One of my favorite things about being involved with dogs is whelping and raising puppies. There’s nothing like holding those wriggling babies in your hands for the first time, hearing their first little cries, seeing those beloved dams nurturing their own, then watching them grow and develop over the following few months.
I’ve found over the years that no matter how many litters I’ve whelped, there is something new to learn with every litter. My dogs, and the wonder of bringing a new batch of babies into the world, never cease to amaze me.
Like every breeder I know, I monitor my girls pretty much around the clock starting a day or two before their due dates. I help with the birth of each puppy, making sure the sac is away from each puppy’s head when it is born, taking the afterbirths away, rubbing the newborn dry with a warm towel and making sure I hear that first squeak or two before letting its mum have a look at it, with a little more washing up on her part for good measure.
That’s how my own mother whelped litters of Cairns when I was growing up, and I’ve really never thought about doing it any other way. To tell the truth, I never really wondered if my girls could safely have their babies without my assistance. It’s entirely possible that all that hovering, if you will, is unnecessary, but I have to be there, “just in case.”
One of my favorite memories of the birth of a litter was years ago when my now 13-year-old Toy Poodle bitch had her second litter. One morning, three or four days from her due date, we went through our by then usual morning routine. She had eaten her breakfast and taken care of all her business outside, so after she settled down in her donut bed in the bedroom, I went out to my office, which was on the same property as my home, but in a converted detached garage, to get some work done. Like most breeders, I know that if the bitches eat, they’re not likely to whelp anytime soon.
I got absorbed in my work, and before I knew it more than three hours had passed. I went back in to check on my girl and take her out for a little walk, and was shocked by what I found. There in the donut bed was a very satisfied Toy bitch with three clean, dry babies, all happily nursing. On closer inspection, I found a few bloodstains in the bed, but very few, with no other sign that a birth, never mind three births, had taken place … except that there were three perfect puppies with their mum! My darling girl seemed very happy for me to examine her little family, but she obviously had not needed my help in bringing them into the world. Even the cords had been nipped at exactly the right length. She had done a more perfect job than I could have.
Of course, I still helped all my girls whelp their litters after that, but I’m still amazed when I think about it, that this one did such a perfect job. It’s what all of our dams should do, but I’m not sure how many of them could do it quite that well. It’s just one of the ways my girls have surprised me in good ways over the years.
Recently my friend Bob had two litters of Norwich puppies at one time, and he had a surprise that has delighted everyone who’s heard about it. The two bitches in question were friendly with one another. Terrier dams aren’t always friendly with other bitches, but these two happened to get along well. Still, he had their whelping boxes in separate rooms, so the dams would be comfortable and not fret over another dog in their “territories.” One mum, Sierra, had just a single whelp, while the other, Kisses, had four puppies. The litters were born just a few days apart.
When the babies were a couple of weeks old, just at that age where they’re up walking around, Bob was having some work done in one room of the house, so he moved the two dams into his living area, one on one side of the room and one on the other. Before he knew it, the puppies were starting to climb out of the whelping boxes… and soon he found one of Kisses’ babies in with Sierra and her puppy! Well, eventually this is how it all worked out:
I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m still surprised. But those dams never seemed to be the slightest bit concerned that their puppies were getting all mixed up and that they were occasionally feeding and cleaning puppies that weren’t their own. They shared whelping boxes and maternal duties off and on until the puppies left the nest.
How lucky we are to be involved with these wonderful dogs. They give us so much in so many ways. With them in our lives, there is always something new, and often surprising, around the corner.