June 1, 2023

Why does a mother dog lay on her puppies?

A mother dog lays on her puppies to provide warmth, comfort, and security. This behaviour is promoted by the release of oxytocin and prolactin, which awaken a mother’s protective instincts.   Laying on her puppies helps regulate their body temperature and promotes bonding. 

When a dog mum gives birth to puppies, it’s a super exciting time, and you may see some changes in the mother after she whelps. In the rest of this piece, we’ll explore the reasons why a mother dog will lay on her puppies. We’ll also cover what you can do if the mother rejects her puppies and how to recognise it happening.  

Let’s get into it.  

Why does a mother lay on her pups

Table of Contents

Is it normal for mother dogs to lie on their puppies?

It’s common for mothers to lie on they puppies or at least look like they are lying on them. It’s an instinctive behaviour and just means the mother is trying to keep her puppies warm. 

This behaviour is why it’s important to have a whelping box. Whelping boxes are used to protect puppies during birth and in the first few weeks of life.  It helps prevent accidents like the mother accidently smothering or crushing one of her pups.  

Reasons a mother dog lies on her puppies

A mother dog has 4 primary reasons for laying on her puppies. Here’s a little more about each of them. 

  • To control their body temperature - Puppies are particularly vulnerable to temperature fluctuations. A mother dog's act of laying on her puppies helps regulate their body temperature. The warmth from her body helps keep the puppies cosy, preventing them from becoming too cold or developing hypothermia. 
  • To promote bonding - The physical contact between a mother and her puppies is essential for fostering bonding and attachment. By laying on her puppies, the mother provides constant physical touch, giving the pups a sense of security and helping to strengthen the emotional connection between her and the puppies. This early bonding plays a significant role in the puppies' emotional development and socialisation. 
  • To provide security - The weight and physical presence of the mother dog offers the pups a feeling comfort and security. By laying on them, she creates a protective barrier, shielding them from external disturbances. Her closeness is reassuring for the puppies and helps lessen any stress they experience. 
  • To protect them from predators and other threats - Mother dogs have a strong instinct to protect their puppies. By laying on them, they offer a form of physical defence, acting as a shield against potential threats or predators. The mother's presence acts as a deterrent, keeping potential dangers at bay and providing an added layer of security for the pups.  

How to spot if a mother is rejecting her puppies

If you’re worried that a mother is rejecting her puppies, there are some signs you can watch for.  

  • She isn’t licking her pups. Mothers usually lick every one of their pups to clean them and cover them with her scent and help them digest her milk. If she is not licking one of her litter, she may be rejecting it. 
  • If the mother is sitting or lying a distance away from one of her puppies for a long time, it’s another sign of rejection. 
  • Puppies are normally quite quiet if all is well, so if one puppy starts to whine or cry excessively, it might be a sign that he or she isn’t getting all they need from the mother and that she could be rejecting that pup.  
  • If the mother picks up one of more puppies out of the litter and moves them away from the others, it’s likely she’s rejecting one or more of the pups she’s moved away from their litter mates. 

Let’s find out what you can do about it. 

What do I do if the mother dog rejects her puppies?

If the mother dog has begun to reject one or more of her litter, there are a few things you can do to help.  

You can: 

  • Move the whelping box to a quiet, dimly lit area. Putting the whelping box in a perfect place can help trigger hormone releases in the mother that will trigger her maternal instincts. 
  • Keep the puppies warm will blankets and towels and hand-feed them using syringes and bottles. Alternatively, you can try to help the pups latch on to the mother teats to help the feeding process along. If the mum, doesn’t accept your attempts, you should stop and remove the pups from her without delay.  
  • Try using a pheromone collar to calm the mother and ease her anxiety. 
  • Seek advice from your vet. 

Conclusion: Why does a mother dog lay on her puppies?

A mother dog laying on her puppies goes beyond a display of affection. It’s vital for regulating body temperature, promoting bonding, providing comfort and security, and ensuring the pups are protected.  

As pet owners, we can monitor the mother and her pups and appreciate this beautiful display. We can also give support to both the mother and her precious puppies and be there to help should anything go awry. 

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read What do breeders do with unsold puppies and When do puppies become affectionate?” to learn more.  

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