Free living canines usually enjoy a protracted courtship. The dog or dogs pursue the bitch and remain with her during pro-oestrus (first stage of the season about 7 to 13 days long). During oestrus the bitch will actively encourage the dog by playing with and standing for him, and turning her tail; although she will not accept mounting until she is ready (known as "standing oestrus"). A number of matings may take place over a period of 2-4 days. In stray or feral dogs this may involve more than one male, resulting in superfecundation (a pregnancy involving offspring sired by different males).
Pedigree or controlled mating
It is normal to pay the full stud fee at the time of mating. Get a written agreement from the stud dog owner on whether a free repeat mating can be carried out at a further season if no puppies are born.
It is preferable to provide as natural experience as possible but with regard to the constraints brought about by confined environments, valuable stud dogs (which owners may justifiably be particularly protective of) and the variable behaviour of stud dogs and bitches.
Some stud dog owners may keep the bitch for a few days to carry out the mating although this is not usual. The stud dog owner may not be happy with the responsibility of boarding an unfamiliar in-oestrus bitch, or have suitable accommodation for her. Also, considerable trust is placed with the stud dog owner to mate the bitch to the chosen dog and to ensure that the mating paid for actually occurs.
A secure area with enough space for the natural play and courtship of the pair is required. Concrete surfaces are most hygienic but sometimes make it difficult for the dog to get a grip when mounting the bitch. Also, a natural variety of gradients to the ground can help compensate for the different shapes and sizes of some pairs.
The dog and bitch should be introduced on leads.
Collars, could be correctly fitted to ensure they cannot slip off.
The bitch may show some initial shyness, particularly if a maiden, and may sit down and snap at the dog. However, if she is ready for mating she will settle down after a few minutes and may indicate she wishes to play with the dog or stand for him. At this point the dog can be taken of the lead. If the area is very secure and the attendants can keep within reasonable reach (ready to restrain the bitch once a tie is established) the bitch can also be let off if she wishes to play but be guided by the stud dog owner as dogs get into the habit of mating in a particular way. This courtship stage often lasts for 20 minutes or more and with a maiden bitch this is probably advantageous, allowing her time to settle down. On the other hand, some stud dogs are very keen and may mount and mate the bitch with very little foreplay.
The stud dog's "style" is often out of the control of the owner and may be dependent on early mating experience or genetic predilection.
Some are more "sensitive" to the temperament and readiness of the bitch than others. Some show little interest unless the bitch is at the optimum mating time (regardless of her behaviour), whilst others will persistently attempt to mate bitches at any stage of her heat. Experience stud dogs may perform almost on command and allow assistance with penetration.
The bitch will eventually allow the dog to mount and generally, unless very shy, actively assist this by holding her tail to one side and presenting the vulva to assist penetration. The dog will make several thrusting movements and once full penetration has occurred the bulbus glandis (glands of the penis) penis will swell. Inside the bitches vagina the cingulum muscle (the constrictor Vestibularis muscle at the demarcation between the vagina and vestibule) The bitches's cingulum holds the penis in place; this constitutes the tie. The dog will stop thrusting and after a few moments attempt to turn. Although sometimes he will just stand alongside the bitch for some or all of the time.
It is not uncommon for the bitch to yelp on full penetration and sometimes to continue to vocalise throughout the tie. Firmly but gently holding her mouth closed reduces the noise level and this, in itself, is often enough to settle her into a quieter, less anxious state. The dog will also sometimes yelp as he turns but this is usually short lived.
During the tie, most breeders like to hold the pair to stop the dog being dragged around or either of the pair changing their posture too drastically. During unattended matings, it is not unusual to see one or both animals sit down or lie on their backs. It is possible, on rare occasions, for the dog's penis and/or os penis to be severely traumatised if this happens (hence its discouragement by stud dog owners) but natural selection would suggest this is unlikely to be common in the wild. Breeders do make some exceptions, particularly in the giant breeds, where they are often encouraged to lay on their sides some way into the tie. This is supposed to encourage relaxation and a quicker ceasing of the tie.
The tie is thought to have evolved in the canine species to decrease the chance of fertilisation of the bitch by competitor dogs. It normally lasts for an average of 25 minutes, but can range from 10 to 45 minutes. A tie for longer than this signals that veterinary attention may be required and a muscle relaxant administered to the bitch. Permanent damage, sometimes fatal, is likely in the dog if this is not done.
The dog's ejaculation consists of three fractions. The first fraction (0.25-2ml) is ejaculated early, before true intromission (penetration) during the preliminary thrustings. It is a stored secretion from the prostate gland and probably functions to flush the urethra (urinary tube) clear of urine and cellular material.
The second fraction (up to 4ml) carries the sperm. The timing for this varies between individuals. It may be ejaculated almost simultaneously upon complete penetration, or there can be a delay with ejaculation 30 to 90 seconds after penotration. For this reason stud dog owners may hold the dog on the bitch for a couple of minutes if they suspect there is not going to be a tie or the bitch is early rather than ovulation. This ensures that some sperm is got inside the bitch and as they can live for upto 6 days inside of her this can help to ensure a fertile mating. Although slip matings (where a proper tie is not achieved) can be fertile the percentage of fertile matings is not normally as high as when a tie is achieved (see below) therefore holding the dog on can increase this percentage.
The third fraction (up to 30ml) washes the semen forwards, through the cervix and into the uterus. This continues throughout most of the tie.
Matings without a tie are termed "slip matings". Conception is possible and is probably dependant on how quickly individual dogs pass the sperm fraction after intromission. Longer delays between intromission and the passing of the sperm fraction increase the chance of the dog's penis being withdrawn from the vagina prior to or during ejaculation. This may be associated with reduced litter sizes. Lack of a tie may indicate the bitch is in oestrus but has not ovulated. But some animals may have anatomical or physiological reasons which prevent a tie - for example, insufficient swelling of the bulbus glandis or poor muscle contractility in the bitch. Some stud dogs rarely tie with their bitches and are "held in" in once penetration occurs for about two to three minutes to ensure delivery of the sperm. These matings can often be fertile.
After the tie the dog and bitch will part. The dog's penis will still be somewhat engorged and he will lick this back into place. The attendant should ensure that the prepuce (foreskin) does not get caught up behind the bulbus glandis. It may require gentle pulling back caudally to ensure the skin is not tucked under, before slipping it back over the glandis. Cold water or lubricant can help in cases where dogs have a particularly tight prepuce.
Post mating management of the bitch
A second mating 48 hours after the first is recommended where the bitch is still standing. It is important to be aware that the season does not automatically finish once the bitch is mated. She must be kept confined for at least another week until all signs of heat have disappeared.
When more than one dog has mated with a bitch, mixed litter are not uncommon and require DNA testing to determine the parentage of the resulting puppies. If this is not done the puppies have to be registered with two sires at the kennel club.
(For information on scientific methods of determining ovulation and the optimum time to mate your bitch please see part three)
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