Helping your dog bring new puppies into the world can be a magical experience, especially if she instinctively grabs motherhood with all paws. But some dams can hurt their puppies by mistake or out of aggression, so you should keep an eye on your new clan. Watch them closely until the puppies are able to see and go potty on their own, then check in periodically until the puppies are weaned.
Should I Always Supervise a Mother Dog with Newborns?
Problems With Puppies
It's important to watch your pooch with her puppies every possible second for the first two weeks, including sleeping in the same room and being aware of every noise. From the moment a puppy is born, the mom has the potential to attack it -- instead of licking it clean, she can become aggressive to the puppy. If your dog makes it through the birthing stage without incident, there are several reasons she might attack the puppies during their totally dependent first two weeks. She might be experiencing a hormonal imbalance that causes her to become frustrated with the puppies -- although most moms simply walk away for some alone time -- or her preservation instinct might kick in as she kills the loudest pups to quiet them and prevent them from alerting predators to their location. Inexperienced mothers might harm their puppies by accident, stepping or lying on them or picking them up incorrectly. After the puppies are about 2 weeks old, they are more mobile and start becoming less dependent on their mom, decreasing the risk she'll attack them or harm them by accident.
Although any dam needs to be watched with her pups for the first couple of weeks, young and old dogs should be watched more closely. First-time moms sometimes don't know what they're doing, and they can make harmful or fatal mistakes with their puppies. They can also be overwhelmed by the hormonal changes, making them aggressive toward the pups, although aggression is more likely in older dams who have had previous litters. The aggression is more common in dogs who had bad moms of their own; if you know your dog's history includes being abandoned or harmed by her dam, continue your full-day supervision until the puppies are weaned at about 6 weeks old.
The delivery method can make a difference in how closely you should supervise your dog and for how long after she has puppies. If she delivers naturally at home and tends to each pup as it's born, she is less likely to become aggressive toward them -- although she can still step on them by accident and hurt them. When a dam requires a C-section, she doesn't have the opportunity to clean the pups -- smelling herself on them at the time of birth -- or to nurse them immediately. Without the bond that develops with those two steps, your pooch might not develop the proper maternal behavior. She can abandon the pups, refuse to let them nurse or become aggressive toward them as if they belonged to someone else. If your dog requires a C-section, plan on watching her closely until the pups are weaned.
To help prevent your dog from becoming aggressive toward her pups, keep the whelping box in a quiet area with low light, such as your bedroom closet -- with the closet door open so she doesn't feel closed in. Keep all other pets out of the room and away from her when you take her outside to potty, and try to keep them quiet. Constant noise from other animals can make the new mom anxious, which can make her kill puppies to quiet them. If too many people try to handle her puppies, it can make her nervous and cause her to be overly aggressive toward the puppies, since she can't be aggressive toward the people. Making sure she has enough room to move around in the whelping box can reduce the chance of her accidentally lying down on a puppy or stepping on one.
By Rob Harris
The Merck Veterinary Manual: Behavioral Problems Associated with Canine Aggression
Tri-County Animal Hospital: Maternal Behavior Problems
The Pet Medic: Your Puppy - Tender Care Facts!
VCA Animal Hospitals: Breeding for Dog Owners - Caring for Newborn Puppies
American Kennel Club: The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch - Part Three
About the Author
While studying journalism in the Army and at the University of Missouri, Rob Harris developed a lifelong love of physical fitness and nutrition, contributing often to a dairy industry newsletter. He has also worked with and created blogs for several family businesses including a professional dog kennel and a flower shop, where he used his experience as an avid gardener to grow plants for sale.