Whether you’re a responsible breeder facing the question of when to retire your dogs or you’re looking for a puppy – age matters.
Check the ages of the potential sire and especially the dam since this can be vital for the health of the puppies as well as parents.
But when is a dog too old to have puppies?
There are many factors that need to be taken into account when determining whether a dog is up for breeding, among them are:
- General health
- Previous injuries
So let’s dive in and see what the best breeding and retirement age is.
When Is a Dog Considered to Be Senior?
Generally speaking, toy breeds and other smaller dogs (Chihuahua, Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese) are considered to be senior if they’re 10 to 12 years or older.
With large/giant breeds (Great Dane, Newfoundland), the span of when your dog is considered “senior” is shortened to 5 to 6 years.
This difference is linked to the lifespan in dogs which is far greater in small breeds compared to their larger counterparts.
Studies have shown that dogs have differing susceptibilities to diseases depending on their body size and weight.
Large dogs die young because they age faster, so to speak.
Genetic and hormonal factors also play a big role and determine the longevity of an organism.
When Is a Male Dog Too Old to Breed?
In theory, a healthy male can produce litters until old age. Most clubs recommend retiring a male after 10 to 12 years.
However, it is very important to note that sperm quality and quantity may be lower in older dogs.
If you plan on breeding with a male that is older than 6 years, you might want to check the sperm quality at regular intervals.
Signs to Look Out For That Your Male Dog Is Too Old
There are three major signs to look out for that scream that a male dog is too old for breeding.
- Low conception rates
- Decreasing litter sizes
- Deteriorating health
Assuming a male tries to get a female pregnant under the best possible circumstances (one mating per day, repeated for a couple of days, healthy female, etc.), it might be a sign to retire the male if he fails to get the female pregnant.
A male might (repeatedly) produce smaller litters than he previously did, that’s potentially another bad sign.
If a lot of time has passed between this and the last breeding or if the male has his first litter quite late in life, you might not be able to check the litter size.
The male’s health is a bit on the brink? No breeding for this stud.
Deteriorating health includes mobility issues, hormonal changes, bad coat as well as breed-related health problems.
So always ask questions about the breeding process, previous litters and current health testing.
For more on this check out my post on Questions to Ask Your Breeder.
When Is a Female Dog Too Old to Breed?
For a female, there are crucial factors that determine if she should produce another litter or not.
The best age to retire a female can be around 5 to 6 years.
Some breeding clubs have restrictions where the age limit is set much higher than 6 years but that doesn’t mean that the age can’t pose any health risks.
According to AKC rules, a dam must be (…) not more than 12 years old, on the date of mating.AKC
However, a lot of breed clubs such as the UK Kennel Club and the VDH in Germany set 8 years as a limit (exceptions possible).
By the way: The VDH also has a higher minimum age for males as well as females in contrast to the AKC.
To determine whether to retire the female, you should monitor the previously mentioned factors such as:
- Conception rates
- Litter sizes
- General health
- Criteria such as complications during whelping
- Recovery process
Complications during birth can always arise (be sure to check the article on dogs going into labor if you’re interested).
However, you should consult with your vet to see if the complications could indicate that the female is not up for having another litter.
If a female’s recovery process significantly lengthens after pregnancy, that’s a sure sign that something can be wrong.
How Many Litters Should a Dog Have?
A female dog should ideally have 3-4 litters during her lifetime.
However, many factors are at play when it comes to the optimal litter size such as complications, recovery process, and heat cycle.
If a female had any complications during a previous whelping (including C-sections), this might not only be due to age but also due to a high number of litters and is a clear signal to think about retiring the dog.
A slow recovery process might be another sign to retire her, especially if the dog is older.
The female’s heat cycle may also dictate how many litters she will have.
Normally, the heat cycle is 6 months but – depending on the breed – the heat can occur every 4 months or every 12 months.
Naturally, a female with a 12-month cycle will produce fewer litters.
However, this absolutely doesn’t mean a female with a 4-month cycle should produce three litters per year (even if you ignore recovery).
Pressing too many litters into a small timeframe is exhausting for the female, mentally as well as physically.
How Many Litters Is a Female Dog Legally Allowed to Have?
The UK Kennel Club prohibits registering with them if the dam has already whelped 4 litters.
The same 4 litter rule applies to several German and French breeding clubs.
In Holland, the maximum amount of litters is 5.
Even though there may not be a lot of specific regulations in place for all breeding clubs, it’s important to breed ethically and keep an eye on the dogs within a breeding program.
How Long Should You Wait to Breed a Dog Again?
Most breed clubs recommend breeding once every 12 months.
Another rule of thumb is that you want to breed every other heat which means avoiding back-to-back breeding.
The whole discussion about back-to-back breeding is somewhat controversial since some vets say it’s not that big of an issue if the recovery is quick and the female healthy.
However, the fact that several breeding clubs restrict this kind of breeding plan should be a red flag for any breeder.
Allowing the female a proper recovery will let her care for her pups under optimal circumstances.
A female should always be healthy when she’s breeding and the minimum age restrictions below apply.
What Is the Best Age to Breed a Female Dog?
To make sure the female is in perfect health condition you should wait until she’s fully grown mentally and physically which occurs at around 1-2 years for smaller breeds and 2-3 years for large breeds.
Another rule of thumb is to wait until at least the second heat cycle.
This rule of thumb has limits though because small breeds can get their first heat as early as 4 months and large breeds around 6 months.
If you follow the rule above, your dog is most probably in her second heat so you should be fine.
Why not breed before the dog is mentally grown?
Dogs can undergo behavioral changes during these mental growth phases and you want a well-rounded female to raise those puppies.
Puppies profit from a mature and confident mother.
Example of a large breed female:
The female has her first heat around 12 months of age.
Depending on whether or not her heat cycle is roughly 6 months, you can theoretically start breeding at 18 months but could more ideally wait until 24 months.
If the heat cycle is 12 months (happens with giant and ancient breeds), you’re restrained to go with 24 months anyway.
Now, keeping the breeding guidelines in mind (every other heat and thus once in 12 months) the female will produce 4 litters if she’s retired with 5 years of age.
That’s within the consensus of the breeding clubs which recommend 3 – 4 litters for a female in a breeding lifetime.
By the way: While the 5-6 year rule and 3-4 litter rule restrains the breeding time frame pretty well, it’s not advised to have your dog have the first litter with 5 years or older.
Recommended Reading: How Long are Dogs Pregnant?
The stud can be bred up to 10-12 years, although it’s a good idea to regularly check the sperm quality once he hits 6 years, assuming he’s healthy.
A healthy female can legally be bred until 8 years according to most breeding clubs. However, it’s best to retire her after 5-6 years.
During her breeding lifetime, it’s advised not to go beyond 3-4 litters.
Any potential breeder should wait until the dogs are grown mentally and physically (up to 2 years) and should only breed every 12 months (which means avoiding back-to-back breeding).
The female’s heat cycle needs to be taken into account.
If you have any questions about your dog’s breeding age or concerns about a potential breeder, drop them in the comments.