I took this video the other day while working with our new foster family, specifically the mom. Depending on the dog’s personality, it is sometimes difficult to care for the family and build a relationship based on trust with the moma the same time

By definition, we have to get all up in her business to do the things necessary to ensure her and her puppies stay healthy.  Things like cleaning, making sure the puppies are eating, making sure the pups don’t get stuck in blankets, etc are a big part of the whelping process.

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This mom(name coming very soon) presented an interesting case study that I think provides some really good insight into how dogs will handle stress and how they learn to manipulate their environment.

It didn’t occur to me straight away what was going on.  We haven’t let the little lady around her or the puppies yet, and, in order to explain why, I showed her this video.  While I was watching with her, I realized that I knew what the mama was trying to accomplish with her behavior.

What do you see when you watch her behavior? One of my goals with this blog is to help people, who really care about dogs, to be able to understand their behavior at a higher level, I think this is a fantastic opportunity to start a discussion about interpreting what our dogs are telling us, so I’m going to go ahead and post this and add a section later with my thoughts.

A little history that should help:

-Mama was very skiddish at the shelter.  She didn’t like having anyone near her babies

-We suspect that she was surrendered by her previous owner due to an accidental pregnancy and the ensuing protective behavior that accompanied having her puppies.

[su_spoiler title=”My thoughts/opinions” style=”fancy” icon=”plus-circle”]Some of the comments were spot on. She is, obviously, interested in protecting her babies, but, and this is a big but, she isn’t doing so aggressively.

I believe that she used the barking that you see later in the video as a tool to accomplish her goal. Which was for whatever she was barking at to leave her alone. Once I realized this, I knew that this had been reinforced ALOT at animal services. So, in order to reassociate a person(me in this case), I decided to do something different.

I began to associate my presence with good things(treats). A few commenters mentioned their concern that I was reinforcing the barking, but, in my humble opinion, not giving her what she wanted(me to leave) but still having a reward associated with my presence was the best course of action. Right after this video was over, I decided that I just needed to “be” there for awhile, allow her to mellow out, and leave on my terms instead of hers. Since then, we have already taken some big steps in our relationship. She now lets me come into the enclosure with her, fix blankets, and I’m actually getting but wiggles every now and again!

Thanks everyone who commented below![/su_spoiler]


25 replies on “Listening to what Mama Dog is Saying”

  1. Its hard to see the whole video but she’s obviously trying to protect her babies from anyone getting near. It also kinda looks like you’re rewarding her for Barking which I’m sure you’re not, LOL! I’m assuming if you walk away she stops Barking.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  2. I’ve never met a mama dog with puppies, so I don’t have much background to go on. But in the beginning, it simply seemed like she was alerting you of something, not showing much aggression, especially because she was eager to keep taking treats from you. But toward the end, it seemed slightly more growly. So, I would assume just protecting her babies? I will be interested to see what you say.

  3. Sweet Mama. Looks like she is coming along. I’d reward quicker so she doesn’t offer the bark. I’d also give her more space so she feels more comfortable, especially since babies can pick up stress. Good for you for taking in such a sweet girl and her babies.

  4. I don’t really know anything about a mom being with her puppies, but I would say the first thing that comes to my mind is protection. She is trying to protect her children.

  5. If she is coming from a stressful environment, she is still likely coming to terms with who she can and cannot trust. Protection of her young is a biologically embedded trait, that she is exibiting

  6. Well…hormones hormones hormones. Pretty normal momma dog protective behavior. I didn’t hear growls or see intensity until the barks began and that may have been due to her threshold being exceeded. Hard to see in the video, too, but if the container is in a corner, and the person offering treats is higher that her (seems to be based on where she looks), then that also escalates protective posturing. Treats…great idea…but agree that I’d give treats sooner to preempt barks/growls. Giving AFTER barks/growls could actually reinforce her barking/protective behavior. Good luck with her and bless you for taking this on.

    1. Agreed, there is some give and take in situations such as bringing in a mama and puppies. Especially a nervous, protective mom. In this situation, I didn’t see aggression or an exceeded threshold in her posture or body language. I added my thoughts above, would love to know what you think about them!

      1. I read your thoughts, and agree, she was incredibly restrained despite her desires being thwarted *s* and I only heard a low growl once toward the end. Some pitties are incredibly vocal, too, and use barks and “talking” as more a commentary that has nothing to do with aggression. The fact she started out with no barks…but over time began to bark…appears to indicate her threshold was reached. And I agree that leaving AFTER she began barking might reinforce her “back off!” demand, but (again my opinion) you’re trading one reward for another with the treats. *shrug* I do like the idea of sitting quietly with no treats, just “being” with her, may be helpful. Once she has a name, that also can be used/spoken to associate calm, happy things with her name. And (forgive me, I can’t tell in the video so you’re likely already doing this!) sitting on the floor rather than “looming” above, as well as turning sideways and not making direct eye contact can also diffuse angst. Good luck!

  7. I don’t know much about Moms and puppies as I was a kid when one of our dogs had them and since then always rescued middle aged. I do feel though that its a trust issue which she has to build up with the humans when it comes to herself or her babies.

  8. I don’t know much about moms and their puppies either but if they are anything like humans I’m sure they are very protective!

    1. She is definitely protective. It’s a matter of trust with these foster mom’s, it always is. When she learns that I’m not going to hurt her babies, but I’m also not going to let her dictate when/how I am able to take care of them, we come to a sort of agreement and everything turns out great 🙂

  9. Great work! Skiddish dogs are my favorite to work with. I love how slow you go with her. You obviously have the kind of respect and compassion needed to help her bounce back. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I wonder if she has had other litters which have been taken from her and that’s also why she might be guarding them a bit?

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