Whelping litters can be rough on inexperienced breeders. Mother dogs do odd things when in labor and whelping puppies; they dig and shred the bedding as soon as you arrange it, they pant, stand up, turn around, dig some more...
Digging, Shredding & Other Odd Habits Of Mother Dogs
Author Unknown, please help us give credit to the breeder!
After our girl, Tango, whelped her first litter of puppies late in May, she & I had many a polite discussion on the subject of proper whelping box maintenance. She deemed it best to dig her bedding materials up into a huge pile pushed into the exact center of her box, subjecting her newborns to being buried under their blanket in the process.
I thought it would be far nicer & much safer for the puppies, to have their blanket lying flat with the pups located on top of it, to give those tiny little paws a good solid grip in the material while they were jockeying for position at Mamma Tango’s Dairy Bar. Tango didn’t seem to realize that her new babies needed to have a surface that they could get some traction upon while pushing & clawing, scrambling in search of their next meal.
Young puppies on too slick a surface may stress & strain or over flex their little joints in the effort, which could lead to Canine Hip Dysplasia later in their life. Heredity & environment both play their parts in the development of a litter of puppies.
Obsessive digging was purely instinctual behavior on Tango’s part. She thought that she needed to dig down to cooler "earth" in her man-made "den," to the purpose of freshening the bed for her new puppies as well as getting down to a cooler layer of "dirt" to make herself more comfortable with all those tiny furry bodies pressed up against her. Were she not my beloved companion, having her puppies in our home in a whelping box constructed for that purpose, in the wild she would have carefully chosen a safe area in which to dig herself an appropriate den, or to "remodel" one that was once the property of some other animal. After having her puppies without human intervention, she would then have cleaned her nest by further digging to get down to a level of dryer & cooler soil. You can’t fool Mother Nature.
We humans can tend to get all bent out of shape over some instinctual canine behaviors. Doing this at the time leading up to, during, & immediately after the birth of a litter of puppies, when powerful maternal instincts are taking over a bitch’s behavior patterns can make the whole ordeal harder & more stressful for all parties. Any attempt to completely suppress a bitch’s primitive need to dig for herself a safe nursery is only going to frustrate both canine & human being. Shredding & digging in her bedding is not something she is doing to be naughty or annoying; it is a natural part of the birthing process. She is driven by instinct to prepare a den & to keep it clean & tidy after the pups have arrived.
Give her materials that she can safely tear up & dig in to her heart’s content. Choose something you won’t mind losing; otherwise she may unintentionally wreck something that you care rather more about. Miko had a litter at Christmas one year, & as is usual at the Holidays there were rather more distractions than normal. She chose that opportunity to slip into the bedroom & fashion herself quite a lovely nest in the goose down featherbed. We found her comfortably curled up asleep amidst the total demolition of the ‘human bedding," & she woke looking most pleased with herself while peering out at the world through a goose feather blizzard wafting in the air, lodged in her coat, & scattered throughout the room.
We couldn’t scold her, as she had done nothing more than to respond to an internal drive at a moment when we humans got careless. Yes, dogs can think. But they think like dogs; not like humans. Had I disciplined poor Miko for responding to an instinctual need well after the offending deed had been done, she would have been totally unable to understand why she was being taken to task. People who attribute human reasoning abilities & human qualities to dogs miss the chance to view the world through a canine perspective, & their dealings with dogs will be less than successful & not as rewarding as they ought to be. I will admit that I did do a bit of grumbling at myself under my breath while lugging the shop-vac around trying to clean up that horrendous mess, having first resettled her back in her whelping box where we had planned on her having her babies. Her Christmas Eve featherbed assault was indeed followed on Christmas Day by the arrival of 8 bouncing baby puppies. She knew.
Give your expectant mother dog a quiet, safe place. One of my friends had a bitch named Cassie that always looked as if she had swallowed a watermelon just before whelping. Diane says that Cassie decided the best thing for an expectant Mother Dog to do was to excavate a hole for herself underneath her doghouse & then attempt to squeeze her huge self into it. This went on over a period of several days. Cassie would dig in & set up housekeeping, refusing to come back out when called, & Diane would have to dig her back out of there. Cassie finally got moved into the house earlier than Diane had originally planned to do, as she was afraid that Cassie would get stuck in her "doghouse basement" den & try to have her puppies in there.
Diane’s Barnaby daughter, Shadow, adopted two very cute "dragon" stuffed plush toys when she was expecting. Shadow stole the two toys from the other dogs about a week before she had her puppies. She guarded & carefully tended her two toys, Insisting that they go everywhere with her for the entire week before she whelped. She carried them with her onto the couch during the day and up onto Diane’s daughter’s bed with her every night. The toys were taken from her when they were soiled, then washed, & Shadow would retrieve them fresh from the clothes dryer, repossessing them for herself & snuggling them by her belly as if she thought the toys might want to nurse. After all of this, Shadow had two puppies. Two toys for two puppies; it makes one wonder.
Dogs at times give the impression that they are able to read our minds. What is really happening is that they are carefully watching us, even to the point of studying us in order to anticipate what we might do or what we want of them. Dogs communicate with each other through body language and they are very good at reading human body language. Careful observation of the expectant bitch allows an owner to "read" their dog, to have some idea of how she is feeling & what she intends to do by the look she has & the ways she moves.
A bitch approaching the last stages of a pregnancy can become a study in canine confusion. She is aware of changes taking place inside her own body. Many will feel a need to become clingy & want to spend more time very close to their special human. At the same time instinct is urging her to seek seclusion from humans & other animals in general.
Pregnant dogs may go off her food or she may eat ravenously only to throw it right back up later. "Morning sickness" is not unusual. It’s caused by hormonal changes & by pressure from her enlarging uterus. An expectant bitch may not want food at her accustomed meal times or in the usual amounts. Food should be offered when she seems to ready for it, more frequently & in smaller amounts. It’s not unusual for a heavily pregnant bitch to refuse food for parts of a day, or even to choose not to eat for a day as discomfort from the pressure of her growing puppies increases near to term. Food cravings are not unheard of, either. Tango developed a passion for oranges & orange juice, which she had always previously ignored.
The expectant mother will need to relieve herself a lot more frequently as pressure increases on her bladder. Turned loose into the fenced yard, or one’s favorite flowerbed, she is going to indulge in some fairly industrious digging. It is best to allow a bitch’s urge to dig for herself a safe den. It’s part of the natural process for her. Just keep an eye on the location & the progress of the "building project" so she can’t get out of reach at a time when she needs assistance, or possibly become stuck in there, unable to maneuver her way back out. She may satisfy herself with re-landscaping the yard into a smooth, depressed area large enough for herself to lie down in, or she may create her own little cave somewhere. Inside the house she may well try to "build a new basement" in the flooring or a carpet.
These seem minor annoyances when compared to that definite soft look in her eye that a near to term bitch will have. As her girth expands, most acquire a contemplative expression of bliss, peace, & love. Even a bitch that normally has the sweetest of expressions with an "I love you" personality will develop a more soulful look, as if aware at least on some level of the grand mystery that is occurring within her body.
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