Whelping puppies can be rough on inexperienced breeders. Mother dogs do odd things when in labor; they dig and shred the bedding as soon as you arrange it, they pant, stand up, turn around, dig some more...
Digging, Shredding, and Whelping Behavior
by Cindy Smith, CAS Akitas
After our girl, Tango, whelped her first litter of puppies, she and I had 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 and 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.
I had also read that new puppies need a surface they can get some traction on while pushing and clawing, scrambling in search of their next meal. You are also about to see why newborn puppies have long, fully developed sharp toenails! Anything that they can get trapped under (and laid on) is risky. Heavy, disposable quilting or carpeting (that has been pre-washed!!!) and that won't rumple is great but give her something to shred and dig in, like old rags, cloth diapers, or towels.
Newborns On Newspaper Are Prone To Hip Dysplasia!
Don't use newspaper because of the inks and dye but there's another important reason. Paper is too slick a surface and in large breed puppies it may stress, strain and over-flex their little joints in the effort to get to a nipple or under the puppy pile. That unnatural stress could lead to canine hip dysplasia later in their life. That may be as much a factor as heredity but who is gonna tell you that? P.S. By my next litter I had learned about Drydeck mats under shredded newspaper... Safe, keeps whelps dry, and provides excellent footing as puppies begin to move about in the nest. A lot easier on me too as I know any wetness will leak right to the rubber matting. Someone told me Drydeck is what they put in the stalls to cushion those incredible Clydesdale horses.
Why Do Mother Dogs Dig Obsessively When In Labor?
Tango thought that she needed to dig down to cooler "earth" for the purpose of freshening the nest 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. 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. Without human intervention, she would then have cleaned her nest by further digging to get down to a level of dryer and cleaner soil.
Don't Fight Her Nesting Instincts - Let Her Be A Mother Dog
We humans tend to get all bent out of shape over some instinctual canine behaviors, especially during the breeding and birthing of a litter of puppies. Can you imagine the mother dog's stress levels when powerful maternal instincts are taking over and we keep interfering????
A mother dog can't help what she's doing if she has strong nesting, birthing, and litter care instincts! Any attempt to suppress a bitch’s primitive need to dig for herself a safe nursery is only going to frustrate both the dog and the breeder. Shredding and digging to make a nice ROUND nest is not something she is doing to be naughty; it is a natural part of the birthing process.
You probably made or bought her a nice rectangular whelping box. Your husband, like mine, might have built her a masterpiece out of lumber. That was a waste of money.
A long-time Doberman breeder said "Buy her a child's wading pool! It is the most sanitary whelping bed. It is ROUND, just what she wants." Don't dogs turn 'round and 'round before they lay down? Doesn't a mother dog curl "around" her newborn puppies? Best of all, for less than $10 you can toss it, and buy another for her next litter.
OK, then get inventive. You know she's going to dig and shred and prepare her nest. You also know the birthing process is going to release a lot of fluids so put rags and old carpet on top of the Dry Deck rubber matting.
Put The Whelping Nest In A Quiet Private Place
One of my friends said her expectant Mother Dog kept trying to dig a hole for herself underneath the house. This went on over a period of several days. Her "bitch in whelp" would dig in and refuse to come out when called. They finally gave her the back of a closet in the guest room and that suited her enough that she whelped her puppies there.
Another friend said her Boxer whelped in their walk-in closet but that she pulled some of her best outfits down off the hangers and shredded them in her (square) whelping box they had bought. I knew my big girl needed more room so we gave her the corner of our bedroom and I hung a blanket from the chest of drawers over some chairs to give her privacy and security.
I talked to everyone before that first litter. One friend said her dog adopted two cute "dragon" stuffed plush toys about a week before she had her puppies. She guarded and 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 her daughter’s bed with her every night. She would snuggle 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.
Pregnant Dogs Do Strange Things
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 and spend more time close to their special human. At the same time instinct is urging her to seek seclusion from humans and other animals in general. Of course she's confused!
The pregnant dog may go off her food or she may eat ravenously only to throw it right back up. "Morning sickness" is not unusual. It’s caused by hormonal changes and by pressure from her enlarging uterus. A bitch in whelp may not want food in the usual amounts. If so, offer food when she seems hungry and do so more frequently and in smaller amounts. The pressure of her growing puppies increases when she's near to term. Food cravings are not unheard of, either. My bitch developed a passion for oranges, 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, she is going to indulge in some fairly industrious digging. Make sure she can't get under the house but otherwise, it is best to allow a bitch to dig. It’s part of the natural process for her. Just keep an eye on the locations (yes, there may be a dozen!) of the "nesting project" and if necessary, temporarily fence off your flower beds or garden. She may satisfy herself with re-landscaping the yard or inside the house she may try to "build a new basement" in the flooring or a carpet.
These are minor annoyances when compared to the experience of whelping and rearing a litter of puppies. The wonder of being part of the birth of new life, the wonderful future that you will insure for each puppy and most of all, that soft look in her eye that a near to term bitch has is deeply rewarding. As her girth expands, she may acquire a contemplative expression of bliss and peace. Even a bitch that normally has a sweet expression 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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