Birthing puppies is of course a totally natural activity, and something that female dogs have been managing just fine for millennia without human help or intervention, and often, the time leading up to the delivery of the litter is more stressful for the owners of a dog than for the dog herself! Even when you have everything planned and prepared to the nth degree, you may be wondering if you have left anything out, and what you can do during labour to make things easier for your treasured bitch.
There is a reasonable chance that your dam’s labour will be over fairly quickly, and that they may have their puppies at night without your knowledge, or even manage to deliver all of their puppies without incident when you pop out for a couple of hours! However, if you plan to be present at the birth and are wondering what, if anything, you can do to make the whole process as easy as possible for your dog, read on to learn more about ways in which you can help your dam when she is in labour.
One way to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible even if you miss the birth itself is to ensure that everything is ready and prepared for the delivery, and that you do not need to rush around at the last minute providing food and bedding. Allocate a space within the home that the dam likes and can get comfortable in, and set up a nesting box here with food and water close by at all times. If your dam does not seek out and make use of the nesting box prior to the birth, the chances are that she does not like it, so move it to a spot where she is happy, and allow her time to get used to it well in advance.
Once labour begins, it is a good idea to monitor every stage of the procedure and keep notes on a range of factors, both in order to identify any developing problems and to refer back to later.
Keep notes of when labour starts, and expect delivery of the first puppy within the hour. Subsequent puppies will then be born between half an hour and an hour apart, and if your bitch appears to be straining to deliver without result after an hour has gone by, this may indicate a problem. After each puppy is delivered, the dam should free the pup from the placenta and sever the umbilical cord before the next pup comes, so also note that this has been achieved, and expect delivery of the afterbirth an hour or so after the final puppy has come out.
You might want to physically assist your dam to give birth, but unless this is totally necessary and you really know what you are doing, the chances are that you will hinder rather than help, and potentially stress your dog out. You should only need to intervene if something is wrong, and in this instance, you should contact a vet immediately for advice rather than trying to tackle things on your own.
Do not try and physically pull the puppies from the birth canal, or intervene with the newborn puppies before the dam has freed them from the placenta, severed the cord and cleaned them off.
If you have a strong bond with the dam and she accepts your presence during the birth, talking to her in calming tones, praising her and comforting her may be beneficial to her. However if your presence stresses her out or makes her uncomfortable, you must keep far enough back that your presence is not upsetting to her. Offer her water or high energy and palatable treats such as soft food or vanilla ice cream during gaps in the delivery, but do not push anything onto your dog or get worried if she does not accept them. During delivery, the dam will be totally concentrated on her own body and the delivery of her pups, and will only be secondarily aware of your presence.
Once all of the puppies have been delivered, your dam will probably want to sleep for a week, but her work has only just begun! There is a very limited amount of things that you can do to support her at this time, but make sure that she has water, soft food and anything else she might like to eat within easy reach, and that she does not need to worry about external stressors such as noise or lots of activity. Once the puppies have begun to nurse, you may be able to take the opportunity to check each one over and weigh them, but never remove a nursing pup from the dam, and do not handle any puppy until the dam has imprinted upon them first, to avoid the chances of rejection.