A step-by-step guide to breeding

Group of Labrador puppies sat together

Choosing to have a litter of puppies is a big commitment and an enormous responsibility. If it’s not done correctly, it can affect your dog or their puppies for the whole of their lives, so it’s important to understand what you’re doing and do your research.

When it comes to dog breeding there’s lots to learn about. Sometimes this huge amount of information might feel overwhelming, which is why we’ve created this guide to ease you in. This overview briefly covers some of the important topics that you’ll need to know about if you breed from your dog. To delve deeper into each subject, we’ve linked to easy-to-understand articles that give you more information and provide you with advice, hints and tips on each topic.

Should I breed from my dog?

Choosing to mate your dog and breed a litter of puppies is not a decision that should ever be taken lightly. Always take the time to think about if breeding is right for you, your dog and the puppies that you may potentially produce.

Before breeding, think about:

  • Why you want to breed
  • If your dog is suitable for breeding
  • If you can afford it
  • Whether you have enough time
  • If you’ll be able to sell your puppies
  • Whether you need a breeder’s licence
  • If you can put your dog and their puppy’s health and happiness before everything else

Find out about things to consider before you breed, including questions to ask yourself and how to know if breeding is right for you and your dog.

Think about neutering if breeding isn’t for you

If you choose not to breed from your dog, think about whether you want to have them neutered. It’s important that you understand the benefits neutering can bring, whether there are any risks of it affecting your dog’s health, behaviour or weight and what age your dog can have it done.

Find out more about neutering, including what it involves and whether there are any risks.

Choosing a mate

If you breed your dog, you need to make sure that their mate has all the good qualities that you’re looking for in a male. Finding the right stud dog can sometimes be time-consuming and challenging, but it’s worth it if you find a mate that complements your dog, helping to produce healthy, happy puppies that improve the breed.

Your chosen stud dog should be:

  • Healthy
  • Health screened for appropriate tests and screening schemes
  • Have a good temperament
  • Are fertile
  • Have a good confirmation
  • Not be closely related to your dog

Find out about what to look for in an ideal mate, how to find a stud dog and how to arrange a mating.

Health screening your dog

Responsible breeders take steps to reduce the chance of their puppies being affected by inherited diseases. Before breeding, you may need to test or screen your dog to make sure that they don’t have any genes or traits that are linked to known health issues. Your dog may seem healthy, but these tests and schemes help you better understand your dog’s genetics, giving your puppies the best chance to live longer and happier lives. We list all the recommended health tests for each breed in our Breeds A-Z.

Find out more about health tests and screening schemes, including when to have them done and what else you need to consider to breed healthy puppies.

Avoid high levels of inbreeding

Inbreeding is the mating of two related dogs. High levels of inbreeding can affect the health of puppies, although it is difficult to know the exact impact it can have. In general, we do know that the higher the degree of inbreeding, the higher the risk is of the puppies developing both known and unknown inherited disorders. Inbreeding can also have an impact on the breed as a whole, e.g. reducing litter sizes and fertility. When choosing a potential pair of dogs to mate, we recommend you use our Inbreeding Coefficient calculators as part of your decision.

Find out more about reducing inbreeding, including how to use our calculators and what your results mean.


The conformation of a dog refers to its overall structure and the way it looks. Dogs come in many different shapes and sizes, which is one of the many fascinating things about dogs. However, ensuring that a dog is bred to have moderate, and not exaggerated, conformation is important. Regardless of what each dog looks like, its health and welfare should be a priority and it should be able to lead a happy and healthy life. That means being able to breathe, walk, hear and see freely without discomfort. Some exaggerated conformations can lead to health problems, such as skin infections, eye problems or breathing difficulties.

Find out more about conformation and whether your breed has any conformational concerns to avoid when choosing dogs to breed from.

Do you need a breeding licence?

Some dog breeders may need a breeding licence. You only need a breeding licence if you breed three or more litters a year, or if you advertise as a business that breeds or sells puppies. If you intend to breed more often, you should look into whether you need a licence – you may need to contact your local council about this as they issue licences for dog breeders.

Find out whether you need a dog breeding licence and how to apply for one.

Think about becoming an Assured Breeder

Our Assured Breeders scheme helps responsible breeders to stand out from the rest, giving puppy buyers the reassurance that the breeders on our scheme are inspected and monitored by us. There are lots of great dog breeders out there, but our scheme makes it easy for them to be found in one place.

Find out more about joining our Assured Breeders scheme, including what becoming an Assured Breeder involves and how to join.

Understanding your dog’s seasons

A dog’s season is the part of a female’s reproductive cycle that can allow her to become pregnant. When she’s in season, your dog may act differently and her genitals may swell and produce a discharge. Knowing how to recognise the signs of heat, and being able to roughly predict when your dog is in season can help you to know when your dog is most fertile.

Find out more about your dog’s seasons and how to know when she’s ready to mate.

Dog mating

If you’re breeding dogs for the first time, and haven’t seen them mate before, you may have questions about what happens. During mating, 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 a perfectly natural part of how dogs mate. Dogs can stay tied for up to an hour.

Find out more about dog mating, including what age to mate a dog, how to check when your dog is most fertile and how often to mate them.

Artificial insemination

Artificial insemination (AI) is a technique used to help dogs become pregnant without natural mating. Semen is collected from a stud dog and, depending on the technique used, is either inserted into a bitch’s vagina or her uterus. AI is not commonly used and should only be used in exceptional circumstances and where natural matings are not possible.

Find out more about artificial insemination, including when it’s acceptable to use and how it’s carried out.


On average, a dog’s pregnancy lasts for around 63 days (nine weeks), plus or minus a week. This can vary depending on the breed, litter size and how accurately you’re able to predict when she became pregnant. Pregnancy can be a very exciting time, but it can also be quite stressful, especially if you’re new to dog breeding. If you think that your dog is pregnant your vet will be able to confirm this and, in time, may be able to let you know roughly how many puppies she is carrying.

Find out more about pregnancy, including how to tell if your dog is pregnant, when to take her to the vets for a scan, how to look after her and how long until she whelps.

What to feed your dog during pregnancy

During pregnancy, it’s important to meet your dog’s nutritional needs to help increase the chances of things going smoothly. What you feed your dog during pregnancy makes a real difference and sets both her and her puppies up for the best health possible.

Find out when to adjust your dog’s feeding during pregnancy and how her nutritional needs can change over time.


Whelping is the name that’s given to the process of a dog giving birth. Most dogs can whelp on their own, but sometimes, like humans, some dogs may have complications that can be dangerous to the mother or her puppies. In the last week or so of pregnancy, most dogs will begin to show signs of nesting behaviours. To help create a comfortable and safe environment for your dog to give birth in, you could create a whelping box. Whelping usually takes most dogs around 3 – 12 hours to birth their entire litter. Although most puppies are born without any problems, some puppies may become stuck in the birthing canal, so it’s important to have your vet’s emergency contact details to hand.

Find out more about whelping, including when to know your dog is in whelp, how to make her comfortable and how best to help your dog during whelping.

Whelping and post-whelping complications

Most dogs don’t have any problems whelping, but complications can occasionally occur. Issues during whelping can be serious, so delaying or ignoring them can be dangerous for the mother, or can also lead to a loss of puppies.

Complications can include:
  • Dystocia (problems giving birth)
  • The puppy being breech
  • Excess green/dark discharge
  • Bleeding
  • Still born puppies
  • Eclampsia (low calcium levels)
  • Mastitis (mammary infection)
  • Metritis (womb infection)Stillborn
Find out more about whelping complications.

Looking after newborn puppies

When they’re first born, check the puppies over and make sure that their ears, eyes, mouth, tail and limbs are all ok. It’s important to keep your puppies warm until they’re able to regulate their own body temperature, which is at around 3 to 4 weeks. You could use heat lamps, heating pads (electric or water-filled ones) or microwavable heat pads. The first few days of a puppy’s life help them to bond with their mother and are important for their physical development. It’s OK to pick up puppies to check them, weigh them or clean out the whelping box, but try to limit how much you handle them. It’s important to record each puppy’s birth weight so that you can check their progress. Make sure you weigh each puppy 12 and 24 hours after birth to check that they’re gaining weight.

Find out more about how to care for your newborn puppies, including the best ways to keep them warm, how to make sure that they’re thriving and how to make sure they’re getting enough milk.

First vet visits

Even though their mother does a fantastic job of caring for her litter (feeding, cleaning, keeping them warm etc.) it’s still important for her and her puppies to see the vet within 48 hours of giving birth. Many vets will be able to do a home visit, as it will be less stressful for the puppies and their mum. Seeing the vet is not only an important part of their health care but it can help them get used to being handled and cared for by a vet, which could help with how they react to them in the future.

Find out more about your puppies first visit from the vet, what to expect and what information you need to have ready.

Register your litter with us

We register over 250,000 pedigree and crossbreed dogs every year. Our registration system is a simple record of a puppy's birth and heritage and provides a number of benefits supporting responsible dog ownership, including:

  • Individual registration documents issued for each registered puppy
  • The ability to sell your Kennel Club registered puppies through our Find a Puppy service, which performs over 300,000 searches per month
  • Free five-week pet insurance for your puppy buyers
  • Your registration will remain on The Kennel Club's breed database as a permanent historical record of the breed
  • Opportunity to buy an official Kennel Club pedigree, taking pride in your breeding
  • Access to an unparalleled source of information, experience and advice on dog welfare, health, breeding and dog/puppy training

Find out more on why to register your litter with us and how to do it.


Registration endorsements are mainly used by breeders to protect breeding lines and for welfare protection. They're used to avoid breeding where there could be hereditary health issues and if onward breeding is not advisable. It is an important tool for breeders and an aid to responsible breeding.

Find out more about endorsements.

Colour and registration

When you register your puppies with The Kennel Club you must specify their colour. Each puppy is likely to be either a breed standard colour or a non-breed standard colour. You can find out more about what these are and check the lists of these colours on our Breeds A-Z.

If you can’t find your a dogs colour on either of these lists then you can find out what you should do on our ‘other’ colours page.

Weaning your puppies

Weaning is an important part of your puppy’s development. When your puppy weans, it means they move from relying on their mother’s milk for all their nourishment to enjoying solid foods. The recommended time for weaning puppies is from around 3 weeks of age and can last until the pups are around 7-8 weeks.

Find out how to wean puppies and what foods are best to wean them on to.


Vaccinating your puppies can protect them from important infectious diseases that can be harmful or can kill them. Puppies are usually more vulnerable to these illnesses, so it’s important that they’re vaccinated at a young age. Vaccinations are usually first given at around 6-10 weeks, and booster injections are usually given around a month later. Some breeders may start the vaccination process while the puppy is still with them, while others may not.

Find out more about vaccinations, including which vaccinations are recommended and how often.


Microchipping is the most reliable way for a pet to be identified, should it ever go missing. In the UK, it’s a legal requirement that dogs must be microchipped before they are 8 weeks old. Breeders can only sell their puppies after eight weeks, so it is usually the responsibility of the breeder to get the puppy microchipped. Once the puppy is microchipped, their unique microchip number must be registered with a microchipping database, such as Petlog, and the breeder’s contact details must be recorded. Once the puppy has been sold, the new puppy owner must change the contact details to their own.

Find out more about microchipping, including what age to have it done.


Even if they’re born in a very clean environment, puppies can still be affected by intestinal worms. Puppies usually start their deworming treatment at an early age. There are different drugs and regimes, so it’s important to speak to your vet for advice. Responsible breeders give these treatments while the puppies are still with them. It’s important that puppies continue to be regularly treated, about every two weeks whilst with you.

Find out more about worms, including how to prevent them and signs to watch out for.

Toilet training

Toilet training your puppies should be quite a simple process, as long as you make the time and investment to get into a good routine. Initially, you’ll have to build your routine around your puppy's needs, and these are reliably predictable when they are very young.

Find out more about toilet training your puppies and when to start.

Puppy Nutrition

Puppies grow rapidly. At times during their development, puppies, depending on the breed size, require approximately three times more calories, proteins, vitamins and minerals per kilogram of body weight as adult dogs of the same breed size and a higher nutrient intake to support their growing bodies.

Find out more about puppy nutrition, including the best way to feed puppies and what they need for a balanced diet.

Puppy diarrhoea

It’s quite common for young dogs to have diarrhoea, but if your puppies are affected then it’s natural to worry about them and wonder what could have caused it. Puppies can get an upset tummy for many reasons, which makes it difficult to know when to look after them at home and when to contact your vet for advice.

Find out more about puppy diarrhoea including how to care for your dog when they’re unwell.

Selling your puppies

After you’ve bred a litter, it’s important that you find homes that’ll give your puppies a happy life. Choosing the best owners for your puppies and ensuring they’re suitable isn’t always easy. You can sell your puppies by reaching out to friends and family, creating a website or using online puppy-selling sites, such as our Find a Puppy service. Once you have some interested puppy buyers, it’s important to know that the puppy will be going to a good home, so you’ll need to ask each prospective puppy buyer about their lifestyle and home to see if they’re a good match for your puppy.

Find out more about selling your puppies, including questions to ask puppy buyers and how best to find your puppy a good home.

Creating a puppy pack

When you sell a puppy, it’s a good idea to provide the new owner with the essential information they need to look after their new dog, as well as a pack of goodies to help the puppy settle in. Giving out puppy packs is a great way to help the puppy make themselves at home and ensures that their first few days away from mum (and you) go as smoothly as possible. It’s also a great opportunity to give the new owners your expert advice, which could influence how the puppy is raised, fed and trained.

Find out more about how to create a useful puppy pack, what to include and what things you should give to new owners.

Get five weeks of free pet insurance for your puppy buyers

The Kennel Club Pet Insurance is committed to ensuring puppies are happy, healthy and protected with high-quality insurance cover. Our free insurance policies are designed to give your puppies and their new owners vital protection from the moment they are collected and for the first few weeks in their new homes.

Find out more about Kennel Club pet insurance for breeders.