Breeding working dogs successfully

Breeding working dogs successfully

If you have a dog with outstanding ability that you want to breed from to maintain the genetics make the decision to do so earlier rather than later. All too often we are presented with a situation where a procedure is required to save the life of the animal but it will end their breeding capacity. Not uncommonly the owner will say on these occasions that they want to breed from the dog.

The dog

From six years of age male dogs frequently suffer a significant deterioration in semen quality. This can reduce fertility at natural mating.  A lack of libido becomes much more common after six years of age. Older dogs may have degenerative problems such as hip arthritis, spondylosis in the back, chronic injuries and developing heart disease which can affect their ability to mate successfully.  The option of having semen collected, frozen and stored for long term usage is also considerably reduced.  I found when I was collecting and processing dog semen that I could only get viable frozen semen in about 25% of dogs over six years old.

The bitch

At each heat cycle there are cumulative changes to the lining of the uterus that gradually lead to the development of a thicker lining and cysts. This environment becomes very susceptible to infections if bacteria enter the uterus through the open cervix while the bitch is on heat. These changes are reversible by a pregnancy that is carried through to full term. However, if this pregnancy does not happen soon enough they will lead to reduced fertility and significantly reduced chances of getting the bitch in pup.  Worse still, if infection establishes then a pyometra develops. This is a very serious condition where the uterus fills with pus and over days or weeks the bitch becomes listless, excessively thirsty and loses weight progressively.  At the later stages they become very sick and eventually die.  There is a medical treatment but it is very traumatic on the bitch and successful in only a very small percentage of cases.  Practically the only option to save these bitches is to spey them.  This is highly successful but ends the breeding options.

Carrying and rearing a large litter can be very physiologically demanding on a bitch.  At eight or nine years of age this can turn a previously fit and active bitch with several useful years left, into an old dog with a stiff arthritic body and considerably reduced stamina and desire to be active and work.


1) Start breeding at 2 –2 ½ years.  Up to six years is OK.

2) Take the bitch to the dog in preference to the other way around.  Some males perform better on their home territory but will not mate away from home.

3) Get us to profile progesterone levels in bitches when they come on heat.  We can time mating for optimum chances of conception by doing this and identify abnormal heat cycles if things are not working.  You can then arrange the mating at the correct time.  If the bitch will not accept the dog we can arrange to AI (artificially inseminate) the bitch.  In the event of an abnormal cycle we can plan possible treatment for future heat cycles to improve the chances of a normal cycle and successful mating.

4) We now have some hormonal options to treat the following conditions in bitches: small litters, weak, irregular or prolonged heat periods and infertile bitches that have apparently normal heat periods and a good record of breeding but consistently fail to conceive.

5) Male dogs with declining libido or testicular degeneration resulting in poor quality semen can also be treated by hormonal methods; this is successful in a high proportion of cases.

Richard Bishop

Vetlife Banks Peninsula