Should you breed back-to-back? Sometimes it feels like you have to be careful whispering that phrase out loud. The breeder police squad will come over and harass you for not caring about your dogs.
But is that really the truth? Is breeding back-to-back bad?
You might be surprised to know that breeding back-to-back is actually healthier for your bitch.
Let’s discuss the science of breeding back-to-back and why it’s healthier.
The Science Behind Breeding Back-t0-Back
First off, we need to dispel the idea that the heat cycle for a dog is the same as that of a human. They are not the same at all.
In humans, women mature an egg during the first part of their cycle, release it for ovulation, and build up a uterine lining to receive a fertilized egg, should there be one. If conception doesn’t occur, then the uterine lining is shed and that is what we know as a period. The bleeding in humans comes at the end of a cycle.
In dogs, it doesn’t work that way. When a dog comes into heat, she bleeds. The bleeding is not because she is shedding her uterine lining. Rather, it is her notifying the surrounding males that she is coming into season. Her bleeding is akin to her posting a large billboard outside that says she will be available for date night in about a week.
As you know, once the bleeding stops, the clear discharge comes, and during that clear discharge she will have her fertile days.
In the event she does not get bred during her heat, no eggs are fertilized, and nothing is implanted into the uterine lining, then that lining doesn’t do anything, it just sits there. Unlike humans, dogs don’t shed that lining unless they whelp a litter of puppies.
That means that every heat cycle that goes unused, a new uterine lining will be stacked on top of the previous one. Simple math says that if your girl comes into real heats around 12 months of age, and isn’t bred until she is three years old, then there are 4-5 linings stacked up in that uterus.
This is the very reason that intact females are at risk for pyometria. Pyometria is an infection of the uterus. Blood is a wonderful source of nutrition and so, if the lining isn’t shed, it gives more opportunity for a bacterial infection to rapidly grow in the uterus.
With that thick of a uterine lining, it is also more difficult for fertilized eggs to implant themselves there, potentially causing their loss, leading to smaller litters.
To further complicate things, the cervix stays conditioned and elastic when it is used. If you aren’t familiar, the cervix is how the puppies exit the uterus. It expands during labor to pass the puppies through. If it has lost elasticity, you run the risk of puppies getting stuck during whelping, which quickly turns into a C-Section.
When you combine the stacked uterine linings, lack of elasticity of the cervix, and risk of pyometria, it is no wonder that dogs who are bred later in life for the first time, or who are bred sparingly over years, have so many more complications in whelping.
Some people think that having a litter every six months or so is a lot, and hard on the bitch; but that’s because a lot of people are comparing the timelines to humans. Canine gestation is only 63 days, but nine months for humans. A dog having a litter every six months is akin to a woman having a baby every two years, which is fairly common in the human world, and most active, healthy women handle that timing fairly easily.
You also have to remember that, according to biology, reproduction is the last priority, meaning that, if an animal is stressed, it will sacrifice its ability to reproduce, and take those resources to support other systems, such as healing if injured, or anti-inflammatories, if stressed. If a dog is cycling regularly, that is an indication that her body is healthy and able to reproduce. It’s the same with humans. We’ve all heard of women whose menstrual cycles stop when they are under severe stress. Just the same, a woman who recently had a baby will tend to have her menstrual cycles pause for a few months while her body is recovering and adjusting.
Aside from the uterine and cervix being healthier, intact females are healthier. Having all their hormones is better for muscle maintenance, better for their metabolism, and better for their immune system. You ever notice how dogs put on that layer of fat about six months after they get neutered? That’s because the hormones are gone and their metabolism has changed.
There are some studies out there that suggest that neutered animals live longer. From what I can tell, this isn’t necessarily because of their internal health that spayed animals live longer. Rather it’s the things that intact animals get into that injures them or kills them, like males jumping barbed-wire fences or running across the street to try to get to the female in heat, or female dogs, who aren’t getting bred, getting pyometria.
There is a caveat to breeding back-to-back, and that’s if your bitch doesn’t recover well from her puppies. I believe if she recovers fully by 12 weeks post whelping, then you can breed her again next heat. If she struggles to put weight on or her coat isn’t recovering, then that would be cause for me to consider skipping a heat cycle.
Having that said, you need to really investigate your dog management if your dogs aren’t recovering. I aim to have all my females fully recovered by the time the pups are 8 weeks of age, but larger litters may require a little more time. For example, a bitch who produces higher quality milk will drain her fat stores more than a bitch whose milk isn’t as nutritious. Each will recover differently.
It is also common for a dog to blow her coat as a consequence of whelping. This is fairly normal, but she should still recover quickly. Again, if the coat isn’t normal after about 12 weeks, investigate the situation and see if there is something that is missing in her diet. Is something making her unusually stressed?
If you have multiple females and all recover well except for one, then there is a chance that she isn’t the best breeder for your program. If that’s the case, you’ll do well to consider retiring her from your program, as she doesn’t pass the mothering qualifications that you’d want in your females.
Of course, if it was her first litter, cut her some slack. The first litter isn’t usually a fair read on mothering ability: lots of body changes that first litter, pair that with the new experience of the unknown, it’s just a lot more variables. The second litter will be much more helpful in assessing her as a mother, both physically and emotionally.
Now that we know it is physically healthier for her to be bred back-to-back, let’s discuss the other implications of breeding back-to-back.
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Breeding Back-to-Back is Helpful for Your Program
When you have your dogs bred back-to-back, you know what you’re getting. I am very familiar with each of my girls. I know their heat cycles, I know what they need when whelping, and I know what the puppies they are producing are like. All of these things are really helpful for my breeding program.
How does breeding back-to-back help your owners-to-be? Well, it allows you to have the same litter twice in a year. This means that, if that breeding pair is the best fit for a family, they’ll have two opportunities in a year to get a puppy from that litter. This is great because about half the battle of managing a new puppy is the timing.
It can also help with genetic diversity. Maybe you have a pairing that you want to try. When you have two litters with each female a year, you can toggle between two different studs, and offer variety or the ability to try different combinations, and see what is better for your program.
It is also much more predictable to breed back-to-back. I’ve noticed that females who don’t get bred on a cycle often re-cycle a short time later. So if she routinely cycles every 6 months when bred, she may cycle three months later if she wasn’t bred on her previous heat cycle. This unpredictability makes things harder for you to plan.
When breeding back-to-back, heat cycles are routine, allowing you to know when your bitch will come into heat, when she’ll whelp, and when the puppies will be ready to go home. This is really helpful to know when discussing with prospective buyers.
Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of managing a puppy is the timing, so if the family knows when they’ll be able to take a new puppy home, they can plan. Many will plan vacations before getting the puppy. Others will want to let their boss know they’ll be taking some time off for the puppy. And, since puppies are a bigger purchase for many families, they can plan to save the money to pay for the pup.
As a benefit to your program, many prospective buyers will come from your previous pups. These referrals are most prevalent when the family has a new puppy and is showing him off to friends and family. That’s when their friends will be interested in one. Honestly, it’s great for your dogs because if the friends get a puppy from you too, then they’ll have each other as playmates, leading to a more enriching life. If you can get them a similar puppy (as in a full-blooded sibling) within 6 months of their friends getting a dog, it will be easier to fill up your waitlist with prepared buyers, who already feel great about working with you.
Breeding back-to-back allows you to create puppies that your buyers want on a predictable timeline, making it easier for everyone to plan for having a puppy. Prepared buyers make better owners.
Quality of Life for the Bitch
When it all comes down to it, we have to make sure we are giving our mama dogs quality of life. Some girls just don’t like having puppies. They are never particularly comfortable with their puppies. They are anxious or fail to give their puppies the care and attention they need. These girls don’t have the quality of life you would want for your breeders. If she is a key genetic component for your program, then get the stud or replacement bitch out of her and retire her from breeding.
I’ve found that most of my girls do really well as moms. They move into almost a different personality as moms and are very good at taking care of their puppies. They often seem at most peace when they are sleeping with all their pups.
When you take care of your females in a way that keeps them in great shape and health, breeding isn’t really hard on their bodies. The hormones that they endure during gestation are the same as what they would if they weren’t bred, the exception being relaxin. So not breeding a female doesn’t spare her from hormonal swings like many people think, as they try to apply human pregnancy to dogs. In fact, having all her hormones from breeding being intact is great for her health and, with the nearly eliminated risk of pyometria from shedding her uterine linings through whelping, these females are some of the healthiest dogs out there.
We have to spoil them when they are our mama dogs. They need the best care and lots of attention and loving, and support. I am constantly reflecting on what will be best for the dogs, while continuing to improve my breeding program. What I’ve found is that the fewest dogs that can support a full-time breeding program is the best solution. This allows me to give high quality, individual care and attention to each dog I have, while also allowing me to be available full-time to take care of my dogs.
The profit from the dogs not only keeps the peace at home—as my dogs never take my kids’ grocery money—but it allows me to give my dogs whatever they need.
Now imagine if I didn’t breed back-to-back. Putting aside any health complications, I would need twice as many females in my breeding program, and a considerably larger facility, just to be able to do this full time. As an example, in my current program, my sweet spot is 4 females. Four females allows me to do this full time. If I chose not to breed back-to-back, then I would need 8 females to accomplish this same goal, and maybe more to accommodate the extra feed and facilities. Even if I didn’t increase my studs, just kept the two, I would be going from managing six dogs to ten dogs. It would nearly cut my time to work with each dog in half and place a lot more pressure on the program to perform.
When weighing out quality of life, consider that breeding back-to-back isn’t merely a question of how it affects one female, but your entire program. The question weighs out what gives higher quality of life: having just a few females who are spoiled, healthy, and are bred back-to-back; or having a huge program, with twice the number of females, twice the demand on expendables, potentially less conditioned females, and spreading you, the breeder, out over all those dogs?
When I weigh it all out, I can’t justify doubling my program over breeding back-to-back. I can’t see it improving the quality of life for my dogs.
Even if I placed the females in guardian homes, it would still create a large disruption to their life to come out of their normal home to the ranch to get bred, and then return again for puppies. And, while I believe there are lots of reasons for guardian homes, I don’t feel it should be the core of your program. Don’t worry, we will discuss the ins and outs of guardian homes on a later episode.
The quality of life that comes from fewer dogs is the exact reason that I believe you rehome your females after retiring them from breeding. Yes, I know, you’ll have a few you could never let go of. But let’s look at the situation again. Say you went crazy and bred your females for the first half of their life. That would mean that, once you retired your first set of breeders, and replaced them, you’d double your females. In my example, with my four breeding females, that would mean I would have eight at the house, only four breeding.
Now let’s go even further with that idea. What if you didn’t breed back-to-back and bred every other heat cycle, and never rehomed your females? Well then, after that first generation of eight breeders, you’d have eight dogs at home that are just hanging out, and eight dogs in your breeding program, giving you sixteen females. I don’t know about you, but I would have a REALLY hard time managing and giving quality of life to sixteen females! And that’s not adjusting the number of females to cover the cost of keeping those additional retired dogs, so in theory it would at least be two more females, so eighteen girls, not counting any studs or puppies you’re raising.
When you look at it with the numbers, the science, and how it benefits your program, it isn’t what is best for the dogs. It actually seems more selfish on our part to keep them after retiring, and not breed them back-to-back.