It has long been established that dogs are intelligent and perceptive. Dogs have feelings, just like humans — they feel joy, sadness, and grief for losing their human companion and losing another pet in the household. So, if dogs have feelings, do they miss their puppies?
In most circumstances, a mother dog (dam) will not miss her puppies provided they are separated at the right time, around 7-12 weeks. A breeder must consider the mother’s weaning process and readiness to send her puppies to new homes. Some dogs are highly emotional and may show signs of depression due to missing their litter.
Dogs are amazing, and we learn more about their emotions every day. There has not been much research regarding postpartum depression, let alone if she may be depressed and missing her litter. The following article will discuss these issues and also discuss if puppies miss their mother and siblings.
Do Mother Dogs Miss Their Puppies?
Whether or not mother dogs miss their puppies is a much-debated topic with yes and no answers depending on what research you read. However, many researchers are learning that dogs are very emotional beings, and it would stand to reason that they miss their puppies on some level (source).
Weaning is when the mother begins teaching her puppies to be independent. There is no denying that a mother dog loves her puppies. From the time they are whelped (born), she is there to feed, guide, and protect every puppy.
The First Ten Days
From birth, puppies are utterly dependent on their mothers. Puppies are born blind, deaf, and unable to walk. At this point, known as the neonatal period, it is the mother’s job to see to all her puppies’ needs. She needs to nourish them and even help them go to the bathroom since they cannot do this independently.
Three to Four Weeks of Age
During this stage, the puppies begin to nurse less frequently because they are introduced to solid food. However, during these weeks, there is more than just transitioning food. They are beginning to transition toward independence.
During this stage, the mother leaves the whelping box — where she feeds the puppies — for longer and longer periods. Her periodic absence gives the puppies longer periods to socialize with each other and get used to being without her.
Weaning must be a gradual process to protect the mother’s physical and mental health.
As the mother gives the puppies more playtime, she increases their independence away from her. She allows her puppies to begin their social connection to humans. While she is very protective of her newborns, she’ll allow humans access to her precious litter after a few days.
By the time the puppies are eight weeks old is an excellent time to begin sending them to their new forever homes. Be sure to keep an eye on the mother for signs of depression at the loss of her puppies, though. She may be in mourning.
The next section will establish whether or not dogs mourn and have feelings of loss.
Do Dogs Mourn?
According to Lynn Buzhardt, DVM of VCA Hospitals, dogs mourn in much the same way humans do.
Of course, they can’t directly tell us they are not happy or missing another dog, human, or even a litter of puppies. Paying close attention to signs your dog will display will tell you what they feel to know the best way to help them (source).
Signs Your Dog is Mourning
Your dog may begin to show signs of listlessness, not wanting to move around, and sleeping an unusual amount. When they move, they may move slowly and be sulky. Another sign is a decrease in appetite and interest in food, and they may not want to play.
The ASPCA conducted a study regarding the question of mourning in dogs. The study concluded that 66% of the dogs observed displayed at least 4 mourning signs when faced with losing a beloved human or companion pet.
How Does This Relate to Female Dogs Missing Their Litter?
Unfortunately, there is not much research regarding a female dog’s reaction to empty nest syndrome. Each dog, like humans, will react as an individual. Most female dogs are okay and may even be happy the puppies are gone, while others begin to show signs of depression looking for their pups.
During the process of independence, the mother’s role shifts from caregiver and protector to that of the teacher. The mother dog teaches her puppies how to interact in a socially appropriate way and disciplines them accordingly, further preparing them for complete independence.
Most female dogs are ready to get back to their routine and be the sole recipient of your attention. However, there is a chance she will not adjust well. There are a few things you can do to help your female dog to adjust slowly.
Steps for Successful Separation
As stated previously, dogs become depressed, so it is essential to ease mom and puppies’ separation. Most moms will let you know when it is time. They will spend less and less time with their puppies and look for your attention. Following her cues makes the process much easier on both of you.
Of course, when to separate puppies from mothers is subject to much debate and is also based on whether they are small or large. Small breed puppies should not leave their mother until they are somewhere around 12 weeks.
Whether the puppies are 7 or 12 weeks, it is possible to alleviate any stress or anxiety the mom may feel by following the suggestions below.
Don’t send all the puppies to new homes in one day. Stagger sending them to their new homes. Let mom meet the humans and see the new family holding the puppy — dogs are good at detecting threats. Also, let her escort the family and puppy to the car, watch the puppy get in the car, and if she is interested, watch the car leave (source).
Allowing the mother to participate and have time to say goodbye to her puppy should help her understand her puppy is gone and not look for them.
Also, put away everything associated with whelping and toys as soon as possible. It is always best to assume your female needs reminders removed. Once all her puppies have gone to their new homes, it can be a time of great anxiety for mother dogs.
Begin to spend time with her and reward all her hard work. Belly rubs are two-fold. One, dogs love to have their belly rubbed, and two, it will allow you to check for mastitis. If you allow your female to guide the weaning, she will generally not have this issue as her milk will dry up gradually.
If you and your dog played and walked before the puppies arrived, jump right back in. Getting back to the daily routine helps you spend time with your dog and gets her back into shape.
Do Mothers Recognize Their Puppies as Adults?
There is little research on mother dogs missing their puppies. However, Peter Hepper has done studies on how mother dogs recognize their puppies when they are adults (source). The study examined if a dog recognizes their siblings, if offspring recognize their mother, and if mothers recognize their offspring.
In short, at age two, dogs could recognize the scent of their mother and vice versa. However, siblings could only recognize each other if they lived in the same home (source).
This study shows that mothers know their puppies and have a memory of them. While this doesn’t explore if the mother misses her puppies, it is interesting that they remember them. Perhaps they miss them in a way we cannot fully understand yet.
While research is striving to catch up, one thing is evident across the board. Moms (dams), provided you pay close attention to their weaning process and pace, will not miss their puppies. However, the occasional overly emotional female dog will become depressed once the litter has been rehomed.
Dogs do indeed mourn and have bouts of depression, which parallels that of humans. Knowing the signs of depression, such as lethargy and loss of interest in food or play, will enable you to walk your dog down the path of healing. Of course, if you are unsure about anything, consult your veterinarian. Your vet knows your dog and is the best one to consult for treatment options.