Ever wondered why mamma dog seems to enjoy nursing for the first weeks, but then as the puppies grow, she starts resenting it and loses her patience? Most likely those sharp puppy teeth are playing a role. Weaning those shark-mouthed pups gives momma relief and puts those teeth to work.
Going Slow and Steady
Weaning is the term used to depict the process of introducing pups to food while withdrawing their supply of milk. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to this process. Mother dogs are not just milk factories; there is much more into their parenthood role, and rushing through the process is not good. While the puppies may at a certain point not nurse much anymore, they still need guidance from their mother and littermates on how to inhibit their bite and develop good canine social skills. Weaning gradually is also preferable because it's best to dry up momma dog's milk supply at a slow pace.
Exploring New Food Options
Generally, the weaning process is started when the puppies are between 3 and 4 weeks of age, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This coincides with the time mother dogs start to evade the puppies and discourage nursing. This is the best time to introduce veterinarian-recommended mush since the puppies at this stage are naturally inclined to explore the world and look for other food sources.
Sampling the Food
At around 3 weeks of age, start separating mother dog from her pups for a few hours at a time. This is a good time to offer small amounts of a starter or weaning formula on a cookie baking sheet. Gently placing the puppy's chin in the food may encourage him to smell it and lap some up. Then a week later, small amounts of canned food or ground up dry puppy food can be added to their weaning mixture, according to veterinarian T.J. Dunn.
Experimenting with Food
Expect the first experiences with solid food to be a messy ordeal. The pups may be attracted to the smell but may not know exactly what to do. Many will walk on the food and decorate your home with flashy paw prints. Some bright fellows may actually be fast to figure out they must open their mouth to get some tasty food. Other hesitant pups may need a bit of coaxing; try allowing them to lick some food off your finger.
Enjoying Solid Food
As the puppies grow, they can spend more time away from mom and be fed more often. At 6 weeks, puppies should be fed a high-quality food four times a day, Dunn explains. However, portions may need to be controlled for puppies of larger breeds, since overeating during their growth phase may predispose them to bone or joint problems. It's best to consult a vet to make sure the weaning process is going smoothly. As the puppies increase their intake of solid food, mamma dog will naturally decrease her milk production. Most puppies are fully weaned and no longer rely on milk by the age of 7 to 8 weeks. This is when the puppies are getting ready to be adopted out to their new, loving homes.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.