Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Everything You Need to Know About Puppies: First Days and Weeks
Puppies are very vulnerable creatures. Once they are delivered into this world, they cannot see and they cannot hear. All they can rely on is their sense of touch and smell. Their sense of smell will tell them who their mom is, and their sense of smell will direct them towards their very first source of food—a special type of fluid produced by their mother in the first 24–48 hours.
This type of milk is often known as ''mother's gold'' because it is a thick, yellow-golden substance that provides puppies with all the essential nutrients and immune-system boosters to protect them from diseases for some time.
Do Puppies Get Immunity From Their Mothers?
In a litter of pups, the most assertive pup will suckle more than the others and will, therefore, receive the majority of these antibodies while the submissive ones will receive the least. In a domestic setting, this colostrum covers the timeframe from the when the puppy is born until the time the puppy has completed its whole vaccination boosters. However, there will be a delicate window where the antibodies taper off and the vaccines are not yet effective. This small window of opportunity may cause disease to strike.
"Mother's Gold" or Colostrum
In the wild, the level of antibodies absorbed through the colostrum will diminish gradually and the puppy must rely only on its own strength and immunity to make it in the tough world of survival. Quite often out of a litter, some puppies may not make it either because of disease, a hereditary disorder, or a malfunctioning organ. These puppies may appear to be healthy and strong the first day suckling the colostrum well, and in the next days, they may weaken and stray away from their mother and siblings.
As cruel as it may seem, the mother may help this pup up to a certain point. Because in nature, dogs must rely on survival, the mother may give up on the puppy if it appears not to be healthy and strong enough to suckle. Her energy must be concentrated on the stronger pups allowing them to feed and survive.
"Fading Puppy" Syndrome
In a domestic setting, such puppies are often called ''fading puppies.'' They sometimes can be helped by owners. If they do get better, they may gain enough strength to go back to their mom and siblings and continue to suckle. However, in nature, such puppies are not given this opportunity.
Are Dogs Den Animals?
In nature, the mother dog will rely on her instinct to keep the den clean. She will stimulate the puppies to urinate and defecate by licking their rear. Licking the pups is also a great way for her to bond with them. She will also ingest the pup's waste to ensure a good level of hygiene. Dens indeed are never dirty, mother dog works hard on keeping it clean. In a domestic setting, this is what helps puppies with crate training. Because a crate is similar to a den, puppies have an inherited instinct to not want to soil where they sleep and live.
In nature, mother dogs are generally quite protective about the puppies during their first few days and weeks. All it takes sometimes is to give other dogs a stare, to keep them away from her litter. The pups are very vulnerable creatures at that time, mostly feeding and sleeping 90% of the time. In a domestic setting, this is when the mother dog may growl at the owners. However, this behavior often gradually dissipates as the puppies grow more independent and are less vulnerable.
When Do Puppies Open Their Eyes?
After about 15 days, a puppy's eyes will open and a few days later they will capable of fully hearing. This is when the pups start to be able to eliminate without their mother's intervention. They also start to stand on their legs.
Common Puppy Behavior: Disciplining and Correcting
As the pups grow, a mother dog must teach them limitations. The mother dog will have no problem disciplining her pups consistently and effectively. She will grab the pups by the scruff and give a light but effective correction with an inhibited mouth.
Why Is the Mom-Dog Growling at Her Puppies?
As time goes by, the mother dog will start taking distance from the pups. The pups will grow interested in meeting other pack members. A pack of dogs is often composed of eight to ten members. Meeting various other dogs often creates mixed feelings. There will be dogs that may not tolerate the pups and will growl to be left alone, whereas there will be other pack members willing to play with the pups or simply accept their company.
Why Do Puppies Roll on Their Backs and Pee?
When dealing with the older dogs, the pups will roll on their back showing their bellies in submission and respect and sometimes may urinate as well. These are the first signs of submission. In a domestic setting, this sometimes takes place when owners scold pups or intimidate them with their body posture. This is defined as ''puppy submissive urination.''
Members of Wolf Packs Often Lend a Hand in Rearing Puppies
In nature, dogs perform ''alpha rolls'' on their own. No dog forces a dog to do an alpha roll as humans do. Forced alpha rolls in nature are rare events and only take place when one dog has a serious intent to injure or kill by biting the neck. This mostly occurs in captivity. In a wolf pack, other pack members would naturally step in to lend a hand in raising the pups. Pack members with strong nurturing instincts would assume the role of ''nannies'' and take over.
Pre-adolescence is a critical stage in dogs. Most dogs reach adolescence from the age of 6 to 8 months. Dogs are teenagers often until the age of three. Puppy-hood is a very short period of time in a dog's life. This is when the pups will want to explore more and join the pack in longer walks.
They also learn to further respect the elder pack members. A pup that gets too close to another dog while eating will be quickly corrected with a growl or snap. The puppy learns quickly. They will, therefore, wait to inspect for leftovers once the elder ranking dog has left the scene. Corrections rarely draw blood. They are mostly symbolic gestures of force without doing major harm. This is referred to as "ritualized aggression."
As the dog becomes an adolescent, he will reach his rebellious stage. He will display testing behaviors such as putting his head on the other dog's shoulder or attempting to take another dog's food. If they are interested in a mate, they will even challenge elder dogs. Once an adult, the adolescent dog may separate from the pack, mate, and form its own pack. The birth of a new litter will, therefore, unfold another life cycle, repeating over and over again.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 26, 2020:
Hi tofu, thanks for bringing this to my attention. As a dog trainer and behavior consultant, I must admit that yes, this article is very outdated.
Indeed, I wrote this over 10 years ago at a time when there wasn't much of the research out as of today and I wasn't even yet a dog trainer, but just a very passionate dog lover working for a veterinary practice, where even there, info was pretty much outdated.
This articles needs a lot of editing, so I am going to un-publish it shortly or maybe even delete it for good. I will decide what to do in the next few days.
Once again, thanks for pointing this out to me.
t0fu on August 17, 2020:
As a canine behaviorist and trainer, I want to address a couple very important things in this article that are outdated
The first issue here is that dogs are not wild when not raised by humans but feral as they are a domestic species. This is true for any "wild" domestic animal such as cats, horses, etc.
The section on wolves and alpha rolling is very outdated and does not match with any current wolf or dog research (See research by David Mech). Wolves live in a pack of a family unit, and in captivity are often compromised of wolves pulled from different places and put together. This means what we observe in captivity is not true to their behavior. They may establish something ofg a pecking order but really what we're seeing is things like resource guarding from each other instead of "alpha" or "elder" behavior. In true wold nature, wolves live in a family unit. They are made up a breeding male and female, followed by their offspring of various ages who may help raise young but these are not random adult wolves. A wolf pack may tolerate another breeding pair in their pack but it's not the norm.
Additonally, dogs do not always pin or "alpha roll" (a very outdated term) to correct each other and it is usually through a scuffle or fight. Dogs, in recent studies, have found to not even be true pack animals as they lack the fundamentals that other wild canids have of staying together and raising young together until the young are adults. Males play no active role in puppy rearing and females will stop being active much quicker than any wild canid, usually starting around 8 weeks of age. Feral dogs are social creatures and like to congregate during the day, and they don't have a dominance structure. Dogs can change their dynamics between each other, one dog who is dominant to a certain dog may be submissive to a different dog which has nothing to do with rank as age does not play a factor in who they are submissive to.
It is important to dispel these myths as training and attitude based on these false, outdated theories is damaging to dogs and their welfare. the American Society of Veterinary Behaviorists have position statements stating they do not agree or encourage training around these methods. David Mech is also working hard to educate about how his study on wolf behavior in the past was inaccurate to advocate for dog welfare in training. Multiple studies have shown that dogs respond better and thrive of of positive reinforcement based training.
Kathryn L Hill from LA on January 11, 2012:
Rock on September 07, 2010:
Awesome article, it really gave me some insight and ideas to use in my own dog training.