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Do Dogs Miss Their Puppies? Understanding Canine Maternal Behavior

canine maternal behavior

Female dogs are known to be protective of their puppies and care for them until they are old enough to fend for themselves. But once the puppies are gone, do dogs miss them?

Research suggests that dogs do experience emotions similar to humans, including the feeling of loss and separation anxiety. When their puppies leave, dogs may experience sadness and a sense of loss. In some cases, female dogs may even search for their puppies and exhibit signs of distress, such as whining or pacing. However, the extent to which dogs miss their puppies may vary depending on the individual dog and the circumstances surrounding their separation.

It is important to understand the emotional needs of dogs and provide them with adequate care and attention, including a calming dog bed, especially during times of early separation. By acknowledging and addressing their emotions, owners can help their dogs cope with the loss of their puppies and provide them with the support they need to move forward.

How A Mother Dog’s Bond With Puppies Changes

How much a dog will miss the puppies really depends on how old they are and where she is at in the postpartum process.

So, picture this. For the first 12 hours after giving birth, the new mom dog is super glued to her puppies. She barely lets anyone, especially strangers, come near them. She’s like the ultimate bodyguard. That first week? Yeah, she’s practically inseparable from her pups. But around the two-week mark, she starts venturing out of the nest for a few hours at a time.

So for the first two weeks, she will miss her puppies a lot if they are gone and be in extreme distress (if she is a good mother, and not all dogs are).

While she’s with the pups, though, she’s always busy grooming and feeding them. Like, each feeding session can last up to about half an hour. Besides all the licking and feeding, she also chills with the pups to keep them warm, especially since they can’t really do that themselves just yet.

And, man, she’s seriously strict about where the puppies stay. They have to stick around where they were born. If anyone tries to pick up a pup or move the litter, she’s right there to take them back. There’s no way she’s losing track of these puppies.

But, as time goes on, the mom starts spending less time with the pups. It could be a hormone thing or maybe because the pups are just growing up. If you swap out some of her pups for really young ones from another litter, she acts totally different. 

However, once the puppies hit the one-month mark, things change up again. Mom’s away more often and she starts ignoring the puppies’ requests for milk, sometimes even standing up to stop them. She’s gradually teaching them to become more independent. So after a month, she will miss them a lot less.

Weaning Process

Weaning is a gradual process that takes place over several weeks. The puppies begin to eat solid food at 3 to 4 weeks of age, and they are usually weaned between 6 and 8 weeks of age. During this time, the mother gradually spends less time with the puppies and more time away from them.

This means that around 6 weeks, the mother is far less concerned if the puppies go away. By eight weeks, they often don’t show a lot of interest and can actually be aggressive and overwhelmed by their puppies. But this will differ from dog to dog.

While some dogs may miss their puppies after they are weaned, it is not a universal behavior. Some dogs may be relieved to have their puppies weaned, while others may continue to show maternal behavior toward their puppies even after they are weaned.

Also see our article on What to Expect from a Female Dog After Mating.

After weaning: Will A Dog Miss Her Older Puppies?

So, imagine you’re a mama dog, right? Your puppies are adorable and you love them, but looking after them is a lot of work. They’re always hungry and need constant attention. Studies show the longer you’re (the mother dog or dam) with them, the better they turn out. They’re less scared, can run around better, and handle being alone without freaking out. They also don’t rush up to strangers, which can be safer for them.

But here’s the catch. While you’re spending all this time with your puppies, you’re not taking care of yourself as much. Your own food and rest time gets cut, and you might miss out on having more puppies later because you’re so worn out. 

This is the ultimate puppy-parent problem. It’s like deciding between giving your kids everything they need to be happy and successful but wearing yourself out in the process, or taking care of your own needs but maybe your puppies don’t turn out as well. What this boils down to is that as soon as puppies reach the age that humans will take care of them, the dam usually loses interest. In many cases, she can be so irritated by them it’s probably a relief when they are gone.

When a female dog does not miss her puppies at all

Sometimes a mama dog might not bond with her puppies. Well, sometimes it just happens, and it’s usually due to stress or health issues. If she’s too young or it’s her first litter, she might be overwhelmed and not know what to do. This can cause her to abandon her puppies, or even kill them.

If she’s sick or didn’t have a good birthing experience (called dystocia), it could affect her bonding with her puppies too. Also, if the puppies are sick or weak, sometimes nature steps in and the mama dog instinctively doesn’t bond with them. Even the amniotic fluid  plays a role in how well a dog bonds with her puppies and will miss them.

Do Dogs Recognize Their Puppies?

Memory and Recognition in Dogs

Dogs have a remarkable memory and can recognize familiar faces, smells, and sounds. They can also remember their own puppies, even after being separated for a long time. Experts believe that dogs can recognize their puppies based on their unique scent and sound.

Scent and Recognition

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and it plays a crucial role in recognizing their puppies. Puppies have a distinct scent that is different from other dogs. This scent is produced by the mother’s milk, and it helps the puppies identify their mother. 

Similarly, the mother dog can recognize her puppies by their scent. Even after the puppies have grown up and left the nest, the mother dog can still recognize their scent.

Dogs also use their sense of smell to recognize their puppies’ urine and feces. Puppies have a unique scent in their urine and feces that is different from other dogs. The mother dog can use this scent to locate her puppies and keep them safe.

In conclusion, dogs have a remarkable memory and can recognize their puppies based on their unique scent and sound. The mother dog can use her sense of smell to locate her puppies and keep them safe.

Separation and Its Effects: Are Puppies Sad When They Leave Their Mom?

When puppies are removed from their mother too early, it can lead to behavioral changes and long-term impacts. These changes can manifest in a variety of ways, including separation anxiety, aggression, and other negative behaviors.

My dog Jack is the son of my other dog, Nina. How I came to have a pregnant Bullmastiff is a long story, but suffice to say, Nina came to me as an adult and gave me four beautiful pups. Originally, all four puppies had homes lined up, but as I continued to speak to Jack’s potential forever home, I noticed some red flags. And when the owner messaged asking to dock Jack’s tail, I blocked their number and Jack would stay with me instead of being rehomed.

I believe that growing up with Nina really helped Jack become the gentle soul he is today. Nina stayed close to her son and still spends hours cleaning his ears. The lack of disruption in his life leads me to believe that dogs who stay with their mothers do have less behavioral issues overall. However, this just isn’t realistic for most dogs.

Here are some things that can happen is a puppy is taken away from their mother too early:

Behavioral Changes

Puppies that are removed from their mother too early may exhibit a variety of behavioral changes. They may become more anxious and fearful, and may have difficulty adjusting to new environments and people. They may also become more aggressive and territorial, and may have difficulty socializing with other dogs.

Long-Term Impact

The long-term impact of early separation from their mother can be significant. Puppies that are removed too early may have difficulty developing social skills and may struggle with anxiety and other behavioral issues throughout their lives. They may also be more prone to developing health problems, including immune system disorders and other chronic conditions.

Overall, it is important to ensure that puppies are not removed from their mother too early. Doing so can have significant negative impacts on their behavior and long-term health. By providing puppies with the proper care and attention, it is possible to ensure that they grow up healthy, happy, and well-adjusted.:


In conclusion, it is clear that dogs do have a connection with their puppies and can experience a range of emotions when separated from them. Research has shown that dogs exhibit behaviors such as whining, searching, and restlessness when separated from their puppies. This suggests that dogs do miss their puppies and experience some level of distress when separated from them.

However, it is important to note that the extent of a dog’s emotional attachment to their puppies may vary depending on factors such as the breed, the individual dog’s personality, and the length of time spent with their puppies. Additionally, dogs are adaptable animals and can adjust to being separated from their puppies over time.

Overall, while it is clear that dogs have a connection with their puppies, more research is needed to fully understand the extent of this connection and how it may vary among different dogs.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do dogs miss their puppies?

The amount of time that a dog misses her puppies can vary depending on the individual dog and the circumstances surrounding the separation. However, it is generally believed that dogs can experience a period of mourning that can last for several days or even weeks.

Do dogs feel bad when their puppies are given away?

Dogs can experience a range of emotions when their puppies are given away, including sadness, confusion, and anxiety. However, it is important to note that not all dogs will react in the same way and some may not show any signs of distress at all.

Do dogs remember their mother years later?

Dogs have a strong sense of smell and can recognize familiar scents, including the scent of their mother, even years after they have been separated. However, it is unclear whether dogs have the ability to form long-term memories of their mother or other family members.

Do puppies miss their owners?

Puppies can form strong attachments to their owners and may experience separation anxiety when they are separated. However, it is important to note that puppies are also adaptable and can adjust to new environments and caretakers with time.

When does the mother dog leave her puppies?

The mother dog will typically start to wean her puppies at around 4-6 weeks of age and will gradually spend less time with them until they are fully independent at around 8-12 weeks of age.

Do dogs care about their puppies?

Dogs can form strong bonds with their puppies and may exhibit protective and nurturing behaviors towards them. However, it is important to note that not all dogs will exhibit these behaviors and some may even reject or harm their puppies.

Does a mother dog have a favorite puppy?

It is unclear whether mother dogs have a favorite puppy, as their behavior towards their offspring can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the puppy’s temperament and health.

Are puppies sad when they leave their mom?

Puppies can experience a range of emotions when they are separated from their mother, including sadness and anxiety. However, with proper care and attention, most puppies are able to adjust to their new environment and caretakers.

Do dogs know when their puppies are missing?

Dogs have a strong sense of smell and may be able to detect the scent of their missing puppies. However, it is unclear whether dogs have a conscious understanding of their puppies’ absence or whether they simply react to the scent.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, dogs do have the capacity to miss their puppies. However, the extent to which they miss them may vary depending on the individual dog and the circumstances surrounding the separation.

It’s important to note that dogs are social animals and form strong bonds with their offspring. As such, it’s not uncommon for a mother dog to experience separation anxiety when her puppies are taken away. This can manifest in behaviors such as restlessness, whining, and even depression.

While it’s natural for a mother dog to miss her puppies, it’s also important for owners to be aware of the potential negative effects of prolonged separation. In some cases, separation anxiety can lead to destructive behavior or other health issues. As such, it’s important to ensure that the separation is handled in a way that minimizes stress for both the mother and her puppies.

Overall, it’s clear that dogs have complex emotional lives and are capable of experiencing a range of emotions, including love, loss, and longing. While the specifics of their emotional experiences may be difficult to fully understand, it’s clear that dogs are more than just simple animals, and that their relationships with their puppies are an important part of their lives.


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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