Social causes of false pregnancy in dogs and dog phantom pregnancy

Why having more dogs may mean fewer litters and more false pregnancies

Social causes of dog phantom pregnancy and puppy absorption

There are very few scientific studies on false pregnancy in dogs.  And nothing on possible social causes of high dog phantom pregnancy (pseudo-pregnancy) rates.  But as a veterinarian and experienced breeder, plus someone who has studied wild dog behavior, I’m convinced this is something dog breeders come up against all the time.

I’ve been breeding for almost 30 years.  I’ve had from 3 dogs (2 girls and 1 boy) up to 8 dogs (7 girls and 1 boy).  What I’ve noticed over and over, is that when I ventured past 4 bitches I seemed to get fewer litters overall.  I thought, maybe that’s just me?  Until recently, when BOOM!  I had an epiphany.  One worth sharing with you.

When you’re doing well with 3 or 4 bitches, it’s only natural to suppose that if you double your numbers you should do twice as good, right?  Well it’s never worked out like that for me.  In any case, I’d rather get twice as much per puppy by being an Elite breeder than attempt to get the same result by turning out twice as many puppies… but I digress.

If you’ve been a breeder for more than a few years you’d notice what I have:

  1. Having more bitches usually results in fewer litters
  2. When you have a few bitches, they often come on heat at the same time.

We were only discussing these things today in our Elite breeders group.  I shared some stuff I knew about wolves, dingoes and other wild dogs.  And that’s when I had my realization, which we’ll get to in a minute…

pseudopregnancy in wild dogs

False pregnancy in wild dogs

Now all dogs were wolves just 12,000 years ago.  That’s a blink of the eye in evolutionary terms.  And dingos are just another kind of dog.  So it’s hardly surprising that we still see some pack wolf behavior in our dogs, despite the thousands of years of domestication.

What do I mean?

Things like bitches who still regurgitate food for their puppies for example.  Less commonly, you will still also hear of bitches or dogs that will kill puppies.  I had a very dominant bitch like that who was a great mother but no other bitch’s puppy under 5 weeks old was safe around her.  And I’ve heard of male dogs like that.  That’s natural wolf pack behavior.

To cope with limited resources, in a wild wolf or dingo pack, there is cooperative breeding only the alpha male and female will actually breed each year.  The role of the rest of the pack is to support them and help raise their offspring.  Only offspring of the dominant pair are tolerated.  Similarly, if a male lion takes over a pride, it will kill any offspring from the previous male.  In this way only the strongest survive.

Obligate pseudo-pregnancy in subordinate females

Fertility in the more subordinate members of the natural wolf or dingo pack is often socially suppressed.

Subordinate bitches will cycle at the same time as the alpha bitch.  But instead of becoming pregnant they have a false pregnancy.  That way they will be lactating at the same time as the alpha bitch is suckling her young and can help rear them.

Puppy Absorption

According to studies about one in 10 dog pregnancies result in puppy absorption, sometimes called dog fetal resorption.  And it’s most common in younger and first time breeding bitches.  Of course, such bitches are usually the most subordinate in the pack.

Again, in wild dog packs such as wolves, this is a common occurrence.  One study found that the rate of fetal reabsorption was high even when food was readily available, suggesting that social factors were the likely reason.

More Bitches Does Not Mean More Puppies!

So that explains why having more bitches often doesn’t pan out to produce more puppies.

Instead of attempting to make your kennels pay by breeding more dogs why not instead get more per puppy?  You can do that by catering to the most discerning end of the puppy buyer market.  Learn how to do that here.


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