Mating your bitch




Canine mating is a natural event.  However, because of human influences including the selection criteria applied to domestic dog breeding, the mating itself may end up being somewhat unnatural for the animals involved.  The most common reason for mating failures or non conception is because the bitch is not presented to the dog at the optimum time.  Without using a test to detect ovulation about 20% of matings fail to achieve conception (England 1992).  Occasionally, fertility problems affecting either the dog or bitch are to blame.  In other instances normal matings may be prevented by behavioural problems.


Natural canine mating behaviour


The ancestor of the domestic dog, the wolf, is selective when choosing a mate.  Wolves that rely on larger species of prey for food need to live in packs and hunt cooperatively.  In such colonies, breeding is usually confined to just one pair of animals the alpha dog and bitch.  The mating of other females in the pack may be suppressed by the alpha bitch but they may be required to help with rearing the alpha bitch's young.  Where the hunted prey is smaller or scarce, wolves generally live in monogamous pairs. The dog takes responsibility for hunting and bringing back food to the bitch and her young.


Human selection criteria


Domestic dogs are usually required to mate with animals selected by their owners.  Selected mates are generally unknown to each other prior to the mating day and pack or individual bonding and socialisation is given little, if any, chance to occur.  Also, some pet bitches have had little chance to socialise with other dogs, prior to being mated and often lack the socialisation and body language of free roaming bitches or those kept with other dogs.  Even bitches which normally live with other dogs may still be confused as to their status within the "pack": this confusion of social status can also be relevant to the dog.  




Your veterinary practice or a conscientious and informed breeder can often be the first point of contact .  Sometimes the logistics of responsible dog breeding have not been considered.  These should be fully understood before breeding and making a profit is not always going to be possible if the job is to be done properly.  The following need to be considered.


The temperament of the bitch which must be the first priority and fractious or bad tempered bitches should not be bred form.  


Good homes will be required for the puppies.  Are you confident they can be found?  Especially with giant, rare or cross bred dogs.  


The careful choice of a mate: he should be a good representative of the breed.


Having both dogs (ideally) examined by a veterinary surgeon, although most stud dog owners will not do this prior to every mating.


Screening programmes for hereditary diseases for both dog and bitch (for detailed information on this please see the Choosing a stud dog sub pages) Documentary evedence should be provided to and by the stud dog owner prior to the mating taking place.


In addition, read up on reproduction, pregnancy, birth and postnatal care.


Bitches should be wormed and be vaccinated prior to mating.


Organising the mating


You should research potential stud dogs and arrange to see them well before the bitch is due to come into heat or season.  The stud dog owner will want to know approximately when the season is due and once it has started the bitch owner should ring to advise when the bitch might be ready to bring to the dog.


Getting the timing right


Bitches normally come into season or heat (also called oestrus) every six months but this can vary between different bitches some cycling more frequently and some less. The precise timing of oestrus and readiness for mating varies between each bitch and each season (oestrus).  Normal ranges are given BELOW Timings are approximate as they can vary between different bitches and different seasons.  You need to take account of the physical signs and your bitches behaviour.



The approximate lengths of each stage of the heat and associated behavioural and clinical signs which owners and veterinary advisors need to be fully aware of are given below:


STAGES OF THE SEASON (Also called heat or oestrus) Total length where clinical signs are present  is about 3 weeks and covers stages one and two below and a few days of stage three.





Increased urination, Possible Irritability to other bitches, Attractive to

male but  Will not accept male

CLINICAL SIGNS  Bloody vaginal discharge Swollen vulva


Follical Stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland in the brain stimulates the follicules (the egg forming part of the ovaries) to ripen the eggs or ova.  The follicles start to produce oestrogen (and in the bitch progesterone).  The rising levels of oestrogen stimulate the pituitary gland to produce Luteinising Hormone (LH) and reduce FSH production




Bitch stands for the dog -tail swings to one side and the vulva is presented more dorsally (or pushed up) to assist penetration sometimes called winking.


The bloody discharge reduces becoming clearer in colour and the vulva softens


Ovulation occurs as the rising levels of Luteinising Hormone cause the ripened eggs to be released from the ovaries (ovulation).  This causes a type of scar, on the ovaries, to form called the corpus luteum which produces the hormone PROGESTERONE.  In the bitch the ripening egg folicles also produce progesterone.   Therefore, this hormone can be measured to detect ovulation.


STAGE THREE (metoestrus sometimes called dioestrus)


The bitch will not accept the dog although he may still be interested in her.


The discharge drys up and the vulva shrinks back.


The Corpus Luteum produces rising levels of progesterone whether or not the bitch is pregnant.  Hence the reason why bitches get false pregnancies which are a biological adaptation to ensure other bitches in the pack are able to nurse the Alpha bitches puppies if necessary.  Metoesturs is broadly devided into two stages.  Stage one where the corpus luteum is forming and intact and Stage two where is withers away.  The corpus luteum stay intact for about 55 days.


It should be realised that many bitches show wide variation in the length of pro-oestrus.  From only three days to as long as twenty days has been recorded variations from heat to heat are also common.  Therefore, in some bitches it can be difficult to ascertain the correct time for mating.  Vaginal cytology and/or blood tests to determine progesterone levels (Ovucheck Pre-Mate; Vetoquinol) can usefully be carried out to help determine the correct time to mate where:


1. Owners are travelling long distances to the stud dog.

2. Difficulties are anticipated in detecting the right time to mate.

3. Difficulties have occurred in the past in detecting the right time to mate.

4. Previous matings have failed.

5. There is no access to a "teaser" dog.


A combination of vaginal cytology during po-oestrus (first part of the heat), followed up by the measurement of blood progesterone from days 6-9 of pro-oestrus may be the most economical approach for owners.  This is because both tests need repeating every other day.  Where it is suspected that ovulation is occurring early, or there has been a previously unsuccessful conception, blood progesterone should be tested for from day 3 of the first signs of heat (pro-oestrus).


If you are relatively near to the stud dog and none of the above factors apply the owner will probably ask you to turn up on about the 12th day and see what happens between the dog and bitch before advising you further.


(Continued on next sub page)