If you’re breeding dogs for the first time, and haven’t seen them mate before, you may have questions about what happens, why they become ‘tied’, how long they stay joined together and how you can know if your mating has been successful. Find out all you need to know about dog mating below.
Things to think about before mating
What age can you mate a male dog?
Male dogs can technically mate as soon as they’ve become sexually mature, but we often advise waiting until they’re a little older before using them for breeding. This gives them more time to mature and grow in confidence and gives you more time to understand any negative traits they may have. Many breeds also have health tests and screening schemes that should be used before breeding but require the dog to be of a certain age, i.e., the hip and elbow dysplasia schemes both require dogs to be at least 1 year old. Before mating, you may need to wait for the dog to be old enough for certain health screening schemes and have the results before you decide to breed from them.
What age can you mate a female dog?
Bitches can become pregnant during their first season, which can be from as early as 6 months old, depending on their size and breed. Although they can technically have puppies from an early age, responsible breeders put their dog’s needs first and will wait until they’re physically and mentally mature enough to cope with having puppies. This usually means waiting until they’ve had several seasons. In some breeds, we recommend waiting until the dogs are old enough to be screened for certain health conditions before deciding whether to breed from them.
When is a dog ready for mating?
The only time a female dog can become pregnant is during a relatively small window when she’s in season. During this time, her hormone levels change, causing her to release eggs ready for fertilisation. Most dogs come into season twice a year, but this can vary from dog to dog. Before they’re bred from, it’s advisable to let a dog have a few seasons. This can help you track her heat cycles and calculate when her next season is likely to be. Knowing a rough date for her next season can help you prepare for mating and let the stud dog owner know when their dog is likely to be needed.
When to mate a dog in heat
It’s useful to count the days of a dog’s season to help you predict when she’ll be most fertile. Day one should be the first day that you notice signs that she’s in heat (usually swollen genitals and a bloody discharge from her vagina). These signs can be more obvious in some dogs than others. It’s possible that you may miss the early signs, which means that ‘day one’ may not actually be the first day of her season. Day one is usually a good time to let the stud dog owner know that your bitch is in heat. Dogs usually reach their peak fertility between days 10 and 14, although this can vary; some dogs are ready to mate earlier, while others may mate towards the end of their season. When most fertile, most dogs show more interest in males and their vaginal discharge may be watery or may have turned a straw-like colour.
Although these signs can be an indicator that they’re ready to mate, it’s not always the most accurate way of knowing when they’re most fertile. Instead, there are two simple tests that your vet can perform to help you know the best time to mate.
Which tests can you use to check when a dog is most fertile?
Two types of tests can check for ovulation:
- Vaginal smear test (also known as vaginal cytology). Your vet will take a series of swabs from your dog’s vagina and will look at her cells under a microscope to see any specific changes that suggest she’s ovulating. This test is reasonably reliable, is not invasive and doesn’t cause any discomfort for your dog.
- Blood tests. Your dog’s hormones change as she moves through the different stages of her season. Over several days your vet can measure the levels of these hormones in her blood to accurately find when she’s most fertile. Some vets may check her progesterone levels, while others may check for LH (luteinizing hormone).
If you’re thinking of breeding, speak to your vet or an experienced breeder about which tests they would recommend. Both of these tests may be carried out by your vet, or they may choose to send the samples away to a laboratory for analysis. Once your bitch is ovulating you should plan to visit the stud dog.
How many days will a female dog accept a mate?
Female dogs are more likely to accept a mate as they get closer to their peak fertility. How willing she is to accept a mate depends on the dog. Some may be more willing to accept a mate than others and some bitches may be more willing to mate before they’re most fertile.
How do dogs mate?
Before they mate, a male dog will often start by sniffing at the female’s rear end, smelling the pheromones that indicate she’s fertile. The female may move her tail to one side, known as ‘flagging’, which is a sign that she’s keen to mate. The stud dog will then mount her and put his front legs on either side of her midsection, to keep himself stable. It may take him several attempts to enter her, but most dogs should be able to do this without needing any additional help. Once in position, he’ll insert his penis into her vagina and will begin to thrust. Once he’s ejaculated, the two dogs may temporarily become physically locked together in a ‘breeding tie’. If you haven’t seen this before then it may seem strange, but it’s perfectly natural and is a part of how dogs mate, so it’s nothing to be worried about.
Why do dogs get stuck when mating?
A breeding tie occurs when the gland at the end of the male’s penis swells up and is gripped by the contracting muscles of the female’s vagina, preventing the two from being separated. A tie is often seen as a sign of a successful mating and is common among dogs, wolves and foxes. Unlike humans, female dogs only become fertile once or twice a year, so it’s thought that, during a tie, the male’s penis acts like a plug to stop the semen from leaving the vagina, increasing the chance of his sperm reaching her egg.
After they’ve tied, the stud dog may turn himself by lifting one leg over the female’s back so that they are both more secure and comfortable in a back-to-back position.
The two dogs will separate naturally when the stud dog’s penis becomes less swollen, but it’s important to never try and separate two tied dogs. Trying to force them apart could be painful for them and could even damage their genitals.
How long do dogs spend tied?
Once a pair of dogs are tied, they are locked together until they separate naturally when the swelling has gone down. This may only be for only a few minutes or can sometimes last for up to an hour. Most ties don’t appear to cause any discomfort, but prolonged ties may be uncomfortable and may cause the bitch to become restless.
Once tied, some inexperienced dogs may become anxious, so it’s important to keep both dogs calm and still.
How to unstick a dog after mating
Seeing two dogs locked together during mating may seem like something to worry about, but it’s a common and natural process for dogs and is actually seen as a sign of a successful mating.
Even if it’s an accidental mating, once tied, dogs should never be forcefully separated as they’re physically locked together. Trying to separate two tied dogs can cause them both pain, stress and can be harmful. Instead, it’s important to be patient and wait for them to naturally separate. If there’s been an accidental mating, speak to your vet about possible options to prevent pregnancy.
Can a bitch still get pregnant even if they don’t tie?
Sometimes, a male dog may enter the bitch, but his penis might come out before they’ve tied. This is known as a ‘slip mating’. Dogs don’t necessarily need to be tied to become pregnant, so it’s still possible that a slip mating can result in puppies. Sometimes, a slip mating may be a sign that the bitch isn’t quite ready for mating or isn’t at her peak fertility yet. If you have a slip mating, try again in the next day or so to see if a tie mating can happen.
Why does my female dog refuse to mate?
Sometimes, no matter how much preparation has gone into finding the perfect stud dog, a female dog may not be keen to mate. If she isn’t, it’s very important that she is never forced to do so. Forcing a dog to be mated can cause her stress, anxiety, physical pain and could make her aggressive towards the male.
If she’s not keen to mate, try again the next day, or the day after that, and see if she’s more willing then.
A bitch may not be keen to mate because:
- She’s not ovulating yet and may not be ready to mate. You could try again at a later date or check with your vet to see that she’s ovulating
- She may not like the stud dog. You could allow them time to get to know each other or, failing that, find another stud dog. More experienced breeders may consider using artificial insemination
- She may have previously had a bad experience and is anxious about being mated. You could try talking to a behaviourist
- There may be a medical issue causing her pain or discomfort that makes her less keen to mate. Speak to your vet if you’ve tried all other options or if you’re concerned about your dog’s health
Why do female dogs cry when mating?
Making noise during mating is normal for some dogs. However, it can also sometimes be a sign of stress, pain or that she’s not keen to mate. Try not to intervene unnecessarily, but if you’re concerned about your dog then try soothing her and see if that helps. Remember, if she is vocalising while she is tied, there’s nothing you can do to separate the dogs without possibly causing harm. In these situations, it’s important to keep your dog as calm as possible so that she doesn’t begin to panic and cause an injury to herself or the stud dog.
Why do male dogs cry before mating?
Before mating, some males may become agitated and whine, especially if a female in heat is close by. This is normal behaviour for many dogs and is usually a sign that they can smell her pheromones and are excited.
Do dogs bleed after mating?
Some dogs may continue to bleed throughout their season, so there may be some bloody discharge during or after mating. So long as the bleeding isn’t excessive or continuous, and your dog is behaving normally, then there’s no reason to be concerned. Sometimes, the act of mating can displace blood that has pooled in the bitch and may then be present on the stud dog’s penis, making it seem that he is bleeding. Always check over both dogs after mating and speak to your vet if you’re concerned.
Do some dogs need help mating?
Although mating comes naturally to many dogs, some may not know what to do, especially if they’re inexperienced. In these cases, leaving the dogs to explore mating for themselves may sometimes be the best option, but there are a number of ways you can help your dog.
How do you help a dog to mate?
Below are some hints and tips on how to help your dog mate and become pregnant:
Before the mating
- Make sure that both dogs are in good physical condition, have been screened for any relevant health tests, are on a quality dog food and get regular exercise before they mate. Both dogs should be checked over by their vet before mating
- Male dogs tend to be more stressed by mating, so female dogs are usually taken to the male’s own environment for breeding
- If possible, try to match an inexperienced dog to one with more experience. Matching two inexperienced dogs could cause problems
- Talk to your breeder about any hints and tips they can give and ask them what to expect when mating your dog
- Males or females with a very long coat may need to be clipped around their genitals to help make penetration easier
- Let both dogs go to the toilet before they meet each other to mate
During the mating
- If the dogs have never met, keep them on the lead while they get used to each other. Once they seem comfortable around each other, let them off lead to properly introduce themselves
- Try to keep things quiet and calm. If you choose an area that’s noisy or busy it could cause added stress for both dogs. Try to keep the number of people and other animals present to a minimum
- Where possible, let the dogs mate naturally and in their own time. Inexperienced dogs may need a little guidance, but you should avoid trying to get too involved. You could gently hold the bitch to keep her steady while the stud dog mounts her, but you should never force her to be mated
- Keep both dogs calm when they are tied. Inexperienced dogs may become anxious when they are locked with another dog and may cause injury if they panic. Keep them calm by talking to them in a reassuring voice or by petting them
- Once they’ve mated, check that the stud dog’s penis has gone back into its sheath (known as a prepuce). If it hasn’t, you may need to help manoeuvre it back in to help prevent damage to the dog
After the mating
- Mating the dogs 2 to 3 times, usually 1 to 2 days after the first mating, can make the pregnancy more likely
- Once mated, ensure that you keep the female dog away from other male dogs to prevent any accidental mating
How many times should a dog mate to get pregnant?
Although a dog can get pregnant from one mating, most stud dog owners will recommend the dogs mate two (or even three times), usually 24 – 48 hours apart each time, but this may depend on whether a tie or a slip mating has been achieved.
How many times can a female dog mate in one day?
Dogs can mate more than once a day, so long as both the dogs are keen to. If you’re trying for puppies, it may be better to try mating them again the next day, or the day after that, rather than mating them multiple times in one day. Mating the stud dog too many times may reduce the quality of his semen, so it may be better to give him some time to recuperate.
Is it okay to breed a bitch in back-to-back heat seasons?
A back-to-back mating involves breeding a dog when she next comes into season after she’s had a litter of puppies, and is not generally recommended. In fact, it is illegal to do so for breeders who hold a breeder’s licence issued by their local council. It’s important that, whenever making any breeding decisions, you always put the health of the bitch and the puppies that she produces above all else. It may be worth talking about the pros and cons of this type of mating practice with your breeder, vet or veterinary reproductive specialist.
Each dog and each circumstance are different, but dogs should never be mated back-to-back if:
- There were any complications during the last pregnancy
- The puppies were delivered by c-section
- The litter size was above average for the breed
- There are any concerns about the health of the bitch, i.e., she’s underweight
How to know if dog mating is successful
In the early stages, it can be difficult to know if your dog is pregnant, but if the mating has been successful, in due course she may have:
- Swollen mammary glands
- Be off her food
- Sleep more than usual or seem lethargic
- Begin to show signs of a swollen tummy
Some dogs may have more obvious signs than others. Other dogs may show these signs if they are having a phantom pregnancy. This is a condition caused by high levels of certain hormones, causing her body to behave like it’s pregnant when it isn’t.
To know if your dog is pregnant, your vet may be able to feel for puppies (at around 3-5 weeks) or will be able to perform an ultrasound usually around 5 weeks).
Next steps - Pregnancy
Is there a risk of Brucella canis infection during mating?
In the UK, infections with Brucella canis are extremely uncommon. The small number of dogs that have been infected are usually imported dogs. Even though you’re currently unlikely to meet an infected dog, the number of reported incidents are growing.
This bacterium can infect humans, but only a small number of cases have ever been reported.
Find out more about Brucella canis.