A mother dog has the instincts to take good care of her fragile pups and to teach them skills to know how to behave as a dog. But mother dogs and their pups are weaned and separated after just six to eight weeks. This is a critical bonding period. The question has been asked, will the bonds of mother to pup endure over time? Can a mother dog recognize her pups later?
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Signs a Dog Remembers Their Babies
There are signs to watch for if your dog is feeling anxious or inclined to be aggressive out of her need to protect the pups. One of the strongest signs that your dog is stressed, distressed, and possibly ready to become aggressive in defense of the pups is a tail that is down, even dropping between the legs. The body will be lowered. The ears are lowered and back. The pupils will be dilated. In some cases, this is called a whale eye. If the dog is about to become aggressive, you may see the hackles up. We get sweaty hands when we are distressed. Dogs will get sweaty paws.
Some dog owners will observe that the mother dog behaves differently than before the pregnancy. The gestation for a pup is about 63 weeks. During this time, you may see your dog seeming more restless and anxious. Once the puppies arrive, the mother will pay complete attention to the pups, ignoring you. Your dog will also be tired, so leave her alone and let her rest and take care of her babies.
When the puppies are new, you will see the mother licking and grooming them. The mother will lick the body parts of the pups that will stimulate them to urinate and defecate. You may see the mother dog carrying a puppy. They sometimes need to move them to a new nest or catch them from wandering away.
A mother dog will carry her pup by the scruff of the neck. The scruff is the loose skin behind the puppies' heads. The other behavior you may see is a pawing at the ground. The mother is instinctively trying to dig in a gesture to find a place to hide her pups.
- Sweaty paws
- Tail tucking
- Ears back
- Whale eye
- Staying close to the pups
- Pawing at the ground
- Licking the pups
- Ignoring you
History of Dogs Remembering Their Babies
It is believed that the memories of mother dogs are grounded in their wolf ancestry. If we look at the behavior of the wolf, we learn that the pack is critical for survival. In the wild, the pups would remain with the mother and pack of the birth for up to three years.
Both the mother and father would be responsible for finding food for the young, protecting them, teaching them how to hunt and shaping their behavior to have a place in the wolf pack. Keeping the pack together was critical for the survival of the family.
While the DNA of the dog has evolved over centuries of domestication with humans, there remains the instinct to be protective of the young. The mother dog will imprint or form a sensory memory of her litter. If the dog is allowed to have time with her pups, the imprinting of their smell and sight will grow stronger and be more likely to last a lifetime.
Science Behind Dogs Remembering Their Babies
Scientists believe that, if the right conditions are present during the first four months of the puppy's life, the bond will be enduring for a lifetime. It seems that time together, positive imprinting and the age of the mother can all play a role in the ability of the mother to recognize her pups.
Observers have noted that dogs can vary a great deal in their recognition of their pups. Some will spend extra time sniffing and wagging their tails in what seems to be a happy reunion. Other mothers who were separated will sniff and move on. In another set of studies, mother dogs were exposed to towels saturated with either the scent of other dogs or their own previous pups. The mothers preferred the scent of their former own pups. These findings suggest they do remember their own young.
Caring for the Mother Through the Birth Process
Your dog will need a clean whelping box in a quiet location. While your dog is birthing, understand that it can take a long time. If your dog appears more calm and relaxed, the births may be complete. Your mother dog will be tired, so let her rest. You will want to gently clean the whelping box. Provide clean towels and make sure the mother and pups are all clean and dry.
Allow the mother to lick and nuzzle her young. This is good for them. Keep an eye on the mother dog when she moves to go outside. If you see a heavy discharge, contact the veterinarian. Continue to check the mother for signs of infection including a heavy, prolonged or bloody discharge for the next few weeks.
Give the new family some space. It is exciting to have puppies, but you increase the risk for the puppies to get infections or a disruption of their bonding if you are bringing in a lot of people. Keep the situation calm, clean and safe as you enjoy your growing family.
How to React When Your Dog has Puppies:
Place the whelping box in a quiet, warm and safe area in your home.
Give the mother and pups time to rest and be together.
Keep the area clean.
Check the health of your dog and her pups and watch for signs of infection.
Approach the mother and pups gently and limit guests.