Many people ask us for advice on the breeding of puppies. A first step might well be the reading of a respected book on the subject. There are several on the market but the BOOK OF THE BITCH written by J.M. EVANS and KAY WHITE is an excellent buy. It is very comprehensive and contains more relevant information than can be put onto a website page.    

Breeding puppies is a natural thing for a bitch to do but sometimes Mother Nature appears to have overlooked a few things.  One thing should be stated from the outset, which is that the old wives' tale that bitches "need" to have a litter is complete nonsense. A bitch comes into season and the urge to seek a mate is compulsive behaviour; she will do just about anything to get to a dog, but the bitch hasn't got a clue why this is or what it will lead to.  It is cruel to keep an entire  male and a bitch in season in the same house.  They will almost certainly evade your efforts to keep them apart.  One of them, preferably the dog, should be boarded elsewhere. 

Whilst realising that it is perfectly natural to a bitch to want to nurture puppies, in actual fact, the instinct to do so only clicks in when the bitch actually gives birth to a pup by the release of a hormone and, even then, you may find yourself having to clean up the pup and remove the sac from around its face before putting the pup to the mother's teats, especially if it's the bitch's first litter.  It probably can be safely said that the pup probably has more idea of what to do than some bitches concerning the milk bar department.   It is, however, vital that each pup suckles the first "milk" from the bitch;  this contains colostrum which is vital for the whelps because it contains antibodies against all the diseases, etc. the bitch has encountered during her life, including those introduced by vaccination. Although colostrum is present in the bitch's milk for several days, it is only for the first few hours after birth that the whelps can utilise it. The immunity afforded by colostrum will keep the pups safe for several weeks after their birth.    

Another slightly suspect theory is that the bitch instinctively knows when all is not well with a pup and she will gather it to her. Puppies act on instinct and if the pup is not actively seeking the bitch's milk she will not do anything to make it do so.  She will most probably ignore it altogether.     

Perhaps we ought to start at the beginning of the story.  Before your bitch comes into season you should identify a suitable mate for her and contact the owner of the male. The owner of the dog will want to know the bitch's short pedigree and it is also important that the bitch is registered with the Kennel Club. If she is not, the stud owner is justified in refusing to allow you to use the dog. The Association might be able to help you find a stud if you are having difficulty in locating one.

You should not contemplate mating your bitch before she is18 months old and certainly not when she has her first season, irrespective of what age she might be at this time. When she is ready to be mated the swelling of her vulva should have diminished, it should feel softer than when she first showed signs of a season and the colour of the discharge should be paler.  This is normally around 12 – 14 days, but if you are in any doubt, expert advice should be sought. Some stud owners will be prepared to keep your bitch for a few days so that the optimum time will not be missed though it has to be said that the male sperm can live up to 10 days in the bitch's womb before implantation takes place. If, after mating, your bitch does not produce pups, most stud owners will be prepared to let you have a free mating the next time your bitch returns into oestrus but they are by no means obliged to do this. The owner of the dog is paid for the service he/she provides – making sure his dog mates your bitch properly, and this is not always as easy as it may sound;  his fee is not for making sure your bitch produces pups. There are no guarantees, but if the dog is a proven stud, there is no reason to assume that the fault lies with the male. It is advisable that anyone seeking to have a maiden bitch mated, should find an experienced handler and proven dog. The owners of the bitch should watch the mating so that they are satisfied the job has been done properly!    

Three or so weeks after mating, if the bitch is pregnant, you may find that she goes off her food.  This is perfectly normal.   As whelping draws nearer a clear mucus discharge will appear from the bitch's vulva.  Again, this is normal.    She will probably go off her food again as the pressure of the pups on her stomach reduces her appetite. A few weeks into the pregnancy her nipples will increase and become noticeably pinker – this is especially so in a maiden bitch. Your bitch should be kept on a normal, well-balanced diet and should not be liberally stuffed with vitamins, etc.   Calcium should not be given.

When the bitch is ready to give birth she will become restless – she may keep wanting to go out because of the pressure on her bladder, she may start digging her bedding up, she will probably pant. It is a good idea to introduce her to where you want her to whelp well beforehand. It is important that the bitch is not worried by household sounds and movements and that she is kept in a relaxed atmosphere. Remember that the pups cannot control their body heat and their body temperature is much lower than that of the bitch, so it is vital they are kept warm when they are born.


If your bitch has been allowed to eat the placentas, etc. you will probably find that she is not anxious to eat her normal food for a while and she might produce very loose faeces as a result. She will also produce a discharge for some time after the birth and initially this will be black in colour. Some bitches dry up after two or three weeks, others go on much longer. She will also pant whilst she is nursing. Do make sure that she is fed frequently and that she is never hungry.  Lactating, especially if she produces a large litter, takes an enormous amount of energy from the bitch and if she is not getting sufficient food she will lose condition rapidly.      

When the whelps are about 3 weeks old, it is time to start weaning them and the bitch should be allowed to come and go as she pleases. You will have more success weaning your pups if you can make sure they have not been suckling from the bitch for an hour or so before you offer them whatever you are using to start weaning. The whelps should also be started on their worming programme.

When your puppies are ready to go to their new homes, and this should not be before they are at least 8 weeks old, they should ideally have received an initial vaccination and have been regularly wormed.  Many insurance companies offer breeders 4 weeks free insurance on the puppy from the time it leaves you.  You cannot insure any puppies you wish to keep yourself in this way.

You should make sure that the new owners know every detail of the pup's regime – how often you have been feeding it (giving them a few days' supply of the feed you have been using), and that you have the pup's pedigree and Kennel Club papers to hand to them.   

Whilst it is very exciting to have puppies, especially if this is your first venture, there are a few negatives that should be borne in mind.  If your bitch should need a ceasarian, this is likely to cost you in the region of £700.  It is invariably inevitable that this sort of thing will happen at night when the services of a vet will be charged on an "after hours" basis.  

If your bitch is unable or unwilling to feed the pups herself, do you have time to hand-rear them?  They need to be fed every 2 hours, 24/7, for around 2 weeks after which time you can increase the time between feeds. Do you have a room to keep the puppies in so that they are not disturbed by other animals or young children in the house? Do you have a room to keep the puppies in when they are around 4 weeks? They are fully mobile at this age and need to be able to play and run around safely. Your puppies may not all be sold when the time comes for you to start letting them go to their new homes,  and you might find yourself with pups on your hands for some time. You might find that they will start to scrap and if this happens the problem will escalate and you will have to separate them. Do you have the facilities to do this?

Sometimes a puppy finds itself in the wrong home and the owners will not want it anymore.   This is an unfortunate situation and although you may have taken steps to ensure that your puppies are going to suitable and permanent homes, sometimes things do go wrong and people are not always what they seem.  You should be willing and able to take the puppy back and rehome it.    

It is extremely bad practice to sell a puppy into a home that already has a wire or terrier of the same sex. They will invariably start to scrap and this is the most common reason for taking a puppy back to its breeder.  A large number of youngsters end up being rehomed because a breeder has listened more to the rustle of money rather than flatly refusing to sell a puppy into this situation.  Another "should not" is to sell two wire puppies together even if they are different sexes.   Good advice is to tell this enthusiast that it is far better to get one puppy up and running before acquiring another.  A good interval is anything from 6 – 9 months onwards but it should always be remembered that a wire really wants to be its owners' one and only.  Wires do not particularly long for the company of other dogs and are perfectly happy to be top dog on their own!

The Association has a recommended code of practice for breeders and all members should abide by this.  This, and the Kennel Club Code of Ethics, can be found here.

N.B.  The Kennel Club have on their website a section called BREEDING. For anyone wishing to find out more about breeding puppies, it is well-worth reading.