by Katie Grammill, AKC Judge
Many breeders today use lab tests to measure progesterone, luteinizing hormone, and vaginal cytology (smears) to determine when ovulation occurs.
What if technology wasn’t available? Knowing the stud dog and observation of the bitch can be nearly as accurate and a lot cheaper and less stressful for the bitch.
Knowing when she's ovulating and ready to breed comes from experience, “reading the bitch” and observing the male.
Before breeding, make sure the dogs are clean and in good condition. Watch for sheath infections and possible female infections because even though she ovulates, infection can contribute to failure to conceive.
Some stud owners want proof of a culture and clearances. It works both ways. If your bitch misses, watch her carefully for Pyometra or Metritis. The bitch will appear depressed and have a discharge with a foul odor. Prevention is always better than a cure.
Reading my bitch, I often follow up with Veterinary visits. By taking slides or an Ovulation Smear we can read if there are cornified epithelial cells under a microscope. Easily seen, one can determine the best day to take the bitch to the stud. However, the “you just gotta know” system has proven I am right within a day or so regarding her fertility cycle.
Despite what some young male dogs think, BREEDERS know the cycle is usually 21 days. Also, what may be normal for one dog may not be for another. Some bitches cycle on schedule, others ovulate and mate from 12-21 days. Some have “clear heats”, flakey or false seasons or false pregnancies. This was taught to me in the 60’s by a breeder friend and holds true today.
Using a rubber glove and lubricant, the breeder can digitally examine the vulva. There will be a “milking” motion or action. Touch the "knot" at the top of the vulva and it will flex and be soft like “butter.”
It is a good policy to trim the hair around the bitch’s vulva. One might muzzle a maiden bitch for breeding, depending on the breed. Once the bitch is bred, I crate her for some “silent time” and feed the male his supper. That will encourage a male to eat during mating season and eliminate weight loss; the male really CAN do two things at one time if he is rewarded after breeding.
Keep the bred bitch away from all other males until her cycle runs out. Bathe the bitch after she is bred and wash the male’s privates.
Here are average, estrus changes one may expect in normal heat cycle.
DAY 1: Licking and attention to rear. Discharge is dark or bright red color, swelling of vulva. Start counting heat cycle from when the blood hits the ground
DAY 2-7: Bright red with swelling increasing.
DAY 8-10: Color begins to lighten to pinkish, swelling is at peak and the vulva has a spongy look and feel. There is a “knot” at the top of the vulva and it is very firm. A male cannot have a successful tie when the vulva is swollen. However, a “slip tie” CAN produce puppies. Bitch may lay her tail over and tease, then snap, so wait a little longer as she can easily turn a young male off.
DAY 9-14: Color changes from light pink to clear or straw colored. The swelling is down and the vulva appears dry or harder on edges. The knot at the top of the vulva is very soft like butter. The bitch will stand solid and elevate her rear. The male is aggressive, restless and noisy. Breed the bitch now. Monitor the tie as an aggressive bitch can damage a male. The tie may last 10-25 minutes.
DAY 14-21: Color clears, discharge and swelling almost gone, bitch may act receptive, but is still snappy. Count 58-62 days for puppies!
TESTAPE: There are always exceptions to the rule. Some bitches will mate and conceive as late as 22 days. Another way to check if the bitch is receptive is to use Testape reactions. Put discharge from the bitch on the Testape. When the bitch is ready to breed, the ovulation pad will turn (pink to blue/black/purple/burgundy) somewhere between the 9th and 12th day (as depicted below). That is ovulation. (Colors of Testape may vary according to the manufacturer.)
Most seasoned studs don’t waste their time. They will ignore a bitch until she is READY, and then tear up the pen trying to get to her. If you breed too early, the male penetrates, works, and slips out. Wait a day or so as it’s too early and the bitch cannot hold the “tie”.
Dogs ejaculate over a period of time, which is why nature designed the “tie”. The male is at the bitch’s mercy until she releases him. (On another note: If you want to break a tie, one might turn the male back around into the normal mounting position and push his rear in carefully. This often “unlocks” the tie. If after breeding the penis will not return into the prepuce, call the vet for advice.
A natural breeding is desirable. A veterinarian can help you with an artificial insemination. Maiden bitches who are A-I’d often have trouble whelping. Suggestion: when taking the dogs to the vet for an A-I suggest the vet use a baggie and NOT a glass beaker to collect the male in. Also, have the bitch available to tease him.
There are volumes of books on the subject of Canine Reproduction but it really shouldn’t be that complicated. Dogs have been doing it for centuries. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a successful breeder to mentor you like I had so long ago, this should help and you can find out all about the Mechanics Of Mating in this section. There are many misconceptions about getting the bitch pregnant. Craig White, DVM, M.S enlightens dog breeders about Speedy Sperm and elevating the bitch's hindquarters.