Puppies can come pretty easy. I know a guy that was handling a female beagle for his friend at a field trial (in licensed beagle field trials the females do not run with the males). She was due to go in the field to determine the winner that day. The owner’s friend put the female on a tie out stake awaiting winners’ pack, and soon thereafter he put his own male on an adjacent stake. Well, when she backed up as far as she could on her chain, and he leaned forward as far as he could on his stake—birds and bees, storks and biology, they mated. The good news is that the judges waited until she was free before entering the field to determine the winners of that class of females, which you have to admit, is a pretty understanding move on their part. I have been “put on the clock” for taking 5 extra minutes to go to the restroom before taking my hound to the winners’ pack.
At any rate, it seems as if puppies just happen easily, especially if you aren’t looking for any. Then, the breeding that you want to make will provide all sorts of complications. Certainly, you can put two dogs together, let nature take its course, and get puppies. In the modern medical era, full of prenatal health care, you can still have human children au natural, sans obstetrician or hospital. My buddy had both of his kids at home, with no medical assistance. Though, to be fair, he didn’t really have the children, his wife did most of the work. Of course, this works best if there are no complications. I do not breed many litters, and it is done with the purpose of propagating my own pack of dogs, though I will sometimes opt to buy a puppy from another bloodline rather than breed. Though I have whelped quite a few pups over the last 32 years, I have only bred 4 litters in the last 11 years, the most recent being born this past Mother’s Day. Surely that would be ironic in human birthing. It seems as if expecting mothers are always subject to horror stories from women who have already reproduced.
My wife, Renee. is one of the worst moms for instilling anxiety. She likes to tell people how she was on bed rest for most of the pregnancy, confined to lying on her left side (or was it the right) because her son, my stepson, tried to enter the world 4 months early. Then, after being dormant for 5 months, and acquiring aches and pains from having to remain on one side the entire time with only sponge baths, she required a C-section anyway. Whenever I see my wife talking to a pregnant woman, I whisk her away before she can share her pregnancy story. I mean, she told the story to a couple gals that ended up needing a C-section themselves. Perhaps she cursed them. Sorry about that digression, all I am trying to say is that complications can occur. In the event that you are looking to spend a little money to help ensure better odds of successful puppies, I thought that I would pass along a few tips.
This is simply a way of determining when the female is ready. A vet can look at the cells of a vaginal swab and determine peak fertility. The most recent pups at my house came after an unsuccessful attempt at breeding on the previous heat cycle. The female is named Cuddles (Hey, a kid named her). It seems that by the time she put out the “signals” she was no longer fertile. In other words, her ovulation was well ahead of her pheromones, which will let the males know she is ready. My vet said that this was a matter of her Psychology not matching her cytology. By the time she was ready, her cytology was past the fertile phase. Oh, and it isn’t entirely uncommon. Think about all those litters that have just a couple puppies, and realize that in some cases the dam was not willing to stand for the stud until she was past peak fertility but still fertile enough to conceive. This psychologically disturbed female belongs to my friend, Jason, and he was visiting my home state of Pennsylvania for the last week of rabbit season, (in February), about 5 months after we missed the breeding.
“When is she due to come in heat again?” I asked while we were cleaning rabbits after a successful hunt.
“A few weeks,” he answered.
“You still want to breed to Duke?”
“Why don’t you leave her here when you go home tomorrow. My vet thinks she is not right in the head.”
“What?” He cried in disbelief. I embarked on a detailed discussion of psychology and cytology. I was just starting to delve into pheromones and things like that, when Jason said, “I will leave the crazy female here.”
“To be fair,” I said, “She isn’t crazy. Just reproductively anomalous.” This is how Cuddles stayed at my house from the last week in February until the 4th of July, when her owner returned for her and the whelped pups. It was a process to get to those pups, however. At the first spotting of estrus, I scheduled a visit to the vet. Traditional practice (on an absolutely average cycle that progresses normally) typically results in breeding on day 10. I had Cuddles tested on Day 3, and the cytology revealed that it was more like day 8. She had been in heat for some time before a discharge developed. I had her tested every other day. At peak fertility, she had as much interest in breeding as my male—none. When she was a few days past peak fertility, but still within the window where she could conceive, she began to generate pheromones. For the most part, my four male dogs had little interest in her. Typically, when a female is in heat, they will howl, lose their voice, and practice their sexual prowess in all the disgusting ways you have seen your own dogs do. Only two of my males were able to detect that Cuddles was ready. Thankfully, one was Duke, the intended stud. Leaving Duke and Cuddles in close proximity resulted in successful breeding on two consecutive days. Her cytology indicated that she was leaving her heat cycle. Not long after she was no longer fertile, all my males were very interested. They became boisterous, one lost his voice from moaning the love-sick blues (I would have paid a kennel to board him had he not gone mute from overuse of his vocal chords), and they postured aggressively towards one another as they sniffed the air, searching for Cuddles, who is in my office. Had I waited for nature, I would have missed the opportunity to breed the two dogs, again.
They sell a home pregnancy kit for dogs. In my mind, I figure it is sold for the person that has a pedigreed, female dog that has a proclivity for the bad-boy mutts that roam the neighborhood streets and yards. You know, the ones with irresponsible owners that think their fenced yards are more immune than the castles of Romeo and Juliet when it comes to unwanted advances. My vet gave a follow-up examination a few weeks later and could feel that there were, in fact, some pups. She felt the abdomen and could tell, no home pregnancy test needed. Just for grins and giggles, she hooked Cuddles up to her ultrasound and determined that there were at least 3.
At this point I put Cuddles on puppy food. It is the increased calcium that is important, as the developing skeletons can deplete the mother’s body of her own. The puppy food also provides DHA (Docosahexaeonic Acid), which is essential for the development of the brain and nervous system in all mammals. Make sure your puppy food has DHA. I use Purina Proplan, and I feed it to the mother until the pups are weaned, and I give it to the pups until they are one year old. Do I know people that give their dogs the cheapest food and table scraps? Yeah, I do, but I am looking to develop canine hunting partners that will perform for a dozen years and then live a happy retirement.
I find it worth the extra money to get an X-ray. When labor begins, it is good to know what you are getting into. When it seems like all the pups have arrived, she could be taking a break. I have seen an extra pup delivered overnight, when you thought she was done before going to bed. Sure, the X-Ray has to be read and sometimes it is difficult to read, particularly if there are a lot of puppies. In the case of Cuddles, she had 8 puppies, and she is a tiny beagle. It seems like in today’s social media crazed world, all the future mothers of human babies tend to post a picture of the sonogram placed over their pregnant midsection, so as to appear as if you are looking into the womb. I did this with Cuddles, only with the X-Ray, complete with skeletons. It looked like it was right out of some science fiction/horror movie. Every woman I know that is a mother felt instant sympathy for Cuddles. When the time came (a few days early) part of the litter was whelped and she stopped, with a pup breached. Because of the X-Rays we knew there were more pups and that she was in trouble, Cuddles ended up getting assistance (C-Section, actually) to finish delivering the litter.
“Did you tell Cuddles about your pregnancy?” I asked my wife.
“What?” Renee shrugged her shoulders,
“Every time you do, a C-section happens!”
I see lots of folks using plastic kiddie pools for the place that the pups will be born. I admit, it makes good sense and cleans easily. Also, the pool is round. This will help prevent an accidental death to a puppy caused by it being stuck in a corner of a square or rectangular floor plan, the weight of the mother suffocating the pup, while she feeds the rest of the litter. It isn’ta common occurrence, but it happens. Instead of a circle shaped pool, I utilize a box with a safety feature. It simply has a rail that runs the perimeter of the box, a few inches off the ground. Should mama be feeding the litter in a corner, the pups would be able to get under the rail and avoid accidental suffocation. I find the rail safer than the round, plastic tub, since there is still a wall (albeit circular) that could be a rock in conjunction with the mother serving as a hard spot. The higher walls mean that mom can escape the babies without them following her out of the box, which is essential as the pups age. Many of the tiny swimming pools have a short wall that will not confine puppies for long. By the time the beagle pups can escape the whelping box, they are nearly weaned. Naturally, you can adjust the height and size of the box you build so that it is appropriate to the breed.
As the pups age, we begin weaning by soaking the food with lukewarm water and blending it. In short order the food is blended into bigger pieces. Then it is just food with water added. Finally, they are eating dry kibble (puppy food). It is important to wean the pups slowly so as to help the dam. If the puppies cease feeding on her milk suddenly, it can be painful for the mother.