No doubt the maternal instinct is usually strong amongst all mammals and much in evidence in our relationships with our dogs. During the period of her pregnancy, nature is preparing the expectant mother to be a nurturing influence on her puppies. Hormone levels increase, as her temperament also changes in readiness for her new role.
There are, as well, some wonderful chronicles of adult female dogs who have never been mothers, expectant or otherwise, but find themselves up close and personal with puppies brought into their home setting. Some of these instances have revealed females actually lactating, with puppies attempting to suckle. They are drawn to this nurturing foster “mother”. The instinct has become so strong in this environment as to encourage the natural behavior and physical conditions needed to nurse these hungry pups.
In other instances where a pregnancy is also not on the horizon, a female will prepare a “nesting” place for a litter she will not be having. She carefully gathers soft, cuddly, stuffed toys for her chosen “den”. The false pregnancy she is experiencing is driven by an urgent biological need. We have even heard of situations of female dogs nurturing new litters of kittens, as though they were their own.
Once puppies are born to a bitch, the maternal behavior becomes highly protective, as she settles in to perform her 24 / 7 duties for each member of her brood. Her pups are born blind, deaf and completely dependent upon her for their nurturing and sustenance. The smell of a nursing puppy is vitally important for the new mother to expel the afterbirth, encourage the flow of milk and to establish a strong bond between mother and her needy family members.
In this period and for many weeks thereafter she becomes a guard dog for the assured safety of her pups, keeping them warm, well-groomed and nourished, until they are ready to be on their own. Mother’s policing duties are in full gear (from 3-6 weeks of age), as her pups become more active and curious about the world around them. Last, is the training for their eventual independence. Mother can now resume the use of her puppy stairs and dog ramps,
using them now to help train her puppies to follow her to safe locations where she can oversee their explorations.
With all this rising and falling of hormone levels, she can become protective in the extreme. This form of aggression is a post-partum characteristic of all mammals. Close family members are not usually perceived as a threat to her and her little family, but “respect’ for her sensitivity as a new mother is a very important byword to follow.