As dog owners, we want the best for our furry friends. When expecting a litter of puppies, it’s important to know what to expect during the different stages of dog labor. It’s a perplexing time for both the dog and owner, but being prepared can help ease the process. In this article, we’ll explore the physical and behavioral signs of the three stages of dog labor and what to expect during the postpartum stage. Let’s dive in and learn how to be the best support system for our furry friends.

Stage 1: Early Labor

Stage 1: Early Labor
As a dog owner, it is essential to recognize the signs of your furry friend entering labor. This stage can be long and confusing, but with proper knowledge, you can provide your dog with the care and comfort she needs. The first stage of dog labor is known as the early labor. During this stage, your dog will exhibit several signs that indicate she is ready to deliver her puppies. It is important to be prepared with a whelping kit, a comfortable whelping area, and contact information for a whelping vet in case of emergency. Let’s explore the physical and behavioral signs that your furry friend may exhibit during the early labor stage.

Physical Signs

During the early stages of labor, dogs may exhibit various physical signs that indicate that the puppies are on the way. If you plan on breeding your dog, it is important to be familiar with these signs in order to know when it’s time to get ready for the arrival of the puppies. Here are some physical signs of early labor that you should look out for:

  • Temperature drop: A drop in your dog’s body temperature to below 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) is usually a sign that labor is imminent. This temperature drop usually occurs 12-24 hours before labor starts.
  • Contractions: Contractions are the most apparent physical signs of dog labor. During the early stages of labor, your dog may start to have weak contractions that are barely noticeable. These contractions will gradually increase in strength and frequency as labor progresses.
  • Mucous discharge: A mucous plug that is blocking the cervix will be expelled once labor is about to start. You may notice this as a mucous discharge that is tinged with blood. The discharge may be thick or thin, depending on your dog’s breed.

It’s important to remember that not all dogs will exhibit these physical signs of early labor. However, if you do notice any of the above signs, it’s best to be prepared and have your whelping kit essentials handy. Additionally, create a comfortable whelping area for your dog where she can safely give birth.

If you notice any worrying physical signs during your dog’s labor process, don’t hesitate to contact your whelping vet. Experienced vets can provide dog birth assistance and ensure the safety and health of both the mother and her litter.

Once the puppies arrive, make sure to keep them warm and dry. Learn about newborn Cocker Spaniel care to help you take care of your litter. Although not all dogs experience complications during labor, be aware of the common challenges that may arise postpartum.

Behavioral Signs

During the first stage of dog labor, known as early labor, your dog may exhibit various behavioral signs that indicate she is getting ready to give birth. These behaviors can give you an idea of when labor will begin and help you prepare for the arrival of the puppies. Here are some of the key behavioral signs to look out for during early labor:

Behavioral Signs of Early Labor
Excessive Panting
Nesting Behavior
Loss of Appetite

Restlessness: Your dog may seem restless and unable to settle down, even in her normal comfortable spots.

Excessive Panting: During early labor, your dog may start panting more heavily and more frequently than usual.

Nesting Behavior: Your dog may start to nest, meaning she may start digging or scratching at her bedding area, or she may start gathering blankets, towels or other soft objects to create a nest-like environment.

Loss of Appetite: Your dog may stop eating or only eat small amounts during early labor.

Anxiousness: Your dog may seem anxious or clingy during early labor, following you around and seeking your attention more than usual.

It is important to note that these behavioral signs are not always consistent among all dogs and some dogs may not show any signs at all. It is crucial to also look for physical signs which indicate she is beginning labor.

Stage 2: Active Labor

Stage 2: Active Labor
As the first stage of labor comes to an end, your furry friend will enter the second and most intense stage known as Active Labor. This is the stage when your dog’s body will start pushing out puppies, and you may notice a significant increase in both her physical and behavioral changes. It’s important to monitor your dog closely during this time as active labor can be quite uncomfortable for them.

Physical Signs

During the first stage of dog labor, there are numerous physical signs that can show that your dog is about to give birth. These are the signs that you should keep an eye on as they give you an indication of when labor will happen. Here are some physical signs that will tell you that your dog is in early labor:

  • Temperature drop: A drop in your dog’s rectal temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a normal temperature range for dogs, indicates that your dog is within 24 hours of labor. Keep in mind that temperature may fluctuate slightly, so be sure to track any changes.
  • Bloody vaginal discharge: Bloody discharge from the vagina is also a sign that your dog may be in labor. The discharge may appear thicker than normal and may have a dark green or black hue.
  • Restlessness: Restlessness is a common sign that your dog will exhibit during the early stages of labor. She will have trouble finding a comfortable spot to lie down and may become anxious and pace around the room.
  • Nesting behavior: Your dog may start building a nest for her puppies by gathering blankets or other materials and arranging them in a particular area. This is a clear sign that labor is soon to follow.
  • Inappetence: Most dogs will lose their appetite during the early stages of labor. This is a natural response to the upcoming physical exertion.
  • Increase urination and defecation: As your dog’s body prepares for labor, she may have to urinate or defecate more frequently than usual because the puppy’s head is pressing on the bladder.

Note that not all of these signs will necessarily appear at once, and some dogs may not exhibit any clear physical signs during early labor. It is essential to keep a close eye on your dog and take her to your vet if you have any concerns.

Behavioral Signs

During the first stage of dog labor, there are several behavioral signs that may indicate the onset of labor. These are some behaviors that you may observe in your pregnant dog:

Behavioral SignsDescription
RestlessnessYour dog may become increasingly agitated and restless as labor approaches. She may have difficulty settling down and may pace around, looking for a comfortable spot to give birth.
Nesting BehaviorIn preparation for labor, your dog may start nesting, seeking out a quiet and safe place to give birth. She may scratch at the floor or try to shred any paper or soft materials to create a comfortable bed.
LickingYour dog may start excessively grooming her genital area in anticipation of labor. This is a sign that she is getting ready to deliver the puppies.
PantingAs the contractions become more frequent and intense, your dog may begin panting heavily. Panting is a coping mechanism to help your dog deal with the discomfort of labor.
VomitingIn some cases, a dog may experience vomiting and diarrhea during the early stages of labor. This is thought to be caused by hormonal changes in the dog’s body as labor approaches.

It is important to keep an eye on your dog’s behavior during the early stages of labor. Make sure she has access to a comfortable and safe space where she can give birth. Provide plenty of soft and clean bedding for her to lie on, and make sure the area is clean and free from any potential hazards. Help your dog stay relaxed and comfortable by providing gentle reassurance and closely monitoring her behavior.

Stage 3: Delivery of Puppies

Stage 3: Delivery Of Puppies
Brace yourself, because the moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here – the delivery of the puppies! This is the stage where you’ll get to witness the miracle of life right before your eyes. It’s an exciting and nerve-wracking time, both for the mother dog and for you as her keeper. In this stage, the mother dog will go through some intense physical and emotional changes as she brings her little ones into the world. So, let’s take a closer look at what you can expect during the delivery process.

Physical Signs

During the first stage of labor, which can last anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, there are a number of physical signs that your dog will exhibit, indicating the onset of labor. These signs can be easily distinguished and include:

  • Temperature Drop: Your dog’s body temperature may drop from 101-102°F (38-39°C) to 98-99°F (36-37°C) within 24 hours before labor begins. Be sure to check your dog’s temperature regularly to anticipate the beginning of the first stage.
  • Loss of Appetite: Your dog may become less interested in eating as labor approaches. This is a natural instinct intended to ensure that the body is free to focus on the task at hand.
  • Nesting Behavior: During early labor, your dog may become restless and show signs of nesting. This can include scratching at the floor or ground, digging or even trying to build a nest out of blankets or other materials.
  • Increase in Breathing: As labor approaches, dogs may exhibit rapid breathing, often panting heavily as they try to get comfortable. This is a normal response to labor and nothing to be concerned about.
  • Contractions: As your dog progresses into active labor, you may be able to see and feel contractions, which can last around 30-60 seconds each.
  • Rupture of the Amniotic Membrane: As active labor begins, the amniotic sac around each puppy will break, causing a gush or trickle of fluid to spill out.

It’s important to remember that these physical signs can vary from dog to dog, and your pet may exhibit different behaviors altogether. However, by keeping a close eye on your dog’s physical condition and monitoring any changes closely, you’ll be better prepared to recognize the onset of labor.

Behavioral Signs

During the early labor stage, the dog may begin to exhibit some behavioral signs that labor is imminent. These may include:

  • Restlessness: Your dog may seem unable to get comfortable and may often shift positions or pace around.
  • Nesting: Your dog may begin to pace and scratch at her bedding, creating a comfortable environment for the soon-to-be puppies.
  • Panting: Your dog may begin to breathe heavily and rapidly, like she’s just been on a long run.
  • Licking: Your dog may start licking her genital area more frequently than usual.
  • Loss of Appetite: Your dog may lose interest in food during this stage.

As labor progresses into the active stage, the dog’s behavior may become even more pronounced. These behavioral signs may include:

  • Vocalization: Your dog may start to whine, moan, or even howl in pain or discomfort during contractions.
  • Distress: Your dog may begin to pace restlessly and have difficulty settling down.
  • Nesting: Your dog will continue to nest and may become particularly focused on creating a suitable area for delivery.
  • Excessive Licking: Your dog may excessively lick her genital area or her puppies after they are born to ensure that they are clean and safe.

During the postpartum stage, the dog’s behavioral signs may shift to focus on caring for her puppies. The mother dog will be particularly sensitive to her puppies’ needs and will exhibit behaviors that will help them thrive. These behaviors may include:

  • Constant Attention: The mother dog will want to stay close to her puppies and often snuggle up next to them.
  • Licking: The mother dog will continue to lick her puppies to keep them clean and stimulate their bodily functions.
  • Protectiveness: The mother dog will be naturally protective of her puppies and may even growl or bark if she senses a perceived threat to them.
  • Milk Production: The mother dog’s mammary glands will be full of milk, and she will nurse her puppies regularly to ensure that they are getting the nutrition they need.

It’s essential to pay close attention to your dog’s behavior throughout the stages of labor. By doing so, you can ensure the safe delivery of her puppies and provide appropriate care during and after labor.

Postpartum Stage

Bringing new puppies into the world is an exciting and joyous occasion for any dog owner. However, it is important to remember that the postpartum stage is a crucial time for both the mother and her litter. This stage is marked by physical recovery for the mother and providing care for the puppies. It can be a perplexing time for a first-time owner, but with proper knowledge and care, this stage can be navigated with ease. Let’s take a closer look at what to expect during the postpartum stage.

Physical Recovery

After giving birth, a female dog will need time to recover physically. Here are some things you should know about your dog’s physical recovery:

  • Bleeding: It is common for female dogs to bleed for up to three weeks after giving birth, known as postpartum bleeding. However, if the bleeding is heavy or lasts longer than three weeks, it’s best to contact your veterinarian.
  • Milk Production: After giving birth, the female dog’s mammary glands will produce milk for her puppies. However, it’s important to monitor the puppies’ milk intake to ensure they are getting enough. If you notice that the puppies are not gaining weight, it’s possible that the mother is not producing enough milk. In that case, you should consult your veterinarian for advice.
  • Rest and Recovery: It is essential for the mother to get plenty of rest and allow her body to recover. She may be tired, inactive or depressed for the first few days after giving birth. It is important to provide her with a quiet, comfortable space where she can rest and feed her puppies.
  • Postpartum Check-Up: After giving birth, it is necessary for the mother to visit the veterinarian for a postpartum check-up. The veterinarian will evaluate the mother’s health, check to see if there are any retained placenta or membranes, and examine the puppies. This visit is crucial to ensuring the mother and the puppies are healthy and thriving.
  • Diet and Hydration: It is important to make sure that the mother is well-nourished and hydrated. She will need to be fed a high-quality diet that is rich in nutrients to support milk production, and access to fresh, clean water is essential for her to stay hydrated. Additionally, it’s important to ensure that she is not losing too much weight while producing milk, as this can result in health problems for her.

It’s important to support your dog’s physical recovery by monitoring her physical health, providing her with a restful environment, giving her a well-balanced diet and ensuring that she gets the necessary veterinary care.

Caring for Puppies

Once your dog gives birth, there are several things you should take note of to guarantee her and her puppies’ well-being. Care for the puppies is perhaps the essential aspect of postpartum care.

1. Keep the Puppies Warm: In their first few weeks of life, puppies cannot regulate their body temperature. As such, they are prone to hypothermia, which can be fatal. Keeping them warm with a heat lamp or heating pad will help prevent this.

2. Observe Feeding: During the first few weeks, puppies will feed on their mother, as her milk provides essential nutrients. Ensure they latch on correctly and get enough to eat during nursing sessions.

3. Regular Vet Visits: Puppies need their vaccinations and regular check-ups to make sure they are healthy. Take them to the vet periodically and get the necessary shots.

4. Monitor Behavior: As puppies develop, you should monitor their behavior and look out for any signs of illness, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or vomiting.

5. Socialization: Socializing puppies when they are young is crucial. Introduce them to different people, dogs, and environments while still providing a safe space for them.

Just like humans, newborn puppies need a lot of rest in their first weeks of life. Ensure they are kept comfortable and monitored regularly. With proper care and guidance, your puppies will grow to be happy and healthy dogs.


After all is said and done, the stages of dog labor can be quite a journey. Watching a beloved pet go through such a natural and incredible process can be both rewarding and nerve-wracking at the same time. During this time, it’s important to keep a close eye on your dog and be aware of the physical and behavioral signs that she is exhibiting.

Remember, each dog is unique, and their labor may not go exactly as described above. Be prepared to seek veterinary care if necessary, and always approach the process with patience and empathy. With proper care and attention, your dog can deliver healthy, happy puppies and have a successful recovery afterward.

Additionally, it’s crucial to keep the puppies warm, fed, and comfortable during their early days of life. Make sure to consult with a veterinarian to ensure that they are getting the right nutrients and care.

In summary, watching a dog give birth can be a wonderful, unforgettable experience. By understanding the stages of labor and knowing what to expect, you can take care of your dog and her puppies with confidence and ease. Remember to always prioritize their health and well-being, and enjoy the journey of welcoming new life into your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does the entire labor process take for a dog?

The labor process for dogs can vary, but it typically lasts between 6 to 12 hours. It is important to note that each stage can last for different lengths of time, and some dogs may have longer labors than others.

What should I do if my dog goes into labor during the night?

You should have a plan in place for when your dog goes into labor, including knowing the signs of each stage. If your dog starts showing signs of labor at night, it is important to stay calm and monitor her closely. If there are any issues or concerns, contact your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately.

What should I do if my dog is in active labor but hasn’t delivered any puppies yet?

If your dog is actively pushing but has not delivered any puppies within an hour, there may be a problem. Contact your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately.

Can I assist my dog during labor?

You can assist your dog during labor by providing a comfortable and quiet space for her to deliver her puppies. However, it is important to let her handle the process on her own and not interfere unless there is an emergency or problem.

How can I tell if my dog is in labor?

Physical signs of labor include panting, shaking, vomiting, and a noticeable drop in body temperature. Behavioral signs may include restlessness, nesting behavior, and loss of appetite.

Can a dog have a C-section if necessary?

Yes, if necessary, a veterinarian may perform a C-section on a dog if there are complications during the delivery process.

What should I do if my dog has trouble breathing during labor?

If your dog has trouble breathing during labor, contact your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately.

How often should I check on my dog during labor?

You should monitor your dog closely throughout the entire labor process, but try to give her space and only check on her periodically to avoid causing unnecessary stress.

Why is it important to be prepared for my dog’s labor?

Being prepared for your dog’s labor can help ensure a safe and successful delivery. It can also help you recognize any potential issues or complications early on and address them quickly.

What should I do if my dog is not producing milk after giving birth?

If your dog is not producing milk after giving birth, contact your veterinarian for guidance on how to feed and care for the puppies properly.


Matthew Farthing

Matthew Farthing

Сontributing author at DogCareHacks, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.

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