Val's Pregnant! Well sort of but actually not really

The Background

When we first decided to film a puppy raising tutorial series we thought that an important part of the series was informing pet dog owners that it’s their responsibility to desex (spay or neuter) their dogs. We discussed with Alex, who bred Val that we intended to have her desexed and show that as part of our video series.

The intention has and always will be that Val is a pet. She doesn’t have a job, other than to be a fun dog. Fun to me is training lots of tricks, games and behaviours. I like to try lots of different techniques as I learn from more and more trainers and my dogs are often the test subjects.

For those of you who have watched our video series you may remember Ghost.

Ghost and Val grew up together and have been best friends right from the beginning. We were training Ghost at the same time as Val. Ghost is a working dog. He was trained to track, bite and detect! One day when we were training some detection skills with Ghost we thought we would give Val a turn.

Right there in Sam’s garage Val, who was being trained to focus and Heel at the time showed us all the attributes you could ever want to see in a working dog.

Now I’m no detection guru but what we saw in Val was an eagerness and drive to work. When the item was hard to find she never showed any sign of giving up, rather, her resolve was strengthen to find it. Luckily for us we filmed the third run through ever. Check it out below.


Right away Sam and I discussed that we should not desex Val. While she is unlikely to be a detection dog herself, she could be the mother of some amazing ones. It’s not a decision we took lightly. We called Alex from Canicula Kennels to ask his permission. The plan at this point was not to breed her but only to keep that option open. Alex, who had been tracking Val’s progress was happy that we had contacted him and agreed to help us assess first if breeding Val would better the breed, and second who she could perhaps be bred to. When we met up with the English Springer Spaniel Club to get footage of Val’s parents competing in the Gun Dog Trials, everyone agreed that Val was a fantastic dog that would likely breed excellent working dogs.

Now it’s not as simple as that. It wasn’t decided that she would be bred, just that she would not yet be desexed so that that option is still available. We would assess her temperament and her phenotype when she came of an appropriate age. She is still too young and we have not yet had her hips and elbows X-rayed.

Now Some Science

Female Dogs will go through their first “heat” some time between 6 and 18 months of age. Smaller Breeds tend to be earlier and the larger or giant breeds tend to be later. If you are planning to desex your bitch, like all pet owners should, then it is best and safest to do that prior to her first heat.

To put it very simply " heat " cycles vary, but on average last two to three weeks for most dogs. "Heat " should be considered to begin with the first signs of vulvar discharge, or when the female begins licking or paying attention to her vulva. The vulva will begin to appear swollen. It ends when all discharge ceases and the vulva has returned to its normal size. Pregnancy in bitches lasts an average of 65 days.

Why is that relevant?

Valerie had her first “heat” starting 2nd Apr this year. It finished on the 22nd of April. It can be a hectic time for a dog owner as her personality was remarkably different and it’s best not to do any training during this period. So as is advised I wasn’t overly demanding of her and just took her on simple walks at 4 in the morning to make sure she never encountered any other dogs. When she was at home she was separated from my other dog Ryder, despite him being desexed. His capability to get her pregnant is gone, but not his urges! When we were out, one was locked inside and one locked outside. Under supervision they were sometimes together but I am confident he never mounted her.

About a week after she came out of “heat” I noticed her enlarged nipples. It had me a little concerned but nothing over the top. It was when her Vulva become swollen again that I started to Panic!

Val started to display A LOT of the signs that a bitch is pregnant! With a swollen vulva and nipples freaking me out, I was only comforted by the fact that her appetite was fine and she was at her usual energy level of energizer bunny equivalence. But it was playing on my mind. How could she possibly be pregnant? I did everything right. I was so careful. A dog must have jumped into our yard!

That was the only explanation I could come up with. One day while I was at work and Val was locked outside, a local dog has jumped my fence and mounted her. My fence is only a 6” color bond number and I’ve watched my malinois jump it like it wasn’t even there. He only stays in the yard because he likes it here. “How could I be so negligent” I thought? What a hypocrite I am! I tell anyone that will listen about how accidental pregnancies like this are a huge problem. Rescues are full of puppies from unidentified matings. Thousands of these puppies get put down every year! Others develop all sorts of behavioural and physical problems when they have competing genetics. What horrible dog had gotten my baby girl pregnant and what manner of monsters were growing inside of her! All this was running through my head as I realized it just wasn’t possible.

Yes dogs can jump out of my yard if they really want to, but there’s no way to jump in! The yard behind me has massive fences and no dogs. And besides, I live in the city. There isn’t an intact male dog living anywhere near me. Pretty much everyone in my area has his or her dogs desexed. So why does my dog look pregnant? The only answer is a false pregnancy.

A false pregnancy is a condition where a bitch is showing symptoms of pregnancy, lactation, or nursing, without producing puppies. The affected female dog shows these symptoms about a month or two after her heat is over. It turns out that its actually not that uncommon. Its exact cause is unknown. However, hormonal imbalances, especially of progesterone and prolactin, are thought to play an important role in its development.

Things began getting out of hand with this false pregnancy and I started to panic again. The thing that pushed me over the edge was her weight gain. Valerie put on over 1kg and I got worried. So much so that I thought it was worth investing in an ultrasound to be sure Val wasn’t pregnant. I’ve never been so relieved in all my life.

Now the guesses

Why is this happening? Well, those that follow our Facebook page may remember this post from back in March.

My wife is pregnant with our first child. A little boy that’s due very soon. Somehow Jane’s pregnancy has leaked over into Valerie! Both my dogs love spending time listening to the sloshing sounds of the baby in her belly. We’re sure they know he’s in there. In fact I even think Ryder knew she was pregnant before we did. But that’s a story for another blog.

But really, they do spend a lot of time together. Is it possible that Val is picking up on the pregnancy hormones? Every indication leans towards yes. About a month ago Val started lactating. I’m not talking just swollen boobs, I mean full on massive boobs with milk coming out of them. And then something strange happened.

Sam and I went to Brisbane to run our first Tactical Working Dog Seminar. Being the MSK mascot Val came with us. Within 24 hours of being away from Jane, almost all her false pregnancy symptoms had gone. All her swelling reduced and I thought the ordeal was finally over. I wish I had taken better photos of her but you can see here that her nipples were back to normal while she was away.

Then, no sooner did we get home and all her pregnancy symptoms returned. As soon as she was back in the house with Jane, her little body decided it was pregnant again. Check out the enlarged nipples in this pic from just days ago.

Remember how I said pregnancies last 65 days in dogs? Go ahead and do the math. If Val was actually pregnant she would have given birth about 2 weeks ago! So how’s this going to end? My only guess is that when my wife gives birth, so will Valerie. I plan to bring home a special little soft toy to be her baby and hope for the best. But I will keep you all posted. 

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