Nothing like mother’s love

Few things in life are as heartwarming as watching a mother dog interact with her puppies. From the moment of their birth to days after they go to their new homes, a mother dog’s focus is on her young charges. Some call it ‘instinct’, but dog lovers know better. Here’s more on this unique bond between a mother dog and her pups.

Zoya with one of her pups

Moms not only give birth, they nurture them. About three weeks before puppies are due, an expectant mother dog may become a bit broody and rumple up covers, preparing a nest. This is roughly equivalent to a human mom preparing a nursery for her anticipated bundle of joy.


A bond from birth
Pups are born blind and deaf as their eyelids are tightly shut and their ear canals are closed. The young ones are completely dependent on their mom. However, they know enough to stay close to their mom and her milk bar. Each puppy is born with what you might call, ‘built in’ heat sensors in their noses. So, when seeking warmth, they are naturally attracted to the warmth of their mother. She instinctively nuzzles and licks her newborn pups to clean them and direct them to her ready and waiting milk bar. Such interactions between a mother dog and her offsprings have been shown to be essential to the physical and emotional health of both. As her newborn puppies knead and suckle, she curls her body around them for protection and warmth – hearts beating in unison. Every lick, which is a doggie kiss, reinforces the mother-puppy bond.
Licking her young ones after feeding stimulates the urinary and intestinal tracts of the newborns to release urine and faeces. Licking also grooms, promotes bonding and hastens maturation of the nervous system. Puppies deprived of maternal licking fail to thrive or survive. Most mother dogs will not leave her puppies for 24 hours.

Pup protection is prime 
If a pup is separated from his mom, she will retrieve him. If he cries, she will attend him. If he is hungry, she will feed him. When necessary, a mother dog will put herself between her puppies and danger. She won’t let strange dogs approach, and if she senses that a human might harm her little ones, she issues a warning growl. A mother dog also whines to alert her humans if she’s separated from her puppies.


Care all the way
Pups primarily suckle milk and sleep for 10 to 14 days until their eyes and ear canals open. It takes a while longer before their vision is truly as sharp as he will be as an adult, but hearing is quite acute at that time. A whole new world is opened, and the offsprings begin to explore their surroundings under the watchful eye of their mom. The pup’s trust and reliance develop quickly as mom invariably finds a way of providing for the youngster’s every need. This mutual interaction brings satisfaction and relaxation to both the mother dog and puppy.


How mother-pup bond helps?
The original bond a pup has with his mom is the most important one he will ever have. If, when the pup cries, his mom routinely responds, he will develop confidence. If she grooms him regularly, his nervous system will positively sprout. If she’s always there when the pup turns around for assurance, he learns trust. Well-tended pup has higher self-esteem, is smarter, and seems to regulate his emotion better.  He will be a ‘functional’ pup – one who can make his own way in the world. Over time, a pup’s relationship with his mom progresses from one of extreme devotions to a more voluntary affair. Their association becomes more like an enjoyable friendship between two individuals who seek each other’s company for the pleasure it brings.

Mother dog continues to care for her pups but gradually encourages them to become more self-sufficient. At about four weeks of age, pups start to eat solid food and mom begins weaning them. Yet, as they grow the mother will still provide milk for her puppies for another three weeks, and at times will regurgitate food for her puppies as she introduces them to solid food. She will accommodate them with all the creature comforts of ‘puppy hood’, by being kind, gentle and just naturally knowing what her newborn puppies are in need of. She will soothe them by allowing her puppies to suckle, and that in turn will provide them with a sense of security.


Cuddles and fun
A mother dog nuzzles her pups, placing her face close by or lying very still when one of her little ones wiggles into the crook of her neck for a nap. As her offspring grows, she will still seek their company, and it isn’t unusual to find a mother dog and weaned puppies still snuggling together. Dogs smile with their tails. During playtime and upon greeting her pups, a mother dog wags her tail to show her affection and happiness.


Somewhere along the development road, usually between three and six weeks of age, pups develop relationships with their siblings and begin to learn social etiquette from their playful interactions. They will also be able to leave the warmth of their mother, and experience the area around them. This emergence from the litter is a gradual and continual learning experience. During this stage of development, puppies learn basic behavioural patterns specific to dogs. While playing, they practice different body postures, learning what the postures mean and how they affect their mother and litter mates. They learn what it is like to bite and be bitten, what barking and other vocalisations mean and how to make and use them to establish social relationships with other dogs. Such learning and activity tempers their own biting and vocalising.Puppies who are removed from the nest too early tend to be nervous, more prone to barking and biting, and less responsive to discipline. Often they are aggressive with other dogs. Generally speaking, a puppy taken away from his mother and littermates before seven weeks of age, may not realise his full potential as a dog and companion. To maximise the mental and psychological development of puppies, they must remain in the nest with their mother and littermates until seven weeks of age.Pet parents can at this time, start handling them. They can interact with the newborn puppies to start forming that ever important bond. One can also start some puppy training and teach them with the most basic command, ‘Come when called’. At this time, pet parents will also be introducing ‘Early socialisation’, which is another important area that a newborn puppy should learn as you start puppy training. The pups will get used to your voice, your touch, and your smell. The newborn puppy will learn most from his mother and his siblings on how to be part of ‘the pack’, but the early bonding and training that we give them, will make it easier not only for the puppy, but for pet parents too, as they teach or train them to do more in the future, as they age.


Life’s little lessons
From the age of five weeks, the mother teaches her puppies basic manners. They learn to be submissive to her leadership and what behaviours are acceptable.  Like any mother with misbehaving children, if necessary, she growls, snarls, or snaps at them as a form of discipline, if they play too roughly. A mother dog’s love for her puppies extends to their education. In the wild, a mother dog will hunt and bring home food for her young ones. Domesticated mother dogs don’t have to hunt but they will carry a cherished chew toy or stuffed animal to the nursery area and leave it where their offsprings can enjoy it.When weaning the litter, for instance, the mother will discipline her puppies so that they will leave her alone. Because the mother disciplines them in a way that they clearly understand, after a few repetitions, the puppies will respond to a mere glare from her. The puppies are no longer nursing as they are now eating solid food. Mom’s job at this point has changed from physically nurturing the puppies to giving the puppies their first lessons in submission, compliance, social order, and social ranking.
Puppies who once climbed all over mom, nibbled and chewed on her, and hung and swung from her ear by their teeth, are now physically shown that this behaviour is less tolerated. For the very first time in their lives, the puppies have behavioural expectations placed onto them by a dog that out ranks them socially.


Mom as disciplinarian
and boss
At this stage, very attentive moms can be seen flipping puppies over onto their backs and asking them to submit to her. The puppy is asked to submit and just lie there in submission for no other reason than, “Mom said so and Mom is the Boss.” This is the very first situation where puppies learn to deal with being asked to comply and submit. If a pup has not learned to accept leadership (and discipline) in his early interactions with dogs, his training will be
more difficult.A mother’s heart…
Mother dogs do not have the long-term commitment to their young that humans have, but her love is strong. When the puppies reach eight weeks of age and are independent and ready to leave mom for a new forever home, their mother, who feels lost without her litter, can show signs of depression. She might search for her missing babies, whining for her pet parents to help her. In a few days, she’ll perk up and if she has another litter, she’ll love and care for them just as much as she did her last litter.


On a concluding note…
Remember that your dog needs you to play a role in his development and you can do that with knowledge and commitment to training. Learning plays a significant role in a dog’s development. Through training, you actively take part in that process. Let his mother prepare him to be your significant family member and a friend for life.


(Paramjeet Singh Dhesi runs Elite Squad Kennel ( in Ludhiana, Punjab. He is an avid dog lover who imports rare breeds to India.)