A bitch is said to be "on heat," or "in season," when she is ready, or about to be ready to mate. The first sign of a bitch coming on heat is a change in her behaviour. She may be more playful, or demand more attention. A male may follow her around and sniff her urine with great interest. This is just the lead-up to the mating days. She will not allow a male to mount her until she is ready, though he may try, in a half-hearted, playful way. We think we know when the time is right, but dogs sometimes surprise us.
The next phase is the bleeding phase. You may notice a pink or red discharge from the vulva, under the bitch’s tail. This area appears to be swollen bigger than normal. You might see a spot of blood on the floor and wonder where it came from. A playful courtship may take place between the dogs. The male may have a go at mounting, and she may chase him. She may sit down on her rear end to tell him she’s not ready yet. The male's penis may protrude from the sheath, showing a swelling like a golf ball. This is an erection. There is no need to interfere - it will get back to normal. We need to give them several days to get to know each other. The courtship should be supervised, as a fight to the death may ensue. We need to keep calm. Our anxiety will make the dogs jittery and uncertain of what is the right behaviour. The dogs should not be left alone.
After a week to ten days of playing hard to get, once the bleeding has stopped, the bitch may decide she WILL be bred after all. She will stand still with her tail docked to one side, exposing her rear end to the male. Whoopee! Now the male can do what his instinct has been telling him! It may take a few attempts before a tie ensues. An inexperienced male may try mating at the wrong end at first, but give him time to practice, and he will usually get it right. God has given animals an instinct to procreate and ensure the survival of the species. Don’t spoil their fun by impatient shouting. Relax, sit outside in the sun and talk quietly and encouragingly to the young newly weds. If the marriage isn’t consummated the first day, they can always try again the next day after a good rest.
A “TIE” is when the partners are stuck together, and hopefully conception is happening. This may last an embarrassingly long time. Stay with the dogs and talk to them calmly. Tell them what good dogs they are. Use their names frequently. Try to keep them still. Any twisting, pulling or fighting could injure one of the dogs. Don’t try to separate them—just be patient. They will come apart in due course.
Some dogs will need assistance. The male may be too short for the female. Try standing him on a box. Someone can hold the female while the owner of the male guides him to the right spot beneath the female’s tail.
If a tie cannot be achieved, and you believe they are compatible, the two dogs can be taken to the vet for artificial insemination.
The female’s fertile phase, during which she is most likely to fall pregnant, can last up to ten days. She is still fertile after the bleeding stops, and the vulva remains swollen. It is important to keep her away from other males during this time as she can conceive more than once, and a litter can have more than one father. A “runt” of a litter, which seems smaller than the rest, can be the result of a later mating. He will probably grow just as big as the others in time.