomically, it is difficult for a male dog to separate himself from a female immediately after mating without causing injury. Because of this, dogs remain tied up together for 15 minutes or longer. This is completely natural and attempts at forceful separation risks injury.

When several male dogs mate one female, it is possible for more than one percentage to represent itself in the offspring.  This is because the female ovulates several eggs at one time. Some of the eggs may be fertilized by one male and some by another.

A stray male dog may call unexpectedly, mating your female.  Male dogs have been known to swim wide rivers, dig deep holes beneath fences, and tear planks away from barns to get to a female that is in heat.

When a mating accident occurs, avoid unwanted puppies by requesting your vet to inject a hormone to prevent pregnancy.  Chances are good that pregnancy can be avoided if this is done during the first 24 to 48 hours after mating has occurred. (Keep in mind that many veterinarians may recommend a series of injections at weekly intervals and some vets may refuse to give abortion shots completely).

If Your Chosen Male Will Not Mate

Lacking experience, young male dogs may be a bit uncertain of what to do. Injections of male hormones may help, however, by the time the problem is apparent hormones are often too late to be effective. Make arrangements for a substitute in case the chosen pair will not mate. Male dogs with defective sperm cells often have a normal sex drive and a normal mating instinct; they will mate, but pregnancy will not result.

Artificial insemination serves as a substitute for natural mating when, for any reason, dogs refuse to mate. Sperm cells collected from the male by artificial means are inserted into the uterus of the female. This technique frequently results in pregnancy.

Mating: A Crash Course In The Reproductive Cycle

If the future mother is due for vaccinations, have her vaccinated prior to (not during) pregnancy, since vaccines may cause adverse effects on fetal development if given during pregnancy.

Vaccinations before pregnancy accomplish two goals:

(1) They boost the future mother’s immunity.

(2) They provide the temporary immunity puppies need after birth for protection against diseases. (Puppies are not capable of building their own immunity until they are a few weeks old.)

If the mating is successful then pregnancy will follow; like metestrus it lasts two months, taking into account individual variation. Most vets can diagnose pregnancy four weeks after mating; earlier diagnosis is difficult.

One of the best available aids is good records, which tell when dogs are mated, give insights to previous breeding problems, and by their thoroughness, point out potential problems. Without benefit of breeding dates it is easier to determine that a dog is pregnant than to determine that it is not pregnant.

A good balanced diet and vitamin and mineral supplementation, which are vital during pregnancy, becomes much more important during nursing. Health problems related to pregnancy are uncommon in dogs. Although an occasional dog may abort, even this is not common. Most problems of practical concern involve breeding, delivery, and nursing.

Birth of The Puppies

The birth process, called parturition, is conveniently divided into three easily recognized stages. They are simple termed stage 1, stage 2, and stage 3. Stage 1 is the preliminary step to true labor. The female may act to prepare a nest and personality changes may become more evident (which include irritability, nervousness and pacing).

If the female’s body temperature falls too low then this may indicate serious diseases. The rectal temperature, should it fall from the normal range of 101 -102 degrees (F), is a meaningful indicator that birth may take place in the next 24 hours.  Another sign of stage 1 is the rupture of the allantoic membrane, or water bag. Upon its rupture, a large volume of fluid is spent, which leaves no doubt that labor is near.

Following is stage 2 and stage 3, which is known as true labor and the nearing of the end of labor. The first puppy should be born within a few hours. If there are no puppies being born after several hours go by then you will need to call your veterinarian. A cesarean may be needed if there is a problem.

Mating: A Crash Course In The Reproductive Cycle

When it is time for the female to give birth to her puppies, the 3 stages of birth allow the breeder to accurately assess the condition of both the health of the mother and the puppies. Once the allantoic membrane (or simply called the water-bag) has broken then you know labor is close.

True Labor

Stage 2 is the time of true labor. Hard and forceful abdominal contractions occur which results in the delivery of puppies. The first puppy should be born within two to three hours from the time these contractions start, and the interval between puppies should not exceed this length of time. If no puppy is born then contact your veterinarian immediately.

Upon seeing the head or feet presented, assist delivery (only if necessary) by applying gentle traction in synchrony with the abdominal contractions of the dam. Forcefully tugging and pulling to deliver a difficult puppy may inflict unnecessary injury.

Once the puppy is born, the mother will instinctively lick the placental membranes from it and severs the navel cord with her teeth. If she fails to remove the placental membranes enveloping the puppy, you must do it yourself or the puppy will suffocate. Tear them away gently and quickly. Free the head first, allowing the puppy to breathe, then swab out its mouth with gauze pads.

The placental membranes are slippery, so use gauze pads to aid in removing them. After the puppy is free, cut the navel cord two inches away from its body, using scissors boiled in water. To control excess bleeding, pinch the navel cord with your clean fingers until it stops. Tying the navel cord with thread or string, or a similar foreign substance, will invite infection, demands cautiousness, and is generally ill-advised.

After the bleeding has stopped, swab the navel cord with iodine, dry the puppy vigorously in a towel, and place it with the dam. If she is nervous about her new puppies then separate them from her and place them together in a box until delivery is complete.

Cesarean sections are needed when a dog, failing to deliver within a reasonable period of time, also fails to respond to medical methods if inducing labor. The majority of cesarean sections are done on the smaller breeds, which lack the powerful muscular contractions needed to deliver puppies naturally. This is a successful technique which, in most cases, results in live puppies.

The Final Stage Of Birth

Stage 3 is the final stage of labor. It occurs when the uterus contracts and begins to return to its normal size. As it contracts, fluids and placental membranes remaining from stage 2 are forced out.

Mating: A Crash Course In The Reproductive Cycle

During the first 24 to 48 hours after delivery, take the mother and all puppies to see your vet. The purpose of the examination is to insure healthy puppies with no obvious defects or illnesses, to be sure no puppies are retained in the uterus, to correct vaccination deficiencies, and to give the mother a hormone injection which will aid in contraction of the uterus and removal of the debris from stage 3.

The nursing period begins with the secretion of a complex milk-like substance called colostrum. Puppies nursing during the first 24 hours of life get antibodies from colostrum, giving them protection against diseases for the first few weeks of life. Puppies failing to nurse during the first few hours face a stormy start in life and may fail to survive.

Sick puppies, or those unable to survive the competitiveness of a large litter, soon become too weak to nurse. The result is a vicious cycle: the less they eat the weaker they become, and the weaker they become, the less they eat. Weak puppies require extra help; use an orphan formula to feed them. Several products are available over-the-counter for this purpose. For feeding instructions follow the label recommendations of the manufacturer.

Too weak to respond, many puppies fail to cry out in response to pain. Weak puppies are in danger of death and should be treated by your vet.

The nursing period places a heavy nutritional burden on the mother. The nutritional demands of nursing are greater than those of pregnancy, and close attention should be paid to proper feeding during this time. Dog foods of high quality and vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary.

Milk Fever

Eclampsia (known as milk fever) is a severe complication which can develop during the nursing period. The cause is a deficiency of calcium in the blood, resulting from rapid calcium loss into the milk during periods of high milk production. It is identified by severe convulsions and a rapid rise in body temperature. When it occurs, it is usually seen in the second week of nursing. Eclampsia is an emergency requiring immediate medical attention to prevent death.

Final Word

When the basic principles of reproduction are fully understood, the chances for successful mating will be greatly enhanced. However, the problem of how to deal with the excess puppies which result from over-breeding still remains. A number of methods are currently used to control vet over-population; none of them have been particularly successful, however, simply because of the enormous number of animals involved.

Again, attacking the problem at the source by halting unnecessary mating is a more sensible, and humane approach, than allowing dogs to mate indiscriminately and then seeking methods of disposing of the unwanted puppies.


The information shared on this site is for information only. It does not take the place of professional advice from your pet’s healthcare provider.

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