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Canine Behavior/Issue/Concern Regarding Doberman Bitch Behavior toward Litter


QUESTION: Dear, Jody E.,

We have a nearly 4 year old Doberman who just had her first litter of 8 pups on 12 Feb.  The first 2 days went really well but from day 3 to the present she is growling and sometimes barking at her pups.  We think sometimes she is trying to discipline or otherwise attempting to correct or keep some sort of order.  She has not bitten any pups yet, but the outbursts are somewhat unnerving.  We did note some sore around several teats and applied Eucirin cream.  Also clipped pups nails.

Also worth mentioning, we have 2 other adult Schnauzers who we have sequestered.  The Dobie's whelping room is not where she normally sleeps so a thought that the bitch is jealous and taking it out on her pups may also be a factor.

Our Vet has provided calming herbal pills but the growls and barking continues.  She does nurse as expected and is otherwise a good mom.

Please help us understand what's happening with our girl.

ANSWER: I apologize for the delay in responding to your question. Has the vet checked your dobe for mastitis? The sores you're seeing may be indicative of a very painful condition in which the teats become infected inflammed. Speak with the vet about perhaps supplementing the puppies with a puppy appropriate formula for at least one meal per day to give Mama a rest. Also, if there is a mastitis, the vet may want to provide specific medication to help reduce that pain and bring down the inflammation. I'm not a veterinarian and I'm not sure there is any such medication. It may just be the "tincture of time" to fix it in which case helping Mama out by bottle feeding the pups once or twice a day could help her heal.

Growling is a normal communication and it's important that we respect it and don't punish it. I am a little concerned that she's having a need to growl at such young puppies. They're just starting to be mobile, so pay attention to what they are doing when she growls. Did a puppy step on a sensitive spot, bite her ear, try to latch onto a particularly sore teat? If you can see what the puppy/puppies are doing that trigger the growl, then you can be mindful and intervene before she feels a need to start disciplining her pups. If you cannot figure it out, it may just be that she's exhausted and has a very low tolerance right now. You indicated that she is being a very good mama outside of this. Perhaps she just needs breaks a little more often. If you have a way to keep the pups warm (heating lamp over one half of the whelping box so pups can go into or out of the warm area (make sure it's not set so that it can get overly warm), and let mama have a 1-2 hour break several times per day. A chance to hang with the other dogs in the house or go for a walk or just sleep in another room without interruption, that may help her feel better and improve her tolerance

I don't think jealousy is an issue here regarding her changed sleeping environment, but the change and that this is her first l litter certainly could be causing her stress which is affecting her mood.

If you are a first time breeder, I would encourage you to contact an AKC registered Doberman breeder who has been at it for a long while and ask them if this is typical behavior for dobes and how they address it. The only thing I caution is do NOT engage in anything aversive (unpleasant) in an effort to stop her. The best thing to do is set up the environment so that she doesn't feel the need to growl. If she is growling, in that moment, we need to figure out what's got her upset and adjust the environment to remove that trigger (this may be giving her a break from all of the puppies, it may be moving a specific puppy who is doing something she doesn't like or finds painful.

I have no direct experience with breeding dogs, and since I cannot see for myself what's going on to trigger the growls, I can only offer a variety of examples such as those above. I hope some of this proves helpful. The first thing I would do is rule out actual medical conditions such as mastitis and then I would look at what the pups are doing to irritate her and see how I can nanny the pups for Mama so she can get some rest and a break from parenting.

Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.

Worcester, MA Dog Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, 2016

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thank you so much for your advise.  No to your question regarding mastitis.  Just skin sores from pups scratching so we check nand clip nails as required each day.

We did increase the bitch's calcium intake plus the Vet placed her on a 5 day regimen of Oxcytocin due to continued volvo bleeding.  Any barks, and they are few and far in between, now are purely the bitch correcting her pup and life is now much better.  We have all (humans too) fallen into a routine.

And this brings me to my next question.  We are somewhat concerned with puppy
#1.  He is the runt and continues to flounder at below 85% of average litter
weight.  There is a 6 ounce difference between him and the next smallest pup.  
I've documented daily weight results since whelping.  Unfortunately I have no reference point to compare this pup or litter with.  Do you know of or possess any data (tables, charts, etc.) regarding puppies weights in either a breed specific or size category.  Even a reference to an authoritative book or the Internet would be helpful.

Thanks again for being available to us,


ANSWER: Thank you for the update. I'm glad to hear that things have mostly settled and Mom, pups and humans are doing well.

I want to reiterate that I have no direct experience with breeding dogs of any breed, nor am I a veterinarian.

So, I have done a little research to see what I can find - but again, your best source for health issues such as appropriate weight gain and potential supplemental feedings will be the veterinarian who is caring for these pups as they are the one who is actually looking at and assessing the puppies.

I did find this from the Doberman Pinscher Club of America - puppies are born between 10oz - 20oz and by 6 weeks of age, they are typically weighing between 8-12 lbs. Naturally those who are heavier at birth are likely to be heavier at 6 weeks.

I also found this site - Prima Doberman Pinschers, which provides a nice timeline of stages from birth to 1 year. There's not a lot that's specific to weight, but suggests that at 2 weeks they probably weigh a couple of pounds and by 8 weeks, pups will be between 12-20 lbs (that's a pretty large range).

I hope this proves helpful. Please do reach out to your pup's vet as they will be your best resource for your particular pups, especially the runt which they will be able to assess and make sure the puppy is healthy - just small - or be able to determine if there is a medical cause for the small size.

Good luck. Enjoy the pups.

Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Jody,  Thanks for your previous responses and guidance.  Things have been great.  Today is puppy B-Day, week 5.  Mom is a very reluctant nurser at this point, we almost need to force her to remain still and lay down to allow pups to suckle.  We thing she's done.  Pups are eating soaked puppy food augmented with Puppy-Bak and continue to grow.  Average litter weight is 97ozs with the range of 117ozs to a low of 86ozs.  Again, 8 healthy puppies.  So now our concern is the proper way to stop the mom's lactation process.  The puppies are not nursing so mom just walks around dripping from her teets. Is there anything we should do to help this process along?  We have begun cutting back on her food intake and within a few more days plan on being back to her normal food intake, assuming this is a correct part of the process.  Unfortunately our Vet is not much help in this area...  Thanks again,

Dan C.

Thank you for the update and congratulations on 8 healthy puppies!

Again, I need to provide the disclaimer that I have never bred a dog nor reared pups with a mom present, so I'm speaking from general knowledge and not actual "breeder expertise" in this particular field. I'm sorry that your vet doesn't seem to be particularly helpful.

So, pups do naturally wean between 4.5-6 weeks of age, so the pups and mom are right on schedule. She will stop making herself available and they will stop asking for access. She may even correct pups who continue to try to suckle. At this stage, I would not try to insist she nurse anymore. She is done and they are plenty along in eating real food.

As for helping her dry up, discontinuing any suckling will dry her up pretty quickly. She may leak here and there for a few days, but the reduced calorie ration of her normal food portions (as opposed to pregnant/nursing diet) and simply not suckling the pups should dry her up in a week to 10 days. But any stimulation to excrete the milk will actually prolong the lactation process. This is true, too, in humans. When women decide to no longer nurse, they will sometimes leak a little but without stimulation for a few days the lactation process will quickly reduce and come to a stop shortly thereafter.

My only caveat to the pup's diet is to make sure you're offering a high quality food that has meat as the first protein. I try to avoid corn, wheat and soy as these are very often allergens to dogs and the protein in those foods are not as bioavailable to the dogs as other options like brown rice, whole grain sorghum and the like. And of course, avoid ingredients that say 'byproduct' and generic protein sources. In other words, you want the ingredients to say Chicken, Duck, Turkey, Pork, Beef, etc. instead of 'poultry' or 'meat.'

Also, a note on reducing the potential of teaching the pups to resource guard: Many puppies go to new homes heavily guarding food items and food sources such as bowls or storage locations. While a certain amount of guarding behavior of high value resources is natural, we often see a heightened/exaggerated guarding behavior that bleeds into other items and becomes a behavior problem for new owners.

The single best way to avoid teaching puppies to guard is in setting up a feeding arrangement that limits competition for food. This is actually pretty easy to do. Instead of putting all the puppy food into a single pan (many breeders use a cookie sheet or similar), feed the dogs separately. Put each pup's ration onto a separate paper plate (or reusable if you want to do the dishes) and set them about a foot or two apart, and make sure there is one EXTRA plate (you may even do two extra plates if you wish). This way, if there is a pushy pup who nudges another pup out of the way, there is always an empty plate the displaced pup can go to that is not already "owned" by the bully who just usurped the displaced pup's food. This simple set-up creates an experience where this is no real competition as there is always another plate of food that can be accessed and all pups have a chance to eat a proper meal without having to guard/rush to eat.

The other option is to feed all the pups in separate crates and keep them in the crates until all pups are done eating (or take them to the potty spot as they finish eating if there are some slow-pokes in the group. Feeding in separate crates offers two things - first, it prevents any pup from bullying any other and eliminates all social pressure surrounding the mealtime experience. Second, it begins the process of teaching puppies that crates are AWESOME! because food happens in crates....

I hope some of this proves helpful.

Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine  

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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