When and why to breed back-to-back
I’d like to start this article by stating that what I’m writing about has been a very controversial topic among various breeders, dog lovers and pet owners around the world. Back-to-back breeding is a very personal choice, and there should be many factors considered before following through with the breeding regimen that a breeder deems most beneficial for the health of their dogs and stability of their overall program.
The ways in which White Valley operates in terms of determining when to breed our dogs, is based on past experience and scientific studies. I’ve created this page for transparency and to hopefully answer some questions about how I run my program.
Many years ago, when I first started my breeding program, it was standard practice among most breeders to wait until your female dogs were AT LEAST two to three years old (or older) before their first breedings. This was to allow for time to complete health testing, show or compete and earn titles, allow the dog to prove themselves and fully mature to what is considered a ripe, mature age. Another standard practice was to skip cycles in between breedings, to allow the dog to “rest” or “recover” before breeding her again.
This was my practice. I’ve always skipped 1st cycles, many times I skipped 2nd cycles, and back then I was skipping 3rd and 4th cycles when I wanted to fully finish work-related training or competitions before they produced a litter. I was waiting until my dogs were at least 2 years old, allowing them to have a litter and take a break in between, so they could “rest” and recuperate.
Throughout the years, while sticking to my old practices, I experienced quite a few issues or breeding dilemmas. My girls had several “phantom pregnancies”; they experienced split-heats or their cycle’s seemed abrupt, elongated or silent, missed breedings, hormonal imbalances, re-absorption or aborting litters and very small or singleton litters in a breed that typically produces 8-12 pups. These things weren’t happening “all the time” but certainly MUCH more often than I liked to see within the years I was seeing it. I was stumped! I changed diets (started feeding mainly raw foods),changed vaccination schedules, took more holistic approaches to all of my vetting, tested for various diseases, illnesses, blood or hormonal disorders, used different studs...nothing! I just couldn’t figure out why I was having reproductive issues within a program that had all unrelated females. Surely it can’t be that I’ve ended up with all bad apples...? It must be something I’m doing...right?
The more digging I did, the fewer answers and more questions I had. I wasn’t really getting anywhere with library books nor when Google came around...until one day I happened upon a few articles of transcripts from reproduction seminars. These seminars talked about everything from A to Z on reproduction. They talked about breeding regimens and schedules, but when they mentioned issues that can arise when not working with the natural balance of the female’s reproductive system, it sounded Just. Like. My. Issues! I couldn’t believe what I was reading! I was doing things all wrong, it seemed. Well, maybe not completely, but there sure was some information in there that I could have used years ago.
“Back-to-back” wasn’t a commonly used phrase for me, so I was searching for answers in all the wrong places. Once I got familiar with this term, I started digging again; and this time, I found more related information. At that time, there weren’t many articles to view. Not many breeders seemed to be breeding back-to-back...or if they were, they certainly weren’t talking about it publicly. Nowadays though, since there is more scientific proof to back up the benefits of this practice, many breeders and pet owners are getting more comfortable with the idea. With that being said, there is much more easily-accessible information online on this topic. This is copied and pasted from another breeding site, about the findings from one of these seminars:
“My friend just went to the Dog Breeding Symposium that had been advertised on the AKC website for this weekend at MSU. One of the most shocking informational things she came back with, was that there have been scientific studies to show that it is WORSE for bitches to be skipped heat cycles, and once you have begun to mate a bitch that you should NOT skip any heat cycles until she is completely finished breeding. You know a bitch is ‘done’ breeding when there is a drastic decline in litter size.
I have heard that this is also common practice in European countries. The study followed 5 colonies of dogs (Labs, Min-Pin, 2 other purebreds and 1 group of Lab mixes) in the college research breeding program. Half of each colony was bred every single heat cycle, half skipped every other cycle. After they were finished breeding, the bitches were spayed and their uterus’ dissected. Those showing the most stress, and damage were the ones that had been skipped, since it is NATURAL in the wild for dogs to be bred EVERY HEAT CYCLE. It is what their bodies were meant to do.
The scientists and dog experts explained that the 'skip every other heat' program was a myth, probably started by people trying to impose their human emotions onto their dogs. Women try to get back their girlish figure between pregnancies, and that is not a priority for dogs.”
Copied and pasted from the Boston Terrier Repro Support and Education group, by Cypress Johansen of Cypress Farm Kennel
This article was shared with me many moons ago by my mentor and I couldn’t remember who had written it and had put it on the back burner of my brain. I’d think of it from time to time but never looked it up. It’s been making the rounds on social media and I was very happy to have read it again. I wanted to share it with you all. It’s worth the time to read in my opinion. I hope everyone is having a terrific, and safe, weekend!
"Breeding Frequency and Dog Age:
an article by Joanna Kimball published March 30, 2009
The key to understanding reproductive health in dogs is knowing that, as far as a female dog’s ( *FD) body knows, there is no difference between being pregnant and not being pregnant, after a heat cycle.
Those of us (humans, cows, horses, etc.) that cycle on a regular basis prepare our uterus to accept a fertilized egg or eggs every month or so. For a couple of weeks after ovulation we have a higher-than-normal progesterone level, which makes the uterus, which has grown a bunch of soft blood vessels and tissue, keep those vessels and tissue thick and strong so a fertilized egg can land on a lovely spot where there’s lots of blood to suck up and start growing its own little blood vessels.
For humans and other repeated cyclers, when there is no fertilized egg, the body gets the signal very quickly and the ovaries stop producing progesterone and the lining of the uterus breaks down and goes back to normal, at least for another few weeks until ovulation occurs again.
Dogs have a completely different system. It starts out roughly the same, with the uterus preparing for the eggs by growing a good plush lining, and the eggs ripen on the ovaries and hooray, there’s some lutenizing hormone, and the eggs are released. It gets a little weirder from there, because unlike humans that have fertilizable eggs within a few hours of ovulation dogs’ eggs take two or three days. And unlike humans, whose eggs implant and begin to grow into the blood vessels about a week after ovulation, dogs take about three weeks. But the process is basically analogous.
Where dogs are VERY unlike us is that there is never any signal given to the body that there are in fact no fertilized eggs to nourish, that this has been an unsuccessful heat cycle.
Instead, a dog’s progesterone level stays high for the entire 63 days that she would have been pregnant; her uterus develops the incredibly effective and thick system of blood vessels that would be necessary to nourish an entire full-term litter.
You can honestly say that the only difference between a FD who was bred and a *FD who was not bred is how many calories she’s burning–either she has to support a litter or she doesn’t–because her body honestly doesn’t know any difference. Aside from some relaxin to loosen her joints (which is present in pregnant dogs but not in non-pregnant ones after the heat cycle is over), the hormone levels are the same.
This would all be just a veterinary curiosity were it not for the fact that the body doesn’t like growing things and then not using them. When the uterus grows this tremendous blood supply, the blood supply actually shapes itself as though there are puppies there. The little attachment sites where the placentas would grow into the uterine lining are shaped differently and have different types of blood vessels. When there are no puppies to fill those shapes, the attachment sites form cysts. After multiple empty heat cycles, much of the uterus can be filled with fluid and cysts. In many *FDs, that progresses to infection and pyometra.
The upshot of this whole situation is that *FDs are not meant to have empty heat cycles. All else being equal, it is better and safer for them to be pregnant at each heat cycle (or spayed) than it is for them to remain unbred. And diet, panties, and other interventions (or lack thereof) are not the answer – the answer is to use the uterus or lose it.
Now of course not all things are equal. We all keep *FDs unbred so we can finish them, or special them, or because it’s not a good time for a litter according to our schedule, or because we don’t have the time to screen puppy people, etc. We typically skip at least the first cycle if it came before the *FD was fully grown, so she can put all her calories into growing. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable tradeoff to make, from a veterinary health perspective, though I am not sure it *must* happen; in production-based species like sheep and goats we know that breeding the young females before they are done growing is actually beneficial to them (when you look at lifelong production and health) and they catch up just fine. But I’m not comfortable looking at a *FD who’s still a puppy with puppies, and I would not want to risk a glitch in growth, so waiting until the *FD is fully adult is something I’d always advise.
I don’t think it’s necessary to wait a full two years, though–that became conventional wisdom because OFA gives you a final number at that age. But if you PennHIP or if you choose to rely on orthopedic opinion, or if you have a breed with virtually no dysplasia, there’s no reason to wait until the full two.
Skipping the first season, or the first couple, is certainly totally normal. Sometimes we have to skip more because of our needs or timing. But after full growth has been attained, she’s finished or shown as much as you plan to show her, health testing is done, and the *FD’s reproductive life is ready to begin, what is not supportable, from a health perspective, is INSISTING that *FDs skip seasons; I’ve even heard people say that the “best” breeders skip two seasons between each litter.
This is purely us thinking of dogs like humans–we get tired and worn and unhealthy if we produce babies every nine to twelve months, so shouldn’t we give dogs at least a year? But it’s not the same thing. Humans are pregnant for nine months, and we are designed to lactate for another two years (minimum) after birth. If you put a pregnancy in the middle of that lactation you deplete yourself; you want to complete the full lactation (or the time the lactation would have lasted if you choose not to breast-feed) and then get pregnant again. This leads to babies two or three years apart, which is (if you look around at your family and friends) what usually happens anyway and is certainly not viewed as unusual or dangerous.
*FDs are pregnant for nine-ish weeks (though they are actually nourishing puppies for only six of those weeks), they lactate heavily for about four or five weeks after that, and then typically have at least two months before their next heat cycle. Unless her calories were so inadequate that she did not recover her normal body weight during those two months (and if she didn’t, I’d be looking seriously at how she’s being fed and cared for) there’s no reason she cannot have a normal and safe and uneventful pregnancy on the next heat. There is CERTAINLY no reason to rest her for two seasons; in fact, you’re making it a lot more likely that she will have reduced fertility or fecundity (number of healthy puppies) if you do.
Remember that as far as ANY *FD’s body is concerned, she IS having two litters a year. You don’t do her a favor by having one or both of them be invisible."
“Let’s start with back-to-back breeding, or breeding without skipping a heat cycle. Traditionally, we thought that bitches needed a “break” between litters for their optimum health. That’s no longer considered best practice, for several reasons.
First, when you look at the reproductive and nursing cycle of a dog and their healing needs, it’s fairly comparable to a human having a baby every 2 years or so. While I emphasize frequently that dogs are NOT people, I think that as an analogy this can be helpful to some who find initial mental resistance with breeding a bitch as frequently as twice a year.
Next is the effect of progesterone on the uterus. One of the most vocal proponents of breeding back-to-back is well-known reproductive specialist Dr. Robert Hutchinson. In his seminars, Dr. Hutchinson explains that the progesterone level in the bitch remains elevated for two months after ovulation whether or not she has a pregnancy. This is a critical fact, since progesterone can be inflammatory to the lining of the uterus. When a bitch cycles and there’s no pregnancy, the uterine lining thickens from the inflammatory effects of progesterone and that can increase the risk of infection (Pyometra) and endometriosis. In fact, while most of us think of Pyometra as a bacterial disease, Dr. Hutchinson says it’s actually an inflammatory disease, with the bacterial infection being a secondary factor.  In Dr. Hutchinson’s own words, the progesterone “hammers the uterine lining for 60-plus days.”
Additional excerpt from the same seminar:
“It’s suggested not to skip a season, because we have been preserving the uterus from the effects of progesterone; what would be the benefit of exposing her uterus to two months of progesterone? Progesterone’s effect on the uterine lining is the reason why bitches six and over have a 33.3% less chance of conceiving than bitches under 6 years of age.
“(Dr. Hutchinson also says that bitches should be spayed as soon as they no longer will be bred to help avoid future Pyometra and other problems. Research shows that spaying also helps prevent mammary cancer, particularly when done by 4 years of age.)”
“At the risk of not repeating myself once again, dogs are not humans, and while human females shed the lining of their uteruses every cycle, dogs only shed their uterine lining when whelping. As linings stack up, they lose flexibility and elasticity, which can also contribute to fertility problems as that can affect the ability of eggs to attach. So his advice is to breed your bitches young and breed back-to-back and not skip cycles unless you have a medical reason to do so. To add to this, skipping a pregnancy puts your bitch at risk for a phantom, or pseudo pregnancy – a false pregnancy. False pregnancies look just like regular pregnancies, except there are no puppies. Your bitch, however, will gain weight, nest, have enlarged teats, and lactate.But she won’t shed her uterine lining. False pregnancies increase risk of mammary cancers in dogs. False pregnancies are common in dogs because they provided an evolutionary advantage to wild canine packs – wolves, coyotes, and wild dogs. If a bitch in a pack has a false pregnancy, that means she will lactate and can help nurse the pups of other females.” – Ji Khalsa; Jan 28, 2020
- Less Likelihood of Dystocia (Difficult Labor)
- Less Chance of Pseudo Pregnancy
- Less Chance of Mammary Cancer
- Virtually NO Chance of Pyometra
- Hormonal Harmony and Balance
- Less Chance of “Missed Breedings” and Fertility Issues
- Better Chance Of Normal/Regular Cycles
- Earlier Breeding (after 1, before 2) = Earlier Retirement
- Less Chance of Reabsorption of or Aborting Litters
- Less Chance of Low Fertility
- Protection Against Life-Threatening Uterine Diseases
Oh the changes I’ve made! Along with the changes I made to my program, I was seeing some drastic changes in my females! It didn’t happen overnight of course, but when I finally decided to commit to adopting the back-to-back practice, I started with my younger, “fresh” females. As for the females I had already bred or experienced issues with, I gave them each another chance to recuperate from my ignorant previous practices, and depending on results and their ages, either allowed them one last litter or had them spayed.
Since changing my regimen, I’ve not had ONE single pseudo pregnancy, not one missed breeding, no silent or split heats, no reabsorbed litters and no hormonal imbalances or “off” heat cycles.
Of course, absolutely NO responsible breeder would continue breeding back-to-back until their females are exhausted! There are many factors to consider before adopting this practice. My dogs are NEVER bred on their first heat cycles, sometimes not on their second; they’re only bred after their health testing is completed, I feel as though they’re in top physical condition and mentally sound/prepared enough to produce a litter. If at any time and for any reason, any of my girls has complications or fails to bounce back to the highest of my standards, then will I make a determination on skipping their next heat cycle, in order to get to the root of their issues and allow them to fully recover. By starting my girls younger than 2-3 years old, I can also retire them sooner, giving them the opportunity to live out the primes of their lives without having to care for and raise babies.
Since beginning this practice, I have been very happy with the results. I have the peace of mind knowing that I’m proactively working with the natural order of my girls’ reproductive systems and that they’re ultimately healthier because of it.
If you have any questions or concerns about any information, or would like to find out more, please feel free to message me any time. Thanks for reading!