If you love dogs, there is, in my opinion, nothing better than the experience of raising a litter of puppies, they provide hours of entertainment watching them interact with their mother and each other. Sadly the time goes too quickly and in the blink of an eye they are 8 weeks of age and it's time for them to go to their new homes. Then if you are anything like me you have the worry of whether you have found the right homes, but finding homes is another topic and we will all have different opinions on our priorities for the new owners.

Mating your dog doesn’t mean you just look for a male version of her or for a dog you like, whatever the breed, leave them in an enclosed area, and let them get on with it. A lot of people are opting for AI now and are being told this is safer, avoids infections and more reliable, in my experience (and I have data to prove it) this is far from the case and I see more dogs that are not pregnant after having AI, than I do from a natural mating.

I scan a lot of dogs for people who have never bred before and want just one litter off their beloved pet as the bitch has a fantastic temperament and friends and family would love one of her puppies.

However, having a litter should not be something we take lightly and to avoid problems you would ideally need a basic understanding of dog breeding, what signs are there when she is about to go into labour, what happens when your bitch whelps, when to recognise your bitch has a problem and what to do. If due date is imminent, and anywhere up to 5 days beforehand, I would always recommend you don't leave your bitch alone. Several clients have told me how they have woken up to a disaster when a bitch has gone into labour during the night and had complications with no one on hand to help.

Your soon-to-be-mum would normally care for her puppies during the first couple of weeks, but if complications arise, you need to step in. To avoid accidents happening during the first two weeks when your bitch may accidentally lie on a puppy, a lot of breeders will be with the dogs 24.7, taking it in turns with a partner to care for them, I also move puppies around to ensure they all get their fair share of the back teats where there is the biggest milk supply. And imagine once those puppies are weaned, you would have to multiply the work you did for your dog 10 fold, feeding every four hours, cleaning up after them is a full time job, but so very rewarding too.

It goes without saying that your bitch should be in good condition before breeding, and not have an unstable personality, be aggressive, insecure or snappy. There are many different opinions on the age your bitch should be first bred from, but her second season is the norm, but some will prefer to wait until at least two years of age.

Personally I would never mate a bitch without having a reliable progesterone test first, if you put a lot of thought into your breeding you want to give your bitch every chance of becoming pregnant, and getting the timing right is vital. You may also have to travel some distance for the mating so you don't want to get there to find the male is not interested as your bitch is either too early or too late and you have missed her cycle. The most reliable progesterone test, in my opinion, is where your vet takes blood from your dogs vein and sends it to a laboratory to be tested, some vets will have their own in house machines. Please note here it is illegal for any one other than a vet to draw blood from your dog, although numerous fertility clinics are offering this facility, with varying degrees of success. You can read more here on Progesterone Testing. If you are in the position where you have a small litter, or even a singleton puppy, you may be faced with a bitch who does not go into natural labour, or has large puppies she cannot whelp naturally, and quite often vets will not perform a C section until the bitch is in difficulties and many go way over their due date before this happens, unless they know exact ovulation date, which can only be determined from a Progesterone test.

There are many situations where people have an accidental mating, I often get a stream of clients four weeks after the school holidays where dogs have been left with relatives and have come into season. As soon as you think your bitch may be pregnant, get her scanned to confirm, and then do your homework. If you don't want the litter, for whatever reason, the vet can give an injection to abort the litter up to 40 days post mating. Some vets will give these on request, others will wait for pregnancy confirmation - in these circumstances I am happy to scan from 21 days post mating as you may prefer to have confirmation of pregnancy first before going ahead with an injection as it may be that your bitch isn't pregnant..

The basic requirements for raising a litter are a whelping box, a heat pad, calcium, vet bedding and in my opinion, miracle drops or something to stimulate puppies if you have one that isn't thriving, together with a suction bulb to clear mucus from the puppies nose/mouth.

Your whelping box doesn't have to be anything fancy costing hundreds of pounds, and I have a client that rents them out for four weeks for as little as £40 including home delivery, or you can buy a disposable one from ebay. Some people will knock one up themself with wood, or even use a paddling pool. Crates are not suitable in my opinion as if you need to go to a puppy at the back of the crate you may struggle and something that is not enclosed at the top is best. The rule of thumb is that the box should be at least the length of your bitch from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail and add on six inches giving her plenty of room to move and for her puppies. dry, warm, and quiet environment. An ideal space would be away from other dogs, pets and where you can ensure supervised visits from children.

Puppies cannot regulate their body heat for the first two weeks of life, and for this reason we use a heat pad, however warm the room is you may find the puppies feel cold, and cold puppies won't feed. I know some will use hot water bottles, but bear in mind if you choose this option they will not retain a even temperature and you will have to change them regularly. You can get a heat pad from as little as £20, you don't need one to fill the whole box, just an area in the corner when the pups can keep warm.

I would not have a litter on anything else other than vet bedding, it provides a warm comfortable and hygenic environment for your puppies, and is easy to wash and dry. Blankets and towels can ruffle up, puppies can get underneath and before you know it the mum has sat on one. They also take a lot longer to dry than a piece of vet bedding. Once mum stops cleaning up after puppies and they are weaned, you may be changing the puppy area every few hours, that is a lot of washing and drying!

There are other items you may want to have just in case, I like to have everything on hand as there is nothing worse than needing something in the middle of the night. I will always try to make myself available for anyone in the event of an emergency if you need anything, but after 10pm if you are in need of some vet bed is not a great time for me.

In the worst case scenario, your bitch may need an emergency c section, and prices can range from £1000 to over £2500, with complications arising if the vet recommends the bitch is spayed at the same time, she could reject the puppies and have no milk which means you having to bottle feed them.

Finally, I am not a vet, this is based on my own knowledge and experience, I am also running a business, and my stock doesn't come free, if you need anything please give me a ring first to ensure I am available, if I am not here, my husband is happy to help as long as he knows you are coming, but please have the funds available to pay for it.

Thank you