This is another SUPER COMMON question that novice breeders ask when it comes to mating their dogs. I personally find it funny enough, when this question pops up on social media and hundreds of comments show up shortly suggesting breeding dogs on "day 7 of her cycle" or "day 11 after first onset of bloody discharge" or any other NUMBER. The truth is, there is NO magical number that will work for every dog. Every bitch is different and every bitch will ovulate on her own timing.
Simply because a female mated with a stud dog on day 9, does not mean that she ovulated at all! After a decade of breeding I base my conclusions on my own experience and observations and multiple dozens of progesterone tests' results, here is what I can share on the subject:
PROGESTERONE: Female is typically fertile and will allow for a natural breeding 1-4 days AFTER OVULATION. There is no way to know that ovulation occurred unless a progesterone testing is completed. Progesterone testing is done by blood sample from a vein and must be done in house ( sending a test away and waiting for results more than 24 hours makes absolutely no sense - these results are needed ASAP at the time of blood is withdrawn). We rely on several local clinics that have the express machines and reproductive team at Inver Grove Heights Animal Hospital. The cost of progesterone test is anywhere from $89-$125 depending on where you are. Smaller clinics that have smaller express test will charge a bit more simply because of the cost of the equipment and their method of doing it; results from these tests are ready in 15-20 minutes. Larger reproductive clinics that do progesterone on a daily basis and have the "spinning machine" will be cheaper and will have results in two hours.
HOW OFTEN TO TEST: Owners need to start testing their females for progesterone at about day 5 of her cycle and repeat testing every 2-3 days to see the progress of progesterone rising. If you are lucky, two or three tests is all that it will take! Unless, you are unlucky (like us) and will need NINE progesterone tests to finally be rest assured that she ovulated on day 23!
OVULATION TIMING: Please see the table below for "approximate" timing based on progesterone: Please note that I used "earliest window for mating" for possible ovulation. This light blue stage is called Proestrus and can last just a few days or long three weeks! The goal of progesterone testing is to know when Ovulation occurred.
Now, while this progesterone table gives us numbers for fertility window, the question on what day of the cycle females actually have these progesterone numbers remains unanswered. To give my best advice to you, lets look at some of my dogs and their ovulation timing. The vertical numbers are the days of their cycle and ovulation is based on progesterone testing completed for each bitch.
This table that I created using real dogs in my breeding program gives me a valuable observation result - females have their own ovulation patterns and will follow them from one cycle to another! It is important to know their first day of cycle to estimate her fertility window. Some females will have very long Proestrus, such as Cessy, and some will have a very quick one, like Zeder.
AU NATUREL: Now, lets say your veterinarian does not offer progesterone testing and you want to have the dogs decide the optimal date and mate naturally. That works, too! A male dog will smell a female's rear end daily and will show little to no interest while she is in active heat (has bloody discharge) but still in Proestrus stage (before ovulation). Typically, a virgin bitch will not allow for a male to mount her prior to ovulation.
When female ovulates, she will start "flagging" - actively playing with a male, engaging him to chase her, wagging her tale. Her discharge will change from bloody red to more of a clear pink with some blood mixed in it. She will also release "fishy smell" - the smell of a rotten fish to attract a male. Once you have smelled that, you for sure know she is ready! A male dog will typically be VERY interested in her at this point; skipping meals is very normal for a male during period.
How often to have a male and a female mate is a topic for a new post, but a single natural mating at the right timing is all that is takes! Please do not let your dogs mate more that ONCE a day - it takes 24 hours to regenerate sperm after ejaculation.
ADVICE: in rare occasions dogs will mate early (we had a dogs naturally mate FIVE DAYS before ovulation) or very late (ten days past ovulation). To learn more about your dogs and their natural ability to sense the prime days, make a note on your calendar of the FIRST DAY of the heat cycle and each day of MATING. A dog's pregnancy is 63 days after ovulation. After she delivers puppies, count back 63 days on your calendar and see if mating happened before, recently after or long after the assumed date of ovulation!