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GUN DOG Q&A: How to Properly Wean Puppies

GUN DOG Q&A: How to Properly Wean Puppies

Reader Question

"We enjoyed your article in last year's March/April/May issue but are very confused about how to go about weaning our female Lab of her seven, 8-week-old puppies. Our vet suggested we pick a day to wean the pups. We decided on seven weeks.

At six weeks we began decreasing mom's puppy chow and switched her back to regular adult food. The pups were seven weeks old on Monday, August 26.  She nursed the pups two times that day, once on Tuesday, then none on Wednesday. But she still wants to get with her pups. How does this "dog language" work if mom isn't with the pups?"


You really don't need to wean mom. She will wean the pups when she is ready. This is usually around the late sixth and early seventh week. All you need to do is start supplemental feeding of the pups when they are 5 to 6 weeks old. Start with a pablum-type baby food mixed well with warm water or warm milk or dog substitute milk.

By the end of the sixth week mom's hormone picture is considerably changed from the first week after the pups arrived. Estrogen is way down, progesterone is dropping off and prolactin is diminishing. These are the hormones essential for lactation.

This change in the hormone picture is why mom starts to wean. You should not totally separate mom from the pups until week 10 when the pups should go to their new owners. Both mom and the siblings are essential for primary socialization.

In wild canids like foxes and coyotes, mom and dad bring food in their stomachs in a semi-digested form and regurgitate it for the pups from the fifth week on. Supplemental feeding of a gruel-like food to the pups simulates regurgitated food.

In domestic dogs, dad is not there to bring a stomach load of partly digested sustenance for the pups or a dead rabbit for mom to convert to partly digested food, so you, the breeder, must intervene with soaked up and mashed puppy chow.

Pups should be held in a whelping box with sides high enough to keep them in but allow mom to enter and leave the box as she pleases while the pups remain contained. By seven or eight weeks or earlier, some of the pups may be clambering out of the box. Then you can start paper training them to keep the whelping box cleaner.

Depending on the weather, mom and the pups can be outside. However, you can forget about a flower garden and other decorative or food-producing vegetation. They will surely destroy it.

Gradually, mom will spend more time away from the pups so that by 10 weeks when pups are ready for their new homes, they will have learned all they need to know from their mom and even more from their siblings. You can read or download four articles I wrote for GUN DOG: "The Forty-ninth Day," "Producing Behaviorally Sound Pups," "Giving Pups a Head Start," and "New Pup Coming, Now What?"

Another excellent source of information on puppy rearing is Puppy's First Steps, a Proven Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, Well-behaved Companion, written by veterinarians of Tufts University and edited by Nicholas Dodman with Lawrence Lindner. The articles and book should give you the information and insight you need for rearing puppies.

Reader Question

"I am expecting a litter of pups from my English cocker, and was wondering if you could answer a few questions. What are the best conditions, both physical and mental? What should the environment be like?

How much should pups be handled at birth, at one week, at two weeks, and so on? When is the best time to wean, and how? What kind of training and at what age? When is the set time to sell the pups to interested buyers (8 weeks, 10 weeks)? What books, DVDs, etc., should I look into?"


Rather than trying to give you specific answers to your first five questions, which would require several hundred pages, I will provide some suggestions to address questions six and seven, which will address your other questions. Please refer to the solution in the previous problem regarding the four articles I wrote for GUN DOG.

These articles were intended as a sequence and the first three will answer most of your questions.

If you have more questions, email me ( and I will get answers right back to you.

Another very good source is the excellent book referred to before, which you should be able to purchase online or from a major bookseller. It is the best book I have ever seen on puppy care and rearing.

From down under, John Hoy (Lower Southgate, NSW Australia) submitted this photo of Gerty at nine weeks. John notes that Gerty's tail is not docked as it is against Australian law.
Birds! Bugs! Bananas! These are a few of eight-month-old Tully's favorite things, according to Greg and Annette Snow of Vancouver, WA.
Casey Jones is a two-month-old black Lab who enjoys watching the Red Sox and taking naps. He is owned by Edward Bilsky, Ph.D.
I didn't do it, honest! This Brittany, named Abbey Road, certainly LOOKS guilty!
Kevin Richardson, of Roscoe, Illinois, says that Bullet, his 10-month-old Brittany, loves the water almost as much as he loves pheasants... 'almost! '
POINT taken! Valentine, at 10 weeks, pointing a pen-raised quail. The Brittany is owned by the Harrison family of Jonesville, LA.
Four-month-old Midge, an English cocker, may look sweet here, but she will be terror on pheasants, predicts owner Dick Greene, of West Yellowstone, MT.
Now what? Field-bred English cocker Rowdy is looking back at his hunting companion (a yellow lab named Doc) asking, 'Now that I've retrieved it, what do I do with it? '
Bath time for eight-week-old English setter Cody. Jack York of Colorado Springs, CO, says although Cody is not fond of baths, he is on track to becoming an excellent hunter.
Twelve-week-old English setter Yuma takes a break for lunch during a grouse hunt in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Yuma is owned by Tom Milakovic of Michigan City, IN.
Resting up for hunting season is Angelette Mon Diamant. 'Angel ' is a 12-week-old French Brittany spaniel.
Minnesota's FS Dakota after her first hunt at 7 1/2-months. This lovely French spaniel is owned by Karla and Paul Fischenich.
Four-month-old Fred has a taste for trailer wiring harnesses, huntng gloves...and anything green! Nevertheless, Derek Wenzel, of Livonia, MI, says he could not have asked for a better German shorthair.
Three-month-old Gauge, a German shorthair, loves to play with his DeadFowl pheasant and jump off the dock into the pond, according to owner Nathan Sherwin, of Blackstone, VA.
Worth every mile! Steve and Cindy Hutson traveled from North Carolina to Jasper, MO, to pick up Karli, their three-month-old German shorthaired pointer.
'BEE CAREFUL! ' Grant Stencil of Bonita, California, says his German shorthaired pointer, Rosie, loves pointing bees in the backyard. Amazingly, to date she has not been stung.
Matt Davis submitted this photo of his first bird dog, Sawyer, a six-week-old German shorthaired pointer.
Life is good! Ten-month-old German shorthaired pointer River enjoys a pheasant wing in the afternoon sun. Ed Eick, of Rochester, MN, is River's owner and hunting companion.
Jeremy and Kasey Anthon, of Morrison, TN, submitted this photo of Sawyer Anthony, a 10-week-old German shorthaired pointer who LOVES ducks!
Ruger never fails to find and retrieve birds regardless of where they fall...water, blackberries, ANYWHERE! The 5-month-old German wirehair is owned by Kenneth Larson of Monroe, WA.
Picture Perfect! Coop is an 8-week-old German wirehaired pointer owned by William Swinarski, Jr., of Omaha, NE, and photographed by Adam Swinarski of Swinarski Photography.
Lucky number nine! Norah Bones, a 10-month-old golden retriever, flushed and picked up nine birds while quail hunting in East Tennessee.
Wrap them up€¦I'll take them! These 8-week old Labrador retriever pups will soon be retrieving machines. Jasper, Calypso and Ragen are owned by TJ and Mercedes Jones of Laurel Hill, FL.
Simply a GREAT litter! 'Every one of these pups is being hunted, ' says Ike English of Jackson, GA.
Dreaming of future days afield, Leo is a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. Leo is owned by Dan and Pam Giberson of Okotoks, Alberta.
Life is a field of clover for this 3-month-old fox red Labrador retriever, Dawkins, owned by Hunter Moyer of Mifflinburg, PA.
You've got to start somewhere! Pointing low hanging fruit is Shiawassee's Smoking Joe (Joey) at 7 months. 'He is my best buddy for sure! ' says Bob Versica of Manton, MI.
Life is just a breeze! Twelve-week-old springer Breeze is owned by Tony Del Giorgio of Eagle, ID.
Allie will retrieve anything, including blowing leaves. The 10-week old springer is owned by Gary Bondy of Brooklyn, MI.
Why can't I go? Three-month-old springer spaniel Murray was feeling a bit down after being told he was too young to go pheasant hunting. Brian Maher of West Chicago, IL, is Murray's owner.
CHEERS! Tommy is an 11-month-old springer spaniel from Vermont (where Switchback Ale is brewed). He belongs to Karen Cartier of Rutland, VT.
SURVIVOR! Maggie, now 10 years old, was photographed here at 8 weeks. An Epagneul Breton, Maggie has hunted all over the U.S. and survived a mountain lion attack two years ago while hunting in Arizona.
Dean Stainberg, of Redding, CA, submitted this photo of Cooper, his 7-month-old vizsla. Cooper earned his AKC Senior Hunter title at 11 months.
Liebchen, shown here holding a pheasant wing, is no doubt daydreaming of whole birds. Gregg Shunkwiler of Berrien Springs, MI, owns this 4-month-old vizsla pup.
Vacation can be exhausting! Four-month-old Weimaraner Nala is resting at her family's Northern Michigan cabin after a long walk through the woods.
Wirehaired pointing griffon Magnum at four months loves to hunt and enjoys boating and long walks through the forest.

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