When your dog comes into season for the first time, it can be worrying. Hoards of people may tell you that you mustn’t walk your dog for three whole weeks.
Now depending on your individual dog, that may be no big deal, or it might be a HUUUUGE deal.
I’m a huge advocate for us all doing our best to ensure our dog’s needs are met. But of course, we need to find ways to do that safely. So that our dogs are supported and happy, and so other people and their dogs are protected too.
After seeing a post in a local doggy Facebook group where people were up in arms about bitches in season being walked in our local park, one woman piped up and claimed this was a feminist issue. And it got me thinking.
Is the way we treat bitches in heat a feminist issue?
It’s a fairly common belief that when a bitch is in season, she shouldn’t be walked. It’s believed that it creates all sorts of problems for other dog owners. They can’t call their dogs back. Their dog gets a whiff of the scent and becomes totally driven to get to the bitch in heat.
Some feel that it’s dangerous since a dog’s sense of smell is so strong, they could bolt across a road to get to that desirable bitch.
And well, I suppose they could. And they may be harder to recall. But does that mean that the female dog should stay locked up inside for three weeks?!
As an inner-city dog owner, I find it a bit of a conundrum. If a dog can smell a bitch in heat from miles away, then wouldn’t all these male dogs be going bananas about the bitch in her garden four doors down?
I’m not saying that it doesn’t make things more difficult for some owners, but I think it’s important to take a balanced view.
It can also be incredibly difficult for owners of high energy female dogs to keep them at home for weeks on end. And very challenging for the dog in question too.
So what’s the solution?
Secure dog fields are a safe space for dogs in season
There are more and more secure dog fields across the country. These are private and securely fenced fields that you can usually rent by the hour to walk your dog alone.
This means there are no other dogs there during your visit, your dog can’t get out, and no other dogs can get in.
I wondered whether if the scent of a bitch in heat is so strong, then would it cause a problem for other dogs visiting later in the day.
So I spoke to three lovely women who own secure dog fields in the UK to ask whether it was safe for dogs in season to rent their fields.
And the resounding answer was YES!
Diane has personal experience of this since one of her own dogs is still entire. They visited her field directly after two bitches in season had used it, and she told me there was absolutely no difference to her entire male’s behaviour.
I’ve been unable to find any research studies to confirm how long the scent of a dog in season would remain, but anecdotal evidence at least seems to confirm it’s no big deal.
Diane suggested that since there are so many scents in the field, any smells left behind will be diluted. They have moles, foxes, other dogs and all sorts of wildlife visiting the field overnight.
In addition, Diane says that in her professional and personal experience, it’s the combination of the scent and the female’s flirty behaviour that can entice a male dog to be wooed!
While a bitch is in season for approx three weeks, there is a reasonably short period when she is actually fertile and ready to mate. So while male dogs may be interested in her throughout her cycle, she is typically only receptive to the idea for approximately nine days.
There are four stages to a dog in season’s heat cycle, and we’ll look at each shortly.
I also spoke to Lisa, who owns three secure dog fields in Surrey. Lisa also allows bitches in season to access and enjoy her secure fields and has never had any issues with it.
Introducing The Ugly Walk
Lastly, I spoke to Katie Guastapaglia of Dogwood Adventure Play near Stockton on Tees in the North East. Katie is a dog trainer, scentwork instructor and Scentventure Guide.
It’s a heck yes from me! All dogs deserve to mooch, sniff and explore a completely safe space – including bitches in season. Dogwood is a totally inclusive space for all dogs and their families.
Katie Guastapaglia - Dogwood Adventure Play
‘Not having an entire male myself, it’s something I’ve discussed with my clients who do. It has never been a problem, they say. My lovely friend and client Lisa visits Dogwood a couple of times a week with her Dalmatians, including entire male Clovis.
‘Clovis loves the ladies and is proud dad to many little spots. He sometimes sniffs more than usual at Dogwood and Lisa wonders if a bitch in season may have been in earlier that day. There are so many interesting smells left behind from our overnight visitors – including a huge spectacular owl! – that it really could be anything that catches his attention. He doesn’t become distressed or agitated, Lisa says; his nose just stays down longer.
‘So yes, bitches in season are welcome at Dogwood! But if you can’t make it to a Scentventure Park like Dogwood, in my training programme Scentventure, we have a concept called the Ugly Walk.
‘An Ugly Walk is a trigger-free environment. It's somewhere quiet such as an industrial estate or large supermarket car park after closing. It’s unlikely to be popular with other dogs and people because it's not a place of beauty - hence its name 'ugly'! It's generally not your 'typical' place for a dog walk. If there are other dogs, they are more likely to be on lead.'
If you'd like to learn more about helping your dog to feel calm and enjoy your walks together then check out Club Dogwood. Discover online courses coupled with a wonderful community which encourages sniffy adventures.
Finding a secure dog field near you
To find a secure dog field near you, simply take to Google and search ‘secure dog field near me’ or ‘freedom field near me.’
You can also try searching this secure dog field directory, but many great places are not yet listed. So if you can’t find one near you, don’t despair. Local dog Facebook groups are also a brilliant place to ask for local hidden gems.
Alternatives if you can’t access a secure dog field
It’s important to keep your dog in season on a lead for dog walks throughout her season, unless, of course, you’re in a secure private field or garden.
In the interest of making life easier and safer for everyone, it is probably best to stick to road walks. All dogs should be on lead on public roads, so your dog being in season shouldn’t put any other dogs or their owners at risk.
Slow and sniffy lead walks are really enjoyable for most dogs. While you might prefer to take your dog to a local park for a good run rather than pounding your local pavements, your dog will likely enjoy all the smells on offer!
A dog’s nose is incredibly powerful. And the streets are full of interesting smells. It’s the doggy equivalent of getting their daily news. Forget having a destination in mind and just go at your dog’s pace and let them enjoy all the sniffs and sights of a road walk.
If you have a reactive dog, then road walks may be stressful for you both. Make a decision based on your individual dog on how to best meet their needs.
Chances are, if you have a reactive dog, then you are a bit of an expert at avoiding other people and dogs. Do just be mindful that if you choose to visit a local park or dog walking spot, you might be at greater risk of dogs approaching. You know your dog. Make a judgement call that you feel comfortable with.
When will my dog have her first season?
Typically a dog will have their first season when they reach adolescence. This can be anytime after approx six months of age, depending on breed. Larger breeds take longer to mature and so your dog may not go into season until closer to 18-24 months of age.
A dog will usually experience two heat cycles in a year. However, this may not be regularly established until your dog is fully matured at around two years of age.
A typical heat cycle will last around 21 days.
The four dog in season stages
Stage 1: Proestrus
This stage usually lasts around nine days and is the beginning of your dog’s heat cycle. Her vulva will be swollen, and you may notice a bloody discharge.
Male dogs are likely to be more interested in your dog at this stage, but she’s unlikely to reciprocate. She’s not ready to get flirty yet!
Stage 2: Estrus
During the second stage of your dog’s heat cycle, she will become more receptive to the idea of mating. This is also when your female dog is fertile and may become pregnant.
Your dog may urinate more frequently, leaving a scent to let the neighbourhood know she’s ready for mating.
Stage 3: Diestrus
Your female dog will no longer be receptive to mating and is now out of the fertile stage. This stage will last approximately two months.
Stage 4: Anestrus
Your dog is now in a rest phase before gearing up for her next season. This stage lasts approx four months, depending on your individual dog.
The morning-after pill for dogs
Accidents happen. If a dog manages to mount your dog during her season, then visit your vet. While there isn’t a morning-after pill as such for dogs, your vet may be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
This isn’t without risks and should not be used as a method of birth control, but if your dog does mate unintentionally, then speak to your vet to discuss your options.
How do you know when your dog’s season has finished
Your dog’s season may last anywhere between 2-4 weeks. You’ll know that she has completed her heat cycle when she stops bleeding or discharge and her vulva returns to normal.
I hope this has helped you to feel more confident about keeping your dog safe and comfortable during her season. If your female dog wants to enjoy time in the great outdoors during her season, then I believe she should be able to, and there are certainly options to achieve this while still considering others.
Have you ever visited a secure dog field with your dog? Let us know your experience and share any great hidden gems in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.