Will Mother Dog Reject Newborns if Touched?

There is a long-standing myth that touching newborn animals will cause their mothers to reject them. This is almost never true, and puppies are no exception. In fact, family dogs are often very tolerant of their favorite humans touching their babies. However, although touching a puppy won't make his momma reject him, that doesn't mean you should do it indiscriminately. Different breeders and veterinarians disagree on when and how often you should touch newborn puppies, but most do see eye-to-eye on a few basic guidelines.

Mother Golden Retriever with Puppies
Although touching a puppy won't make his momma reject him, that doesn't mean you should do it indiscriminately.
credit: Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment/GettyImages

Mother knows best

Always take the mother dog's comfort into consideration when you attempt to handle very young puppies. If the mother is nervous, defensive or aggressive, back off. If momma is growling or trying to hide her puppies from you, touching them is a definite no-no. Momma dog's main job is to protect and care for her pups. She almost always knows best, so unless there's a veterinary emergency, you should follow her lead.

Habituating puppies to humans

If momma dog is comfortable with you and doesn't show any signs of stress when you approach her new babies, most breeders recommend you begin gently petting them for a few minutes each day from the time she first gets them cleaned off and nursing. The idea is this early contact will habituate them to human beings and make bonding with their future human families easier and faster.

This petting must be very gentle: Pet Set suggests starting by simply stroking the puppies' backs with one finger. Stop immediately if the mother acts like this bothers her, and don't pet the pups for more than a few minutes at a time. Newborn puppies are very vulnerable to illness, so make sure you wash your hands very well with hot water and soap before and after touching them.

Handling puppies and weighing them

As a general rule, you don't want to lift, hold or carry puppies younger than 3 weeks because they're very delicate and even a short fall could injure or kill them. You will have to lift them, though, while you're performing basic health and husbandry procedures. Most breeders recommend weighing new puppies once a day so you can track your newborn puppies week by week. Consult your veterinarian: She can tell you how to weigh your pups safely and how much weight they should be gaining based on their breed.

Your vet will also tell you what to watch for to make sure the puppies are staying healthy. You'll probably need to trim the puppies' nails to make sure they don't hurt their mom while they're nursing. Most pups need this first nail trim by the time they're 10 days old. A vet, vet tech or professional groomer can show you how to do this safely and correctly.

When to assist mother dog

It's very rare for a mother dog to need assistance rearing her pups, but it does happen. Newborn puppies can't control their own body temperatures and they need to nurse almost constantly. VCA Hospitals says they should stay snuggled up with each other and their mom for at least the first 10 days. If you see a puppy younger than 10 to 14 days old off by itself, this is a sign there's a veterinary emergency.

The pup is either ill, too weak to nurse, or too cold to find his way back to his mother. You need to rescue that puppy immediately. Ceasar Milan suggests wrapping him against your skin inside a blanket to get his body temperature up and call your vet for instructions on what to do next. She can guide you through getting him to latch back onto a nipple, how to proceed if you have to begin emergency bottle feeding and how to tell if he needs veterinary care.

My dog killed her puppies

If your mother dog attacks her puppies, don't worry that you touching them was the cause. Sometimes mothers kill their puppies because they sense that they are sick. Other times mother dogs have more puppies than they can handle and get stressed, feeling the need to downsize. Mothers can also suffer from a breast tissue inflammation known as mastitis that makes nursing the puppies too painful.

Deaths can even be accidental. Sometimes inexperienced mothers will roll onto a puppy and accidentally suffocate him. Unfortunately, some dogs just seem to lack any maternal instinct and don't make good moms. This is especially common in dogs who are bred too young or during their first heat.