Should Nursing Dogs Take Breaks?

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If you think one baby is a lot of work, imagine having four.
If you think one baby is a lot of work, imagine having four. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Nursing is no easy task. Giving birth and caring for a litter of puppies is physically and psychologically taxing for the mother. Newborn pups require almost constant care and attention from their mom, but that doesn't mean she can't sneak out to use the bathroom and enjoy some alone time.

Whelping Box

It's practically impossible to pry a mother dog away from her offspring during their first week. You shouldn't try to force the issue either. Instead, provide her with a whelping box. The box can be cardboard, wood or any puppy-safe material. It should have a lip at least 3 inches high on all sides and an open top, so the mother can easily step in and out. It needs to be wide enough that she can lie down and stretch out comfortably. This keeps the puppies restricted to a safe area where they can't wander off and gives the mother a convenient way to escape from the litter for a few minutes when she wants.

Going on Break

The mom won't want to stay cooped up in a small room eliminating on newspapers very long. Newborn puppies need to be fed every two hours, and each session can last up to 45 minutes. The interval between feedings increases after the first week, so the new mom should have plenty of time to take a quick romp through the yard several times a day. If she's reluctant to leave, beckon her with a gentle voice, the smell of a tasty treat or her favorite toy. She'll likely initiate break time herself once the puppies hit the one month mark.

Longer Breaks

You can start weaning the puppies around 4 or 5 weeks old. They should be able to eat dry food as their only source of food by about 2 months old. Once the puppies are old enough to eat wet food or gruel without their mom, feel free to take her on longer walks to get her some exercise and fresh air. She'll definitely appreciate some space to run around in after spending weeks in cramped quarters. Don't keep mom out all day long, but spending an hour or two outside is fine at this point in the puppies' development.

Importance

Breaks from nursing and caring for the puppies aren't just a matter of convenience for the mother. She needs to be able to get away from them, especially once they are older. She not only needs to wean them from her breast milk, but also from her constant care and attention. Her goal is to rear independent young dogs who can survive on their own. The mom leaves them intentionally so that they are forced to explore as they look for her. Being around puppies all day is also very stressful and even mother dogs need breaks to keep from going crazy.

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