Breeding Dogs and Raising Puppies: Our Experiences
If you’ve never been involved with breeding dogs and raising puppies, you might think dog breeders have an easy, lucrative job. Believe me – that’s a total misconception! Breeding dogs is a tough job that can be full of surprises, problems, and heartache. It can also run into a lot of expense. I’ll go into more detail with the possible costs involved in raising a litter of puppies later in this article. Breeding your pet dog can be fun and exciting, but think long and hard before making a decision. Once the puppies arrive, it’s too late to have second thoughts. You have to be totally committed long before the female dog meets the stud. Make sure you have the time, the money, and the knowledge required of successful dog breeders. Even the most experienced dog breeders are faced with serious problems from time to time, so it’s best to learn as much as you can. Below is some information about breeding dogs and raising puppies that I hope you’ll find helpful.
Breeding dogs should only be considered if you know you can find homes for all the puppies. If you’re selling puppies, make sure there’s a market for them. Dog breeding should also be done only with quality, healthy dogs. I’m not saying they have to be champions. Many potential buyers can’t afford dogs with championship lines, and they aren’t necessary to ensure a good pet. The bitch and stud should, however, be sound, healthy, and of excellent temperament and conformation.
Before breeding your female, make sure she’s in excellent health. Take her for a vet visit to check this out. Be sure to get rid of any internal and external parasites, too. Plan ahead for a stud – don’t wait until the last minute. Find an acceptable male and establish a relationship with the owner. Agree to the terms and conditions, and get everything in writing.
Your female dog will experience her first heat between the ages of six months to eighteen months, depending on the breed and on the individual dog. Most dog breeders recommend waiting until the third heat to breed. In most female dogs, the heat discharge turns the color of wheat straw when it’s time to breed. Usually, the female is taken to the male, and she’ll most likely spend several days there. Natural dog breeding doesn’t usually require much, if any, help from humans. If the female is in the right stage of heat, she should accept the male, and a “tie” will result. Don’t attempt to separate the dogs!
Your pregnant female will need good quality food, and plenty of it for her developing young. Puppy kibble is a good choice, and it should be given free choice. In other words, she should be able to eat any time she’s hungry. The same goes for clean, cool water.
Dog breeding requires a large investment of time and money. No matter how good your female dog is at her mothering skills, there are things you’ll need to do. The mom will need special food and care while she’s pregnant and while she’s nursing. In most cases, you’ll have to pay a stud fee to the male’s owner or give them pick of the litter. The female will most likely need a whelping box or some sort of “nest” or “den” that’s safe, quiet, warm, and comfortable.
Make a special nest for your dog that’s about twice as big as the mom. The area needs to be surrounded by pillows, boards, or some other sort of barrier in order to keep the pups “corralled.” The mother dog needs to be able to get in and out easily, however. Her food and water should be placed outside but near the nest. Do your best to get her to sleep there before the puppies arrive. That way, she’ll feel like it’s home. The nest should be in a quiet, dark place, away from the hubbub of the house.
The normal gestation period for dogs is anywhere from fifty-nine to sixty-five days from ovulation. You can take your dog to her vet to make sure she’s pregnant, or you can watch for signs on your own. A large or giant breed dog might not show much, physically, until the last couple of weeks of pregnancy. When you know the time is near, you can begin taking the dog’s temperature. When it drops to under 100 degrees, labor should begin within twelve hours.
How to Deliver Puppies
If you’re going to be breeding dogs, you need to know how to deliver puppies. Many dogs have puppies successfully on their own, with no need of human intervention. On the other hand, some breeds, like the English bulldog, might need to be delivered by Caesarian section. Your dog might feel more assured if you’re nearby to help her, but don’t invite the whole neighborhood to watch the miracle of birth. The quieter it is, the calmer the mom will be.
When labor begins, the soon-to-be mother might pant, pace nervously, lie down and get up frequently, or even tremble. When a pup is on its way, the female will most likely push for several minutes. The normal presentation is for the front paws and head to appear first, but oftentimes the rear legs might appear first. If the puppy isn’t delivered quickly, you’ll need to pull the puppy out, as gently as possible. For a normal delivery, the best place to grab is the loose skin around the neck. For a breach delivery, gently pull both back legs or any skin you can hold. You’ll need to be quick about doing this. The pup is receiving oxygen via the umbilical cord, and if it’s being compressed, the baby won’t be getting oxygen.
When the pup is born, it’s encased in a sac. Sometimes a puppy will tear open the sac, but usually, the mother takes care of that. She should also bite the umbilical cord and lick her offspring. The licking cleans the baby and acts as a physical stimulant. If the mother fails to do any of these tasks, you’ll have to do it yourself. The membranes tear easily. Once the pup is out of the sac, you’ll need to use a soft towel to clean away fluid from its mouth and nose. If the mother dog doesn’t bite the umbilical cord, tie it off with thread about an inch from the pup’s belly and use sterilized scissors to make the cut two inches from the belly. Check to make sure the little guy is breathing. If he’s not, try rubbing him briskly. If the puppy still isn’t breathing, hold it firmly over your head and swing it quickly between your legs. You might also want to use a small bulb syringe to suck fluids out of the nose and mouth.
Puppies usually come pretty quickly. If the bitch goes longer than a couple of hours without producing a pup, she might need veterinary care. Kayla had two puppies several hours after the veterinary staff thought she was finished, and the two later pups were born dead. Once your dog seems to have finished giving birth, you might want to take her for a vet check to make sure no more puppies are inside her.
Mother dogs generally eat the afterbirth and lick up any fluids associated with delivery. Sure, this is gross to us humans, but it’s good for the mama dog, believe it or not. Don’t try to stop her from doing this. After it’s all over, you can put down clean bedding.
Make sure all the babies begin nursing, and that the mom allows them to do so. Look to see if any pup or pups seem weaker or much smaller than their littermates. Those puppies might not be able to compete with their larger and stronger brothers and sisters for the mother’s milk. You might have to do supplemental bottle feedings for those puppies. For information about how to bottle feed puppies, click the link.
The puppies will need to be weighed regularly, so you’ll either need some precise scales, or you’ll have to take them to the vet to be weighed. Puppies should grow and gain weight at a rapid pace. If you have one that isn’t growing quickly, the pup might have a congenital defect or illness, so it needs to be checked out by a veterinarian. If the entire litter isn’t growing fast enough, it probably means the mother isn’t producing enough milk. In that case, you’ll need to bottle feed puppies.
How to Deliver Puppies:
Newborn puppies arrive into the world all but completely helpless. They can crawl around a little, but they can’t really walk. Their eyes are closed tightly, as are their ears. They have trouble regulating their body heat, and their sense of smell isn't developed. They can’t even poop and pee on their own. For about the first three weeks, the mother dog has to stimulate the genital area of a puppy to get it to eliminate.
The mother’s body heat will usually keep the puppies warm, but you might need to help her out with this. A large heating pad covered with a blanket works well. Keep the heating pad set on low, and place it on one side of the nest. If the babies get too hot, they’ll instinctively move away from the heat source, as long as they have somewhere cooler to go.
Sometimes mothers reject their puppies and refuse to feed them. Sometimes she might want to feed them, but she might not have much milk. The mother dog might also be separated from her pups because of illness or death. If any of these events occur, you’ll have to take over the puppy care. That means you’ll have to feed them with a bottle, get them to eliminate, and keep them warm. Accomplishing these requirements is a full time, around-the-clock duty.
Most puppies open their eyes at around ten days to two weeks. The ears usually open around the same time. Puppy vision is fuzzy at first, but it improves daily. It’s important to keep the pups away from bright light during this stage.
For the first two weeks, it’s best not to handle the puppies any more than you absolutely have to. A good mother dog will stay with her puppies practically all the time, except when she needs to eat, drink, and relieve herself. At around three weeks of age, it’s good to start handling the pups a little each day. Do this very gently. Around this same time, the puppies will start walking around, and they’ll poop and pee on their own. The Great Dane puppies we have now began pooping and peeing by themselves at two weeks, but every litter has its own timetable. Our puppies have been good about “doing their business.” They rarely soil their bed. They poop and pee as soon as we take them out of the playpen. Many puppies do make a mess in their bed, so if yours do, you’ll need to change the bedding, accordingly.
At two and one-half weeks, the Dane pups were walking pretty well, and they started playing with each other. They’re three weeks old now, and we let them out of their playpen to play. When we talk to them, they’ll scurry over to us to be picked up, cuddled, and fed. Interactions with humans are crucial during early puppyhood. It’s their first socialization with people, and the puppies should have a positive association with humans. Always be gentle and comforting. The way a young puppy is handled will shape the kind of dog it becomes.
Puppy Milk Replacer:
For the first three weeks or so, puppies don’t need anything but their mother’s milk or milk replacer. At about three or four weeks, you can start giving the puppies puppy food. You’ll need to make it thin, in a gruel-like consistency. Most dog breeders soak puppy kibble in warm water to soften it, and then add milk replacer to thin it.
Puppies learn to eat by experimenting and by trial and error. At first, most puppies try to suck up the gruel. They’ll soon learn to lap it up with their tongues, though. Every day, you should make the gruel a little thicker. Of course, the puppies will still need to nurse, along with eating puppy food. By the time the puppies are six to eight weeks old, they can be fed a diet consisting completely of puppy food.
Expect the pups to make a HUGE mess the first few times they eat! They’ll walk through the gruel, stick their faces in it, and sometimes play in it. You might want to feed them in an outdoor location that can be hosed down after feeding times. If you need to clean the little piglets, rinse them with warm water and dry them with a blow dryer set on low heat.
Great Dane Puppies eating their first puppy food:
Best Puppy Food
What’s the best puppy food? I asked Kayla’s vet that very question. She said to use a good quality name brand instead of a cheaper generic puppy food. The brands she mentioned specifically by name were Purina Puppy Chow, Science Diet, Iams, Pedigree, and Eukanuba. I’m referring to dry puppy food here. Most veterinarians I've spoken with recommend dry kibble because it's good for the puppies' teeth.
If you have very large breed puppies or giant breed puppies, you’ll need to use a puppy food especially formulated for such dog breeds. You don’t want the babies to grow too quickly. If they do, their bones and joints can be negatively affected. When we’ve raised giant dog breeds, we always fed Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy Food, and our Great Dane puppies always thrived on it.
Best Puppy Food:
Weaning puppies is actually a gradual process. For the first two or three weeks, the mother will rarely leave her puppies. By the time the pups are three and one-half or four weeks old, however, she’ll probably begin to leave them for longer periods of time. Nursing times will be further apart, too. As the pups begin to eat puppy food, they’ll rely less and less on the doggie mom’s milk. The puppies should be fed three or four times a day.
Feeding the pups puppy food is a good time to give Mom a break from her babies. It’s also a good time for you to spend time with the puppies. Soon, they’ll learn to associate you to feeding time, which is a positive and enjoyable experience. Gradually, the puppies will begin to look to humans instead of their mother for their food. The time the babies spend with their mom should be decreased as the babies get older.
As you increase the amount of puppy food the babies are eating, you need to decrease the amount of food the mother is receiving. Doing so will help dry up the mother dog’s milk. Again, this part of weaning puppies should be done in increments.
Before you offer puppies for sale, the little critters will need puppy vaccinations and wormings. Internal parasites like worms can cause serious problems in puppies, so you need to get the litter on a regular worming schedule for puppies. The most common types of worms in puppies are tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms. Not all veterinarians agree exactly on how often young pups should be wormed. Some recommend worming at two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, and eight weeks. Others might recommend worming puppies at two weeks, five weeks, and eight weeks. Check with your veterinarian and follow his or her recommendations.
Puppy vaccinations are also extremely important. Pups receive some protection from the mother’s colostrum for the first days after birth, but once that protection fades, the pups will need a series of puppy vaccinations, including some that should be given before the pups leave your care. At around six weeks of age, they’ll need to be vaccinated against distemper, parainfluenza, hepatitis, and parvo. Depending on your veterinarian, a vaccine against the Bordetella bacteria might also be advised.
Puppies For Sale
If you have puppies for sale, you need to get the word out, obviously. Some dog breeders advertise their puppies for sale as soon as they’re sure the female is pregnant. Others might wait a few weeks, while some dog breeders don’t advertise until the pups are six or even eight weeks old. When you advertise is totally up to you, but it’s best to keep the pups until they’re eight weeks old.
Where should you advertise puppies for sale? Your local newspaper is a good place to start. Also, the internet has numerous sites where owners offer their puppies for sale. You’ll get a lot of exposure on internet sites, but you must remember that people all over the country will be reading your ad. If you’re not willing to ship a puppy or travel to meet a potential owner, internet pet sites might not be your best choice.
Local pet supply stores and veterinary clinics often allow you to place ads on their bulletin boards. If you decide to go that route, be sure to post a photograph of the puppies with your ad. Actually, in my opinion, it’s also a good idea to include photos of the mother and father. Most potential buyers like to see the parent dogs so that they can know what to expect when their pup grows up.
Some dog breeders carefully screen potential buyers, as they want the litter to go only to certain types of homes. You might also want to include a contract with each puppy sale. For example, you might require the dog to be spayed or neutered by a certain age. Some breeders require the new owners to return the canine to them if they ever need to find another home for the dog.
A signed contract or agreement is a good way to “cover your butt” when it comes to payment, registration, and any health concerns or problems that might arise. Be sure to give new owners all the puppies’ health records, and require each new owner to have the pup checked out by a vet. That way, you’ll have proof that the puppy was healthy when it left your care.
Raising Puppies: Our Experiences
We’ve been small-time dog breeders in the past, and we’ve had a range of different experiences with raising puppies. Sometimes, everything was perfect. At others, however, major problems arose. This latest litter of Great Dane puppies has been the hardest to handle. Not only did we have to bottle feed puppies and care for the puppies’ other needs, we also had to deal with the mom’s megaesophagus, which has proven to be very time consuming and sometimes frustrating. On top of that, all the puppies acquired kennel cough, which is really “going around” in our area. Fortunately, the little Danes haven’t been very sick with the disease, and they’re almost completely well now.
Fox Terrier-Chihuahua Puppies
The first experience I had with raising puppies occurred when I was a kid. My mom had a female fox terrier-Chihuahua mix named Friskie. Mom had Friskie bred to a purebred Chihuahua, resulting in three healthy puppies. Friskie was a great mother, and we rarely had to provide any help. Mom sold two puppies, but no one wanted the less-than-attractive runt, so we kept her. We named her “Lemon” because her head was shaped just like the citrus fruit. Lemon lived to be eighteen years old.
This first litter was a good learning experience for me. I learned how to handle small puppies gently and to not worry their overprotective mother. Little did I know at the time that I’d be raising puppies numerous times in my future.
Wolf – German Shepherd Hybrid Puppies
As a young married adult, I purchased a female timberwolf-German shepherd hybrid named Natasha. Tasha was bred to a solid white purebred German shepherd, and she gave birth to eight live, healthy wolf hybrid pups. She was an excellent mother, and we hardly had to do anything to help her. I kept a male puppy and gave a female to my best friend. I sold the other six.
German Shepherd Puppies
We purchased a female German shepherd, Shasta, to help with the cattle. Soon after, we bought a male German shepherd and named him Baron. A couple of years later, Shasta gave birth to seven purebred German shepherd puppies, and we quickly sold all of them. Shasta was a good mother with plenty of milk, so in this case, raising puppies was very easy.
English Pointer Puppies – Sadie and Herman
The ex and I were into quail hunting, so we bought a liver-and-white English pointer bird dog named Herman. Herman was the biggest pointer I’d ever seen, and he was excellent at his job. He was also a wonderful, affectionate companion when he wasn’t in the fields or woods. He had a keen nose for quail and even functioned as a retriever for both quail and doves. Because he was such a good hunting dog, we wanted to breed him, so I surprised the spouse with a liver-and-white female pointer named Sadie. The two dogs mated, and Sadie had two puppies. The pups were healthy and were nursing well, but after just two days, we found one dead. Sadie had lain on the baby. We tried to take extra-special care of the remaining offspring, but we couldn’t watch Sadie 24/7. Alas, a few days later, she lay on the remaining puppy and killed it. We were heartbroken. We didn't want Sadie to have any more puppies, so we had her spayed.
English Pointers – Jill and Herman
While we still had Herman, another hunter sent us a litter of pointers to train. After working with the four pups, we noticed that one was especially smart and especially “birdie.” We wanted to keep her, so we purchased her and named her Jill. When Jill was old enough, we bred her to Herman, and six pups were born. Jill was a good mother, and all the pups grew up. We sold five of the pups and kept one for ourselves.
Brittany Spaniel Puppies
We knew a lot of fellow hunters, and we kept hearing about this super-duper hunting dog in the next county. My husband went to see her, and the dog’s owner invited my husband to join him on a quail hunt. The ex was so impressed with the dog, Jeanne, that he just had to have her. He paid a lot for the dog. We bred her to another purebred Brittany spaniel. The first litter consisted of six puppies, and thankfully, I was there for the birthing. None of the puppies were breathing when they were born, so I had to force the fluid from their lungs by swinging them. Fortunately, they all survived, and they sold like hotcakes! In fact, we had a long list of hunters who wanted puppies from future litters. Sadly, Jeanne died from a snake bite soon after her pups were sold.
Great Dane Puppies – Ebony
After Herman died from cancer, I wanted another affectionate dog. The other hunting dogs we had weren’t very affectionate, and I really missed that. I’d always liked Great Danes, and I found some Great Dane puppies for sale in the next county. I went to see the litter and fell in love with a black female. I bought her and named her Ebony. When Ebony came of age, I had her bred to a black Dane, and she had five puppies. Ebbie was a great mom, and we sold the pups when they were eight weeks old.
Later, we had Ebony bred again, to the same stud. This time, she had six offspring. Once again, her mothering skills were excellent, and everything was going well until she was hit by a truck. She suffered broken bones and internal injuries, so she had to stay in the veterinary hospital for quite a while. We had to bottle feed the puppies for several weeks. We also had to keep them warm and get them to “go potty.” Fortunately, they all survived. While Ebbie was in the hospital, we had her spayed.
Golden Retriever- Lab Puppies
After getting a divorce, I remarried, and my new husband was a fellow dog lover. Once we moved into a house, the first thing we did was to get a puppy. One of my college students had a litter of golden retriever puppies, and we bought a male and named him Rascal. Rascal was a wonderful dog, and he was also beautiful, with a rich russet coat. When Rascal was about two years old, an acquaintance of ours had to get rid of his female yellow lab, Speeder, and we agreed to take her. Of course, she and Rascal answered nature’s call, which resulted in ten adorable offspring. An avid duck hunter I worked with told me that a golden-Lab mix was about the best duck dog on the planet, and he assured me I’d have no problem finding homes for the puppies.
At first, we were going to give away the puppies, but a dog breeder encouraged me not to do that. She said when people are willing to pay for a dog, it usually means they’re more likely to take care of it properly. That sounded logical to me, so we advertised the puppies for sale when they were seven weeks old. Within two days, all the pups were sold. We even had a waiting list for puppies from the next breeding.
In all, Rascal and Speeder had four litters, and each litter was comprised of ten pups. Speeder was super-mom, and we never had to help her with anything. The puppies were born outdoors and lived outdoors until they were sold. All forty puppies were healthy and beautiful, and we never had one to die or to even get sick. Wow. We didn’t realize how fortunate we were!
Great Dane Puppies – Kayla
Almost seven years ago, I bought a fawn male Great Dane and named him Hamlet. I had no plans of breeding him, so I had him neutered at a young age. I didn’t know it at the time, but Hamlet would turn out to be the best dog I’ve ever known. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked myself for having him “fixed”! My daughter was so impressed with Hamlet that she bought his full sister from a later litter. They named her Kayla, and she’s a wonderful pet. We wanted puppies from Hammie’s and Kayla’s bloodlines, so we decided to breed Kayla. We finally found a good match for her – a large, blocky black male Dane.
Three weeks ago, on my birthday, Kayla gave birth to five Great Dane puppies. Four were big and strong, but one of the females was tiny – less than half the size of the others. Kayla gave birth at the vet’s office, and the next day, the vet thought there were more unborn puppies. She gave Kayla something to induce labor again, and two dead puppies were born. The next day, the runt died. We brought Kayla and the four healthy puppies home, and things were going well.
When the pups were about a week old, Kayla developed an upper respiratory infection – most likely kennel cough. Two of our dogs had it, too. Our dogs weren’t very sick, but Kayla was. She had fever, cough, and vomiting. The vomiting inflamed her esophagus, and she got to the point where she couldn’t keep down food or water. She was sent to the vet, who discovered that the mother dog had developed megaesophagus. She had to stay at the vet clinic for a week. Obviously we had to care for the pups while Kayla was away.
When Kayla improved, the vet said we could bring her home to see how she’d do. We brought her home on a Friday afternoon. The first thing she did when she got home was to find her puppies. She immediately began cleaning them up and trying to nurse them. She barely had any milk, however, so we were still bottle feeding puppies. We were able to get Kayla to keep down some food, but we couldn’t get her to keep down any water, so she had to go back to the vets the next morning. Today is Monday, and she’s still at the clinic. My husband has built a special feeding chair for our grandpup, called a Bailey Chair. Hopefully, Kayla will get to come home today and the Bailey Chair will work with her feedings and watering.
Bottle feeding pups is super expensive, especially for giant dog breeds. At three weeks old, the Great Dane puppies are drinking 6-8 ounces each, per feeding, and they eat five times a day. One puppy has already gone to the sire’s owner, who wanted to hand raise the pup herself. So we’re caring for three puppies. The vet recommended using Esbilac Puppy Milk Replacer. Each pup drinks about 30-40 ounces per day, so that’s 90-120 ounces. The cheapest Esbilac we’ve found is $5 for an 11-ounce can. We’re going through about ten cans a day. That’s $50 a day for feeding three three-week-old puppies. Of course, they didn’t drink quite that much earlier, but they’ll be drinking more as they get bigger, so I’ll use the $50 number as an average. That means we’ll be spending almost $2,500 on puppy formula alone. Kayla’s vet bills will be around $1,000. The pups also had kennel cough and had to receive cough syrup and antibiotics. They’ve been to the vet twice already. One pup won’t be sold because it was given to the father dog’s owner for stud fee. To recoup her losses, my daughter would have to sell the other three pups for around $1,300 each, and that’s not going to happen. These are purebred Great Dane puppies, but they don’t have championship bloodlines. She’s going to lose money raising puppies.
We’ve been looking for a cheaper alternative to Esbilac. I found a powdered puppy milk replacer at Walmart, and we’ve just begun using it. We don’t know yet how the babies will handle it. We’ll try to start them on some puppy food gruel today. It would have been much cheaper to have had all the pups euthanized, but we could never do that! The point I’m trying to make here with this article is that dog breeding isn’t an easy way to make money. You never know what might happen with a litter of puppies or with the mother dog. Raising puppies is a lot of fun, and it’s certainly rewarding, but it’s not an easy job, especially when there are problems with the doggy mom. I hope this information serves as an eye-opener for anyone thinking about breeding dogs. I also hope you have a new appreciation for dog breeders and for raising puppies!