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Our four-footed friends are governed physiologically by major vital functions, including that of reproduction.
This function aims at the perpetuation of the species. But let us be clear about one thing: a dog, male or female, has no need to reproduce during its life in order to be happy and in good physical and mental health.
Male or female castration may even in some cases have a good effect on health.
Puberty begins at an age which varies from race to race and according to the size of the dog. It generally happens at between 6 and 12 months.
In males, it features changes in behaviour: The dog cocks its leg to urinate, and is attracted by the scent of females in heat.
In bitches, reproduction is cyclical. Every 6 months on average, the bitch will go into "heat". This phase, corresponding to ovule maturation and ovulation, features a swelling of the vulva, uterine bleeding (visible at the vulva labial commissure) and attraction to males. N.B.: this is not your dog´s "periods", but normal bleeding for this species prior to ovulation.
During the average of three weeks in heat, the bitch is fertile for only some 48 hours.
The optimum coupling time for having puppies tends to lie between the 8th and the 25th day, although two thirds of bitches are "ready" from the 10th to the 15th day of heat.
Your vet can help you identify the right time.
Gestation lasts an average of 2 months, and delivery 3 to 4 hours- 12 hours or more in case of a large litter.
Lactation lasts between 5 and 7 weeks. The pups, gradually weaned, then live independently.
It is advised not to have a bitch breed after 6 or 7 years of age, for fear of delivery complications. The rhythm generally advised is of three or four litters at most in a lifetime, with at least one year´s rest period between each delivery.
It is possible to avoid your bitch coming into heat by administering hormones in the form of injections or tablets. In bitches not intended for breeding, however, it is preferable to think in terms of contraceptive surgery than to have to administer hormones all life long.
Females operated early run less risk of developing mammary cancer later on. And this disease is one of the most common causes of mortality in female dogs. As for males, castration - widespread in the English-speaking world - has nothing to be said against it: castrated dogs are calmer, stray less and are just as affectionate if not more so.