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Is it ok if a dam moves her puppies around by carrying them in her mouth?
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Is it ok if a dam moves her puppies around by carrying them in her mouth?

Dogs
Education & Training

Dogs tend to be quite finnicky about their sleeping arrangements, and if they don’t like the bed or location you choose for them, they are quite likely to up sticks and move to somewhere else that they prefer!

This is also true for a dam that is raising a litter, and it is not uncommon for a dam to reject the whelping bed you have chosen for her after the pups are born and relocate them to another area of the home entirely.

New born pups are very helpless, relying on their dam to meet all of their needs for their first few weeks of life. Very young pups are born with their eyes and ears closed, and can only move around by crawling – which means that if a dam decides to migrate her litter to another room, she also has to handle moving the puppies!

If you’ve never witnessed this happening before, seeing your dog wandering about with one of her puppies in her mouth or held by the scruff can potentially be rather alarming, as this isn’t something we tend to see every day. It may cause you to wonder if it is ok for the dam to be carrying her pups in this way, whether or not it harms them – and if you should be emulating momma dog by lifting and carrying the pups in the same way she does.

In this article we will explain how a dam moves and carries young puppies safely and securely, why she might be doing this, and whether or not you should pick up and handle pups in the same way. Read on to learn more.

Scruffing the pups

The most common way in which a dam will move and transport very young pups is by gently catching the scruff of the pup’s neck in her teeth and carrying it to a new spot – much as cats do with their kittens.

Puppies have looser skin than adult dogs and you will find that even if your pup’s skin looks quite taut, you will be able to very gently pinch a section of skin around the scruff of their neck, and this is what the dam does when she lifts a pup to move it.

Holding the pups in the mouth

Not all dams will scruff a pup – some will actually take hold of the pup in her mouth, and this in particular can be quite alarming for the dog’s owner if you’re not expecting to see it happen! This might happen particularly if the pups are very small, making it easier to pick them up in this way, or if the dam can’t get a gentle but firm grip on the loose skin around the scruff of the pup’s neck.

Is this safe and comfortable for the puppies?

Very young pups that are physically moved by their dam rather than following her under their own power to a new place won’t be hugely aware of what is going on when their dam lifts them up in this way, and their dam will be very careful and gentle about how she does this to ensure that she doesn’t harm her young.

The force and power of a dog’s jaw and their ability to control it to make it firmer or more gentle is called bite inhibition, and this is something that dogs learn and develop naturally from a young age. Bite inhibition instinctively tells a dog how much pressure to exert for any given action – such as the difference between snapping at a butterfly or gently taking a treat from someone’s fingers.

Very young pups are small and light enough that being carried by their scruff by their dam is neither painful nor uncomfortable for them, and pups also tend to fall limp when picked up in this way, making it easier and safer for their dam to lift them. Even if the dam carries the pups in her mouth, she will be gentle and careful, and you will find the pups none the worse for wear (although they may be a little slobbery) afterwards.

Why might a dam move her puppies?

There are a huge range of reasons why a dam might decide to relocate her pups, but unless there is a good reason for you to do otherwise, you should respect the dam’s wishes and if possible, set up her bed and equipment in the place of her choice.

She might simply wish to be closer to the rest of her human family, somewhere quieter, somewhere warmer, or simply prefer another spot! If your dam keeps moving her pups from place to place, she may be stressed or unsettled, so try to find out why this is and see what you can do to resolve it.

Should you lift pups by the scruff like a dam might?

There is no standard reason why a human handler might need to lift a pup by the scruff of their neck, and there is a fine balance between holding the pup firmly and securely and placing too much pressure on their delicate necks. Additionally, puppies grow exponentially every day, and there may only be a day or so difference between a pup being small and light enough to scruff safely, and a pup being too large or heavy to be comfortable.

Unless your vet has told you to lift pups by the scruff or there is another valid reason for doing so, get used to handling the puppies by picking them up securely in your hands, rather than lifting or carrying them by the scruff.

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