Keeping One Puppy With the Mother Dog
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Wondering whether you should keep a puppy with their mother is an understandable predicament. If you have a dog that has just birthed some puppies, you will have seen the love and care with which she tends to her offspring. You have also invested practical and emotional energy in ensuring the mother and puppies are healthy during the pregnancy. Seeing a mother use her nature to take such good care of her puppies, we might think it cruel to take away her puppies. While we cannot look after all of the litter, we might consider keeping one puppy with the mother to maintain at least some of their bond.
At AnimalWised, we investigate the idea of keeping one puppy with the mother dog after she has given birth. We look at the different factors we need to consider with a mother dog and puppy living together, especially how it affects the well-being of both.
Does the mother suffer when her puppies are removed?
A mother dog will know instinctually when she needs to start distancing herself from her puppies. In the early stages of newborn puppies, their mother will have to look after all of their needs. Dogs are altricial animals, meaning they cannot look after themselves when they are born. Puppies can't even open their eyes until around 2 weeks of age. Their mother has to feed them, keep them warm and even help them defecate.
The mother dog will feed them with her breasts, but after around 3 weeks of age, she will start to wean them onto solid food. She will also start to teach them the vital skills they need to be independent animals. During this time, the mother's hormones will direct a lot of her behavior. Not only is she practically invested in their welfare, but she is emotionally very connected to them.
Dogs are highly social animals and establish very strong bonds with their families, especially between mother and puppies. There are studies that have shown mother dogs recognize their offspring and vice versa, even after spending years apart. If we try to separate a puppy from their mother during the early stages of the puppy's life, they will both be emotionally distraught.
However, the mother dog will eventually start to distance herself from the puppies. Once the puppies have been weaned and they have learned necessary survival skills, the mother necessarily will stop them from coming to her. The puppies themselves will want to explore and seek out their own family units. The mother instinctually knows this and will start to reject them so they can gain greater independence.
In the domestic environment, we do not usually wait for this to happen naturally. We need to wait a certain amount of time after weaning so that the puppies can learn necessary skills and experience early socialization. After this point, the puppies can be separated from the mother and adopted by their new family. Doing it at the right time allows their socialization to continue with other people, animals and environments.
When a puppy is separated at a suitable time, they can find it a little stressful, but it will not cause them harm. The mother will also have less hormones which cause her to feel close attachment to the puppies. She should not have any serious emotional or behavioral problems because her puppies will be separated anyway. If the mother does become overly upset, it is possible her puppies have been removed prematurely.
Learn more about how a mother dog feels after weaning with our article on whether mother dogs miss their puppies.
Can a puppy stay with its mother forever?
Although the bond between a mother and puppy is essential during their early stages of life, this does not mean they should live together forever. Once they have been weaned and early socialization takes place, the mother dog will naturally start to distance herself from the now adolescent puppies. This is natural behavior which is seen by dogs in the wild.
Forcing a young dog to stay with their mother will be a problem. We will see that the mother will not want to be with them and the puppy will want to socialize and explore. Preventing this will be traumatic for the young dog and will not prepare them for a life in the home.
This does not mean that a mother and puppy cannot live together. It does mean that we cannot force them to maintain the same relationship they had. Keeping a puppy with the mother dog requires the same education, training and exposure as any other dog. The mother dog may be in the same home, but she will not have the same role as when the puppy was a newborn.
Learn more about the socialization of puppies and adult dogs in our related article.
How to separate puppies from their mother correctly
As we have stated, puppies will eventually need to be separated from their mother. To prevent this process from being traumatic, we will need to ensure they remain together with the other littermates for a minimum of 8 weeks. Ideally, this period should extent to around 12 weeks of age.
During this period, the puppies learn how to communicate correctly with other members of the same species. They will also learn boundaries of behavior such as bite inhibition and skills which will help protect themselves later in life. At two months of age, the puppy will start to eat solid food and eventually will not be able to tolerate milk in large quantities.
Two-month-old puppies are in the middle of a sensitive period of socialization. This means their nervous system is especially predisposed to establish and modify neural connections. During this time they learn about their environment and various types of stimuli they may encounter. Separating form their mother too soon will mean they will likely develop emotional and behavioral problems such as reactivity, anxiety or phobias.
In addition to waiting until the puppies are at least two months old, we should carry out a graduation to best ensure the welfare of mother and puppies. To achieve this, we can consider the following:
- Prepare different spaces for the mother and puppies to rest during the days prior to separation.
- Promote the independence of puppies through toys and safe exploration of the environment (post 1 month).
- Carry out stimulating and positive activities daily alone with the dog (games, walks, petting, etc.).
- Separate the puppies one at a time and on different days, not all at once.
- Use pheromones in the days before and after separation to help puppies adapt more easily to their new home.
If a puppy is weaned too soon, they will still need to drink milk since they cannot stomach solid foods. Learn how to do this with our article on the diet for a prematurely weaned puppy.
Should I keep one puppy with their mother?
Now we know what to expect in terms of how a mother feels about her puppies, you should know that we do not need to keep one puppy with their mother. The mother will not want to maintain a maternal role for her puppies once they have been weaned and socialized. Her well-being will not be affected and forcing her to interact with a puppy after this time will have its own problems.
With this in mind, it doesn't mean you cannot keep one or more of a mother's puppies in the home. The decision to keep one of the puppies with its mother permanently and introduce it as another member of the family is a personal choice that should be based on the ability of the guardian to correctly meet the needs of another dog. However, the mother and puppy will need to be separated.
This separation will involved training and education away from the mother. It will also require the socialization of the puppy with other dogs, people and environments. It doesn't mean the mother cannot have access to the dog, but they should be given their own space so the puppy does not need to rely on her. Fortunately, you will see this occur naturally between the mother and puppy.
Will a puppy try to mate with its mother once they are sexually mature?
As we have already stated, mother dogs will recognize their offspring after years apart and vice versa. They instinctually know that their roles. This instinct means that mating with each other is very unlikely. This is thanks to something known as ‘incest avoidance’ or ‘inbreeding avoidance’. While this theory is not well understood, it supposes that some animals are genetically disinclined to mate with a family member.
When we keep one puppy with its mother after the weaning period, it is possible we will see sexual behaviors. These are often exploratory and not necessarily a genuine attempt at mating. We can even see this in male dogs mounting other male dogs. The mother will likely prevent this from happening anyway.
However, if a male puppy reaches sexual maturity and is kept their mother, this does not mean mating is impossible. They may still try it. This is something which needs to be avoided. The genetic matching between close relatives can result in serious developmental problems.
For this reason, it is very important that we neuter our dogs. We should sterilize both mother and puppy for various reasons. This includes improving their health and avoiding behavioral problems. It also addresses the issue of overpopulation of domestic canines.
Learn more about the benefits of neutering with our article on why neutered dogs live longer.
If you want to read similar articles to Keeping One Puppy With the Mother Dog, we recommend you visit our Gestation category.
1. Hepper, P. G. (1994). Long-term retention of kinship recognition established during infancy in the domestic dog. Behavioral processes, 33(1-2), 3-14.