Dogs are born with an innate desire to reproduce. Unlike their human counterparts, dogs only engage in sexual activity with the purpose of procreation in mind. Because of this, dogs only engage in intercourse in the days leading up to the female dog’s peak fertility period and the few days that follow that. Once a female has ovulated and her eggs begin to die, the male dog loses interest, and their romance cools until the female’s next heat cycle occurs in approximately 6-10 months’ time or longer. Since dogs are so in tune with fertility periods as to know when the time is right for conception, does this extend to other areas of a dog’s life as well? Are they able to choose the mates they are best suited to? Can dogs from the same litter mate?
What are a Dog’s Natural Mating Instincts?
Dogs can and will mate with any member of the same species, including brothers, sisters, mothers, or fathers if the opportunity presents itself. Once sexual maturity has been reached, male dogs will naturally gravitate towards any female dog that is in heat regardless of breed or family relationship. This is a matter of instinct.
Once removed from their breeder’s home and integrated into a new family, dogs have no understanding of familial relationships and do not recognize their littermates as a genetic family connection. Because dogs act instinctively rather than rationally or emotionally, they will follow what their instincts tell them to do at any given moment. When a female dog comes looking for love, the male just wants to kiss the girl!
How Will I Know When My Dog is Sexually Mature?
For most average sized dogs, sexual maturity is reached from 6 to 9 months of age. However, large and giant breeds undergo a far slower maturation period and may not become sexually mature until 12 to 18 months.
Identifying when a female is sexually mature is quite simple: she will have her first heat cycle. There are several signs owners can look for to help identify if their female is in season. These include:
- Swelling of the genitals
- Hiding of the bum when a male pays attention to them
- Licking the genital region
- Holding the tail lower
- Increased interest in male dogs
- Males dogs hanging around the house/yard
The average female’s heat cycle lasts 28-30 days in total. However, the dog does not remain fertile that entire time; only when ovulation occurs and the 48 hours following that. There is approximately a week long period that happens in the middle of the heat cycle when the conditions are ideal for a female dog to be bred.
Once a female dog has her first heat cycle, she may be physically capable of carrying a litter and whelping it naturally. However, this is strongly discouraged. To ensure optimal health in the offspring and allow the mother appropriate time to develop both emotionally and physically, it is recommended that a female dog not be bred until she has successfully completed all health testing for her breed and has reached two years of age.
Male dogs reach sexual maturity around the same age as females do. The evidence that they are now sexually mature is typically seen in humping behaviors or a new interest in girls, particularly those in season. In addition to this, intact males may mark inside their home if they share the dwelling with female dogs. This is a means of communicating their “intent” to other male dogs in the home, “marking” the female as their own. This marking most often occurs only when there is a girl in heat in the home, but some dogs do make marking a continual practice.
I Own a Littermates; How Can I Make Sure They Never Mate?
There are several approaches owners can take to ensure littermates do not mate. The ideal solution is to spay or neuter one or both dogs. However, research supports keeping dogs intact throughout their lifetime, and for many owners, their preference is to follow this suggestion, keeping both dogs reproductively whole though they have no desire to ever breed. In these cases, management of the dogs during heat cycles is key.
It is important for owners to be aware that keeping dogs apart during heat cycles is very, very difficult. Both male and female dogs are highly motivated to get to each other to attempt to reproduce when the female is in her peak fertility period. Many dogs have mated through kennels and fences while others have chewed or dug through wooden doors to reach their intended. A firm commitment to keeping the dogs apart during heat cycles is an absolute must; otherwise, an oops breeding can easily occur.
Owners of intact littermates have a few options available to them when their female dogs are in season. Some people opt to send the male dog to a kennel or a family friend for the time the female is ready and receptive to mating. This takes the stress and pressure off both dogs and makes life a little easier on the owner. If this is not an option, the dogs can be housed in the same home; however, the female dog should be kept in a kennel in a separate room from the male, separated by a secure door. If possible, it is ideal to have the male dog on one floor and the female on another with a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs, the door to the room the female is in firmly closed, and the female kept in a secure crate.
Other measures that can help throw the male dog off the scent include giving a small amount of liquid chlorophyll, beginning at the first day of the female’s heat cycle and continuing until the season has passed. However, for this to be effective, it must be started at the very beginning of the female’s season. Alternatively, the male dog’s nose can be treated with an alcohol-free vanilla extract or some Vick’s Vaporub.
I Had an Accidental Mating of Littermates, What Can I Do?
All it takes is one mating at the right time to produce a litter. If an owner suspects their female dog may be pregnant, the best course of action is to take the dog to their veterinarian to confirm (or rule out) a pregnancy when the dog is approximately 28 days from the time of the breeding. If indeed the female dog is pregnant, there are really only two safe options: allow the female to have the litter or abort the puppies by doing a spay while the female has them in gestation. Breeding littermates is not an ideal situation and can result in genetic defects and health problems in the puppies due to a gene pool that is too closely related.
Can dogs from the same litter mate? They can, and they will. If you own littermates, consider spaying or neutering your dogs. If committed to keeping your dogs reproductively intact, speak with your veterinarian to devise a plan to prevent any oops breedings from occurring in your home.