Behaviors of a Mother Dog After Birthing

Your dog has just given birth to a litter of puppies, and all you want to do is go in there and celebrate with her. But hold on. Your dog's priority now is to care for her puppies, and a mother dog's behavior after giving birth may change. Don't worry, though; once your dog has accomplished her puppy-raising mission, her behavior will change again and she'll start to act more like herself.

Group of cute beige golden retriever puppies have milk from their mom
Your dog’s priority now is to care for her puppies, and a mother dog's behavior after giving birth may change.
credit: Anastasiia Cherniavskaia/iStock/GettyImages

Dog nesting after having puppies

New moms want to settle into a safe and secure place with their pups and begin the task of raising them. To that end, some dogs act like they're searching for something in your house, possibly going so far as trying to "dig" in carpeted areas.

If you notice your dog doing this, it may indicate that she doesn't feel safe. It's best to leave your dog alone with her puppies in a quiet area where no one will disturb them. Check in on them from time to time, sure, but give them a chance to bond and let the mother welcome your company once she feels safe and in control.

Aggressive behavior is common

It may come as a surprise to see your normally friendly dog suddenly showing aggression toward you and others once her puppies are born. This is a common behavior in new mother dogs, and it's driven by hormonal changes that your dog undergoes as she gets closer to giving birth. Your dog may snap or growl at people who get near her and her litter, especially when the puppies are young.

As much as you want to show off the new puppies to your friends, this can stress the mother dog even more. Instead, only bring in one or two people whom the mother dog knows well. Respect your dog's privacy as mother dog and puppies bond with each other and remember that she's reacting instinctively if she does act aggressively toward you.

Lots of licking

A dog who has just become a new mother will often intensely focus on her puppies. You may notice that your mother dog licks her puppies almost constantly. This behavior is normal and helps to create a bond between the mother and puppies. It also serves to help stimulate the puppies' digestive systems and encourage them to go to the bathroom.

Urinating in your house

Your dog, who was so well-housebroken, may seem to forget her training in the days after she gives birth. Some mother dogs are so focused on their litters that they are reluctant to leave them for any reason, even to go outside to relieve themselves. You'll probably notice this behavior the most in the first 24 hours or so after your dog has given birth.

After 24 hours have passed since your dog gave birth, you can take her outside to encourage her to relieve herself. Just don't keep her away from her puppies for too long. She should gradually relax with this arrangement, realizing that you'll quickly reunite her with her puppies again. If your dog continues to relieve herself in the house, or has trouble relieving herself, then it's time for a trip to the vet to get her checked out.

Handling your dog’s behavior

When your dog has given birth to a litter, the best thing you can do is give her some time alone with her puppies. Provide your dog with a quiet place where she can feel safe with her newborns. Check in on them from time-to-time, but don't get any more involved with the puppies than you have to be.

You should look for behaviors in your dog that indicate that something is wrong, such as unusual nervousness, loss of appetite, or listlessness. You should also make sure that she's caring for all of her puppies. It's possible for a mother to reject some or all of her puppies if she doesn't feel well or if her maternal instincts don't kick in. If you witness this or other concerning behaviors, take your dog and her puppies to the vet right away.