Female dogs have a gestation period of around 63 days (or just over two months) from ovulation, after which they either give birth naturally, or (in the case of some dogs such as “flat-faced breeds who have specific health needs) by canine c-section, under the supervision of a veterinarian.
In some cases, an unspayed female dog might become pregnant by chance; in others the pregnancy can be the result of selective breeding - a practice traditionally used to produce dogs suited to tasks such as hunting and latterly, to produce certain “showdog” characteristics found in pedigree or “pure breeds”.
How Many Litters Can A Dog Have?
So: how many litters can a dog have? If they live to the average age of 11 years, a female dog could (in theory) produce up to 30 litters - though this is neither advisable nor (in some cases), possible.
Conflicting advice exists surrounding this: some suggest breeding every other heat, keeping the litter number to a total of four at most, spread out of the course of the dog’s “optimum breeding years”.
In some countries (like Finland) breeders are required to wait a minimum of ten months before their female dog can whelp again. Other breeders suggest back-to-back breeding (where a dog has two consecutive litters without a break) to help avoid scarring and damage of the uterus.
The More, The Merrier?
While there can be some health benefits to back-to-back breeding, it also depends on the individual animal and her ability to recover from the initial whelping. Additionally, it may not give breeders enough time to assess potential health issues found in the first litter before the second arrives.
This is not simply an issue of “quantity over quality”: unscrupulous (and often, unregistered) breeders who want to maximise numbers for profit not only cause undue distress to any puppies in their care: they also make life miserable for dogs whose only role is to produce as many young as possible, regardless of their overall health and wellbeing.
Female dogs can go into heat from around the age of 6-12 months, however: just because they are physically able to, it does not mean they should. Dogs who whelp too early may have difficulty caring for her litter and are at greater risk of health issues once they reach maturity.
Unlike humans, there is no canine menopause - but again, this can also have negative consequences for the mother and her pups if they whelp beyond am acceptable “retirement age” (generally around five to seven years of age, depending on the breed).
Older and overbred dogs are more likely to lose their litters through stress and age-related health issues. Additionally, breeders may have trouble registering a litter if the dog is considered too young or old.
Legislation On Dog Breeding
Unfortunately, the only two countries with legal restrictions on the number of litters a dog can have are Holland and the United Kingdom (where a female dog must not have any more than four litters throughout her life).
Modern dog breeding is a complex (and often contentious) topic: In 2020 the UK Government introduced “Lucy’s Law” - a piece of legislation preventing the sale of puppies (or kittens) from puppy farms - a form of pet distribution notorious for animal welfare violations.
Even so, legislation concerning the sale of pets is outdated and in need of review: The Pet Animals Act (1951) was written more than 60 years ago and contains no references to the online sale of animals, a fact scammers and illegal puppy smugglers have been quick to take advantage of.
The Problem With Pedigrees
Even when dog breeding is carried out in accordance with best practice (and with the best of intentions), it can still be deeply problematic. One reason for modern selective breeding is to eliminate “undesirable” physical characteristics in dogs.
While markedly less brutal than the practice of breeding dogs for hunting (and even fighting), breeding dogs to enhance “desirable” traits frequently leaves them vulnerable to multiple health issues - either through a predisposition to certain illnesses, or through physical characteristics such as flattened snouts (a known cause of respiratory issues).
Continuing “The Bloodline”
In some instances, breeders might enjoy the company of their existing pet so much they want to “continue the bloodline” through breeding. The reality is that neither dogs (nor humans, for that matter) - produce carbon copies of themselves.
While the dog may share some physical characteristics with her pups, their temperament is more likely to be the result of proper socialising and training. Aside from this, each dog has its own unique character - which is something to be celebrated.
Getting a Dog Responsibly
Dog ownership can be an absolute joy. It’s also a major responsibility that requires careful consideration to make sure you and your family are prepared for the long term commitment of caring for a pet, including providing it with basic items such as bowls, dog beds and chew toys.
Overpopulation of dogs in the UK means that while there isn’t a lack of available pets, there is high demand for owners willing to offer them a secure, loving and permanent home via adoption.
That said, there are some circumstances - (for instance if you are seeking a hypoallergenic breed due to allergy issues) where buying from a reputable, good breeder (one who is registered with the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme) may be helpful.
Just because a female dog has the capacity to help a particular number of puppies in her lifetime, it does not mean that she should be made to. Dogs are (as the DBRG states) “sentient beings” who bring “joy, fun and companionship… this knowledge should be enough to ensure that society protects its canine population.”