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Pre-Whelp Protocols

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We want to ensure the brood receives the best physical, social, and emotional support possible with the resources available to you or your organisation. The time spent during this phase will give the Brood and her soon to be born puppies the optimal conditions for producing an outstanding working dog.

The temperament, behaviour and overall health of the Brood all come into play once the puppies are born but it is possible to start to influence these factors prior to birth. If physical and mental stress are kept to a minimum pre whelp the puppies are less likely to show emotional or behavioural issues in the future.

Genetics is responsible for 20% of what we see in the older dog, but the environmental impact is 80% hence it is vital to produce an environment that is conducive to learning.

Why is pre-whelp preparation important?

The building of positive association around humans starts with the brood well before she whelps. Time spent massaging, touching, petting and bonding all help towards producing a relaxed, happy, and accepting brood – and a stress-free brood will usually produce similar puppies. Likewise, an anxious, cautious, or fearful Brood will pass these qualities onto her puppies.                        

Remember the overall long-term goal is to have puppies who are accepting of being handled by humans. The positive association and calm demeanour of the brood when being with humans should pass onto her puppies resulting in calmer, relaxed puppies with a positive attitude to being handled and wanting to learn.

Once the pups are born, and throughout their lives, it is imperative that the building of positive human relationships continues, and puppies learn that being with humans is fun.

Pre-Whelp Activities

If your brood is expected to whelp in an environment unfamiliar to her, you should introduce her to the environment well before her whelp so she is comfortable and relaxed during the whelp and weeks afterward.

For example, if your brood whelps in a facility, you could bring her in one to two weeks beforehand so she can get used to the routine, sights and smells of her new environment. Ideally she has also spent some time in similar environments previously.

If she is staying with a home whelper, consider arranging some sleepover visits beforehand.

This also gives your brood the chance to get familiar with the staff or individuals who will be supporting her during her whelp and in the weeks afterwards. Activities like feeding, walking, grooming, gentle play, massage, or even just spending time with the brood will help her become comfortable with any unfamiliar staff.

Prior to sanitising the tools to be used in the first few weeks of the puppy’s life it is helpful to have the expectant brood engage with you while you select your equipment.  Allow her to sniff, pick up and play with the equipment.  Supervision is essential as some toys will be small or made of soft rubber. This supervised time together will allows you to observe if she will be destructive with soft cuddly or chew toys and thus alerts you to ensure no toys are left alone in the den.

The images above show examples of soft rubber toys, and textures/surfaces.

Allow the Brood to familiarise herself with different scents that will be in her den post whelp. Fully secure scent boxes with holes in them can be filled with calming essential oils.

Have the relaxation music playing in the background or other sound CD’s on low volume so that by the time you are ready to introduce these to the puppies the Brood will have heard them all prior to the whelp.  Movies are another great background noise to accustom broods to unpredictable noises and music that will be played during early socialization later. Musical instruments can be played as well to get the brood accustomed to this sound:

Following a C-Section the relaxation music and calming subtle scents may assist in keeping the Brood relaxed and calm while she adjusts to the nurturing role. Remember that any form of trauma will produce changes in the autonomic nervous system of the brood and interfering with the balance of the neurotransmitter of the brain. A first time Brood need time to adjust to the mothering role. Prior preparation as outlined above will ensure no added stress is encountered by the introduction of unseen equipment as it is introduced into the den over the next couple of weeks.  

More Resources

IWDA members can access the following articles, presentations and lectures that can help you upskill and build upon your socialization program. Discover some of the science behind our Early Socialization Program. Not a member? Learn more here.

General Socialization:

Measuring Behavior:

Puppy socialization to improve your working dog program:

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