Our puppies are born under the total supervision of myself and often our excited child who is the proud owner of the mother. The mother dog wouldn’t feel comfortable without them being present, generally whining and complaining, making her desire for her special person known. This often means many many sleepless nights as she can be in early labour for a couple of days.
This is just the early nesting, unsettled behaviour similar to women who begin a frantic cleaning phase that many mothers do days before their baby arrives. As we are never sure when she will progress from early labour to the first stage of labour we would never leave her unsupervised during this time.
During the first stage of labour mothers become a little more intense, and generally just want to be close or cuddling on a lap, with frequent small walks and toilet breaks. They are not hungry at this stage but quite focused, can be a little whiny as their body prepares for delivery. They are very needy during this stage. The 2nd stage is when the active pushing begins and the puppies start to arrive.
This is a stressful time for all, as anything can happen very quickly, and our vet is always on standby should we need him. Even after many years of breeding we all still find this stage exciting but stressful.
Once the puppies are born we sleep beside Mum and puppies for the first 2 weeks to ensure she is ok and puppies are all cared for, latching on and feeding well. She is never left alone during this time, as a puppy can be squashed or get too cold very easily, by moving away from siblings and mum.
These early weeks are an exhausting time for everyone.
During the first few weeks mum likes to be kept in a quiet peaceful environment, with noise and people (apart from her special owner), kept to an absolute minimum. Handling of puppies is done daily to check health, weight gain and for early neural stimulation, but only by those Mum is very comfortable with, as she is very protective of her babies. Their natural instinct is to snuggle up close to her all day. Even though they are born blind and deaf, they have a strong sense of smell and a little heat sensing nose that means they are constantly rooting around until they find Mum and can snuggle in close to feed. She is totally devoted to her babies, often reluctant to leave them even to go to the toilet.
We generally need to carry her outside where she quickly races back to them as soon as she can. It is an intensive time for us, as we monitor them constantly in the first few days, to ensure they are drinking properly, gaining weight well and mum is recovering from the delivery and producing enough milk and feeding each pup. We feed mum at least 4-6 times a day to ensure she has optimum nutrition to be able to best care for her babies. Sometimes for the first few days mums are not interested in eating, but we offer enticing nutritious small meals to ensure she is able to best care for her puppies.
After the first week or so mum is feeling a little more relaxed and is generally ravenous by this stage so we continue 4-6 larger feeds a day for her. She is fed as much as she wants at each feed plus has access to high quality puppy dry food. She is generally more content to head outside for toilet breaks and sometimes wants to rejoin the family for quick cuddles and pats, still being eager to return to her puppies should they even make a slight squeak.
By 3 to 4 weeks puppies have their eyes and ears open, and are up on their wobbly little legs, ready to begin their exploration of the world from a very safe place, right next to Mum and siblings. Mum wants to be a part of all that is happening in our family so we move her and her babies to our living room, where she is still very vigilant, but happy to leave them for increasing amounts of time, often observing diligently from nearby for some of the day. Here puppies can begin to experience all the normal household sounds, sights and smells of a family.
Mum is susceptible to milk fever, or eclampsia (totally unrelated to eclampsia in people), at this stage, as the drain on her calcium reserves is enormous. The demands of the puppy is the largest on mum at this stage, and sometimes the huge calcium demands from puppies drinking such large amounts cause her to develop eclampsia. We need to diligently and vigilantly watch her to detect the earliest signs that she is developing this, and treat promptly or have a quick trip to the vet, as this is an emergency. It is frightening to watch.
The first signs are a slight disinterest in the pups, and being a little sooky, or following us around a little more (generally easy to miss signs if not looking for them), restlessness, followed by shaking and tremors. It progresses very quickly to full body tremors, stiff limbs, an inability to walk, drooling and can lead to fitting, coma and death quite quickly. We feed a high quality calcium diet but constant calcium supplementation can lead to a vicious cycle whereby her natural mobilisation of calcium is suppressed. Thus the need for constant monitoring.
We begin the weaning process between 3 and 4 weeks. We begin feeding with very finely minced chicken or beef mince, as well as egg and fresh goats milk, and necessary minerals and vitamins. Some puppies take to this food with relish.
Some require some coaxing. We dip our fingers in the food and into their little mouths. Generally mum is nearby, often showing them how it is done. Sometimes it takes several days of enticing and encouraging three times a day until they get the hang of it. Other times they begin with relish on day one. Mums with smaller litters are harder to entice as mum often is very diligent and has more milk for each pup so they are not as hungry.
By 5 weeks puppies have the weaning phase well underway, and the enormous drain on mum is over.
They are eating 3 meals a day with relish. Please refer to our diet information to what we feed. By 5 weeks we have introduced beef, roo, and lamb to their diet, as well as the chicken. Mum is now happy to leave her puppies for extended periods of time, and needs time away from her babies. She is generally by this age choosing to sleep back in here usual place (someone’s bed), but eager to check on her babies during the night several times, still offering a feed when requested. Puppies are up and playing at this stage. They are happy to leave the safety of their bed, and ready to begin interacting with people with gusto. This is when we actively begin the socialsing process of helping puppies to have positive experiecs to various noises, places, people, animals, smells, and as many different experinecs as possible.
By 6 weeks mum actively runs away from here babies. She chooses to be away from them most of the time and goes to them for short quick feeds. This is a very comical thing to see. All her pups race to her, and frantically try to drink while she is standing. They roll over on their backs under her tummy, or do whatever they can to get a quick drink. Mum will then try to walk away with puppies all attached to her, dragging them along, or look at us beseechingly to pick her up and rescue her from her little ones. She will even occasionally growl to tell them enough is enough at this stage. Puppies are now running, playing and getting into mischief. It is the stage where they have no fear or understanding so everyone has to be very diligent checking feet so as not to step on one, and make sure nothing is left lying around that a puppy may decide to chew. They begin to choose human interaction over siblings often, even though still love to play with siblings and learn such a lot from that play.
By 7 weeks they no longer want to drink from mum but benefit from playing with each other and her, learning those all important social skills only mum and siblings can teach them. During this week they become totally independent of mum who generally steers clear of them most of the time. When they are 8 weeks and ready to embark on the next phase of their journey they don’t miss mum at all, She has naturally weaned them, and distanced herself almost entirely from them.
They do however miss the constant companionship of siblings as they do everything together. When they reach 8 weeks we feel an enormous sense of accomplishment that they all reached this enormous milestone safely, yet a great sadness as we bid each one farewell as they venture to their new family. Every puppy impacts each of our lives as those 8 weeks are very intense. The puppies are with us constantly and their absence is always felt, but the joy on their new families faces when they get to take home their new puppy definitely helps make this time easier.