Caring for a mother dog and her puppies is a unique experience, filled with both joy and responsibilities. It also allows witnessing an array of behaviors non-mothering dogs do not exhibit, such as nesting, licking, house soiling, and suspiciousness towards strangers.
One of the most peculiar behaviors is moving the newborn puppies from one place to another. If this is your first time caring for a mother dog, you might wonder why does my dog keep moving her puppies? Well, the answer is simple – because she wants to protect them. If the mother dog feels their location is insecure, she will keep moving them around the house until finding the proper, safe spot. A mother dog may also keep moving her puppies if the original area was uncomfortable, either for her or the puppies.
Moving the puppies from one place to another is instinctual and expected behavior. However, puppies are fragile and sensitive, and too much moving might be disturbing for them. Luckily, there are ways of preventing the mother dog from moving her puppies too much and helping her feel safe and comfortable.
Let us start with the basics.
THE ORIGINS OF THE MOTHERING BEHAVIOR
When it comes to becoming the perfect mother, dogs have a more challenging time than women. Namely, dogs cannot read books and attend educational Lamaze classes to learn everything they need to know about their upcoming challenges.
However, this does not mean dogs do not make good mothers – on the contrary; most are exceptionally caring and protective. Female dogs learn mothering skills and behaviors by nature and by nurture.
Nature represents the instinctual, genetically imprinted skillset, while nurture applies to motherhood’s acquired, learned aspect.
The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and delivery are essential for the development of mothering skills. The puppies’ passage through the birth canal and the puppies’ first licking play vital roles.
This is the reason why a first-time mother who gave birth via a Cesarean section might need some help until she learns how to be the perfect mother.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MOTHERING BEHAVIORS
Once the puppies are born, there will be several behavioral changes the mother dog exhibits. However, these are not permanent. As soon as the puppies are a bit grown and not entirely dependent on the mother, she will go back to her usual self.
Here are the most common mothering behaviors.
Before giving birth, a mother dog will start looking for a safe place to give birth. At this point, it literally looks like the dog is searching for something around the house. Some soon-to-be moms may even dig in the carpet or rearrange the furniture.
To help your dog find a safe and comfortable place to give birth and raise her puppies, you can buy a specifically designed litter crate or pen, or alternatively, you can make one on your own.
If you see your dog frequently lying inside the crate, it means she approves of it and feels safe and comfortable.
Even the calmest, laid-back, and even-tempered dog can show signs of aggression once her puppies are delivered. This is entirely normal as it is the mother’s job to protect her babies.
The aggression can be directed towards you as well. However, in most cases, it is directed toward people that come near her litter.
The aggression in new dog moms is a hormonally driven behavioral change and, as such, is limited. So, do not worry; your beloved dog will not snap and growl all the time – it is just a phase.
Tons of licking
Once the mother has her puppies, it will seem like all she does is lick her puppies. The licking is an entirely normal behavior that increases the bond between the mother and her puppies. The licking has another purpose – to simulate the digestion process and encourage elimination.
It should be noted that the licking if exaggerated, can be dangerous. Exaggerated licking occurs in certain breeds, such as the Bull terrier, as a part of the so-called excessive maternal care. Namely, the mother dog may lick her puppies so much that they can damage their skin, especially around the umbilicus and on the head.
Urinating in the house
A perfectly well-housebroken dog may start urinating around the house once she has puppies. This is because mothers are so protective they are reluctant to leave their puppies alone, even for a moment.
The house soiling is a short-lived behavior. In most mothers, it is present only during the first 24 hours after the puppies are born.
After the first day, you can take her outside for a brief period and take her back inside as soon as she relieves herself. That way, she will realize that she will be reunited with her pups shortly, feel more relaxed and stop doing her business inside the house.
MOVING THE PUPPIES
This is another mothering behavior that due to its complexity warrants a special attention.
Instead of focusing on nursing and licking her puppies, a mother dog might be constantly moving them from one place to another. This behavior indicates the mother is not pleased with the whelping box or its location. Since it is her job to protect her puppies and the box is not safe, she will constantly move them in the search for the perfect raising place.
Moving the puppies too much can be risky for the puppies because of two main reasons. First of all, puppies are very fragile and frequent handling can be distressing and physically damaging for them. Secondly, a mother that is frantically searching for a safe place will not have much time to nurse and lick her puppies.
The roots of the problem
As mentioned, the problem can be the whelping box itself, or its location.
The whelping box
There are different whelping boxes, crates, pens – it all depends on personal preferences. However, regardless of the type of box you choose, the box’s size must be right. The ideal box should be between one and a half to two times the length of the mother.
Basically, the box should be large enough to allow the mother to stretch inside the box comfortably. However, if it is too big, she will not be able to keep her puppies close to her at all times, which is a reason for stress and discomfort.
The box should be small enough to allow all the puppies to lay close to the mother as they depend on her and each other for warmth. Newborn puppies have underdeveloped thermoregulation systems and cannot maintain normal temperatures. Snuggling keeps them warm. However, if the box is too small, the mother will not have enough place to move, and she may accidentally step or roll on the puppies, thus accidentally hurting them.
Other box-related factors, such as fence height, material, bedding type, and ease of cleaning, are a more significant concern for you than for the mother dog.
Ideally, you should set the whelping box in a separate room. If this is not possible, it can be put in a quiet, secluded house area. Before installing the box, it is advisable to spend some time sitting in the potential place. This will give you an insight into what the area offers – draught, light, temperature. Keep in mind that the mother prefers a warm, darker, and draught-free place for raising her puppies. If there is an additional heat source inside the box, that is even better.
Another crucial factor when choosing the location for the whelping box is traffic flow. That includes people, and if you live in a multi-pet household, other pets.
As tempting as it is to invite friends over to see the new puppies, you should resist this urge. Having new people over not only puts the puppies’ health at risk but can make the mother nervous and cause her to move them to an area where she feels they will not be exposed to visitors.
Bringing the puppies to you
Instead of moving her puppies around the house, a mother dog may bring you her puppies. This is the ultimate sign of trust. If a mother dog gives you her most valuable possession, in this case, her puppies, it means she feels comfortable and secure in your presence.
It can also mean that your dog wants you to help her on the mothering journey. The best way to help her is to provide the ideal whelping place and give her the love and support she needs while raising her puppies.
A word of caution…
When the mother dog moves her puppies, she carries them by the neck’s scruffs. Scruff is the loose skin just behind the head and on top of the neck. The mother uses this transportation means only while they are young. Once they have outgrown this method, she will use body language and vocal cues to encourage them to move.
Moving or holding a puppy by its scruff is only the mother is allowed to do. You should never use this method to pick up a puppy.
Are all female dogs good mothers?
Not necessarily. There is no “maternal behavior center” in a female’s brain, and such behavior cannot be hormonally induced. A mother’s behavior depends on hormones to some extent and depends on how well her own mother mothered the dog.
Will a Cesarean section interfere with my dog’s mothering behavior?
Normally, a pup’s passage through the birth canal and licking the puppy after birth triggers certain chemical changes in the mother’s brain. Those changes imprint the puppy in her mind, which is necessary for good mothering. If neither event occurs, there is a greater risk that the mother will reject the pups.
Why do some mothers eat their newborn babies?
In the canine world cannibalism is relatively rare. However, it can be common among certain breeds. For example, Bull terrier mothers especially if she gave birth through a Cesarean section are likely to eat their newborn puppies. On the other hand, cannibalism of pups and rejecting runts are realistic methods of limiting the number of mouths to feed, thus increasing the survival chances of the healthy litter members.
When caring for a dog that has given birth to a litter, you need to be extra supportive and understanding, especially if this is your dog’s first mothering experience. The best thing you can do is provide a safe and secure birthing area. Once the puppies are born, give your dog and her new puppies some privacy. You can check on them from time to time, but you must not be prying too much.
It would be best if you also were on the lookout for unusual behaviors. If your dog keeps moving her puppies from one place to another, check what is wrong with the whelping box. If she chooses to give birth outside the box, maybe the box is not right or placed in the wrong place. If you are not sure how to address the issue, do not hesitate to ask for professional help. Breeders are very experienced in solving problems in this area, so your next step would be asking one for advice.