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Are Pregnant Dogs Aggressive? (How to Deal with Maternal Aggression)

Are Pregnant Dogs Aggressive? (How to Deal with Maternal Aggression)
The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care. In addition, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Like humans, pregnant dogs experience a series of physical and behavioral changes throughout their pregnancy. Some seek human comfort and attention, while others don’t tolerate human presence at all.

With that said, are pregnant dogs aggressive? If so, is this behavior normal or should you do something about it?

This article discusses everything you need to know about pregnant dogs, including maternal aggression, pseudo-pregnancy, and how to deal with postpartum maternal aggression.

Are Pregnant Dogs Aggressive?

Yes, some pregnant dogs can be aggressive. In most cases, this aggression can last throughout their entire gestation period.

Luckily, the gestation period of pregnant dogs is much shorter than that of humans with an average of 57 to 65 days. If there are two matings, the birth may occur between day 63 to day 65.

If your dog shows signs of aggression during her pregnancy, it’s best to keep your distance. This isn’t to say that you should ignore her entirely, of course, but don’t approach her unless it’s for food, walks, or light play.

During her last three weeks of pregnancy, separate your pregnant dog from other dogs and animals.

Also, as much as possible, keep her indoors to prevent her from contacting parasites and illnesses that may impact her and her puppy’s health.

One such illness is canine herpes, which pregnant dogs can catch when they come in contact with an infected dog. Canine herpes is extremely dangerous and may affect stillborn puppies.

Why Are Pregnant Dogs Aggressive?

Dominant female dogs are more likely to show aggression during their pregnancy than submissive dogs.

However, this isn’t to say that submissive dogs won’t show aggression at all.

While it might be shocking to see aggression in a docile dog that perhaps never showed this behavior before, it’s completely normal. Try not to take it personally.

But why are pregnant dogs so aggressive, anyway? To keep it short and simple: hormones.

Like pregnant humans, pregnant dogs go through a series of hormonal changes throughout their pregnancy. These hormonal changes can impact their behavior and personality.

Temperaments differ from one dog to another, however. It really depends on the dog’s personality.

Some dogs react aggressively towards minor annoyances, forcing them to seek isolation so they won’t be bothered. Others, however, seek extra comfort from their humans.

With that said, female dogs don’t show aggression without cause. More often than not, they only show aggression when they feel threatened, annoyed, scared, or uncomfortable.

This form of aggression might also be caused by pain, illness, or extreme hormonal imbalance. If you believe this is the case, it’s best to take your dog to the vet to make sure the behavior she’s exhibiting is normal.

Alongside aggression, other behavioral changes in pregnant dogs include:

  • Increase in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea and vomiting (morning sickness)
  • Clinginess
  • Nesting behavior
  • Enlarged or discolored nipples
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Enlarged breasts
  • Discharge of mucus after 30 days since mating
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Urinating more frequently

Do Male Dogs Change Their Behavior Around Pregnant Female Dogs?

In general, no, male dogs don’t exhibit major behavioral changes around pregnant female dogs.

However, a male dog will know the female dog is pregnant because he can sense the hormonal changes going through her. He might also become somewhat obsessed with her rear behind.

To prevent territorial disputes and aggression towards a male and pregnant female dog, it’s best to separate your male dog from your female dog completely. This is especially crucial towards the end of her pregnancy.

It’s likewise important to note that male dogs are often extremely attracted to whelping female dogs. Therefore, you should make sure to keep him away during this period.

What Is Phantom Pregnancy in Dogs?

Phantom pregnancy, also known as pseudopregnancy, false pregnancy, or pseudocyesis, is a common condition among unspayed female dogs. This condition causes them to mimic behavioral and even physical signs of pregnancy, even though they’re not actually pregnant.

Signs of phantom pregnancy in dogs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Nesting
  • Nursing (i.e., the dog may become attached to a toy)
  • Secretion from mammary glands
  • Swollen belly
  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Unusual behavioral changes (i.e., depression, aggression, restlessness, clinginess)

Phantom pregnancy in dogs is typically the result of a rapid increase in prolactin and a decrease in progesterone, both of which are triggered during real pregnancy in dogs. While some dogs experience symptoms that are too mild to cause concern, some unlucky dogs experience contractions and go into false labor.

This condition is fairly common. In fact, some experts believe that almost all female dogs experience phantom pregnancy symptoms after every heat unless they’re spayed.

With some breeds, like Dachshunds, Afghans, and Beagles, the likelihood of phantom pregnancy is as high as 75%. If the dog has had one phantom pregnancy, she’ll likely experience several more in the future unless she’s taken to the vet and spayed.

Luckily, phantom pregnancy subsides within several short weeks without any lasting effects. In most cases, it doesn’t take longer than two to three weeks.

If the symptoms are mild and you’re sure your female dog hasn’t met with any male dogs lately, you don’t have to take her to the vet. However, if she’s showing distressing signs of pain and/or discomfort which lasts longer than two weeks, it’s best to have her checked by a professional.

Are Female Dogs Aggressive After Giving Birth?

Yes, female dogs can be aggressive after they’ve given birth. In fact, aggression after birth—commonly dubbed as maternal aggression—is more likely than aggression during pregnancy.

This form of aggression arises out of the protectiveness, concern, and affection of a mother dog towards her young. It’s a natural process that helps a mother dog bond and protects her pups.

After all, newly born pups are blind, deaf, unable to walk by themselves, and unable to regulate their temperatures. On top of that, they don’t have teeth.

They’re extremely vulnerable, so it makes sense for a mother dog to become overly protective of her puppies.

Again, maternal aggression is caused by the surge hormones. When a mother dog is about to give birth, her estrogen levels climb while her progesterone levels drop.

Progesterone has a calming effect on pregnant dogs, so when lost, the mother dog becomes grumpier and more aggressive.

As her estrogen levels climb, her prolactin levels do the same. Prolactin is a hormone that stimulates lactation. These hormonal changes are responsible for maternal and nesting behaviors among mother dogs.

How to Deal With Maternal Aggression

Maternal aggression is natural among mother dogs, but it can sometimes be dangerous if improperly dealt with.

Here are some tips to follow if your dog is showing maternal aggression towards you and your other pets.

Comfort Is Key

In most cases, mother dogs show maternal aggression because they feel threatened, annoyed, or scared. The need to protect is sometimes so extreme that they’d attack their beloved owners if they believe they’re a threat.

Therefore, the best way to deal with maternal aggression is to keep your dog as comfortable and safe as possible.

Too much commotion will interfere with her motherly duties and may force her to display unwanted behaviors towards other pets and people. So, it’s definitely not the time to take in visitors to handle her babies.

Separate her from other animals and place her in a quiet place so she won’t feel stressed and threatened. She needs to be left alone for the first 24 hours so her pups can drink special immune-boosting milk from her nipples.

If necessary, enter the room one at a time to check on her and her pups.

Mind Your Safety

Aggressive mother dogs may growl, bite, or attack whoever approaches the nest or the puppies. The longer you stay around the dog, the more she’ll feel the need to be aggressive.

For your safety, limit the duration you’re with your dog and only enter the room if necessary.

If you need to weigh the puppies every day, do so when the mother leaves to eat, drink, or take a potty outside.

Weigh the pups carefully but quickly, as most mother dogs go outside to just relieve themselves rather than eat or drink. After using the potty, they’ll immediately return to the litter and may freak out when they catch you handling her pups.

If you have children, they must be informed of the importance of leaving the mother dog alone while she’s caring for them. If your children are too young to understand, place your dog and her pups in a room where your children can’t easily enter.

Let Her Know You Can Be Trusted

As previously mentioned, female dogs show maternal aggression if she feels threatened in any way. Ease her fears by showing her you can be trusted around her pups.

Whenever you enter the room, feed the mother dog with high-value treats. If she doesn’t tolerate anyone coming near her, toss the treats in her direction.

Do this for a few days until you’re able to feed her directly from your hand. Once she’s more accepting of your presence, you can briefly touch her puppies.

If she doesn’t react, give her a treat as a “reward” for trusting you. Don’t stick around for longer than a few minutes.

Repeat this several times a day until the mother dog makes a connection that touching her pups equals delicious treats.

If your dog appears calm and welcoming, you can touch the puppies and even play with them a bit longer without any aggression on the mother’s part. But if at any point the mother dog growls at you, gently return her pups, retreat, and try again after several hours.

Keep Other Pets Away

As much as possible, keep other pets, even the father, away from the mother and the litter. Otherwise, they may unwittingly spread infection or parasites on the puppies and cut their lives short.

Keep in mind that newly born puppies have a nearly non-existent immune system, and thus must be kept beside their mother at all times.

Moreover, the mother dog may find the father dog a nuisance while she’s tending to their newborn babies. She might not allow the father dog to be near their pups because she’s worried he’ll be too rough with the delicate puppies.

For this reason, the father should only be allowed near his babies when they reach the four-week mark. By then, they’d have developed their immune system and can walk and see by themselves.

When it’s time for the father dog to meet his pups, don’t fret.

Father dogs are rarely aggressive with their young. In fact, they tend to be quite gentle and protective towards their pups.

Know When to Intervene

Sometimes, a mother dog may direct her aggression towards her puppies. If this happens, you may need to intervene for their safety.

However, only intervene if you’re absolutely sure her actions are inappropriate.

If she’s merely picking her puppies up by the scruff of their neck, this is completely normal and won’t harm the babies.

The same is said if the mother dog growls or snaps at her puppies, as this might be how she’s educating them. Usually, this only happens when the pups are able to walk by themselves.

You should intervene if the mother dog is causing harm to her puppies. Usually, this is caused by stress and/or fear.

If she keeps injuring her puppies, they may need to be moved or the mother might need to be kenneled until she calms down.

But keep in mind that this should only happen when absolutely necessary. After all, puppies—especially newborn puppies—rely on their mother for everything.

Final Thoughts

In most cases, pregnant dogs show aggression towards humans and other animals because they feel threatened. Their need to protect is often so overwhelming that they’d attack even their most trusted and beloved humans.

To prevent aggression in pregnant dogs, give her all the comfort she needs during the gestation period.

Keep her environment clean and quiet to prevent her from being stressed and annoyed. Also, give her nutritious treats and snacks so she’ll be healthy throughout her pregnancy.

Good luck!