Dealing with a dam that becomes aggressive after delivery
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Dealing with a dam that becomes aggressive after delivery

Dogs
Health & Safety

The whole process of conception, carrying a litter to term and delivering and caring for puppies understandably causes some significant changes in the dam herself for the duration, and can affect the way that she reacts to her owners and handlers. While sociable, well behaved and loving dogs tend to be very accepting of their close family seeing and handling their litter, in some cases, the dam might become very defensive or even aggressive about guarding her pups, even if this is very out of character.

It is vitally important that you do not stress out the dam or cause her to feel threatened when she is taking care of her pups, but nevertheless, it is also important that you are able to handle the pups and spend time with the dam and the litter safely too.

If your dam becomes aggressive or is very fearful or protective of her litter after the birth, this article will cover some tips and advice on how to deal with this. Read on to learn more!

Why might a dam become aggressive when protecting her puppies?

Maternal defensive aggression is one of the most natural instincts of the female of any species, and understandably, any mother will make it her priority to protect her young! However, this should only manifest in the case of specific and genuine threats or unknown situations, and maternal aggression should not be directed at the litter’s human family and immediate carers.

As part of the process of protecting the pups, the chemicals in your dam’s brain will alter rather dramatically after birth, as part of the natural process of bonding with the pups and protecting them from harm. Your dam has no control over the hormones that will be raging through her system, which is what can cause even a really calm dog to become defensive about her litter!

The presence of the litter, the time taken up caring for them, and the different chemicals that work on the mind of the dam in the wake of the birth may all potentially serve to change the mood and outlook of your dam in the short term, which can potentially lead to defensiveness.

Even if your dam is very friendly and sociable with people normally, you should keep strangers and visitors well away from the dam and litter during the first couple of weeks, and limit contact to only the family that she is used to and trusts if she becomes wary or unhappy when approached by others.

How to tackle a defensive or aggressive dam

First of all, ensure that the place where the dam cares for and raises her litter is safe and secure, and closed off from the normal household rough and tumble and foot traffic. Your dam needs a quiet, safe place to raise her litter, and be able to rest herself without worrying about people approaching her, otherwise this can lead to feelings of insecurity becoming heightened, and manifesting as aggression.

While you will of course want to approach the dam and the pups, it is important to tackle this carefully, so that the dam does not become overly stressed, and also so that nobody gets hurt! A threatened dam protecting her young can be very vicious if provoked, and might cause a serious bite or injury.

Never ignore snarling, growling or warning signs from the dam, just as you would not ignore them in any other situation. You might know your dam incredibly well and have had her for most of her life, but this does not mean that her warning signs are not genuine, or that she will not attack you!

Never take any of the pups away from the dam for even a short period of time during their first two weeks of life, and never snatch puppies away from the dam. Wait until the dam goes to eat or go to the toilet to handle the pups if you need to, and try to have someone to distract the dam and prolong her visit, without ever stopping her from returning to her litter.

If your dam will accept your presence in the room but from a distance, spend as much time as you can in the room with her, staying far enough away so that she does not feel threatened. Over time, you should gradually be able to move closer to the litter, or encourage the dam to come to you.

When entering the room or approaching the litter, always speak to the dam first, pay her attention and let her know that everything is ok; never ignore or bypass the dam to go straight to the litter.

Maternal aggression in the dam is generally a short-lived case of a hormonal spike, and will rarely extend past the first few days of the pups lives. If your dam continues to be very aggressive or will not let you approach after a few days, consult your vet to rule out any underlying issues that may be contributing to the problem.

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