Once your dam has delivered her puppies and all is well, the most stressful and potentially risky part of the procedure may be over but the hard work has really only just begun! Dogs usually make great mothers and other than providing for your dam's needs, human intervention will generally just come down to a little bit of care and monitoring the condition of the dam and pups.
Within 24- 48 hours of the final birth, it's important to take the dam and the pups to your vet for a check over to make sure that they are all doing well and there are no immediate concerns.A healthy newborn puppy should be active in the periods between sleep, nursing without difficulty, and have pink gums and a clean nose and muzzle. Their eyes will be closed up until around days ten to fourteen of their lives, and they will be unable to go to the toilet on their own. The dam stimulates their bodily functions by licking them, and naturally a few puppies plus the dam can make a lot of mess, so you must account for this and change their bedding regularly. A puppy which cries constantly, appears to have difficulty nursing, or has problems breathing or sickness and diarrhoea may be in distress, and you should consult your vet.Puppies can gain up to 15% of their total body weight each day during the first couple of weeks of their lives, so it's important to weigh them regularly to monitor their development and check if any of the puppies are not gaining weight.Puppies cannot regulate their own body temperature during the first few weeks of their lives, so ensure that they are neither too hot nor too cold and not right next to a radiator or in the way of any drafts. Check their temperature if you are in any doubt- the healthy body temperature of a puppy up to two weeks old is between 35 and 36.5 degrees Celsius. Their body temperature will rise gradually as they develop, and at around four weeks old they will have reached the normal body temperature of an adult dog, which is between 38 and 39 degrees Celsius.
Keep a close eye on your dam during the first few weeks of the puppies' lives, to make sure that she is getting all of her nutritional needs met and is not becoming exhausted. Newborn puppies need to nurse every two hours or so for the first couple of weeks, which understandably places a lot of stress on the dam's body.Monitor her carefully to make sure that she has not contracted any infection as a result of the birth and that she is generally coping well. If you can, take her temperature daily during the first two weeks after delivery, as a high temperature can be one of the first warning signs of an infection. If her temperature rises above 39.7 degrees Celsius, she may have contracted an infection and you should consult your vet.Also make sure that none of her nipples appear inflamed or swollen, and that she is not having any problems nursing, which again may indicate a potential infection.Your dam may be unwilling to leave her litter at all during the first 24 hours after birth, but after this time, try to encourage her to go out to the toilet and leave the puppies for a few minutes at a time. Never forcibly separate her from the puppies, nor block her access to them. This will cause her extreme stress and possibly defensive aggression, and she will be more unwilling to leave them next time.
During labour and for up to a day or so after the birth of the final puppy, the dam is unlikely to be interested in food, although you should make sure that food (and of course water) is available to her. The dam should begin eating normally within a day of the birth, and will need to eat significantly more than she did before delivery in order to support her milk production and the ongoing needs of the puppies. Discuss the diet your dam is fed after the birth with your vet- your vet may recommend that she remains on her normal food, or is introduced to puppy food, or receives a special and specific diet tailored to meet her needs. Whichever food you choose, give the dam as much as she will eat, which may be as much as three times the amount of food she would manage before the puppies came along.
Allow your dam privacy- make sure that her and the pups are situated in a quiet room that does not see a lot of through traffic that may cause undue stress. Understandably you'll probably want to show off the new pups to friends and family and potential new owners, but try to keep the presence of strangers to a minimum during the first two weeks of the puppies' lives, in order to avoid stressing the dam. Canine mothers are understandably very protective over their litters, and her behaviour may change during this time. She may guard her nest and become defensive upon being approached, although when treated with care and respect by the people she sees regularly, she should be happy to trust you around her new babies.As well as minimising contact with strange people, make sure that the dam and puppies do not come into contact with any new dogs during the early weeks of the puppies' lives. Until your pups are fully vaccinated against the various canine diseases and conditions they might potentially contract, their tiny immune systems will not have built up the required stores of antibodies to fight off infection, and they could easily contract a potentially life threatening condition from even a healthy canine visitor.