Bitches will come into their first season anytime from about 10 months of age to 18+ months.  The entire season lasts for 21 days and DAY #1 starts with the first sign of blood, whether or not her vulva has swollen yet!  Wiping the vulva gently with a WHITE TISSUE first thing in the morning is the best way to be sure to catch her first day.  IN GENERAL she will not be receptive to males for her first week or so, but once her bleeding changes to a clear or pinkish discharge and/or she begins to move her tail to the side when you rub the area around its base, start confining her until the full 21 days are over.  You can expect her to have a season every 5 1/2 to 10 months.


A bitch should NEVER be bred on her first heat!  To avoid a pack of stray males hanging around your home, as soon as she starts to bleed stop taking her for walks around your neighborhood, even on leash.  Allow her to urinate only in the well-fenced sections of your property, and for exercise drive her to an area at least several blocks from your home.  This will keep the males from following her scent back to your doorstep.  It works!


In case of an ACCIDENTAL BREEDING (witnessed or suspected) go to your vet as soon as possible (within 12 hours or less) and ask him to do a vaginal smear.  This should confirm the presence of any sperm cells and will also indicate the bitch's stage of fertility.  DO NOT, for any reason, PERMIT YOUR VET TO ADMINISTER A "MIS-MATE" SHOT!!!  The potential side effects include emergency surgery, sterility, and life-threatening uterine infection!  If the smear indicates no likelihood of pregnancy, your worries are probably over.


If the smear indicates that a pregnancy may well ensue, schedule a return visit in 28 days.  At that time your vet should be able to confirm pregnancy by physical palpation or ultrasonic examination.  In the case of an unwanted pregnancy, you have three options: spay the bitch, ending this pregnancy and preventing any future ones; allow the bitch to carry to term and whelp the litter and then destroy all or most of the pups at birth; or at 30+days of gestation administer injections of LUTOLYSE, a prostaglandin naturally found in the body, which causes the uterus to expel its contents in normal labor, in this case causing abortion, with an 80% success rate and minimal side effects.


Whether she has been bred or not, every fertile bitch experiences the same hormonal changes following her season: an increase in progesterone, the object of which is to allow the uterus to maintain a pregnancy.  Many bitches, therefore, experience false or pseudo pregnancies to some degree.  In some cases it may just be a mild increase in appetite for a few days.  In others it can be a full-blown affair with weight gain, mammary development, nesting behavior, false labor, lactation, and maternal attachment to one or more surrogate pups (stuffed animals, squeaky toys, etc.) which can last several weeks.  If you never plan to breed your bitch, the easiest and most effective way to put an end to her false pregnancies is to spay her.


It is strongly recommended that you allow your bitch to have one complete heat cycle before she is spayed.  The onset of estrus can be thought of as the end of the juvenile growth period, and a bitch's body needs to become fully estrogenized once for her to mature properly.  This includes development of muscle tone in the urinary sphincter.  Many female puppies will dribble a bit of urine until after their first heat cycle.  If a bitch is spayed prior to her first heat, she may never develop complete bladder control and may have to take medication for her entire life to prevent incontinence.  There is a current popular trend to spay female pups at a very early age, 6 - 10 weeks or so; perhaps this follows from the thought that if a bitch never comes into heat, she can never produce an unwanted litter.  Do NOT let your veterinarian talk you into a very early spay surgery just for convenience sake!