7 Ways a Mother Dog's Behavior Changes After Giving Birth

Having puppies might affect your dog's behavior after birth. Most of the behavior changes won't last too long.

Updated September 6, 2023
Mother with litter of puppies

If your pup has recently given birth and she's acting a little differently, don't worry. It's normal. Many mother dogs display behavioral changes after giving birth, and these can range from mild to extreme. Depending on the cause, uncharacteristic dog behavior after having puppies rarely lasts more than a few weeks before a new mom begins acting more like herself again. The trick is understanding how to deal with the changes and caring for your pet in the meantime.

Behavior Changes After Puppies

Just like us, dogs experience significant hormonal changes before, during, and after pregnancy. These fluctuations can lead to behavioral changes that are both temporary and long-lasting. Common behavior changes may include:

  • Aggressive or protective behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Digging in the whelping box
  • Nesting behavior
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Potty accidents
  • Eating pups (less common)

Dogs Can Become Aggressive After Having Puppies

The most immediate and noticeable change is often an increase in protectiveness. You may notice aggressive behavior for this reason. Your once easy-going pup might growl or become wary when strangers approach. She's got little ones to defend now. This instinctual behavior is strong in the first few weeks but often diminishes as the puppies grow and become more independent. 

To keep aggression to a minimum:

  • Try not to handle the new pups more than necessary. Let your dog do her job with as little interference as possible for the first week.
  • Keep other people away from her whelping area, especially people she doesn't know. It's difficult to resist showing off the puppies, but there will be plenty of time for that later when they are 6 to 8 weeks old (after they are vaccinated).
  • Keep other pets away from her and the puppies for the first several weeks. This includes other dogs who may have been her housemates. New motherhood trumps old relationships, but things should return to normal once the pups are self-sufficient.
  • Avoid startling her, and talk to her in a calm voice as soon as you enter the room where her whelping box is located.

Aggressive behaviors usually begin to disappear within a week or two after delivery. If you feel unsafe around your pet, give your veterinarian a call to find out if an exam and some medication might be in order. 

Dogs May Experience Anxiety After Delivering Puppies

Anxious behavior is not quite as concerning as aggressive behavior, and it's not uncommon for a female to display some anxiety after giving birth, especially if it was her first litter. She may whine and tremble if someone comes near the pups, and she may even become clingy. She might also lick the pups too much, which can leave them wet and chilled.

Golden Retriever dog nursing her puppies

To help reduce anxiety:

  • Talk to your pooch in a calm, reassuring voice and keep the activity level in the room low.
  • Feed her high-quality canned dog food. A full stomach may help her relax and settle in with her pups. The extra moisture in the canned food will help her produce milk.
  • Softly praise her when you see her caring for her pups, like nursing or cleaning them. This will let her know she's doing the right thing. If she cleans and licks them too much, distract her from this task for a while by stroking her head and talking to her. This may help her relax and let the puppies settle against her for warmth.

Most new moms settle down within a day or two of giving birth as they get used to their new duties, so it's usually not necessary to call the vet unless the anxiety seems excessive. If your dog is especially restless and trembles constantly, these could be signs of eclampsia, and she needs to go to the veterinary clinic immediately.

Dogs Dig Outside of the Whelping Box

It's natural for a new mom to dig up the paper and blankets in her whelping box as she attempts to make it more comfortable for her and her new pups. If she begins digging outside of the box, however, this can be an extension of anxious behavior. Typically, it's a sign she feels her pups need to be moved to a more secure place.

If that's the case, she'll search for a secluded corner, a family member's bed, the inside of a closet, or some other out-of -the-way place, and begin digging to create a new nest to transfer her pups. To avoid this behavior before delivery, choose a quiet, low-traffic area to set up her whelping box before she's ready to give birth. This gives her time to get used to the spot and feel more secure when it comes time to deliver her puppies.

To properly manage the behavior:

  • Leave her alone with the pups as much as possible and keep strangers and other pets away from her and her litter.
  • Take her outside for a quick trip to relieve herself and get some fresh air. The activity may help her settle in better once she's back inside with her pups.
Quick Tip

Digging and trying to relocate pups tends to stop as soon as the female feels more secure, so address this issue as quickly as possible.

Nesting Behavior

Nesting often continues for some time after a dog has given birth. This behavior helps the mother make sure there's a safe and secure environment for the new puppies. The mother will usually continue to keep the nesting area clean and will rearrange blankets or bedding to make sure her little ones are comfortable and protected. It's her maternal instincts kicking in big-time.

If you notice this behavior becomes obsessive or disruptive, it may be a good idea to consult your vet. Extended or extreme nesting behavior could be a sign of postpartum anxiety or other health issues that may need attention. But generally speaking, some continued nesting behavior is perfectly normal and is the dog mom's way of taking care of her new family.

If you're concerned about your dog's nesting behavior, you can help her.

  • Make sure she has a comfortable, secluded space where she feels safe. If she's not comfortable with her current nesting area, she might feel the need to keep rearranging it.
  • Spend time sitting near her and the puppies to offer your presence as a comfort. Avoid excessive petting or picking up the puppies, as this can increase her stress.
  • Keep other pets and people away from her and her puppies, especially in the first few days.
Need to Know

If the mother dog becomes excessively obsessed with her nesting area to the point that she's neglecting her puppies or herself, this could be a problem.

Watch for Displays of Lethargic Behavior

Some females are perfectly calm and easily settle into caring for their pups, but lethargic behavior goes beyond being calm. A lethargic female will behave sluggishly and neglect her pups. She may even lay on them and accidentally smother them.

Mother Dalmatian With 9 Puppies

An infection, like mastitis, or some other post-delivery malady can cause lethargic behavior. If your dog becomes lethargic, place the puppies in a warm box to protect them and take her and the pups to the vet immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Manage Your Dog's Accidents

House accidents happen for several reasons. Your new dog mom may feel too weak and tired after giving birth to go outside to relieve herself, and she may also feel anxious about leaving her newborn puppies. Continued and frequent house accidents could also be a sign she has developed a urinary tract infection after giving birth.

To properly manage this issue:

  • Spread newspapers or puppy training pads on the floor around the whelping box and plan to clean up and replace them as soon as she soils them.
  • Offer one of her favorite treats to try coaxing her to go outside for quick trips to relieve herself.
  • Have her examined by a vet if she has frequent accidents for more than a day or two after giving birth.

If there isn't a medical cause for the house accidents, this behavior normally disappears within a few days of delivery, after she realizes it's safe to leave her pups alone for a few minutes while she goes outside.

Be Aware a Mother Dog May Eat Her Pups

This is a very disturbing behavior that you hopefully will never face. In rare instances, a new mother will kill and eat her pups, and this can happen no matter how docile her typical behavior is. VCA Hospitals attribute this behavior to a primeval, protective instinct that can be triggered if the mother thinks her pups make too much noise and might attract predators.

In a case like this:

  • Remove any surviving pups and keep them in a box on top of a heating pad set on low.
  • Only put them with their mother for supervised periods so they can nurse. Keep a very close eye on her, especially if she begins licking them, because a single bite can kill.
  • Clean the pups yourself with a warm, wet cloth to make sure they urinate and pass stools until they are old enough to eliminate without help.

This behavior generally occurs within hours or a couple days of delivery while the pups are still newborns. You should call your vet immediately after any surviving pups have been separated from their mother. After the pups are running around, you can try keeping them with their mom for supervised periods to see if she will accept them.

Need to Know

Once a female has cannibalized her pups, it's best to avoid breeding her again because she will probably repeat the behavior.

Signs It's Time to Call the Vet

A post-pregnancy exam can reduce or eliminate medical issues that could cause a drastic change in the new mom's behavior. Cleary Lake Veterinary Hospital in Prior Lake, Minnesota, recommends that all females see a veterinarian for examination within 48 hours of giving birth. This is to make sure all puppies have been delivered, and the uterus is shrinking back to its pre-pregnancy size. In many cases, a vet will administer an antibiotic injection as a precaution against infection.

Male Veterinarian Examining Puppy

Even if your female had a post-pregnancy exam, she could still display some worrisome behaviors. You should call your vet if she:

  • Appears especially anxious
  • Has a temperature higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Isn't able to settle down with the pups
  • Refuses to nurse the pups

Keep an Eye on the New Mom

Hopefully, you'll never experience any serious behavioral changes after your dog has puppies, but keeping a close eye on her for the first week after delivery should help you spot problems and address them as they come up. Consult your veterinarian if you feel your pet's behavioral changes are more than you can handle.

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7 Ways a Mother Dog's Behavior Changes After Giving Birth