How Do Mother Dogs Act After Giving Birth?

Preparing for Birth

In the weeks leading up to giving birth, mother dogs begin exhibiting nesting behaviors and physical changes as they prepare for their puppies’ arrival. Their appetite may fluctuate, and some dogs eat less due to pressure from the growing puppies while others eat more to stock up calories. Pregnant dogs often start looking for a quiet, private nesting area about a week before labor begins, under beds, in closets, or behind furniture. Some dogs gather bedding material to line the nest, carrying toys or blankets around in their mouth. Mother dogs may pant more frequently and their body temperature drops below 100°F within 24 hours of labor starting, usually ranging between 99-100°F (Labor and Delivery in Dogs – Auburn Animal Hospital). They often appear restless or anxious, wanting to be left alone, as their maternal instincts kick in. Other behavioral changes include nesting, restlessness, clinginess, and appetite changes in the final days of pregnancy as dogs prepare for the demands of nursing and caring for a litter.

The Birthing Process

The birthing process for dogs has three main stages of labor:

Stage 1: This is the early labor stage where the cervix dilates and contractions begin. It can last 6-12 hours. The dog may pant, pace, dig, and act restless. Nesting behavior like shredding bedding may occur. Owners can provide a whelping box at this time.

Stage 2: This is the delivery stage when active labor and pushing occurs. Contractions become more intense and regular, happening every 45-60 seconds. Puppies will start being delivered during this stage, usually head first inside the amniotic sac. Each puppy delivery can take 1-3 hours, with 10-60 minutes between each puppy. Owners should monitor but not intervene unless the dog is struggling or a puppy is stuck.

Stage 3: After all puppies are delivered, this stage involves expelling the placentas. It typically lasts 1-6 hours. The dog may eat the placentas, which provides nutrients. Owners should count puppies and placentas to ensure none were retained. Monitoring for excessive bleeding is also important.

Caring for Newborn Puppies

Right after giving birth, the mother dog will focus on caring for her newborn puppies. One of the first things she will do is lick each puppy vigorously to clean them and stimulate breathing. The mother’s saliva contains antibacterial substances that help protect the puppies from infection. She will also bite through the umbilical cord and eat the placenta of each puppy. Eating the placenta provides nutrients to the mother and helps clean the birthing area.

The mother dog will continue licking and nursing the puppies frequently. This close contact helps bond the puppies to their mother. The puppies cannot regulate their own body temperature yet, so they rely on their mother’s body heat to keep them warm. Puppies also cannot urinate or defecate on their own at first, so the mother stimulates them to go by licking their genital region. Mother dogs are very attentive to their newborns in the first few weeks, rarely leaving the whelping box or taking their eyes off the litter.


Nursing and Feeding

Nursing and feeding is critically important for newborn puppies in the first few weeks after birth. The mother’s milk provides essential nutrients and antibodies that help the puppies grow and fight off disease.

The mother dog will begin producing milk 2-3 weeks before birth, with her milk coming in fully right after delivery. Puppies should be allowed to nurse from their mother frequently, generally every 2-3 hours round the clock during the first week [1]. Allowing the puppies to nurse on demand stimulates the mother’s milk production.

Puppies will continue to nurse about 8-10 times per day in the following weeks, with the mother dog stimulating nursing by lying on her side [2]. It’s important that each puppy nurses adequately at each feeding to ensure they all receive sufficient nutrition.

If the mother dog struggles to produce enough milk, supplemental bottle feeding with puppy milk replacer may be needed. It’s best to consult with a veterinarian on proper feeding amounts and techniques.

Protecting the Litter

After giving birth, mother dogs become very protective of their puppies and may act aggressive or defensive to protect them. Mother dogs exhibit a number of behaviors to defend their puppies from potential threats:

Guarding Behavior – Mother dogs will stay close to their puppies and growl or snap if another animal or human gets too close. Some mother dogs may even bite if they perceive a significant threat. This guarding behavior is strongest for the first few weeks but usually subsides over time as the puppies grow.1

Moving or Hiding Puppies – If a mother dog senses danger, she may attempt to move her puppies to a new den site or hide them away from threats. She may carry puppies one by one in her mouth or try urgently nudging them to get them to move. Some dogs are also known to carry their puppies and place them at the feet of their trusted human caretakers when alarmed.2

These protective behaviors are driven by natural maternal instincts to keep the puppies safe from harm. With time, proper socialization, and as long as there are no real threats, mother dogs usually relax their protective stance and allow more interaction with puppies.

Keeping Puppies Clean

Mother dogs keep their newborn puppies clean through attentive licking. Dog saliva contains enzymes that help clean and disinfect the puppies’ skin and coat[1]. Licking also stimulates urination and defecation in newborn puppies who cannot yet eliminate on their own. The mother will lick the anus and genital area to stimulate bowel movements and urination after feeding

In addition to licking the puppies clean, the mother dog will keep the whelping area tidy. She will eat any soiled bedding or waste to keep the area clean. It is still important for owners to spot clean the whelping area at least twice a day using a damp, warm cloth. Harsh soaps and chemicals should not be used to clean the mother or puppies[2]. The mother dog will clean the environment as needed between owner cleanings.

Providing a clean whelping area is crucial for the health of both the mother and puppies. The mother dog takes on the important responsibility of keeping the newborns clean and stimulating their bodily functions while owners maintain a sanitary environment.

Socializing the Puppies

During the 3-7 week period, it is important to start socializing the puppies to get them accustomed to human contact and handling. Puppies learn a lot from their mother and siblings during this time, but gentle interaction with humans is also key for proper development. Carefully handle each puppy individually for short sessions of 3-5 minutes per day. Talk softly, pet them gently, inspect their bodies, and hold them in your arms. This early handling teaches them not to fear humans and gets them comfortable with being touched all over. According to the ASPCA, the 4-7 week period is a prime socialization window, so positive experiences now can prevent behavior issues later.

It’s also a good idea to introduce a variety of sights, sounds, smells, and textures during this period. For example, play different genres of music, let them explore new rooms, bring in novel objects like brushes and toys, and stroke them with different textured materials. Always monitor the puppies closely and keep sessions brief and positive. Their mother will continue to socialize them as well, but your supplemental interactions provide essential human contact. According to the experts at Vet Cornell, early and frequent handling from 3 weeks onward results in puppies that are more socialized and suited for family life.


Weaning the Puppies

The weaning process typically begins when puppies are around 3-4 weeks old. At this age, their baby teeth start coming in which can make nursing uncomfortable for the mother. It’s important to start the transition from nursing to eating solid food gradually.

Begin by offering the puppies small amounts of softened puppy food 3-4 times a day. Mix the food with warm water or puppy milk replacer to create a gruel texture. Place it in a shallow bowl that allows the puppies to sample the new textures and flavors. Over the next few weeks, slowly decrease nursing time and increase the amount of solid food offered.

By 6-7 weeks old, the puppies should be eating solid food consistently at set intervals. At this point, the mother dog will likely start refusing to nurse. Her milk will naturally begin to recede as the puppies rely more on solid food. Make sure fresh water is always available as the puppies transition to independent eating and drinking.

With patience and gradual steps, puppies are typically fully weaned between 7-8 weeks old. They no longer need their mother’s milk and are ready to continue growing with proper nutrition from quality puppy food and water. The weaning process is an important milestone that prepares puppies for the transition to adopting homes or life with a new owner.

Training the Puppies

Between weeks 3-8, mother dogs begin training their puppies manners and behaviors [1]. Puppies begin exploring their surroundings more during this period, and the mother teaches them proper etiquette through correction and discipline.

Mother dogs may growl, snarl, or lightly grab the puppies by their neck scruff to inhibit unwanted behaviors like excessive nipping or rough play [2]. This teaches the puppies bite inhibition and boundaries with litter mates. The mother dog also demonstrates appropriate play styles and interaction with the puppies.

Additional training from the mother includes potty training, teaching the puppies not to eliminate where they sleep and eat. She also provides guidance on walking on leashes, climbing stairs, and other skills needed for domestic life. This early training from the mother sets the foundation for future training and socialization with humans.

Returning to Normal

After giving birth, mother dogs go through a recovery period as their bodies return to normal condition. This process usually takes 4-8 weeks.1

The mother dog’s hormone levels will stabilize as her heat cycles return to normal. Most dogs go into heat again 4 to 12 months after giving birth, depending on factors like nutrition and nursing.2

Initially after birth, the mother dog will be very protective and attentive to her puppies. As the puppies grow and become more independent, the mother dog will start spending more time away from them. She may even begin excluding the puppies from the nest or becoming more aggressive towards them as weaning approaches.3

The mother dog’s mood and behavior will likely return to normal as hormone levels stabilize and the puppies mature. However, some dogs can experience postpartum depression, so it’s important to monitor the mother’s behavior closely and contact a vet if any concerning signs arise.

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