What determines when a dam is “ready” for breeding?
It depends on many different factors.
Physically, a dam can conceive when she reaches sexual maturity. Dogs reach sexual maturity at different rates depending on their size. Sexual maturity takes place when the long bones (the long bones in the leg) stop growing. Smaller breeds’ and short-legged breeds’ long bones can complete growth at around four to five months of age. Larger breeds can take anywhere between 12 months to 24 months before the growth of the long bones is completed. Even though the dam is capable of producing a litter at as early an age as 4 months, it is not recommended that a dam be bred until 2 years of age. This gives the dam time to mature emotionally, mentally, and physically, which helps her chances of becoming a better mama. This time period also gives the breeders an opportunity to evaluate the dam’s physical, mental, and emotional condition. Consideration should be taken by breeders of dams that are skittish, fearful, aggressive, or do not meet conformation, temperament, or working standards.
Ensure that your dam is in good health prior to breeding, which means being up to date on all vaccinations, preventatives, and de-wormings prior to breeding. A veterinary check-up is a must. Aside from a general physical exam, screen your dam for any known genetic diseases associated with your breed, as well as canine sexually transmitted diseases (yes, dogs can get STD’s). Ensure that the selected stud dog has had canine sexually transmitted disease screenings and genetic screenings as well, since some sexually transmitted diseases can lead to sterility and even death in some dogs. Also, the dam should be eating high-quality food prior to the breeding and engaging in a regular exercise routine. Do not discontinue any medications, vaccinations, preventatives, or dewormers without first consulting a veterinarian weeks prior to breeding.
Ultimately, a veterinarian should always be consulted to determine if a dog is healthy enough for breeding, since they can determine a dog’s readiness for breeding, as well as her breeding quality and health on an individual basis.