When you are ready for your first litter

GSD laying down with lab puppies sat around

Now that you're decided you're ready for your first litter, let's go through the process step by step, so you're well prepared to take care of your dog and to produce happy, healthy puppies.

When should I breed from my bitch?

The bitch should be over a year old, and preferably should have had one normal season prior to mating. Prior to mating, it is also important to have your bitch examined for any inherited diseases to which the breed is subject. You can learn more about the health tests that relate to your dog's breed in our Breeds A to Z.

The average day on which to mate a bitch is between the 11th and 14th day of her season. However, judging the correct day to mate your bitch can sometimes be difficult, as some can be ready to be mated earlier while others will not accept a dog until much later. It may therefore be prudent to have an ovulation test carried out by your veterinary surgeon to determine the correct date on which to mate your bitch, especially if the stud dog lives a fair distance away.

How long are bitches in whelp?

Bitches are in whelp for approximately 63 days, although this can vary depending on litter size.

How do I find a suitable stud dog?

We do not currently keep a register of stud dogs. Therefore, you should contact either your dog’s breeder or a breed club to ensure that you find a suitable mate for your bitch. As a responsible breeder, you will need to ensure that any stud dog that you decide to use not only has a compatible pedigree, but has also been examined for any inherited disease to which the breed is subject.

If you're trying to find a suitable healthy mate for your dog, then our online health tools can help you make informed decisions

Remember that male dogs may also carry breeding restrictions, and therefore you will need to bear in mind that any breeding endorsements will have to be removed from his registration records before the litter can be registered. You are strongly advised to confirm, prior to the mating, that any such endorsement has been removed.

Details of approximate stud fees, puppy prices and more information on your chosen breed may be obtained from the breeder of your dog, or from the breed clubs.

Legal contracts

If you are using another owner’s stud dog, or when it comes to selling your puppies, we would advise you to create a written contract to record anything agreed between the parties. This way, there can be no misunderstandings between either party should any problems occur. This is especially important if you are selling any puppies that you have endorsed with The Kennel Club, and in fact forms part of our regulations when applying to place endorsements.

A general guide to creating a puppy contract can be found in our Assured Breeders scheme section.

What should I do before breeding?
  • Transfer the dog into your registered ownership if you have not already done so
  • DNA profile your dog
  • Obtain a kennel name
  • Check that no breeding endorsement has been placed on your dog's records
  • Ensure your dog is healthy and suitable (especially in temperament) to whelp a litter
  • Carry out all relevant health checks e.g. hip scoring, elbow grading, eye testing and DNA testing. Find out which checks are relevant to your breed
  • Contact a breed society for more breed-specific information and to ask any questions you may have
  • Ensure that the health status of the proposed stud dog is satisfactory
  • Talk to the breeder of your bitch, as they may be able to help you
  • Our new healthcare plan offers breeders optional cover for breeding risks including fertility, pregnancy, whelping and litter before they are sold. For more information call 0800 369 90 90 or visit The Kennel Club Pet Insurance website
Where can I find out more?
You can find out more about breeding, pregnancy and raising puppies in a number of films available on The Kennel Club Academy.

Kennel names

A kennel name is an exclusive word that is associated with you and your dogs. Known as your 'breeder signature', a kennel name will set your puppies aside from those of anyone else.

You can include your kennel name within the names of your puppies at the point of registration. You can also add your kennel name to an existing name of a dog in your current registered ownership.

Browse the forms below to register a new kennel name or make changes to an existing name.

Application for the registration of a kennel name (form 10)
Application to change the registered name by the addition of a kennel name (form 8)
Variation of a kennel name (form 11)

Please download and complete form 11 if you wish to either make a change to the ownership of your kennel name or give permission for a separate interest/holding to be granted.

Removal of a kennel name (form 16)

Health screening - a step by step guide

Responsible breeders consider the health of their puppies to be a priority. There are a number of steps you as a breeder can and should take to increase the chances of breeding happy and healthy puppies. These include DNA testing, health screening schemes and avoiding close inbreeding. By taking these steps it helps you find out if two possible mates are compatible, giving your puppies the best chance to live long, happy lives.

Why health screening is essential
Testing all potential breeding stock allows you to better understand the kind of genes your dog may pass on to its offspring, giving you the information required to avoid producing puppies affected by health issues.

Making informed decisions based on health test results enables you to adapt your breeding programme, selecting mates for your dog that complement them and reduce the risk of diseases appearing in future generations.
Step 1: Discover the tests relevant to your breed

Find out which health tests or schemes are recommended for your breed in our Breeds A to Z. These recommendations are suggested by breed clubs and approved by The Kennel Club's committees.

Once you've found which tests and schemes are relevant to your breed you can find out more about each DNA test or screening scheme in the Breeds A to Z or you can read more about them in our getting started with health screening page.

Step 2: Get your dog health screened
Once you know which health tests and screening schemes are relevant to your breed it's important that you use these to understand more about your dog's genetic and physical health.

If you follow the links on the health section of the Breeds A-Z you can find:
  • laboratories that will test your dog for each DNA test.
  • How to get your dog screened for any health scheme relevant to your breed.
You can also find details about health testing clinics near you.
Step 3: Find health results for possible mates

You can find the results for any results for DNA tests or screening schemes recorded by us on our Health Test Results Finder.

Step 4: Read our breeding advice
If you're new to breeding then the amount of information on how to breed healthy puppies can sometimes be overwhelming. 

We've compiled a list of all of the health screening that's recommended for your breed in our Breeds A-Z, but you can also find clear and simple breeding advice and in our getting started with health testing and screening page.
Step 5: Avoid inbreeding

Inbreeding is the breeding of puppies from two related dogs. High levels of inbreeding can affect the health of these puppies and in general the higher the degree of inbreeding, the higher the risk is of the puppies developing health issues.

The degree of inbreeding can be measured and our inbreeding calculators use pedigree information from our registration system to work out how related two potential mates are.

Use our Inbreeding Coefficient calculator as part of your breeding decisions when choosing a potential mate.

The problem of popular sires

Popular sires, or male dogs that are used to produce large numbers of puppies, are one of the biggest contributors to a reduction in genetic diversity, an increase in inbreeding and elevated levels of genetic diseases within a breed. These dogs are often chosen because they have good characteristics, such as traits associated with good health. Breeders will use these dogs because they wish to improve the breed, but excessive use of any males can be detrimental to the overall population. It's important to consider the impact that using a popular sire could have on your breed.

Find out more about popular sires and how to manage and maintain genetic diversity.

Step 6: Avoid breeding from over-exaggerated dogs
Regardless of what each dog looks like, its health and welfare should always 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 (such as extremely flat-faces, extremely wrinkly skin etc.) can lead to health problems, such as skin infections, eye problems or breathing difficulties.

Dogs with proven health issues caused by over-exaggeration of physical features should ideally be avoided in a breeding programme, especially if they may produce health or welfare problems in any puppies they produce. If in doubt, please contact your vet.

Find out more about over-exaggeration and how to avoid breeding from over-exaggerated dogs.
Step 7: Make balanced breeding decisions

Your breeding decisions should always be well balanced and take into consideration the qualities and compatibility of both the sire and dam that you are considering.

As well as thinking through the implications of a dog’s health screening results, there are other equally important factors to consider when deciding whether two dogs should be mated together, such as temperament, genetic diversity, conformation, the general health of the dogs etc.

Contacts for more advice

If you have any questions about health screening, DNA testing or inbreeding calculations, then either speak to your vet, or your local breed club.

Each breed has a breed health co-ordinator who works within the breed clubs and they are experts on the health of their breed.

How to contact your breed health co-ordinator

You can contact your breed health co-ordinator by referring to the health information of your chosen breed on our Breeds A to Z.

Artificial insemination (AI)

Artificial insemination (AI) is a method of inseminating a bitch artificially without the mating process. This is often used when using frozen or chilled semen when the male is not available. 

Prior approval is not necessary to register a litter produced by AI, provided that all of the following comply, and that the AI involves non-surgical insemination.

Requirements for registration
If you meet all the requirements

If none of these conditions is breached, then the owner need only ensure that the AI form (form 2) is completed and submitted along with the litter registration form (form 1) online or download the PDF version at the time of registration.

All requirements must be satisfied in your AI application, otherwise individual cases will have to be made and registration will be at the discretion of The Kennel Club Board. 

Please note that from the beginning of 2019, the use of surgical insemination has been banned by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). Therefore, no applications will be accepted whereby the litter was produced using this method.

Methods of insemination

There are two general methods adopted for insemination:

  1. Non-surgical: intravaginal, where semen is placed directly into the vaginal canal
  2. Non-surgical: trans-cervical using a catheter and/or an endoscope

The RCVS advise that intravaginal insemination does not amount to the practice of veterinary surgery and, as such, may be undertaken by suitably competent lay persons. However, trans-cervical insemination is regarded as an act of veterinary surgery and may only be undertaken by a veterinary surgeon.

Frequently asked questions

1. I have a maiden bitch - can I still mate her using artificial insemination?

Yes, The Kennel Club has no restrictions on mating maiden bitches by AI.

2. The stud dog I want to use has not produced puppies naturally - will the application be accepted?

The Kennel Club will register a litter by AI from a dog that has not previously produced a natural litter

3. Does the insemination need to be carried out by a vet?

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has advised that AI is a veterinary procedure and therefore should only be performed by a vet.

4. Can I register a litter if I plan to use surgical insemination?

Please note that from the beginning of 2019, the use of surgical insemination has been banned by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Therefore, no applications will be accepted whereby the litter was produced using this method.

5. If the donor dog is dead, does there still need to be a 15-year gap before the semen can be used?

There is no longer any waiting time period required to use semen from a deceased dog.

6. The stud dog I want to use is alive and in the UK - will the application be accepted?

Whilst natural matings are always preferred, the Kennel Club will register a litter produced by AI even if the sire is alive and in the UK. However, the applicant must make clear on the AI form why a natural mating was not possible

7. I have bought the semen and therefore it is legally mine. Who signs the AI and litter registration forms?

The Kennel Club regulations require the registered owner of the donor dog to sign the litter registration form. However if you are able to obtain written confirmation from the owner of the donor dog that you are the legal owner of the semen, you will be permitted to sign the AI and litter application forms.

8. Do I need permission to register the litter in advance from The Kennel Club?

You no longer need advanced permission to register a litter by AI, provided that your application complies with our rules and guidelines.

Parentage analysis and DNA profiling

What is DNA profiling?
A DNA profile is the ultimate in individual identification and offers a 'tamper-proof' way for your dog to be identified. A DNA profile only needs to only be done once, as your dog's DNA will never change. This means that the results from your dog's profile can be stored as a permanent DNA record throughout your dog's life.

Identification by DNA profile could be useful, especially if your dog is found after being lost or stolen.

A DNA profile does not:
  • Give you information on parentage
  • Give you information on disease status
  • Identify a dog's breed
What is parentage analysis?

Provided that the DNA profiles of both parents are available, pups in a litter can be profiled and their profiles checked with their parents' profile to verify that the correct parents have been registered.

Many labs are able to DNA profile & parentage test. Once a DNA profile has successfully been completed the KC record of the dog can be updated accordingly provided the owner sends in a copy of the report.

The Kennel Club Assured Breeders

This scheme promotes good breeding practice and as a breeder you should consider joining. There are a number of basic principles that assured breeders must agree to follow, which encourage the breeding of healthy, well-adjusted puppies. Learn more about becoming an assured breeder.

Next steps - during pregnancy