If your dog has just given birth to a litter of puppies, don't expect her to be the same cuddly, sweet girl she was before -- at least not for the next couple months. Her priorities have changed and you are no longer her No. 1 concern. She has a lot of responsibility. Those five to eight little lives are completely dependent upon her for food, warmth, protection and training for the next several weeks, and most mother dogs take that responsibility very seriously.
Constant Attention To Her Litter
For the first couple weeks after they are born, your mother dog will rarely leave her babies' sides. She will likely only leave the whelping box for a few meals a day and to go potty. Other than that, she will be resistant to efforts to get her away from her babies. When her puppies are 2 to 3 weeks old, their eyes and ears will begin to open. As they begin to play and explore, her responsibilities become less about feeding and warmth and more about ensuring their safety and teaching them proper behavior. Up until they are about 6 weeks old, she will give them nearly constant attention.
Protective of Her Newborns
Your once friendly and outgoing dog may not welcome strangers -- or even you -- near her babies during the first few weeks after her puppies are born. She is also experiencing hormonal changes that make her even more protective. Likely, your dog will allow you to handle her babies, if you had a close bond before she gave birth. However, children, other pets and strangers may not be welcome near her whelping box. Provide her a quiet place where she will not be disturbed by loud noises, playing children, other pets or people during the time that she is raising her litter.
Other Common Behaviors
Much of your mother dog's time will also be spent grooming her babies. This will also involve vigorous licking of their nether regions which encourages them to urinate and defecate. Also, don't be alarmed if you see her eat her puppies' waste! She does this instinctively to hide her puppies' scent from predators and to keep the whelping box clean.
Even a well-trained momma dog may have accidents in the house for a couple of days after giving birth. This may come from her reluctance to leave her babies even for a potty break. Some mother dogs will paw at the floor, or tear up carpet in corners of the room. This digging instinct is likely an indication that she is trying to find a place to hide her babies because she feels they are unsafe in their current location. If your dog does this, move her whelping box to an area where there is less likelihood of her being disturbed.
During the first few weeks, your mother dog will spend most of her time nursing her puppies, so it's your job to take care of her. She'll need extra high-quality food and her water bowl should always be kept full. This will ensure she has plenty of milk (and energy!) for her growing babies.
By Bethney Foster
About the Author
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.