Over the years, many novice breeders have asked me how dams feel when their puppies go to their new homes. As humans, we imagine emotional and possibly physical pain for her when her babies are gone. She cannot understand that we have found good homes for them and that we will stay in touch to be sure they are safe and well over the years. She has put her body and soul into creating, carrying and raising them when suddenly, poof, they are gone!
Despite our imaginings, my dams have never missed a beat when their pups leave. Mind you, we send our golden retriever pups home at 8 to 8 1⁄2 weeks, a time arrived at after numerous experiments. (If we raised toy dogs, we would send them home even later, possibly as late as 11 or 12 weeks.) By this time, mom has dramatically reduced the time she is spending with her puppies and weaning is well under way. Typically during the last few days, mom hops in, feeds the litter in a minute or two, plays with them a little and then hops back out to safety. If we are in with the pups, she might spend a bit more time in the pen but it is usually to get our attention, not the pups’.
To make this key transition easiest on our dams, we take the following 8 steps as we are sending puppies home. In this way, our dog moms easily recover physically and emotionally from their litters and are happily back to work quickly.
- Send pups home when they are ready, not before.
- Allow the dam free access to her pups but require only 2-3 short nursing sessions per day.
- Once there are 2-3 pups left, cut her food back to normal.
- Never restrict her access to drinking water.
- Give her more time with you to reward her for her efforts raising the litter for you.
- Use (at least) twice-daily belly rubs to monitor her breasts for mastitis.
- Get her body back into condition with gradual exercise, heartworm and flea/tick treatments.
- Return to her favorite kind of training, if she is a competition, working or just a dog that loves to train.
If we keep a puppy, we take several additional steps for our dog mom.