November 25, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Dogs Part 3


Reproduction: Birth: Early life: Socialisation

By Dr Clive Dalton

Huntaway bitch with large litter walking away as she's decided feeding time is over.
Note her good body condition - but this sized litter and the heavy milk drag will quickly thin her down if she's not fed properly and the pups supplemented.



  • Bitches reach puberty from 6-9 months old.
  • Mature bitches have two heat periods a year.
  • A bitch has a lengthy period of pro-oestrus (before her heat). It's a useful warning to owners as it triggers the attention of males from miles around, living in hope.
  • "Standing heat" when she will stand to be mated lasts 5-12 days.
  • After a failed mating, a bitch can have a false pregnancy and not show heat for 3-4 months. This can be very confusing for the owner. She gets fat, shows nesting behaviour and produces milk for up to 60 days. But there are no pups born!
Signs of oestrus in bitch
  • Males sniffing her vulva and rear end.
  • She may urinate in presence of a male.
  • She may urinate by leg cocking like a male.
  • Males show excitement, especially if many are present.
  • Vulva is red and swollen - sticky mucous and blood may be seen.
  • She may stand and then race round in a play mood.
  • She may mount the male with pelvic thrusts.
  • When on standing heat she will stand with back curved and tail on the side - called "presenting".
Dogs (males)
  • Reach puberty at about 6-9 months old.
  • They do a lot of mounting in play when pups.
  • It's best to bring bitch to the dog's environment to save his time investigating and scent marking the strange environment.
  • Owners of stud dogs generally like the bitch to be right at standing heat so the job gets over and done with in as short a time as possible. Otherwise the bitch has to be brought back again.
  • Some bitches just don't like certain dogs, and vice versa and you end up with a big fight instead of a mating.
  • Entry occurs with trial and error and during thrusting; the dog stands on alternate back legs in a paddling action. This is when ejaculation occurs.
  • The bulbous structure on penis locks him inside the bitch for 10-30 minutes. During this locking, secondary ejaculation may occur when most of the ejaculatory fluid is expelled.
  • The dog may turn round in locked position. It's no good throwing a bucket of water over locked dogs as so many people believe. You just have to wait.
Desexing - castration and spaying
There are many reasons for desexing:
  • To prevent breeding
  • Stop wandering
  • Reduce aggression
  • Reduce urine scent marking
  • Stop mounting other dogs or people
Studies show that it successfully does all these, so why then are there people who don't bother?
There's a huge human psychology problem, especially with large human males with large dogs - they seem to imagine their masculinity will go with the dog's!
  • Desexing can be done as soon as 8 moths of age.
  • It's not true that a bitch needs to have a litter before spaying.
  • Desexing does not make dogs less-loving of their owners.
  • Desexed working dogs will still work effectively.
  • It's not true that desexed dogs will become obese. Like any other dog, they will if the diet is in excess of their needs - not their wants.
  • Labour can last from 2 to 12 hours. Seek vet advice after a few hours if you suspect problems.
  • The bitch lies on her side showing rapid and deep breathing.
  • After each pup is born, she licks it, chews at the birth sack and may eat it.
  • She is constantly checking her vulva and licking it, watching for the arrival of each pup.
  • She rests between deliveries and my ago to eat and drink.
  • Disturbance during whelping will delay the whole birth process.
  • Pups are born with poor hearing and blind, and remain so till about 3 weeks old.
  • Pups seek the teats by touch and smell.
  • If they get lost, the bitch directs them back to her by licking.
  • She responds quickly to pups giving panic squeaks, so be careful if you pick one up.
  • The bitch tends dead pups like live ones and it may be days before she ignores them.
  • The bitch spends a lot of her time keeping the nest area clean and pups learn this habit early in life.
  • The bitch ingests the pups' faeces and urine.
  • Don't go near a whelping bitch without the owner being present, and let the owner puck up the pups for inspection.

Pups' early life

  • Pups are unable to walk at birth but they soon learn to crawl around the nest and show side-to-side head movements. This behaviour is to find warm bare skin and hopefully teats.
  • The bitch encourages her pups to move back to her teats by licking them.
  • If they find a cold surface they retreat and if held in space they squeal, so keep pups in contact with you. It's called "contact comfort".
  • The pup's first vocalisations are squeaks and grunts used to express discomfort and hunger. Barking can start as early as 18 days when they start to bark as part of early play.
  • Teat seeking is accompanied by low grunting noises.
  • Pups always live with the danger of being crushed. When a good mothering bitch lies down she may ignore short squeaks but will investigate more persistent ones.
  • About 4 weeks old pups start interacting with litter mates and their mother and they start barking and tail wagging at this age.

  • The period 4-12 weeks is the critical socialising period for a pup.
  • Neglect of this leads to many problems when dogs get older.
  • Pup should meet as many "environmental experiences" as possible at this time and you cannot overdo this socialising experience.
  • Examples are: other people, other dogs, children, noise, vehicles, - everything you can think of!
  • During this exposure the pup must be kept safe and secure - and constantly reassured by owner.
  • Playing with children will not spoil young working dog pups as some old shepherds believed. When a child handles pups before weaning, make sure the dog's owner is at hand to reassure the bitch.
  • Up to 5 weeks old pups readily approach strangers. After this they show avoidance behaviour until about 8 weeks. This is nature's way of protecting them from predators by an "anxiety period" which lasts up to about 12 weeks.
  • The best time to take a pup as a pet is from 6-10 weeks, so it's had time to socialise with its own kind and can then develop a good social bond with humans.
  • Hierarchy starts to develop during suckling when big pups compete for the best front teats. Litter runts have problems as they inevitably end up sucking the hind teats with the least milk supply.
  • Once the bitch discourages suckling, emphasis moves from teats to muzzle. Pups lick their mother's muzzle while adopting a crouching posture.
  • This is to encourage regurgitation of food as seen in wild dog behaviour. It's the reason your dog licks your face when you come home - it wants to you regurgitate your lunch!
  • The leader-follower bond in a successful pack is not based on fear. Low order members seek out top order members for regular body contact. That's why a dog will beg to come back to you for a pat after a reprimand.
Some useful socialising tips
  • You need to dominate your pup and this is best done as part of the socialisation period.
  • Using non-verbal physical handling can be used using these methods:
  • Elevate - hold the pup up at eye level
  • Invert - hold it upside down at eye level
  • Straddle - hold it between your legs
  • Prone - (see picture) lay it on the ground and gently hold it down. This is very easy to do and the pup feels secure.
  • In all the above actions, when the pup shows panic, reassure it with gentle patting and low voice tones.
  • When it struggles, shake it by the scruff and growl like its mother would do. Then provide reassurance.
  • Discipline must be immediate - a delay of a few seconds is too long, as the pup will not associate the punishment with the crime.
  • Do you want your dog only to accept food from you? This needs to be taught in this early socialisation period.
  • If you feed the pup yourself it will associate you with control of its food supply. This is also a good idea these days to stop your dog being doped or poisoned.
  • Interrupt the pup during feeding. Take the food away, then replace the food and give it plenty of praise.
  • Don't call a dog to you to administer discipline. Discipline must be instantaneous.
  • Don't change the rules or let anyone else change them and make sure the rules are applied similarly by everyone in the family.
Greeting you should receive from a well-socialised dog
  • A vigorous welcome.
  • Ears held back.
  • Head and body in slightly lowered position.
  • Tail held down but wagging.
  • Mouth open and lips drawn back in a grin.
  • Licking your hands and face.
  • Some dogs will even lie on their backs and urinate.

Faeces and urine
  • This is a major reason for man's love/hate relationship with the dog. We love dogs but don't like their faeces on our shoes!
  • Well-adjusted dogs are taught by their mother not to foul their nest and home territory, so that's why they go next door to eliminate.
  • Females from pups to adults squat to urinate and they do the same to defaecate.
  • In males urinating and defaecating are also part of scent marking.
  • Only after 5 weeks do male pups learn to cock their legs.
  • Bottles filled with water do not put dogs off fouling your front lawn.
  • Dogs can easily be taught to defaecate on a specific area of their territory, and even to defaecate on command.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes a bitch will display general signs of dog pregnancy without actually being pregnant. This will happen as she comes off a heat cycle, and it doesn't seem to matter whether or not there was any breeding activity. Rather, it seems to be brought on psychologically, and the symptoms usually subside within about a month.

    Your bitch may also decide to "adopt" some babies
    to fill the void during this time. This may be puppies from another litter on the premises, or she may substitute objects such as toys or stuffed animals. Borrowing puppies from another bitch can lead a potentially dangerous situation and calls for your intervention; however, if she is only playing mom with toys, give her time to come to terms with the situation on her own before removing the items, then try to get her focused on other activities.

    Dog pregnancy