A bitch whelps after a gestation period of 57-72 days. It is important to note that during the prenatal period, the fetus begins to respond to all tactile stimulation starting from the 45th day of gestation. When the bitch's stomach is stroked, motor movements by the fetus can be observed. These movements progressively diminish after several days of handling. Puppies born to a mother who has been handled during gestation will have a higher level of tactile sensitivity and will be easier to handle. The puppies are also capable of reacting to any emotional reaction by the mother. Consequently, it is important to protect the pregnant mother from situations that cause fear and stress.
In principle, humans do not need to intervene in the natural act of birth. The bitch will choose her own spot to nest - generally a quiet place. The puppy comes out surrounded by the placenta sac and the mother cuts the umbilical cord with her teeth, opens the sac and eats it. This act is essential because this membrane contains a hormone that encourages the onset of lactation. The mother then licks her young one, which stimulates respiration. Puppies are born at intervals varying between 10 and 60 minutes. Generally, the entire whelping process is concluded in less than 12 hours, however, it may last longer with primipara. The number of puppies per litter varies from one to more than 15.
Once whelping is complete, it is best not to intervene and to leave the mother alone. In some bitches the mechanism that triggers the maternal instincts is not developed. Sometimes, in the case of a primiparous bitch (first birth), she does not display her maternal instincts and it is necessary to cut the puppy's umbilical cord, remove the fetal covering, rub the puppy down and place it next to its mother's breasts. Ideally, the mother should be left to deal with her babies herself even if they end up starving to death, in order to stimulate maturation of the maternal instinct. The degree of wakefulness of the bitch at the time of birth is important. If the mother's sensory abilities are numbed, the development of attachment may be altered. This is observed in dogs that are given a general anesthesia or dogs that give birth under the influence of tranquilizers. The puppy is born deaf, blind and anosmic.
Sleeping is the main activity of puppies. Almost 90% of the nyctohemeral period is devoted to sleeping, of which 95% is paradoxical sleep during which the puppies show movements of the face, lips, ears and limbs.
When they are not sleeping, they are nursing. Feeding appears to be on a rather regular schedule at about every three to four hours. They occur at the same time for the entire litter. When the puppy's muzzle touches the mother or another puppy, the puppy stops and searches around for the breast. This is the burrowing effect. Once the puppy finds the breast, he kneads it with his two forepaws in an alternating rhythm in order to release the flow of milk. Contact with the breast induces sucking. This is known as the labial effect.
Contact With The Mother Is Indispensable
The puppy moves around by crawling. Due to his limited motor skills, he cannot stand up. If the puppy finds himself out of contact range with the rest of the litter, he will become extremely agitated and emit vocal sounds that will not stop until he
re-establishes contact. When the mother hears his whining, she heads toward the puppy and brings him back to the litter.
At the end of the meal, she turns her puppies over and grooms them. She licks the perineal region of her puppies to stimulate them to defecate and urinate, which she then consumes. This is called the perineal reflex. Then the puppies huddle together again and go to sleep. During this neonatal period, the puppy's tactile sensitivity is well developed, as is his sense of taste and he demonstrates basic responses to taste. During this period, the mother bonds with her puppies and anything that limits her contact with them will cause her great distress. She bonds specifically with her own puppies, even though a breastfeeding mother can sometimes be made to adopt other puppies. However, only her own puppies can appease her.