No one who loves animals can fail to appreciate the affection and devotion that a mother dog feels for her puppies. In addition to the sense of serene pleasure that emanates from the proud mama surrounded by her litter, female dogs show their affection toward their puppies through several very concrete and important maternal behaviors.
In the wild, giving birth to a litter and raising puppies is a dangerous business. The helpless pups are vulnerable to predators and extreme weather. Even in a domestic home, mother dogs do their best to provide a safe place for their precious babies by building a nest in a secluded area and lining it with soft, warm material. This comfortable hidey-hole will be the puppies' exclusive home for the first weeks of life, a cozy space close to Mom's love and protection.
After the puppies are born, Momma Dog licks them to remove the remains of the placenta and stimulate breathing, movement and waste elimination. This behavior initially lets the mother learn the smell of her new litter so that she can always tell that they are hers. However, licking also feels good to the puppies, letting them know that they are protected and loved. Puppies will instinctively crawl in the direction of the stimulation, allowing Momma to lead them back to her if they get lost.
Puppies are naturally blind and deaf at birth. It is vital for their health that they nurse on Momma's rich milk within the first 12 hours of life. After the last puppy in the litter is born, the mother dog positions herself so that her pups can find her teats as quickly and easily as possible. The puppies readily discover how wonderful her milk tastes, and their nursing eases the pressure she feels in her mammary glands. Before long, nursing becomes a relaxing and affectionate activity for all of them.
As dog owners, people strive to keep their pets safe from all threats. Though it rarely comes up in a controlled, domestic environment, a mother dog will do her utmost to protect her puppies from danger. In the wild, this might mean confronting an animal much larger than herself. A threatened mother dog could easily run away, but her need to keep her beloved babies safe will inspire her to risk her own life if necessary, fighting until the threat is eliminated.
By Rachel Steffan
American Kennel Club: The Science of Breeding
University of Minnesota: Reproductive Behavior of Small Animals
Mercer University: Dog (Canis familiaris) Behavior
University of Wisconsin Stevens Point: K9 Agression
About the Author
Based in central Missouri, Rachel Steffan has been writing since 2005. She has contributed to several online publications, specializing in sustainable agriculture, food, health and nutrition. Steffan holds a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Truman State University.