Before deciding to breed from your working gundog there are several important factors to consider, says Tony Price
Should you breed from a working bitch?
It’s not true that a breeder can make much money from it. If you do it properly there is little financial gain to be had from breeding puppies. And if things go wrong and you need expensive veterinary care you could end up out of pocket.
Secondly, what if you are unable to sell all the puppies? Do you have the facilities and time to run them on?
How old is your gundog bitch? If she is over four years old she is likely to experience whelping problems if she hasn’t been bred from before.
If after careful consideration you decide to proceed to breed from a working bitch, here are the outlines of what you need to know.
You need to discover the ideal day to mate your bitch. You can have pre-mate tests done by your vet to determine when a bitch is likely to be ovulating. However, while effective, this is an expensive route, especially if you have to have several tests done on a particular bitch. You could instead use ovulation test pads instead. The window of opportunity in which a bitch will take can vary by up to 20 days.
We bed our bitches that are due to come into season on white bedding so that the first signs of bleeding are noticed. Dark-coloured bitches tend to be more difficult to assess than light-coloured bitches. You may well see signs of swelling several days before any bleeding begins. If this happens you should be extra vigilant and check the bitch daily. As soon as you see a discharge of blood, count this a day one. At this point you should also notify whoever owns the dog you intend to use, and book up for the bitch to be covered, which is usually on the 11th day.
Where possible, we prefer to do two matings – on the 11th and 13th days – unless the pre-mate test indicates otherwise. This gives us four days of cover with the sperm and hopefully will coincide with one of the bitch’s fertile days. Some people believe this can result in bigger litters, or split litters in which two different sizes of puppies are produced. We have never found either of these two phenomena to be consistently true. I have also heard that if you mate a bitch earlier than the 11th day, you are more likely to get bitch puppies. We have tried this twice, involving two different bitches. The first had just two bitches (her last litter comprised two bitches and three dogs), while the second had four bitches and four dogs.
As soon as any signs of swelling or discharge are noticed, the bitch should not be allowed to swim or be in contact with any dirty water and her bedding area should be kept extra clean. This is to prevent her picking up an infection before mating. I would not work a bitch while it is in season.
Mating your bitch
The dog has what is commonly termed as a “knot” at the base of his penis. During mating this knot is pushed into the bitch’s vagina, which causes the bitch to spasm and grip it. The dog will then stop riding the bitch and turn himself around, lifting one of his back legs over the bitch so they are both facing in opposite directions, rump to rump. If you use a dog from an experienced breeder, they will usually help the dog to turn around so they can then stand comfortably.
Be very careful during this period that the bitch does not bite the dog or anyone else who is close by because even the most placid bitch can become very upset during mating. As soon as this process, which is known as “the tie”, begins, both dog and bitch should be held to prevent any damage being done to either party. It can last from five minutes to one hour and 10 minutes, and no attempt should be made to separate them during this period.
After mating, you should inspect your bitch on a daily basis to check for any signs of infection, which may present itself in the form of either white or greenish discharge. If this occurs, immediately seek veterinary advice.
If you have successfully mated a spaniel bitch, now would be the time to find a practice that has several vets willing to perform the tail docking. Some vets may be inclined to cut the tails too short, so be sure they understand that you require only one-third of the tail to be removed. Your vet will give you a docking of working dogs’ tail certificate for you to pass on to the new owners of the puppy.
Gestation and birth
The official gestation period is 63 days from the date of mating and, in our experience, bitches can deliver five days either side of this. It should be noted that bitches can reabsorb their puppies during their pregnancy up until the 35th day, triggered by several different factors. One of these is running several bitches together and mating one of the softer bitches. Typically only the most dominant bitch in a pack will have puppies, and the subservient bitches will help to suckle them.
Once mated, attention should be paid to a bitch’s diet. While it is not necessary to drastically increase her volume of food in the early stages of pregnancy, after around seven weeks, we split a bitch’s feeds equally to nights and mornings and we introduce a higher-quality food. You may find that a bitch refuses to eat a completely dry diet at this stage. Every attempt should be made to ensure that she carries on eating, and this can mean changing her diet to incorporate some form of meat to tempt her. However, care should be taken to ensure that you do not upset the balance of her diet, ie the ratio of calcium phosphorus and protein.
We worm our bitches with Panacur from the 43rd day after mating, which helps prevent the bitch passing on Giardia to the puppies. Giardia and Campylobacter appear to be epidemic in a lot of adult dogs, although they show no obvious symptoms. In puppies, however, these bacteria can cause serious stomach upsets and suppress growth. Treatment is essential to produce good-quality puppies.
Campylobacter has been linked to the poultry industry and it’s possible that this bacteria is becoming more widespread as dogs are feed more raw chicken. It is less likely to survive in a warm, dry kennel, lit with direct sunlight, rather than a damp, cool environment. If there is any doubt over whether puppies are suffering from either of these two bacteria, we will treat them as we wean them off the bitch so they do not become re-infected.
If a bitch appears to be having a large litter, an injection of calcium at the start of her labour can stimulate her to deliver the puppies more frequently, which in turn allows the natural release of oxytocin to work more efficiently. This can be supplemented with several injections of a small amount of oxytocin, rather than one large dose. This has the advantage of preventing the bitch becoming exhausted through a prolonged delivery and leading to a caesarean operation. It is always advisable to seek veterinary advice on this subject.
Breeding from an English springer spaniel
Q: I am thinking of breeding from my English springer spaniel. She is 18 months old and has had her first season. According to information I have found on the internet, the recommended age for dogs to have a litter varies. One source suggests the dog should be at least 12 months of age and have had its first season, others that it should be at least two years of age and on the second or third season. What would you suggest?
A: Most people would agree that a bitch should be fully mature before she is bred. The variation you have found in the recommended age for a first litter is due to the fact that bitches mature at different ages depending on the breed and type of dog. Generally, the larger breeds take much longer to mature than the smaller breeds.
The age that a bitch first comes in season can also vary. Most will come into season at around eight or nine months of age — and certainly before one year — but some can come in sooner and others will delay until they are 18 months or older. This is all quite normal. Though it is biologically possible for dogs to mate and become pregnant on their first season, those litters will tend to be smaller and the incidence of stillbirths — puppies born dead — tends to be higher in litters from such young bitches.
Also, bitches are often relatively immature, both developmentally and psychologically, at the time of their first season. It is considered unreasonable to put the dog through the physiological strain and emotional stress of raising and weaning a litter at such a young age.
Most spaniels will have matured by the age of 18 months, so it is not unreasonable that you are starting to consider breeding. However, I would advise that you allow yourself plenty of time to plan ahead.
Make sure you understand all that is involved and take time and opportunity to select a suitable stud dog. Ideally, have any necessary health checks carried out before finally deciding if your bitch is suitable for breeding.
As a consequence, I suggest to most owners that they plan on having the first litter when their bitch is between two and four years of age.