A hearing dog’s pregnancy and our newborn puppies
Meet Martha. She’s an amazing hearing dog mum in our breeding scheme. The picture above shows Martha just a few days before she delivered her puppies. These pups are much older now and have already started their puppy training to become life-changing hearing dogs. Here’s a brief introduction to a hearing dog’s pregnancy – told through Martha’s journey into motherhood. Enjoy!
The secret to an almost perfect puppy
Hearing dog puppies don’t just ‘happen’ – our puppy supply supervisors take weeks to plan a litter. We look into the breeds that best suit our deaf recipients, who the hearing dog mum and dad will be, and how compatible they are.
Making sure mum and dad are a good match can get very scientific – but in short we make sure their genes will mix well together as this maximises the chance of healthy puppies being born. And this way, we can also make sure we have the best chance of getting a dog that will become a great hearing dog too.
Hearing dog mums and dads (known here as brood bitches and stud dogs) have been carefully selected to do this important job from a young age. They are usually picked because they have all the traits needed for a great hearing dog – such as a gentle temperament, strong ability to learn and general good health.
The mums live with our volunteers called brood bitch holders who look after the newborn puppies until they are about eight weeks old.
A dog’s early pregnancy signs are similar to ours
Once mum and dad have mated, it can take up to five weeks to find out if it was successful.
However, just like humans, there are a few early tell-tale signs of dog pregnancy:
- Dogs are known to get morning sickness – just like us. They can also go off their food as they feel a bit nauseous.
- A pregnant brood bitch will also feel really lethargic and tired, sometimes even refusing to go for her favourite walk.
- Another subtle sign is she’s clingier than usual and wants extra attention and cuddles.
- Closer to the scan date, she’ll become hungrier than ever before – just like some humans!
Around four or five weeks after mating, mum will have a scan so we can get a rough idea of how many pups are in the litter. And just like human pregnancy scans, the vet will check the size of the puppies and make sure all their heartbeats are normal. They even give us a scan photo and video!
The all-important preparation
Just as a human family prepares for the arrival of a newborn baby, we make sure our brood bitch holder and hearing dog mum are both ready for the new puppies!
Our puppy supply supervisors (also known as our puppy midwives) are fully supportive of the mum and brood bitch holders throughout the pregnancy. They are always popping in to check everything is going well, but during their visit two weeks before a mum is due to give birth – around day 60 or nine weeks into the pregnancy – they bring round lots of goodies including:
- A whelping box for the mum and pups to sleep and rest in
- A baby monitor for the brood bitch holder at night-time
- A heat pad and hot water bottle to keep the pups warm if mum needs the loo
- Lots of fun puppy toys for when the pups are a bit older!
We also give the volunteer brood bitch holder a manual about dogs’ labour so they have something to reference once it all starts. Our puppy midwives are on call to answer any questions they might have. After this, it’s just a waiting game.
Although our puppy midwives can give a brood bitch holder a rough idea of what to expect during the labour, there are no prep talks or antenatal classes for our hearing dog mum. She seems to know it all instinctively. We’re just there to make sure she is as comfortable as possible, give a helping hand when she needs it and to check the newborn puppies are happy and healthy.
The newborn puppies
Once a puppy is born and mum has chewed through their umbilical cords, our puppy supply supervisors picks them up and give them a quick check over. They note the sex of the puppy and the time of the birth – just like human midwives do. They also weigh them before giving them back to their mum to clean up.
Almost immediately these minutes old pups will make squeaking noises and pull themselves across their beds – even though their eyes and ears haven’t opened yet. It’s hard to imagine that in just eight weeks’ time they’ll be ready to leave the nest to start the next step of their hearing dog journey.
But first, they have a lot of growing and learning to do! Find out what happens from 0–8 weeks old here.