Most owners meet their new puppy for the first time when the puppy is 8 weeks old. It is easy to forget just how much thought, planning, and time has gone into producing the puppy long before it is ready to go home. In fact, the process starts months and even years before the puppy is born. Hunters Point Kennel would like to break down the process of producing puppies into a series of five articles to give you a better understanding of what we are doing every day to ensure that we produce quality Pointing Lab puppies to become part of your family.
In case you missed part 1 check it out here! Part 1: Picking the Sire and Dam
So we have picked the mother and father of our planned litter. That decision needs to be made months or even a year before you plan to have the litter. This article will discuss the female reproductive cycle and what methods can be used when it comes time for the female to be bred.
Basics of the female reproductive cycle — Typically a female’s reproductive cycle, or estrous cycle, will begin between 6 and 12 months of age. Most owners choose to have their females spayed and this is usually done before she begins cycling. Although her estrous cycle has begun, we will not breed a female until she is clear on all of her health testing and has passed all of her training, typically around 3 or 4 years of age. The female estrous cycle repeats every 6 months in most dogs but does vary between individual animals. Although it can be complicated, we will break it down into the 3 basic phases that are most important for us to consider.
1) The estrous cycle begins approximately 6 months after the onset of her last cycle or 4 months after her last whelping. We know that her cycle is starting because she will have vaginal discharge that is composed of blood and some mucus. Her vulva will also be enlarged. During this period there may be some behavioral changes but this will vary between females. This stage can last anywhere from 3-17 days but 10 days is fairly typical.
2) As she progresses in her cycle, the vaginal discharge will turn to straw color. At this point we usually see a noticeable behavior change. She will be restless and actively seeking out a male. Up until this point she has probably not shown much interest in males, but suddenly all of her focus will be turned to males in the kennel. This stage is technically called estrus, but known by most simply as being in heat, basically meaning that she is receptive to the male and ready to be bred. Once again, the length of time that a female is in heat will vary between individuals but on average will last 10 days.
3) If the female has been bred and conceived during estrus she will now progress through the stages of pregnancy. If she was not bred or failed to conceive, she will begin a period of reproductive inactivity where her body will prepare for the next cycle. This is the longest phase of the estrous cycle and will last until she begins her next cycle.
Monitoring the estrous cycle — We watch our females closely for the beginning of their estrous cycle. Once we know that the female starting her cycle, there are a few ways we can monitor her progression. The method we use in each case will depend on the method of breeding that we are wanting to use. If we are planning on using artificial insemination we want to keep close tabs on where she is at in her cycle so that we can time the insemination on exactly the right days. The most accurate monitoring is done by hormone testing. Hormones control every stage of the estrous cycle so they are a very accurate indicator of where she is at in her cycle. The other method we use when we plan on doing a natural breeding is just visual clues. When we see that a female is starting her cycle we will monitor her for behavioral changes that indicate she is ready to be bred.
Natural Breeding — This method of breeding is exactly as it sounds. No matter how experienced dogs are, this process is always supervised in case something goes wrong. We will typically allow 3-4 natural breedings spaced a few days apart while the female is in heat, until she becomes unperceptive to the male.
Artificial Insemination — This method is used when the male is at another location, usually in a different state. It is very important to know exactly where the female is at in her estrous cycle because with artificial insemination you usually only get one or two chances. The semen must be collected and chilled then shipped to the veterinarian. The veterinarian will then look at the semen and make sure that it is high enough quality to increase our odds of conception. Artificial insemination is a non-invasive procedure that only takes 15-20 minutes.
We have watched our female closely and taken all the steps necessary to give her the best chance at conceiving. All we can do now is wait! Check back for our next article that will discuss the basics of canine pregnancy.