Have you ever considered breeding your Doberman? We do not advocate dog breeding for the numerous reasons you can find peppered throughout the internet.
However, it can be a meaningful adventure if you use the proper channels to acquire research data and advice.
Even if you decide breeding is not for you, questions might still arise like, “How many puppies can a Doberman have?”
The Doberman record for the largest litter of puppies is 18. However, Dobermans more often have six to eight pups in a litter. Dobermans typically have minimal issues with live births unless the litter is large or small or one or more puppies are dead. Most of the time, a mother in excellent health and appropriate age carries her pups to term with no problems.
What is a Doberman’s cycle?
A Doberman’s heat cycle is typical of a domesticated dog. Unlike dogs that mimic wild canids, who cycle only once a year, Dobermans usually go into heat every six months. Small breeds can cycle three or four times a year.
“Being in heat” or estrus describes the limited time when your female Doberman prepares and becomes receptive to a male. While some dogs accept mating any time during estrus, most dogs are receptive only during their most fertile days.
A heat cycle lasts about three weeks. Dobermans usually show the following signs, but some individuals are more subtle than others.
- Swollen vulva
- Discharge from vulva that changes in consistency and color throughout the cycle
- Protective gestures in the early stages – setting frequently and tucking the tail
- Receptive signs increase in the second week – tail moves to the side
- Behavioral changes – may become either more affectionate or more irritable
- Appetite may decrease
- Tendency to wander or restlessness may increase
- Mounts objects – may be accompanied by humping; note that many dogs hump and are not in heat.
Dobermans can come into their first heat at six months, but it is much more common to experience their initial cycle between nine months and a year old.
Many experts recommend that you not breed your dog during her first estrus. On the other side of the coin, spaying your dog before her first heat can prevent serious concerns such as mammary cancer.
Stages of Heat
There are two ways to analyze a Doberman’s heat cycle. The first is a general breakdown, while the second attempts to determine the time of breeding that will most likely produce puppies.
General Stages of Estrus
- Proestrus – when the heat cycle first begins, the female is usually not receptive to breeding but has vulvar swelling and bleeding; it lasts 7 to 10 days.
- Estrus – mating receptivity at its peak; usually starts on day 9 of the heat cycle.
- Diestrus – stage of pregnancy or period when your dog comes out of the heat; 10 to 140 days
- Anestrus – down period either after the birth of puppies or between heat cycles; lasts approximately 180 days.
Specific Stages of a Heat Cycle
Proestrus and estrus comprise what you think of as the heat cycle in a dog. As
mentioned, together, they last about 21 days.
Determining when to expose her to the male is paramount if you want to breed your Doberman. To enhance your dog’s chances of pregnancy, you should breed her shortly before or during ovulation.
Ovulation, or the release of eggs from the ovaries, is very difficult to predict. It can occur on the third or 19th day of heat.
There are two scientific ways to establish the occurrence of ovulation.
Vaginal smears are familiar because they are so easy. Your veterinarian will look at a smear’s cells (i.e., vaginal cytology) under the microscope over several days. The cells take on specific characterizations during ovulation.
- Leukocytes (white blood cells) disappear.
- Over 50 to 90% of cells present have no nuclei (center)
- Cells are irregular in shape
Blood tests measuring hormones are more accurate for determining ovulation in dogs. Hormonal assays are performed over several days.
Progesterone Serum Levels
- First sample day 3 to 5 of estrus
- Repeat samples every 2 or 3 days because progesterone levels double every 2 days
- Progesterone levels 1.0 ng/ml before LH surge
- Progesterone level 2 to 3 ng/ml a day after LH surge
- Breed 3 days after progesterone levels reach 2.5 ng/ml; fresh cooled AI 4 days after 2.5 ng/ml or 48 hours after 5 ng/ml; frozen AI 5 days after 2.5 ng/ml or 72 hours after 5 ng/ml
Note that ng/ml is a nanogram per milliliter. It takes a billion nanograms to make one gram.
Visualizing such a small amount is not essential, as tiny measurements are characteristic of hormones. What is relevant is tracking the relative increases and decreases in sizes over the heat cycle.
Some veterinarians measure LH directly to catch its spike. However, an LH surge lasts 12 to 24 hours, meaning it is easy to miss. Ovulation occurs three or four days after the LH spike.
Many vets will utilize the results of both LH and progesterone serum levels to make breeding recommendations for their clients. Others combine vaginal smears and progesterone hormone levels in their analyses.
What should you know about your Doberman’s pregnancy?
If she becomes pregnant, your Doberman will carry her puppies for 61 to 65 days. Determining pregnancy in the early days can be difficult. The earliest diagnostic tools will not detect the presence of puppies for about three weeks.
You may see vomiting, lethargy, and abdominal distension as early signs of pregnancy, but they are neither universal nor specific. As with detecting the stages of estrus, hormones are one of the most accurate means to tell whether your Doberman is pregnant.
Your Doberman will start producing the hormone relaxin once the placenta begins to form and embryos attach. Therefore, you can measure increases in blood levels of relaxin approximately 24 days after ovulation if your dog becomes pregnant.
Most pregnant dogs will show a positive “pregnancy test” within 22 to 27 days after the last breeding. Two back-to-back negative tests performed a week apart confirm that the breeding was unsuccessful. Relaxin levels do not indicate how many puppies your Doberman might be carrying.
Abdominal palpation is another means to diagnose puppies in the relatively early stages of a possible pregnancy.
Your veterinarian will apply gentle pressure to your dog’s belly, using their fingers to probe along the uterus for tell-tale circular swellings.
It is an inaccurate tool if the person palpating is inexperienced or if the timing is wrong. Abdominal palpation is most helpful in detecting pregnancies in dogs between 24 and 35 days.
While measuring relaxin levels is a precise means to detect pregnancy in dogs, ultrasound is the only way to assess the viability of the fetuses.
For this reason, ultrasound is considered the best method for monitoring pregnancies in dogs. Using this instrument, a professional can determine whether your dog is pregnant as early as 21 days after breeding.
Radiographs are the final means to evaluate pregnancies in dogs. Performed after day 44 of pregnancy, radiographs are the most accurate way to estimate the number of puppies.
Your veterinarian will give you the most precise count possible to know when labor is over. As you might suspect, dogs sometimes experience a delay between puppies.
This video shows how vets take several different views to visualize each puppy’s skull and spine. Multiple X-ray shots are necessary because puppy skeletons can be obscured by other structures such as a stomach full of food.
What affects how many puppies a Doberman can have?
A few factors affect a Doberman and how many puppies she will carry.
A Doberman’s age when she is pregnant is one of the most critical factors in determining how many puppies she will have. The prime age when a Doberman consistently has her most significant number of puppies is between two and three years old.
That being said, older dogs have the most comprehensive range, having the capacity to bear more puppies than younger dogs but often having fewer. Therefore, the average litter size for a young dog only two years old is about eight puppies.
A Doberman’s average litter comprises seven years, from three to seven years. At eight and nine years old, Dobermans have an average of six pups per litter. A further breakdown is as follows:
- Age 2-3 years – 6 to 9 puppies
- Age 4-5 years – 5 to 9 puppies
- Age 6-7 years – 6 to 10 puppies
- Age 8 years – 3 to 10 puppies
- Age 9 years – 2 to 9 puppies
Kennel clubs often will not allow breeders to register a litter out of a dam older than eight years.
While most veterinarians concur that females should stop breeding after eight years, some recommend that retirement from carrying puppies should start as early as five or six years of age.
Of course, your dog’s breed plays a crucial role in how long it can have puppies, as some giant breeds do not live long past six years.
Breed of the Mother
Small breed dogs have small litters, and giant-sized dogs have the largest litters, both of which make sense.
Moreover, larger dogs within the Doberman breed tend to have more pups in a litter. Record holders for puppy litters demonstrate the importance of the breed.
- Neapolitan Mastiff – 24 puppies
- Great Dane – 21 puppies
- Dalmatian – 19 puppies
- German Shepherd – 16 puppies
- Doberman Pinscher – 15 puppies
- Labrador Retriever – 14 puppies
- Chihuahua – 11 puppies
Method of Breeding
Artificial insemination is essential to breeding dogs with difficulty mating (Bulldogs) or those too far apart for a natural meeting to be practical. For studs with international fame, AI is often the only way they breed most of the time.
Artificial insemination uses semen that has either been freshly cooled or frozen. AI is relevant because it decreases litter size and the chance that a female will become pregnant.
Sperm from fresh cooled semen usually only lasts 24 to 72 hours once inserted into the cervix.
Contrast this with a live cover where the sperm from the ejaculate can live five to seven days inside the female’s reproductive tract.
However, reproductive specialists such as those who practice at Colorado State University can have results from chilled semen that approach the success rate of natural mating.
Frozen semen that has been thawed will only have a viability of 12 to 24 hours once introduced into the uterus.
It has the lowest probability of producing a successful pregnancy and results in the smallest litters. However, it can be shipped anywhere.
Complications to Litter Viability
Dobermans rarely need intervention at birth. However, there are a few cases where they may require a C-section.
- Huge litter or prolonged labor – either mother becomes exhausted, or puppies become distressed, warranting intervention to save the mother or the pups
- Tiny litter – pups have a greater chance of being oversized
- Dead puppies fail to stimulate uterine contractions (uterine inertia)
- Uterine abnormalities – tumor or twisted horn (torsion)
- Mother becomes sick
- Hormonal imbalances
- Hypocalcemia – low blood calcium levels
- The puppy gets stuck on its way out
Dobermans are overwhelmingly successful in producing viable litters. Puppies are typically vigorous and robust at birth and weigh between 12 and 18 ounces.
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