Raising and nursing puppies is a stressful time for a dog. She’s got new hormones flowing through her body, she’s exhausted from the delivery and she’s also got a whole bunch of new mouths to feed. It’s no wonder Mom gets a little cranky. So she’ll use her growl to keep the pups in line, but in some cases, she’ll growl for more serious reasons. It’s up to the owner to determine when Mom does and doesn’t need a little help.
The most common reason a nursing mother will growl at her pups is to say “Hey! That’s too hard.” Hungry pups can be enthusiastic sucklers to say the least, and since their teeth appear between 2 and 4 weeks of age, Mom soon has to deal with the discomfort of a puppy nipping at her. When Mom growls, not only is she protecting herself from pain, she’s teaching her young bite inhibition.
If the litter is particularly large, Mom simply may not have the energy and milk to successfully feed all of her pups. When she’s tired or is struggling to produce, she may growl. To tell whether your dog has had a larger-than-average litter, find out what the standard is for the breed. If the mother is suffering from mastitis, an infection of the mammary glands, she may find nursing extremely painful and will growl to make the puppies stop feeding. Mastitis is characterized by cracked or broken skin, discoloration and discharge. In some rare cases, Mom may abandon her pups and will have no instinct to feed them. This can lead to growling.
When to Intervene
If Mom is exhausted, sick or abandons her pups, it will be necessary to hand-rear the pups and to make sure they don’t bother Mom for milk. It’s essential to get a good understanding of what is causing Mom to growl, so a period of observation is required in which you can determine the cause of the growling. If that doesn’t work, a veterinary consultation may be necessary.
When not to Intervene
Mom will use her growl to tell her pups it's time to move on from nursing. When puppies are around 6 weeks old, Mom will start to wean them off. If they persist in going for the teat after this stage, Mom may give a growl to deter them. Not all nursing bitches will use their growl to do this, but many will. If the pups are 6 weeks old or older, it’s typically preferable to let their mother teach them that it's time to move on. While you shouldn’t intervene at this stage, it’s essential that the pups have access to clean, fresh drinking water so they have an alternative to suckling at their mother’s teats.