How Can I Help My Dog in Labor?

Before the arrival of the puppies, a suitable place must be prepared for the whelping and the care of the puppies in the first 6 weeks of life.

What are the first signs of a dog going into labor?

The first sign is usually the refusal of food. The normally ravenous dog turns away from its plate or may vomit shortly after eating.

She becomes restless, starts to scratch her bedding into a nest, and may remain lying for only short periods. Soon she may start to pant and muscular contractions may be visible in her distended abdomen.

A fluid-filled sac appears at the vulva. This is one of the membranes which covers the developing puppy and the bitch usually vigorously licks herself until the membrane is ruptured, releasing a small amount of clear fluid.

Soon the bitch starts to enhance the contractions already begun in the uterus by standing and straining her abdominal muscles. The frequency of these contractions increases, as does their force, until another sac containing the puppy appears at the vulva.

How do I prepare my dog for labor?

Room temperature

A room must be well insulated and capable of being heated, the daily variation in night and day temperatures is considerable.

Newly born puppies have no ability to regulate their own body heat, so the temperature must be maintained at about 24°C or 75°F at the floor level where the puppies are lying.

Whelping box

A whelping-box with sides about 25cm high and sufficiently large for the bitch to be able to stretch out comfortably should be provided.

The most practical material to cover the wooden floor is a newspaper, which can be changed as frequently as it is dirtied. Sheets and blankets become very quickly contaminated and it is difficult to keep up a sufficient supply of clean replacements.

Electric heating pads

Electric heating pads on which the bitch and puppies lie are available. This form of heating is very suitable and the general temperature of the room can be reduced to a less drying and oppressive level.

Space for exercise and play

In the first few weeks of life no other special facilities are needed, but as the puppies grow a secure outside run is required to provide space for exercise and play.

After 3 weeks the temperature in the sleeping area can be reduced. The room should be designed for easy cleaning, as puppies at this age make a considerable mess.

How can I help my dog during labor?

It is best not to be in too much of a hurry to assist the birth of the puppy while the bitch is making progress.

If the bitch is beginning to tire or if the puppy is being presented hind feet first the delivery can be facilitated by grasping the puppy with a clean cloth and gently pulling in unison with the contractions of the bitch.

When the puppy is delivered it is usually surrounded by a thin membrane. If the bitch does not remove this quickly and start licking the puppy clean, the puppy’s head should be freed and the nose and mouth wiped free of any fluid which may hinder the puppy’s first breaths.

If it is obvious that some fluids have entered the nose and mouth of the puppy, it should be placed in the palm of the hand so that the neck is supported and shaken vigorously, head downwards, to expel the obstruction.

The interval between the birth of each puppy varies from dog to dog. Usually, it is between 15 and 20 minutes, but maybe much longer towards the end of a large litter.

Between the birth of each puppy, the bitch may rest quietly but she does not really relax and stretch out until the whole litter has been delivered. She usually is not hungry after whelping and prefers to rest. She may, however, be quite thirsty and will drink milk or water.

After a dog has produced a large litter it is wise to have it examined by a veterinarian, who may give an injection to aid the contraction of the uterus and let down the milk.

If the puppies are of a breed that requires tail-docking and dew-claw removal, this is best done when they are 4 days old. Normally, worming begins at 2½ weeks and their first vaccinations are given when they are 6 weeks old.

What should I do after my dog gives birth?

With dogs, it is important immediately after birth to provide quiet and warmth so that the mothering and suckling instinct can develop.

Some overindulged and nervous bitches become very agitated during whelping. It is important that these mothers are not constantly petted and fussed over by their owners otherwise the stimulus for proper milk let down is disrupted and the mother-infant bond is not properly established. The practice of removing the puppy from the bitch as soon as it is delivered should be discouraged.

During the first week after birth, the bitch is usually very reluctant to leave the litter. The relationship between the mother and puppy is extremely close and there is an almost continuous bond through touching between the mother and other puppies in the litter.

It is not until the second and third week that the mother is inclined to leave the litter for long periods and it is during this time that the individual puppy becomes more adventurous and will start to spend time separated from the other individuals in the litter.

At four weeks the puppy begins to react to other members of the litter through play and playful fighting, and it is at this time that weaning can be commenced. The puppy begins to respond to the human company usually as a result of feeding and cleaning activities but later through patting and voice stimulation.

In nature, the bond between mother and offspring is usually broken after weaning. The bitch begins to reject the puppies and forcibly discourages them from feeding from her.

Under some domestic situations, the bitch and the puppy are kept together so that the relationship changes to one of close companionship. Puppies kept for several months together with the mother without close human contact have proved to make disappointing pets and have been difficult to train.

The period between four and twelve weeks is a vital one in the relationship between a puppy, its littermates and human beings. Disruptions at this time can have a marked effect on the future behavior of the dog.

Puppies that are reared in large numbers and have little contact with humans during the first three months tend to be wild and distrustful of humans. They make poor house pets, are difficult to train, and can be unpredictable with strangers.

Conversely, a puppy removed from its littermates at this time becomes too dependant on humans and is either frightened of its own species or becomes over-aggressive. These dogs can be difficult to breed. It can be seen from this that the optimum time to wean puppies is at about eight weeks.

Of all species, man has been responsible for the selection and evolution of the innumerable strains of the modern dog. Whilst behavior has been shown to be governed by environmental factors certain traits which can give rise to abnormalities in the temperament of dogs are inherited.

All veterinarians are aware of the changes that have occurred in certain breeds of dogs over a relatively short time when the factors influencing the selection of dogs for breeding have become divorced from the original purpose for which the breed was evolved. For example, the temperament of the modern Cocker, bred purely for the show ring, bears little resemblance to that of the robust animal bred as a gun dog.

Puppies that are over-indulged by humans, that are never disciplined and are given free run of the house, often become social misfits. When confronted with other dogs they tend to run to the shelter and protection of the human company.

The small dog seen carried everywhere by its doting owner has terrible problems in a situation when removed from this one human being. It becomes terrified if left in a boarding kennel or veterinary hospital. As with human children, overprotection can be just as damaging to the puppy’s ability to adapt to changing situations as too little attention early in life.


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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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