Breeding Future Leader Dogs

Carolyn kneels in a hallways with a golden retriever standing in front of her. Carolyn examines the dog with one hand running down the dog's back while with the other hand, Carolyn feeds the dog a treat
One of the aspects that Carolyn (pictured above) considers when evaluating a dog for the breeding program is their willingness to stand calmly and be handled.

By Carolyn Whitesell, breeding program manager

What is involved in breeding dogs here at Leader Dog? A lot of time, work, medical exams and tests! Dogs left on their own certainly are capable of breeding and becoming pregnant. However, because each litter is so important for Leader Dog, the breeding team works hard to maximize conception rates and litter size, which requires a lot more than leaving Mother Nature to her own devices.

Every 5–12 months, female dogs come into season and each heat cycle lasts 21–28 days. However, there are only 2–3 days during each heat cycle when a female can become pregnant and that’s why the timing of breeding is so critical. To further complicate matters, the timing of ovulation can vary between females and even between heat cycles of the same female. Therefore, the breeding team employs a combination of vaginal cytology (analyzing cells under a microscope), vaginoscopy (visual examination using a scope) and progesterone and luteinizing hormone tests to determine where the female is in her cycle. The female is bred once progesterone levels indicate that she is ready to conceive. Females are typically bred two times during the heat cycle, but there are multiple factors that affect that decision. Because it’s impossible to predict in advance exactly when each female will be receptive for breeding, the breeding stock males always need to be available to return to Leader Dog.

An added benefit of knowing the exact date when the female has ovulated is that it allows us to calculate her due date. Being able to plan around a due date definitely makes the life of the female’s host easier!

Leader Dog has the equipment and expertise to breed dogs via artificial insemination if a natural breeding is not possible. This expands our access to a genetically diverse set of males and even allows us to breed females to males who have passed away.

After females are bred they return home to their host families. Females then have two more veterinary appointments—one for an ultrasound to confirm pregnancy and one for an X-ray to determine how many puppies she is carrying. The breeding stock hosts oversee the safe birth of the puppies at their home and take care of the litter until they are approximately seven weeks old and returned to Leader Dog.

The average litter size varies by breed, with golden retrievers typically having the largest litters. Regardless of litter size, raising puppies is a lot of work! Producing puppies for Leader Dog truly is a group effort, and thanks to the dedication of our paid and volunteer team, we continue to produce the best puppies possible to further our mission!

Learn more about hosting a breeding stock dog.


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