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Weaning is an important part of puppy care. Whether the puppies are being cared for by their canine mother or are being orphan raised, the method and timing of weaning can have lifelong effects on the babies. Learning how to wean can help the puppy develop emotionally and socially.
Timing is Everything
About 3 weeks after birth, the mother dog normally begins to evade the puppies and discourages nursing. At this time, the puppies also naturally begin to show a decline in the length of time they nurse. More of their time is spent exploring their new world.
At this point, it is time to start offering food for the puppies to sample. Even if the puppies are being orphan raised, begin offering food around 3 weeks of age. At this point, increased gentle human handling can improve the puppy’s physical and social development, and make them more accepting of people.
At around 3 weeks of age, begin offering food (canned, semi-moist or even dry puppy food moistened with water) to the puppies. Offer the puppies small amounts of soft food in a shallow dish. Up to this point, the puppies have been suckling to get their nourishment. Now, they need to learn to open their mouths and bite to get food into their mouths to be swallowed. Learning to do this results in some messy feeding times. Puppies will typically walk and fall in the food dish. They may even try to nurse on the food, resulting in some pretty messy pups. Eventually, they learn normal eating behavior. Some people will place the food on a cookie sheet and place it in the bathtub and let the puppies learn. This allows for easy clean up.
Offer the food several times a day for about 30 minutes at a time. When the puppies no longer seem interested in the food, clean them up and put them back with their mother. During this time, allow the mother increasing time away from the babies. For some mothers, you may have to be persistent. Some mothers and some babies may not wean properly. Mothers that do not begin to push away their puppies by 4 weeks of age will need help. Weaning should progress slowly, to reduce the incidence of anxiety and mammary gland inflammation in the mother.
Several times a day, remove the babies for 1 to 2 hours at a time. Food should only be offered for short periods of time but keeping the babies separate from the mother can encourage natural weaning. As the puppies age, more time should be spent away from the mother until finally, the puppies are on their own.
By the time the puppies are around 8 weeks of age, they should be eating solid food and no longer nursing. At this tender age, pups are ready for their new homes and life without their mother.