The door opens and a disheveled owner, hauls her bitch in though the door. She’s holding paper towels and apologizing for the smell.
“Oh, she always gets so car sick. Do you have a place I could throw this away?” Reaching forward to offer me a handful of wet paper towels cradling a handful of vomited kibble.
“Uh, sure…” Careful to point to the trash can strategically placed directly next to the front door.
“And who is this?” I ask of the little labradoodled face peering tentatively out from behind her legs, struggling to not cross the threshold of the office. (Don’t you love how if a dog thinks it can just get out the door or not walk through the door, you will somehow forget that you were or weren’t going to take them?)
“This is Eva, she’s ready to be a mama! She’s been out running around in the field this morning…” states the owner who has rid herself of the mess in her hands and has finally managed to coerce Eva in the door and shut the rain out behind her. The bedraggled Doodle dripping with mud and dampness from it’s “wooly-like” coat is wistfully peering from under her soppy bangs with beautiful hazel eyes hoping to disappear.
And a lovely smell to match… nothing like a wet, dirty and in-season labradoodle smell. I think I can smell that like no other dog. Something about their coat reminds me of a sheep and the smell is similar. I grew up showing sheep in 4-H for 9 years, that smell is unmistakable to me.
“Aww…No problem!” I say as I reach for my smock and push my sleeves back so I can put on disposable gloves that I snap up to my forearms, careful to protect my watch. “So what day of estrus is she?”
“Well, I just came back from vacation and the person watching her didn’t mention anything, but I noticed all my “boys” going crazy and won’t leave her alone and there is blood on her bedding. But I’m not really sure how long.”
Sigh…this is the absolute worst way to start a breeding… but not unusual.
So let’s begin.
At this point you start to create a picture. You know 2 things, the boys are interested and there is discharge. Since there is no real timeline established, really the first thing I ask is…”Are you going to do progesterone testing?”
This is a blood draw that establishes where the bitch is in her cycle based on a numerical value of the level of progesterone in her blood stream. This test is what most clinics use and has been the most predictable means available at this time. . There are a few places that do in-house testing, but mostly it is shipped out to a laboratory like IDEXX or Phoenix Labs I believe. Be sure that if the test is being done in-house that you have some recommendations from friends or breeders that they are having consistent success based on the results. Over the years I have noticed that it may take some time to really nail down the in-house calibrations with the well tested ones that are sent out to the other labs. There are other tests, such as LH or color tests, but I find the progesterone testing to be incomparably better. The LH test is very accurate if you time it right, but if you miss the day of ovulation, it makes it difficult to predict the progression. (My opinion, based on what I have come across over the years.) Another thing to note: numerical results in Canada and other parts of the world, besides the US, come back in Nanomoles/liter, while the US results are in Nanograms/ml.
“No, I don’t want to do progesterone.” “Let’s just breed her. I’m already here and it was a 3 hour drive,” insists the determined woman.
“Ok! Well, lets use the information we have then! Any chance you would like to do a vaginal cytology so we can get an idea of where she is at?” I ask hopefully.
( A vaginal cytology is a swab of the vaginal canal that allows you to view cells that change as the bitches cycle progresses. It can be difficult to read and you have to be very experienced reading them to know exactly where the bitch is at, due to the fact that the cells can look similar when a bitch is coming in and going out. It’s really best used as just another piece in a bigger puzzle or as a way to see if she is in at all or completely out. You may have to do a succession of tests on progressive days to watch the cells change. )
“Well, I’m already here, and the stud dog is going back to Canada tomorrow.”
“Alright then. Lets get him collected and put it in her…”
At this point here is the picture that I start painting.
1. We have discharge
What color is it? Is there a lot or a little?
2. Is the vulva swollen?
3. When you scratch to one side of the haunches does she move her tail in a direction that indicates “flagging?” This movement of the tail is usually very definitive and shows a behavior that the bitch is willing to stand and allow for penetration.
4. Upon a lubricated finger insertion into the vagina, over the pelvic brim and into the vaginal canal…does the bitch push back toward your finger, welcoming the insertion? Good sign! If the bitch tries to scream, sit, bitch slap you and turn on you like she thinks you are trying to violate her…allow her to voice herself, kindly remove your finger, apologize for the violation and perhaps wait for another day.
5. Can you feel tightness or is it soft? Tightness can sometimes just indicate a maiden bitch too though, so see it as only part of your picture.
6. Some will do a visual inspection of the vaginal canal folds, looking for a change in the mucus, texture and fullness of the folds. (I have also seen and tried using a digital instrument many years ago, that we were asked to test out, that you inserted and it gave a numerical read out, basically measuring the density of the mucus…it wasn’t accurate, regarding the indication of when to breed, as we did simultaneous progesterone testing as a control.)
7. When the boy meets her is he ready to breed? Sometimes bitches are just moody bitches though, I think it’s kind of fun for them to get a little nasty and get away with it. (I do when it’s my time of the month…”Oh, I’m on my period…sorry if I’m a little bitchy.” See? Same thing. Be a bitch, fill those shoes…er, paws.
8. Is she willing to be mounted?
When you have answered some of these questions with a yes…she’s probably close…When you’ve answered pretty much all of them with a yes, minus the visual/mucus inspection, it’s probably the most educated guess you can go with.
Keep in mind a few things…once in a while a bitch will show signs of being in estrus if she has an infection. The stud dogs can still be interested in her and she can show some discharge. Be sure of her cycle….(and invest in the testing.)
Here is how the breakdown goes…a progesterone test in the US cost ranges from $65-$170+. Price them out. You may have to do a few of them. The cost to get your timing right though is the difference between 0 puppies and the litter or puppy you have been waiting for.
If you are in another country where it is difficult to do progesterone, often you will be allowed to have the test run through a human lab. Ask your vet. The values will be a bit different, but after doing a few you can establish your baselines. It may be an investment and take some time and missed litters, but it might be worth it to you and all your breeder friends to get this test established for your future breeding. When I have trained centers overseas, this has been a common concern, getting the progesterone testing readily available.
The phone rings…
“Hi! I was just in a few days ago with Eva…?” I hear the same voice from days before inquiring to me if I remember.
“Oh yes. hello!” “What’s happening?”
“Well…she is still bleeding, so I decided to run a progesterone.” Silence. “She was at 1.8ng yesterday at 9am.”
“Ohhhhhhhhhh.” Go figure. That’s why she was trying to bitch slap me! I would’ve done the same thing…nothing is very soft and inviting in there when the timing is off!
First vaginal or TCI should usually occur around 11 nanograms/ml or 33 nanomoles/liter. (Conversion is approx. 3.18 to nanomoles) Assume after the bitch hits 5ng she will rise approximately 3ng per day.
“So….I guess I’ll have to find another stud dog. Are you going to be open on Christmas Day?”