Ollie Williams is worried. Dave Templar is wearing rubber gloves.
Ollie has come to Countryways Gundogs in Gloucestershire, which Dave runs, to find out how to help a dog cover a bitch.
With breeding in gundogs, there is a lot at stake. You can’t just put a dog and a bitch together and let nature take its course.
“This is just in case I have to handle a dog,” says Dave, tugging the elastic on his gloves and letting it snap back . Ollie is here to find out what ‘handle a dog’ really means.
Firstly, Dave wants to talk about the lead-up to mating. Ollie has a labrador bitch that is coming up to 18 months-old and its third season. He wants to know if that’s too early to consider mating?
“I always says you can mate them from their third season,” says Dave. “The law says you can’t mate a bitch until it is at least 18 months-old.
“By then, you should have trained it. It’s no good saying you could have a litter of pups to help you train your bitch because it won’t.
“You will have thought about the dog you want to use at least two months before [see below]. You will have gone to see the dog. You will have gone to talk to that dog’s owner.
“Then you will ring that dog’s owner and tell them the day your bitch starts to bleed.”
You can count the day your bitch starts ‘spotting’ blood around the house as day one. A bitch usually ovulates between 10 and 14 days from then.
“I always tell my clients to give me a call at seven days and tell me how the bitch is doing, whether last time it was in season it ‘flagged’ early [more on flagging later], because we have had a lot of problems recently where the bitches are ovulating early or ovulating late,” says Dave. “Some bitches will ‘stand’ at four days or even two days, but they aren’t ovulating. ”
Dave is likely at that point to suggest blood-testing the bitch for ovulation. An ‘ovulation test’ costs around £70 from a vet and will tell you if the bitch is already ovulating. “A dog can mate your bitch as many times as you want,” says Dave, “and he has enough sperm to produce a village, but if she doesn’t produce eggs, we don’t get puppies.”
The next important date is the first day of ovulation. The day after that is the ideal day to mate your bitch, then leave it 48 hours, then mate again. Sperm can survive a long time inside a bitch, so that gives a five-day window for the sperm to find the eggs.
So, the big day arrives. You take your bitch to your chosen dog, but what do you do now?
As his example today, Dave has a lovely champion cocker bitch and dog of equal calibre. The bitch is in season and keen to be covered. The dog is just as keen. Dave shows what can happen and what can go wrong in a mating.
First of all, Dave has a pen in his garden for the dog and the bitch. It’s 5ft high and 10ft square (1.5m high and 3m sq). It keeps the dog and the bitch in the same place. In this case, that’s exactly where they want to be.
Put the bitch in first, then let the dog in. Let the dog become acquainted with the surroundings and the bitch. He will want to sniff her to doublecheck that she is in season. If she is ready to mate, she will put her tail in the air and often to one side. This is called ‘flagging’. “She actually presents herself to him,” says Dave. “He will jump on her back.”
The problem now, says Dave, is when a bitch is aggressive. This often happens with first-time matings and with older bitches. In that situation, humans have to step in to help. That’s where the gloves come in.
Ollie leads the dog out of the pen. Dave stays behind and holds the bitch. He puts a blanket on the ground and stands her on that. He kneels down and holds the bitch with two hands under her stomach. When the dog comes in and mounts, Dave is now in a good position to guide the dog’s penis into the bitch’s vagina and, at the same time, prevent the bitch from becoming aggressive. “That’s what’s called ‘handling’ the dog,” he says.
The possible problems don’t end there. On this occasion, the dog ejaculates but doesn’t ‘tie’ or ‘lock’ to the bitch. This is called a ‘slip mating’.
Tying can take some dog owners by surprise. After the dog has entered the bitch, his bulbus glandis swells and she clamps down on him. This action traps the dog’s penis inside the bitch – and traps the dog alongside the bitch. “He will ‘knot’,” says Dave.
Sometimes, the bulbus glandis swells outside the female. That doesn’t mean that the mating has failed – but it is more likely that it has failed.
Tying, locking and knotting is nature’s way of ensuring fertilisation of the egg, says Dave. “Without human help, he could come up on her leg, mate on her leg, ejaculate and walk away, and he hasn’t done the job,” says Dave. “Nature has invented it so that he will continue to try and mate her until he ties.
“By having my hand there and being able to guide it, I know he has put it in the right place. So they don’t necessarily have to tie.”
Dave wants to show what a tie looks like. He asks Ollie to remove the dog and wait for the animal to ‘cool down’, then bring him back into the pen with the bitch. This time, the dog mates with the bitch and ties.
After the dog has ejaculated, it comes off the bitch’s back and the two of them have to stand still, or they will cause each other pain and distress. Waiting for the dog’s swelling to subside can take anything from 10 minutes to an hour. Dave sometimes gives the dog a bowl of dogfood to help him take his mind off the bitch.
In this case, Dave has the bitch and the dogs on leads and holds their heads up. Dave also moves her tail so that she doesn’t shift uncomfortably. “Out in the wild, this is a very vulnerable part of life,” he says.
That’s all there is to mating. If everything goes right, you can expect puppies in 63 days.
How to choose a dog
by Charlie Jacoby
Be careful how you choose a dog, says gundog breeder Dave Templar. He looks for intelligence – a dog that has the ability to take in information.
Dave says beware of people who proudly advertise ‘a proven dog’. He asks what ‘proven’ means? You might like a dog you have seen while out shooting – but that only means it is a proven dog in the shooting field. “Is it proven as a stud dog?” asks Dave. “Really it has to be proven in the sense it has already produced a litter.”
“So it’s fertile. It can actually do the job?” asks Oliie.
“Yes – because any dog can mate a bitch,” says Dave. “But you don’t know if it is going to produce you puppies.”
Dave says beware the belief that a dog will produce mini versions of itself in your puppies. “A lot of the time, they never produce themselves. If you really that dog itself – if you love that dog – you’d go to his parents.
“When people ring me and say ‘Dave, I want to use one of your stud dogs’, I ask them what their bitch is about? what they hope to gain out of the mating? what is missing from their breeding? – whether it is a good retriever or, say, not a very good hunter – and then we try to match it up with the type of dog that we have. we choose one where we know what it will produce.”
Once you have decided that, Dave asks for the pedigree of your bitch. “If you send a pedigree to someone who knows their dogs, he will know the back line – last four, five, even ten generations – and he will pick out certain dogs that have thrown certain traits all through their lives. He will know that pups from one dog are always quiet, another’s pups always hit cover hard, a third one produces good dogs but they are hard to train.”