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If you have made the decision to breed your bitch, congratulations, welcome… and take a deep breath! You are about to embark on an ambitious, demanding pursuit. It requires time, study, hard work and emotional fortitude. Here’s everything you need to know about preparing for your first litter.

First Things First

Because your puppy buyers will be looking to you for knowledgeable advice about your breed, it is vital that you become familiar with your breed standard, its history, and development, as well as animal husbandry and the science of dog breeding.

Make sure your veterinarian gives your bitch a clean bill of health, and that she is up to date on all vaccinations and has passed all health certifications that are appropriate for your breed. Confer with your own breeder about the most suitable stud dog that complements your bitch’s structure and pedigree. Ask other breeders for their input as well.

Beyond the stud dog’s physical compatibility, you’ll want to consider his temperament, as well as the health and longevity of the dogs several generations back in his pedigree. This is where tapping into the collective knowledge of experienced breeders will help you greatly.

Mastiff puppies sleeping in a pile.
Image Source/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Reaching Out to the Stud Dog Owner

As soon as you have come up with a stud dog you would like to use, get in touch with his owner to indicate your interest and provide your bitch’s pedigree, health clearances, and photos/videos. It’s probably a good idea to choose a “backup” male in case your first-choice dog becomes unavailable for whatever reason.

There should be a contract between you, outlining all terms and obligations. When is the stud fee to be paid, or a puppy back to be chosen? Will you send your bitch to the stud dog to be bred or will she be artificially inseminated by your veterinarian? Get these important details in writing. While you are in contract mode, develop a sales contract of your own that you will employ with puppy buyers. Most breeders are pretty generous about sharing copies of their contracts if you need help in crafting your document.

Advertising the Litter

Depending upon the typical size of litters in your breed, you will have at least a few puppies to sell. Don’t wait until the puppies are born to get the word out.

The best place to advertise your litter is on the AKC Marketplace. The AKC Marketplace is the only site to exclusively list 100% puppies from AKC-Registered litters and the breeders who have cared for and raised these puppies are required to follow rules and regulations established by the AKC.

The Heat Is On

Once your bitch comes in season (or “heat”) start progesterone testing to determine the optimal time for her to be bred.

You will need to set up a whelping box in a quiet part of your home where the bitch can look after her puppies in peace. Some breeders like a whelping box made of wood; others use a children’s wading pool or the bottom half of a Fiberglass crate. Choose one that works for you and your breed, and start setting aside plenty of towels, blankets, and newspapers.

You will also need whelping supplies such as a thermometer, hemostat, gloves, stethoscope, bulb syringe, disinfectant, a scale, and a chart or large notebook to record details about the puppies at birth (the weight, sex, and color of each).

3 puppies in hand

After the bitch is bred, you will probably want to have an ultrasound done to confirm pregnancy. Let your veterinarian know the due date and determine when to bring the bitch in for an x-ray to get an idea of how many puppies to expect.

The Buddy System

Whelping puppies can be overwhelming. Line up an experienced breeder who can be there with you to help at whatever hour. Have coffee and snacks nearby; maybe a futon or comfortable chair to make the wait more bearable; and emergency phone numbers at the ready (your veterinarian, your breeder) should things not go as planned.

Raising a quality litter is hard work. The research, preparation, and financial outlay are significant, but the satisfaction of watching a contented dam nursing happy puppies is a breeder’s greatest joy.

Related article: Genetic Testing in Dogs – an Overview
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