The Party’s Over: What to Do for Your Dam When You Send Your Puppies Home

by | Dog Breeding

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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’.

9 Things To Do When Sending Puppies Home

To make this key transition easiest on our dams, we take the following 9 actions when 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.

  1. Send pups home when they are ready, not before.
  2. Allow the dam free access to her pups but require only 2-3 short nursing sessions per day.
  3. Once there are 2-3 pups left, cut her food back to normal.
  4. Never restrict her access to drinking water.
  5. Manage her emotions as pups depart.
  6. Give her more time with you to reward her for her efforts raising the litter for you.
  7. Use (at least) twice-daily belly rubs to monitor her breasts for mastitis.
  8. Get her body back into condition but don’t worry too much about her coat.
  9. 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.

  1. Avoid using her as a babysitter for the puppy.
  2. Give her access to her puppy when she wants but separate them otherwise.
  3. Allow nursing until mom and puppy decide to end it or 16 weeks at the latest.

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1. Send pups home when they are ready, not before.

From 6 to 7 weeks, although the pup’s nutritional needs are being transitioned to solid food, the dam’s role becomes one of teacher. This is the age when moms begin to teach their puppies about bite inhibition, reading dog body language, adult play, and canine manners. Removing mom during this time will cause your pups to pay a price in their bite inhibition and social skills. Their mom is a much better teacher than we are!

Many dams that don’t want to engage their pups much at 5 weeks, really enjoy playing with them at 7 weeks. Monitor your dam closely but know that mom-pup play can be fast and intense, with moms pinning pups frequently.

2. Give the dam the access she wants to her pups.

During their last days together, allow your girl free access to her pups. We only require our dams to nurse two to three times each day from 7 1⁄2 to 8 1⁄2 weeks but we allow them to engage more if they want.

Some bitches begin refusing to go into the puppy pen as pups grow so look for other opportunities for her to nurse, say in various rooms in the house as we introduce pups to new spaces. We also use mom as a reward for pups on walks, during swim sessions, and other challenging experiences. Accept that it is normal for her to spend far less time with the pups now and be aware that older pups can empty her of milk in minutes. Long nursing sessions are no longer necessary.

The party's over

The party’s over

3. Reduce her food back to pre-breeding levels.

Once our dams are down to four or fewer pups at 8 weeks, we reduce her food back to her normal, pre-pregnancy ration to dry up her milk unless her body condition is poor. Bitches should come out of any litter down no more than 10% of her original body weight. If your girl has lost more than that, then continue to feed her more than maintenance.

4. Always have water available.

At no point in the weaning process do we ever limit her access to fresh water. Just like all our dogs, she has access to water 24/7. Even if we are trying to dry her up, her body needs water to function optimally.

5. Manage her emotions as pups depart.

Some bitches are glad to wave goodbye to their pups as they head off with their new owners. However, some bitches are devastated by their departures. For these latter girls, try these things to help them through the transition process:

  • Send puppies home one at a time, rather than all at once.
  • Let your bitch meet each new puppy family, sniffing them over and checking them out. Then have her see them with the pup.
  • Let your girl escort the family to their car and see the pup leave. This avoids your bitch searching desperately for her pups afterward.
  • Put away puppy gear immediately. Take down the pen, launder and put away bedding, disinfect the area. You need to do it anyway so the sooner the better.
  • If your bitch is particularly sensitive, put an Adaptil collar on her and consider using calming products containing the amino acid, l-theanine. These natural products can do a long way to reduce anxiety in dogs.

6. Spend more time with her.

Typically during the time a litter is with you, people focus primarily on the pups. Mom gets some attention but as the pups become more demanding, their mom takes a back seat to their needs (and cuteness). As we prepare to send pups home and right afterward, we spend more time with the dam to reward her for all the hard work she did raising the litter for us. As she spends less time with the pups, she rejoins our family activities during the day and evening. Even if we keep a puppy, we focus a lot on our girl in the weeks after the pups go home.

7. Belly rubs beat mastitis.

Some of the more fun times we have with our dams during the pups’ last week with us are the twice-daily belly rubs to check her breasts for any signs of hardness, heat, redness, or puckering that might indicate mastitis is starting. Since we allow our dams to gradually wean their pups themselves, mastitis is rarely an issue but there is no harm in checking her and we all enjoy the time together.

Running and playing again

Running and playing again

8. Get her body back into condition.

Breeding and raising a litter is hard on a dam’s body. Depending upon the size of the litter.

Now that the pups are gone, we begin the process of rebuilding her body. Some dams come through a litter without losing much condition but most need a gradual conditioning program to help them regain their former strength and stamina. Restart her on heartworm, ticks, and fleas treatments, if you stopped during the breeding. Use the extra time you are spending with her to go for walks, swims, and runs to gradually increase her (and our!) activity.

A note on post-whelping coat!

Many breeders are stunned by how much hair their bitch loses after whelping, usually after the pups are 7 weeks old. They feel badly that they didn’t feed their bitch adequately and they try all kinds of supplements. Although poor nutrition can increase post-whelping hair loss, even the best-fed bitches can blow their coats completely. And supplements will not bring it back faster although they can protect what is there.

Post-whelping hair loss is like postpartum hair loss in women, which is the result of “delayed-anagen release telogen effluvium.” What does that mean?

Telogen effluvium is a temporary hair loss due to significant shedding of hair. It often results from a shock to the body, such as extreme stress or drugs.

In the case of delayed-anagen release, this shedding happens because the anagen phase of hair life is delayed. In this case, it’s delayed by pregnancy. Shedding often slows significantly or stops completely during pregnancy.

A few basics:

  • Anagen is the growth phase of hair. In humans, that lasts 2-7 years.
  • Then there is a brief catagen phase of a few weeks during which the follicle transitions from growth to rest.
  • catagen is followed by telogen during which the follicle rests and might even release the hair shaft.

Normal hair loss or telogen is an active biological process not a passive effect of gravity where hair just gets old and floats off of the dog. In some breeds, hair loss happens throughout the year. In others, it happens seasonally. In a few, like poodles and terriers, it only happens over years and years.

During pregnancy, telogen is delayed so hair does not fall out naturally. Biologists think that pregnancy demands all energy and physiological systems to support the pregnancy so trivial ones, like telogen in hair loss, slow or halt. What we often miss during our bitch’s pregnancy is that her coat is likely the thickest and best she’s had previously.

Then 3 to 8 weeks after whelping, those hairs whose natural release was delayed now kick into telogen. There is a back up of hairs that should have been releasing over the last few months so *boom,* our bitches lose so much hair it’s stunning. Not all bitches, not all breeds. It’s definitely more obvious in bitches from breeds that have year-round hair loss and longer coats.

While those hairs are lost, there is a new hair already growing in the follicle (anagen) but coat only grows so much a month. In people, that’s about 1/2” per month but varies between individuals.
So if your dog is a short-coated breed, coat recovery happens in short order. If you have a long-coated breed, recovery will take much longer and the speed of recovery will not be helped by supplements because the hairs aren’t weak, broken, or sick. They are simply new hairs that need to grow so a great diet, lots of fat including fish oils, and regular bathing will help.

9. Back to training!

Finally, we start our girls back into training, be it obedience, agility, field, tracking or other events. They are typically eager to get started again since puppy rearing is not the most mentally stimulating work. We are sure to start slowly and accept setbacks if any arise. Amazingly, most of our girls pick up exactly where they left off before the litter was born but we still give them a little time to prepare before demanding exceptional performances.

 

When you keep a pup from a litter, take a few more steps to help your girly rebound from the litter.

 

1. Mom’s not a babysitter.

It is easy to use mom as a babysitter for new puppies but doing so has many drawbacks. First, it will take longer for her to recover from the litter. Second, this further strengthens the bond between mom and puppy, leaving you out of the relationship. Finally, it does not teach your puppy critical life skills, like tolerating separation and learning to play by himself.

2. Mom gets access if she wants it.

We give our dams access to the puppy when she wants it but if the puppy is pestering her unmercifully or she is looking worn out, the puppy gets confined to an exercise pen or crate. It is important for you to bond with your new puppy so limit the pup’s time with mom. You will be busy spending time with each of them but all of you will be better off if those are individual sessions. Our moms usually enjoy morning and evening playtimes with the pup but much of the rest of the day they are apart. Separate walks and training sessions are particularly important.

3. We allow mom to handle weaning.

We do not get involved in our pup’s weaning process. That typically means that our pups nurse until 12 weeks. It quickly becomes obvious that mom does not have much milk and the nursing sessions are more for emotional support than physical. The pup’s attempts to nurse are often met with mom initiating a play session but if the pup insists, mom decides whether to correct or tolerate a sip or two. After 12 weeks, pup and mom tend to seamlessly transition to full weaning without much trauma and only the occasional correction.

We have found these steps make the departure of a bitch’s litter easy and calm for her. I still shed some tears but the girls are usually glad to get back to their normal life.

What have you done to help your dog’s transition after their pups go home?

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19 Comments

  1. Kam

    This is really helpful. Didn’t think to look up this info before now. Unfortunately for my litter they are going at 7 weeks because of circumstancrs beyond my control. Their Mom started weaning them already though and does not spend as much time with them as she used to.

    • Marcy Burke

      Good luck with all your puppies. It is really common for dams to reduce their time with their young ~ after all they have sharp teeth. Many bitches will go in and play with their pups and this is when they teach them bite inhibition. We always make sure the dam can get away from their pups if they want to. Let her enjoy them if she chooses, and do not be upset if she chooses not to. Enjoy this last time with you pups. It is a lot of work, but so worth it!

  2. Charlotte

    My litter of puppies are fully weaned and are now 8 and half weeks old we have the first 2 going to their new homes tomorrow and another 2 on Thursday and then the others are staying with us until they are 10 weeks old. What is best to do with Mum when the puppies leave I don’t know how she will react but if she starts pining or looking for them whats they best way to turn her attention away from this? This is our first litter ever so we don’t know what happens.
    Thanks.

    • Gayle Watkins

      Good question, Charlotte! Most dams are ready for their pups to leave after weaning. However, some do seem concerned so we allow the dam to meet the new owners and hang out while we talk to the owners about all the details, feeding, etc. We always take “going home” photos of our pups and the new owners. We’ll include the mom if she is interested. If she’s not, we let her go about her business. It’s really up to her. If she is still interested, let her see the pups get into the car with their owners and head home. Even if she is a little sad, she will not go looking for them. Don’t think about turning her attention away, instead let her be part of the process if she wants. However, if she is totally disinterested, don’t feel less of her…it’s normal. Good luck sending your pups home! Take lots of photos!

  3. Julie Crowther

    We just sent our first litter to their forever homes at 8 weeks. We were carefully watching the interacting between mom and the pups and everyone was totally ready. I was watching Mama for her reaction today, and she seems totally fine. She was looking for them last night, but not in desperation, more curiosity like hmmmm…. I wonder where they are? Oh well, got my family back. I was surprised as she was such an attentive and protective mama. She was such a timid little chi before this litter and know seems like she has more confidence. Cool experience

    • Marcy Burke

      Julie,
      Congrats on sending your litter home. Always such a time of mixed feelings for both us and the dams. It’s great that your girl has adjusted so well to them being gone. It is amazing how in some dogs this experience can bring out confidence. I often wonder if it because they are relied on by their kids and they say their version of “I got this.” Enjoy some downtime!

      • Kazandy

        Hi we only had one surviving pup in our girls litter if just 2 so he had mom to himself, we also have dad too and between them they actively taught him in play about. It’s control etc so cute to watch, pup boy loved challenging dad to little scraps neve unsupervised I need to say, my point is only one pup went home to live with my son and his family , left this weekend and will be a regular. Visitor to us , how long should we keep pup away to let him settle and obviously to not set mum and dad back either

        • Gayle Watkins

          Congratulations on your pup! Although singletons can be challenging to raise, it’s fun to be able to devote all our time and energy to one pup. I wouldn’t worry much about him coming back to visit after as little as a week. He’ll have had time to settle into his new home but (hopefully) still be welcomed back by mom and dad. Good luck!

      • danielle

        hi my bitch had her litter and we started to rehome them gradually between 8 and 11 weeks of age so they didnt all leave at once.the last pup left at the end of july and since then the mum has been acting strange for her,such as being off food.not wanting to be in our company refusing to go out in the garden then once shes out refusing to come back in.she has been playing normal ith our other dog but as soon as we try to spend time with her she doesnt wnt to know i am starting to worry as this is very out of charcter for her and she is usually inseperable from us

        • Marcy Burke

          Danielle,
          Every girl has a different reaction to their pups going home and I will admit what you are describing is a bit extreme. If she is still off her food, I would get her in to the vet to make sure nothing is wrong physically. We believe in honoring our girls’ feelings, so as odd as it may sound, why not sit down and talk to her – tell her where her puppies are and what wonderful families they have. It certainly could not hurt.

          The other thing you can do is really up how much fun it is for her to spend time with you. Does she have favorite toys? Favorite treats? Instead of sending her out into the garden, take her out on leash and then take her off leash and play with her and her favorite toys. If she is outside alone, when you call her to come inside, if she comes, give her lots of her favorite treats and then sometimes send her back out again and other times bring her in. If you find she is not coming in, then do not call her, just go to her, call her and when she comes, give her some great treats. When she gets inside, give her some great treats. Keep her guessing as to what may happen when you call her, but if she comes, she ALWAYS gets fabulous treats!! Take 2 minutes 5-6 times a day and play with her in a way she likes to play! If you do that often enough, soon she should be seeking spending time with you again.

  4. Britney

    I’m adopting a two year old dam from foster care who came to them as a rescue pregnant. While in foster she had 8 puppies who also all have adoptions pending. That being said, the mother will not only be losing her puppies, but she will also be introduced into a new environment all at once. My worrie is that she will feel we have taken her from her babies, like we are forcing her to abandon her pups. I just want to reach out and get any information on how I can make this process as easy on her as possible. Any tips?

    • Gayle Watkins

      Britney, If the pups will be 8 weeks or older when they go to their new homes, I think you’ll find that mom won’t miss them at all. At that point, the family is ready to move on. The dam will be at a good point to transition to her new home and family. I would do all you can to not send pups home earlier than 8 weeks…older if they will be less than 20 pounds as adults. There is some research showing that simply staying as a litter until that point helps pups’ adult temperaments, especially in terms of confidence and stress management.

  5. tess

    My litter is going in 2 wks they will be 9 wks. What do l need to send home with them to their new homes. Other than medical records?
    Maybe a toy they have played with or will that be too much too remind them of the family they are leaving ? Its so sad but happy to see them go and make others as happy as they have made us ☺ thanks Tess.

  6. Sue Giggey

    I have 6.5 week old Chihuahuas and just wondering should the mom be present when her puppy leave. They are scheduled to leave at 8 weeks and all going on the same day

  7. Paul

    My neighbours have 3 Labradors (a male and mother and daughter) and is offering us a puppy from the mothers soon to be expected litter. Our homes are very close to each other and we share a connected yard where the pack spends most of the day before going into their house at night.

    I’m concerned that once the puppy has been removed from the mother (at the correct time) that it will place a great deal of distress onto both parties that the puppy will be so close to its mother but separated by being in our house, although they’ll be together for parts of the day. Is it unfair to separate them but keep them so close? Should we make an effort to keep them more separated at an early stage to help them adjust?

    Thanks for the help!

    • Marcy Burke

      Paul,
      Having the puppy separated by living in separate houses should not be a problem. I would not treat the puppy any differently because its mother lives next door. Our goal in that first year is to build incredible relationships with our puppies. If the fun and food comes from you, your pup will be more than happy to see its mom, but you will be the primary relationship in its life. If the pup wants to nurse when visiting, let the mom take care of it. She will decide when she has had enough.
      All the best with your puppy!

  8. Tina

    Hi Marcie
    We decided to keep one puppy from out Miniature Schnauzers litter a girl.
    She’s still nursing but after reading your methods I’m going to let our girl or nature decide when to stop.
    The puppy plays with Martha ( dam)but does get snappy and growls and has snapped at me.
    Just wondered what your thoughts were on this ?
    Thanks
    Tina

    • Gayle Watkins

      Tina,

      Congrats on your new pup! Is the puppy getting snappy or is Martha?

      Gayle

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