One of the many miracles of nature is the way that mothers of any species are able to understand how to respond to their newborns and take care of them. Female dogs are no different, they are able to respond to their puppies and understand what they are needing and wanting. Breeders that have dealt with a lot of puppies seem to also be able to deduce what puppies are needing based on the type of sounds they are making. Puppies normally communicate through sound with their littermates as well as with their mothers simply because they are not able to see at this time since their eyes are still closed.
Typically, newborn puppies will make a slightly cat-like sound, almost mewing to keep in contact with their mother and brothers and sisters. Puppies that are hungry will make a shrill keening type of sound, and will move around more, looking for their mother. Puppies are also not able to regulate their body temperature for their first couple of weeks, so it is very important to keep the room temperature at seventy to seventy five degrees Fahrenheit. The puppies should be kept away from direct heat sources such as heating ducts or electric heaters, as they may become overheated and dehydrate. They should also be prevented from being located in direct drafts or near air conditioning units.
Newborn puppies really don't need a lot of physical space, because they are not able to move around much. Everyday you will see that the puppies become stronger and more active, and this is a very positive sign. During this time the whelping box is the ideal space for the mother and puppies to stay. It is very important for the mother to have enough room to lie down and move around, without tromping on or possibly crushing the puppies when she lies down. Many whelping boxes will have a ledge area that prevents the female from pressing directly against the walls of the box, eliminating the concerns of her smothering the puppies by accident.
After about 10-14 days, the puppies will open their eyes. At this time they will become more active, and the mother may want to get away from the puppies for very brief periods of time. A good idea is to have the sides of the whelping box tall enough to keep the puppies in, but allow the mother dog to be able to comfortably step in and out. Remember that she will not want to jump or be overly active at this time, and her needs for exercise will be relatively low, even if she was previously a very active dog. Owners should be careful to keep the puppies' nails clipped if they are sharp, and to watch for any signs of dehydration or lack of nursing.
Puppies will normally be very clean, and will be bathed by their mother. The female dog will lick the puppies on their stomach and their tail areas and anus, to stimulate them to go to the bathroom after nursing. She will also eat all their waste materials in the whelping box, but regular cleaning of the material used to line the box is important. Newspapers, paper towels or even cotton towels can be used to line the box. Avoid using any type of lining that may contain dyes or chemicals that could be harmful to either the puppies or the female dog. Clean the material in the whelping box daily, and wipe the sides down if there is any dirt or waste material on the hard surfaces of the box. If puppies do become soiled with fecal material, simply wipe with a damp cloth, never fully bathe or complete wet the coat.
Since newborn puppies rely on Mom for all their nutrition, they don't need any water or food at this time. Even if water or food were provided, they would not know how to eat or drink, these skills will be developed when the puppies get a bit older.
Puppies need to be kept warm as discussed earlier, but they also need to be protected from sudden, loud noises or too much attention and contact. Basically, puppies should be allowed to bond with the female and the other littermates, and this can only be done if the puppies are calm and relaxed, not upset and nervous.
It is extremely difficult to get everyone in the family to understand that very young puppies should be handled as little as possible by humans. Human interaction at this time will actually decrease the bonding between the puppy and the mother, as well as between the puppy and littermates. Dogs that have poor bonding as puppies with the others in their litter are more aggressive, more independent and tend to be the more aloof and often have poor bonds with their human families.
In addition, a lot of handling when the puppies are young may contribute to injuries and even illness, as puppies are more likely to be hurt by mishandling and are far more susceptible to bacterial infections. Puppies have not yet developed their full immunity, and can easily contact common bacteria and become ill, even though the same bacteria or viruses would not be a problem in a few weeks. If puppies have to be handled, it should be very brief and only to move them within the whelping box for cleaning purposes.
It is very acceptable for the owner to gently touch or pet the puppies on a limited basis, as well as to talk to the puppies to help them become familiar with the human voice. Keep all sounds very neutral and non-threatening, and avoid all sudden movements and loud noises. Never yell or raise your voice around the litter, keep the tones positive and light and the puppies will soon learn to respond to the sound of your voice.
It is very critical to talk to young children about handling newborn puppies. Kids love puppies, and will naturally want to pick them up and hold them, something that is completely natural. Teach children to pet the puppies very carefully in the whelping box, and to just enjoy watching them play and grow.
Other articles under "Pregnancy and Puppy Care (0-12 weeks)"