Dog Breeding for Beginners

Updated November 21, 2018
Cute Cocker Spaniel Puppies

Are you looking for information about dog breeding basics for the beginner who wants to be a responsible steward of his or her beloved breed? Breeding a dog is a serious undertaking and there are many factors to consider to ensure the health of the mother and her pups and happy future owners. The best breeders learn how to breed dogs and study in depth before moving forward with planning a litter.

A Word About Dog Breeding for Beginners

Dog breeding is a purposeful bringing together of a stud and a bitch during the fertile portion of the bitch's heat cycle in order for the animals to mate and produce a litter. No breeding should ever be undertaken lightly. There are thousands, if not millions, of unwanted pets in need of a stable and loving home, so any breeding should be given ample consideration before deciding to proceed.

Glossary of Dog Breeding and Pregnancy Terms

There are quite a few terms you'll hear in the course of any discussion on dog breeding. This list of common terms and definitions provides important dog breeding information that will help any beginner better understand the entire process.

  • Bitch - This the correct term for a female dog.
  • Dam - This is the designation given to the mother of a litter.
  • Stud - The stud is the male dog that performs the breeding on the bitch.
  • Sire - This is the designation given to the father of the litter.
  • Litter - This term applies to a group of puppies that are born from the same pregnancy.
  • Heat cycle - This is the active period of a bitch's reproductive cycle. It's characterized by a bloody discharge, the release of eggs for fertilization and a period of active willingness to breed.
  • Ovaries - These are reproductive organs that release ovum for fertilization during a bitch's heat cycle.
  • Eggs - This is the common term for reproductive cells that are created when ovum are released from the ovaries and are fertilized by sperm. A fertilized egg is known as a zygote and develops into an embryo once it implants in the uterine wall.
  • Sperm - These are minute organisms produced by the male that fertilize the bitch's eggs and deliver the stud's DNA.
  • Vulva - This is the opening to the bitch's reproductive tract. The vulva swells considerably at the beginning of the heat cycle and then softens to facilitate breeding.
  • Penis and testicles - These are the stud's reproductive organs designed to produce and deliver sperm.
  • Gestation - This term applies to the entire period of pregnancy.
  • Whelp - This is a term used to describe a newborn pup.
  • Whelping - This is the act of giving birth, and it is also simply known as "labor."
  • Whelping box - This is a prepared box in which the bitch gives birth. You can purchase a commercial whelping box, or you can create one yourself from a cardboard box, a small children's pool or by using blueprints to build one from wood.
  • Contractions - These are spasms of the uterus that are designed to propel the pup along the birth canal toward delivery.
  • Water bag - This is the thin yet durable membrane or "birth sac" that surrounds each puppy in utero. Nearly all pups are born in this protective sac which must be broken immediately after the pup is born or it will suffocate.
  • Umbilical cord - This is the fleshy cord that is attached between a pup's abdomen and the placenta. It must be severed after the pups' birth either by the mother chewing the cord or by cutting it with sterilized scissors.
  • Uterus - This is organ wherein the embryos attach and grow throughout the pregnancy.
  • Placenta - This is the organ that attaches each embryo to the uterine wall. It supports each pup's growth and development by delivering oxygen and nutrients, and also by carrying waste away via the umbilical cord. When a puppy is born, its umbilical cord is still attached to the placenta. The placenta may be delivered with the pup, or it may take a few minutes longer to be delivered with the next contraction.
  • Line breeding - This term refers to a planned breeding between family members used to secure desirable qualities in the progeny. Line breedings include breedings between grandparent/ grandchild, uncle/niece, aunt/nephew half-brother/half-sister and breedings with relatives even further apart.
  • Inbreeding - These are breedings between closely related individuals including mother/son, father/daughter and full-brother/full-sister. Such breedings are typically undesirable and may produce congenital defects in the pups.
  • Outcrossing - A breeding between two non-related dogs.
  • Tie - This term is used to describe the swelling near the base of the dog's penis that temporarily binds the dog to the bitch during intercourse. As the swelling develops, the bitch's muscles clamp down around it to hold the organ in place. This helps to ensure proper delivery of semen, and though not completely necessary for producing a litter, it does increase the chance for fertilization.
    Puppy siblings

Breeding Methods

Dog breeding can take place naturally or through artificial insemination.

The Natural Method

A natural breeding takes place between the stud and the bitch with little or no human interference. The male mounts the bitch from behind and commences to mate with her. The sperm are mainly delivered during the period of the "tie", but some sperm may be delivered before that moment. The sperm will travel deeper and either meet up with the ovum for fertilization or attach themselves to the uterine wall and wait for the chemical/hormonal signal that lets them know the ovum have been released. They will then race toward the ovum in an effort to be the first one to fertilize them. Once a sperm fertilizes an egg, no other sperm can penetrate it. The fertilized eggs then implant themselves at intervals along the uterine horns where they will continue to develop until it's time for delivery.

Artificial Insemination

An artificial breeding may be carried out whenever a natural breeding is either impossible or undesirable. A vet collects sperm from a male and uses a syringe equipped with a catheter to deliver the sperm to the female's uterus. The catheter is threaded into the vulva while taking care to avoid the bladder. The sperm is then slowly expelled, and the bitch is kept quiet for about an hour to help ensure the sperm reach their destination. If all goes well, fertilization will take place and a litter will develop.


No matter which breeding method is used, the gestation period lasts approximately 63 days, give or take a few days. Delivery can happen as early as 58 days gestation, but pups born this early may be slightly premature and are usually identified by the bright pink skin tone of their furless paws. As long as these pups are given ample opportunity to nurse, most survive quite well.

Newborn puppy

Dog Breeding How To's

These are just the basics of what's involved with breeding a dog. Other topics you should spend time learning about are:

Dog Breeding for Beginners

Getting involved in dog breeding should be undertaken seriously and with a focus on learning all the ins and outs related to the basics of dog breeding. This includes genetics, health testing, the estrus and gestation cycles, whelping puppies and caring for the newborn puppies. Breeding a dog and continuing on the traditions of your favorite breed can be immensely rewarding, but a responsible breeder will do all of their homework first to make sure their efforts are successful.

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Dog Breeding for Beginners