I love raising puppies! For over 25 years I bred and exhibited purebred dogs; now, for more than a decade there have been no puppies. I confess that I miss holding the warm, furry, wiggly little bodies and watching them grow and develop. There are days when the desire to raise just one more litter overwhelms me. But times have changed. There are too many dogs for the available homes these days. Buying from a responsible purebred breeder is not “politically correct.” It can be difficult to find good homes for the puppies. Plus, expenses are at least triple what they were ten or fifteen years ago. Also, I’ve seen both the good and the bad—I know how things can go wrong. So I dream, but so far I have refrained from actually breeding another litter.

white labrador retriever mother with puppy


The first two litters I bred, all those years back, were whelped without incident and the puppies were healthy. The third litter, several years later, was a highly anticipated show litter from a valuable old bloodline that I wanted to preserve. I had such high hopes. When the litter finally arrived, 5 puppies, all seemed healthy and normal. A few days later fading puppy syndrome set in and I lost all but one large male. He went oversize. My vet bill soared. Soon after that my husband bought an in-whelp Boston Terrier bitch. The first sign of labor that we noticed as she approached her due date was a greenish discharge. We rushed her to the vet, but the puppy was dead, a Caesarean was required, and the bitch was so infected that we had her spayed.

My last venture into puppy raising involved two long trips to deliver and pick up the bitch from the stud, a costly Caesarian operation to save the singleton puppy, who once again went over the size limit and could not be shown (or bred). There was, of course, a breeding fee, travel expenses, genetic testing on the bitch, a large vet bill for the operation, and much disappointment. Of course, in between were some litters that were pure joy— planned breedings that worked out, puppies that were healthy, excellent representatives of their breed, had great temperaments, and went to wonderful homes. Puppies who became champions or obtained working titles or were especially great companions and helpers.

Due to careful planning, testing, and care in selecting breeding stock, I did not encounter genetic deformities, diseases or structural problems, illness due to environmental conditions, preventable viral infections, or major behavioral problems. I didn’t have problems with structural unsoundness, eye anomalies, or neurological disorders. That was not luck— it was due to careful screening and eliminating known carriers from my breeding program.



If you do decide to breed and whelp a litter, advance preparations pay off. Things can and do go wrong, adding stress to your life and costing precious dollars. Dog breeding can be as easy as watching your chosen bitch and dog mate and counting the days until you get to watch the quick and easy arrival of a big, healthy litter. Or it can be as hard as getting no puppies at all after spending hours planning and hundreds of dollars in breeding fees and shipping, or getting only one puppy which subsequently becomes ill, having to hand-raise a whole litter with feedings every two hours around the clock, or a myriad of other difficult scenarios. In these instances, advance preparations often make the difference between success and failure. Educate yourself. Know what to expect, what is normal, what is cause for concern, when to seek professional assistance. Be ready to act quickly if necessary. Have an emergency plan. Know where to get help quickly if needed.

Much of what I learned in those early years was by the hard knocks of experience. I kept notes, talked with a lot of other breeders, and was on a first name basis with several reproductive specialists. It was during that time that I met Phyllis Holst, then a research assistant, dog breeder, and graduate student at CSU. Phyllis later went on get her DVM degree and specialize in canine reproduction. She became my veterinarian of choice in all reproductive matters and helped me with a number of issues. Her book, Canine Reproduction: The Breeder’s Guide, has become a classic reference for both new and experienced breeders as well as veterinarians. Her particular gift is being able to communicate with both groups—making difficult medical concepts clear for the layperson and citing enough original as well as specialized research to provide a valuable reference for the practicing veterinarian. I keep her book, and a couple of others, close at hand whenever I am preparing for a litter of puppies, along with my whelping kit and other supplies.

Raising a litter of puppies can be wonderful, rewarding, and sometimes even easy. But don’t expect a walk in the park. A new litter can bring sleepless nights, days or weeks spent nursing sick puppies, heartbreak, death, even a financial disaster. Always be prepared, keep your expectations reasonable, take the bad along with the good, and then 35 years later, like me, you can say, “I love raising puppies!”

More specifics on preparing for the birth of a litter can be found in Part 2.