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Entering the world:

A few days before the puppies are due, the mother will often start looking for and preparing a nest. But most modern dogs spend their confinement in a warm and roomy whelping box.

Right before going into labor, the mother may sometimes behave strangely, rushing from room to room, scratching, and whining. Some may dig and tear at their bedding. Finally, the mother dog will settle down quietly and will likely refuse food as the time draws near.

The female should not be left by herself during the birth, but intervention should be kept to a minimum. The mother should be checked out by a vet a few days before birth, and right after. And, if any thing goes wrong, which it can in about 25% of all births, the vet should be called immediately.

The average time of whelping from first to last pup is usually between 8 and 12 hours but can last over 24. In between births, most females appreciate a warm drink. Depending on the breed, there may be between 1 and 16 puppies, although 16 is rare. When the mother has started straining, labor has begun and may last anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours before the first pup appears.

While it is inside the womb, the puppy is enclosed in its own membrane and attached by its umbilical cord to the placenta. The placenta is, in turn, enclosed in the fluid-filled amniotic sac. The amniotic sac will break first, releasing a clear liquid. The first puppy should follow soon after. (If it hasn't within an hour, call the vet immediately.)

Puppies can be born head or tail first. If a puppy is still in its membrane, the mother pull it away with her teeth. She will also bite through the umbilical cord and eat the placenta. The mother will give her puppy a vigorous licking, pushing it around the nest. This stimulates its breathing. A human can do the same, gently, with a towel to assist a puppy in taking its first breath. Soon after, the puppy will find a teat and begin its first meal, while the mother awaits the next arrival.

Source: A Dog's Life: A year in the life of a dog family, by Jane Burton and Michael Allaby, Howell Book House, Inc., New York, 1986, pp. 13-17.