When the pup is passed through the pelvic canal and into our world it will be covered in a thin membrane that looks like plastic wrap. If the bitch does not lick and nip this membrane away from the puppy right away, and most do, you should remove it so the pup can breathe. (The pup has about six minutes of "grace period" before it must breathe, otherwise brain damage or death will occur.) Give the mother a few seconds to remove this membrane; if she doesn't, you do it.
Picture: Sir K B. Barganska
You will notice that the pup is attached to a yucky looking mass of tissue by the umbilical cord. You can separate the pup from this blackish-green tissue, which is the afterbirth. (The afterbirth is the tissue that attaches very closely to the lining of the uterus. Through the afterbirth the pup "breathes" and acquires nourishment via the umbilical cord; now that the pup is born, though, there's no need for this equipment any more. Now it's nasty looking and yucky so throw it out.) There is no real benefit for the bitch to eat all the afterbirths so discard them if you wish. In fact, some dogs can get digestive upsets from consuming a large number of afterbirths. Those of you who for some reason want their bitch to eat the afterbirths, be my guest...
Licking and cleaning the new pup is the bitch's first order of business now that the membrane is removed and the umbilical cord is chewed through (or separated about an inch away from the pup by you). If she ignores the pup, you can take a clean towel and rub the puppy dry; this will stimulate it to breath and it will protest a bit. Ouch...Welcome to our world! While doting over the new pup the bitch will probably start the process over and present another one...here we go again! While the new pup's brothers and sisters are yet to see the light of day, the first pup, having found a nipple, is already having breakfast. (I say breakfast because the vast majority of whelping occur in the very early hours of predawn darkness!)
Time Period... In any litter the entire process of whelping can take from two to twenty hours. In some cases, they may have three pups in the first hour, take a break for three or four hours, have a few more, take a break, have one, take a break and finish up sometime the next day. All that may be perfectly normal. However, if a bitch is really straining, with contractions coming every minute or so and no pup is presented within half an hour, get the veterinarian on the phone.Often, if the bitch seems to be doing nothing for a few hours and you are sure there are more pups to be delivered, the bitch often can be energized to have more contractions by a brisk walk outside. She may not want to leave the pups but fresh air and a short run or walk will get things started again. Have food and water available for her, too.
Problems... Sometimes the litter will be so large, either in numbers of pups or size of pups, that a problem with Uterine Inertia can occur. In these situations the bitch will fail in weak attempts to pass the pups. She may not even show any visible contractions. Here is a good example of why you should keep good records of dates and times of breeding. If the bitch has progressed to the sixty-fifth day after breeding and still no pups are on the way, there's a problem! If the uterus has been so stretched and fatigued by a large litter or large size of the puppies, she may not be able to pass them. Uterine Inertia also is common when an older bitch has a single fetus that doesn't stimulate the uterus enough to begin contractions. Your veterinarian must be consulted. Medical intervention will be tried first, an x-ray may be taken (don't worry, a single x-ray in full term pups presents practically zero risk) and if medications do not induce labour...it's time for surgery!
Be Prepared... It is much better to prepare yourself ahead of time by reading and talking to an experienced breeder if this is your first time at breeding a dog. Be certain that your bitch is wormed or has a negative fecal exam, be certain that the diet is excellent... not just "good". Avoid the notion that you must supplement the diet because of the "stress" on the mother. The real stress nutritionally comes after the pregnancy when the pups are between two and four weeks of age. That's the time they are extracting the largest amounts of nutrients from the mother, and making all that milk can really tap into the bitches' nutrient reserves. Over-supplementing is a mistake. A high quality diet containing large amounts of quality protein and fat is important; high fat, high protein and low carbohydrates (grain) is best.
It is a good idea to get a small postal scale and weigh the new pups daily. After the second day they should gain steadily every day. If you notice a pup that is slower, colder, softer or whinier than the others, take special care of that one. It just may need your help to survive. Each day the pups should put on a bit of weight; one that is not may be a "poor doer" and could need veterinary care.