Pre-Labor to Stage 1 of Labor in Dogs

September 01


There are a number of ways that a pregnant dog signals that she’s about to go into labor. A few of these signs include digging, crawling underneath things like our deck, searching for natural “caves” in which to nest, an enlarged vulva, and not eating. These cues may occur as early as a week before labor begins and they are important to us.

We typically bring a mama dog into our whelping kennel a week before her due date, in order to become accustomed to her new surroundings. However, the above-mentioned pre-labor signals may tell us to bring her into the kennel sooner than planned, since we don’t want her to give birth in an uncontrolled environment. In our case, all of our mama dogs are housed in a nearby barn in two very large, covered and uncovered runs. Many of our female dogs live in packs, which is an ideal situation for them, since the “wolf pack” is in their blood. They form close canine friendships, eat together, sleep together, play with one another, go on runs together, etc.

However, when a dam is giving birth, surrounding dogs may try to harm newborn puppies. It may seem like some wild, “survival of the fittest” instinct, but I tend to agree with experts that other adult dogs may simply a newborn pup as a mouse or squirrel, which is a clear invader of the pack and they’re actually just trying to protect their canine family from pests. Of course, we want to prevent any accidental injuries or deaths in newborn puppies, so we move pre-labor mama dogs to our whelping kennel and far away from other adult dogs as quickly as possible.

Here at our Marble Mountain Kennels, we have one kennel dedicated to whelping puppies with four individual birthing “rooms” or stalls. When puppies are around three weeks old, they and their moms are usually transferred to our eight-room puppy-raising facility, where they are eventually weaned and learn to eat solid food. Both the whelping kennel and puppy raising kennel allow us to maintain a protected, dry, easy-to-clean environment for mothers and their pups.

Stage 1 of Labor

When a mama dog goes into labor, she can be very restless. She may pace, spin in circles, and dig frantically, even when there’s no place to dig. If she’s a first-time mom, she may growl at whatever invisible phantom is causing her painful contractions. Her body temperature will drop. She will pant and tremble. If you lay a hand on her belly, you’ll feel the muscles tense in contractions. She usually will not eat but, if she does, she may vomit. This stage can last anywhere from 6-12 hours.

In my next blog, I’ll explain more about stage two of labor, as well as the delivery process.

If you are planning to oversee the whelping of your own dog’s litter, perhaps you will find this information.

Thank you for reading!

Note: Most of this information is based on our own personal experience, but a couple of medical details were gleaned from the book, The Monks of New Skete: The Art of Raising a Puppy, published by Little, Brown, 1991.

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