In honor of Mother’s Day, it’s important to recognize all kinds of moms, including the canine variety that are the first sign of love and protection for newborn puppies.
“What you’ll see on day one is a mother who doesn’t want to be away from her pups for more than a second,” says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, Staff Doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. For the first three weeks after the puppies are born, the mother dog gives them her undivided attention and care.
Because they are born unable to see, hear, or walk, puppies are completely dependent on their mother, and these first few weeks are extremely crucial. It’s estimated that they spend about 10 percent of the time eating and the other 90 percent sleeping. A canine mother’s job in the first ten days of her puppies’ life (known as the neonatal period) is to meet all of their needs, from nourishment to assisting in the elimination of waste.
Around the third or fourth week, the transition to solid food begins and the puppies’ drive to nurse decreases. As they become less dependent on the mother for her milk, there is a decline in her lactation. “It’s not only about the transition to solid food but also the transition to independence,” says Dr. Oppenheimer, Director of the Perla del Sur Animal Hospital in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He continues, “One of the wonders of this world is getting to watch how a canine mom separates from her puppies. Nature and its behaviors are beautiful to observe.”
To further the babies’ independence, the mother will leave the whelping box more frequently and for longer periods of time. “This gives the pups optimal time for socialization and to assert some independence away from her,” says Russell Hartstein, a certified behaviorist and dog trainer in Los Angeles.
When they are first born, puppies’ motor skills are nonexistent, but by the fourth week, they start to become ambulatory. It’s during this time they begin to transition from a helpless newborn to a playful puppy.
The weaning process is the time in a pup’s life when critical behaviors are learned from both his mother and his littermates. These behaviors are essential to the puppy’s overall development. The important benchmarks needed for separation should be met in a natural order of progression, otherwise, problems can develop as the puppies mature into adulthood. It’s also important to the mother’s health that the weaning process be a gradual one.
As the pups’ independence increases, so does their activity level. They begin to explore their surrounding area and strengthen their social connections with humans. Dr. Hohenhaus believes it is imperative for newborn puppies to be around people from the very beginning. “A canine mother is very protective on day one, but after a couple of days, the mamma will let other people near her babies,” she explains.
During the first 16 weeks of their life, puppies are the most impressionable. “This social developmental period is an extremely crucial time for them,” says Dr. Hohenhaus. “They need to interact with other people and animals, as well as become accustomed to strange sights and sounds.”
As a puppy grows and becomes more independent, a canine mother’s role changes from one of support, direction, and protection to one that encourages self-reliance. By eight weeks of age, puppies can usually handle going to a new home. The mother may initially feel lost without her litter and show signs of depression that could last a few days.
Complete separation from his mother and littermates might be scary for a puppy at first, and it’s natural for him to cry or whine during this period of adjustment. But with love and socialization, the pup will soon acclimate to his new surroundings.