From when the pups are whelped until they reach 10-to-14 days old, we do what we call 24/7 puppy watch.
Not all breeders do this, of course, but after losing one pup from Elsie's litter in 2007 to accidental smothering (something I didn't even know about at the time), I can't rear puppies any other way.
You see, sometimes dams (especially new moms) aren't careful about where they sit or how they roll onto their sides. Elsie, super mom that she is, in her desire to provide for and be close to her pups, will sometimes drop herself too close. Sometimes she even lies down on top of the them.
Here, see for yourselves:
This wouldn't matter if the pups could wiggle their ways out. But they don't develop that kind of strength and coordination until they approach being two weeks old.
Many good, responsible breeders (far more seasoned and experienced than we) chalk newborn smothering up to part of the loss involved in puppy raising, just as they would newborn loss to congenital defect or fatal deformity (also part of the reality and risks involved with breeding). It's just the way of things.
But I can't do things that way.
I'm not saying that how we handle this risk is the only way to handle it, but it's the only way I can deal with it in good conscience. It's the only way I can live with myself.
So we puppy watch. :) By "puppy watch" I mean that someone stays close to whelping box doing head checks every few minutes twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, until we're confident the pups are big enough and strong enough to get out from underneath Elsie if she sets herself down on them. It means preemptively intervening when we think a pup could smother. It means paying close attention, especially when Elsie moves, to make sure all is well.
Since DH works a "real" job 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, I take the puppy watch for night shifts and day shifts while he sleeps and works, then he takes the evening shift (from when he gets home to 11:30 p.m.) during which I sleep. That way we both can get regular sleep and the pups can still be watched 24/7.
So here I sit at the kitchen table next to the whelping box keying away on my laptop glancing every few minutes at the sweet furry faces below me while listening to their contented songs. I find myself listening all the time, much as I did when my babies (my human kids) were newborns. I leave my place here at the table only long enough to warm my coffee or take a potty break, or grab something to eat, but I never stop listening. If Elsie moves, I'm there in a second. And I'll be doing the same thing a week from now. DH does the same on his watch.
Yes, it's exhausting, and yes it means DH and I literally pass each other in the night, but it's only for a season. A very short season at that, and only once a year.
It's what we do. It's part of our puppy-rearing commitment and process. And it's the only way we can do this and sleep well (when we sleep) for these first couple weeks.
Along the same vein, this potential for puppy smothering is also why we use rails in the whelping box. Long time readers already know about this, but we have newer readers now following this litter who may not know. We'll talk about that in the next post.