If a nest is not provided as the whelping time approaches, an dog will make her own. If she is a house pet, she may fix it in a closet, on a bed, or out in the garden. As time of birth draws near, she will settle in her nest and appear to strain. The frequency and intensity of her uterine contractions increase.
It is wise to prepare a nesting area about a week before the anticipated whelping and to encourage the expecting mother to use it. The nest should be located in a convenient place if in a house but not in an area strange to her. A kennel dog should whelp in the kennel and not in a strange new environment, such as a residence. Kennel dogs had been brought into the house for their delivery, felt so insecure they spent half their time carrying puppies to a sofa from the nesting area. Once back in the kennel they were excellent mothers. Also, it is best not to invite the neighbors in to see this fascinating feat of nature since strangers and undue noise create a threat to some new mothers. Many females will destroy their puppies if the environment is not to their liking.
In considering the proper nest it is helpful to examine those typical of females left to their own design. We have seen farm dogs as well as city dogs choose their own locations and have their litters, and there is one feature in common. The nest the female creates may be under the edge of a haymow or under the back porch, but invariably it is not unlike a giant bird’s nest in its concavity. Bitches dig and scratch, circling constantly in the depression until it is deep enough to their liking. We can benefit by this observation and provide a concave nest for a planned litter. Corrugated boxes with sides tall enough to prevent puppies from crawling out during their first three weeks of life but not too tall for the mother to jump over are useful and disposable when soiled. The corners should be packed with a cloth to make the next concave and a blanket should be placed over it.
Whelping Facilities in the Kennel
As is true in the house, be sure that everything is ready for the puppies. The ideal whelping box is square with the sides a foot high. It should be prepared with the proper bedding made of absorbent material. Rye or oat straw and dehydrated sugarcane are all excellent. Whatever is used, be sure there is an ample amount of it. Fill the box with the material and then trample it down until it is saucer-shaped rather than flat. Those who have had little experience with bitches whelping often copy the whelping boxes built for sows. These have bars up a few inches from the side under which the piglets can roll if the mother tends to lie on them. However, bitches do not lie down in this fashion. A good mother hollows out a nest by walking around and around, pushing her puppies into a pile in the lowest part of the hollow. Then she lies down with all her teats available.
There are bitches so clever and petite that they can make a nest in a haymow barely large enough to turn around in and in it whelp and raise weaning a large litter of puppies. The majority of house dogs, however, are incapable of such an expert and natural performance. If left to herself, every bitch will hollow out a nest in which the puppies tend toroll into a pile in the bottom, where they keep each other warm. If left on a flat floor, the puppies are more apt to be killed by their mother lying on them.
The preparation of a nest has a great effect on the success of a litter. Avoid using loose material that is likely to get into the mouths of the young and interfere with their nursing. When you use dehydrated sugarcane for bedding material in kennels, you should put cloth under it, so that it will not irritate the puppies’ navels should it be pushed aside.
Whelping Facilities at Home
For house dogs, we prefer cloth stuffed into the corners of the box with a blanket spread over all.During the labor the expectant mother may tear the blanket to shreds but sometime during the labor she stops shredding and another blanket may be added. Much of the cloth will be soiled by fluids from the birth process and it may be removed and laundered for future use. Some of the synthetic fibers such as nylon may wrap around a pup’s extremity with tourniquet action resulting in the loss of a limb if not discovered in time. If the nest box becomes too soiled have a second one on hand with clean bedding to substitute.
If the litter is whelped and to be raised at home, a six-foot-high stack of newspapers will be about right for ten Setter pups. During the weaning period, the mother stops eating the puppies’ excrement and the keeper of the puppies has a constant job of cleaning up after them. A playpen-type enclosure or a small room covered with newspapers is the conventional and good way to handle this problem. In warm clear weather they may be taken out to an outside enclosure for part of the day, but keep stray dogs away since young puppies are to many diseases.