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Categories: Breeding

Q. My female had a litter of 10 pups and ate most of them. What should I do?
Mr. Frawley.

I ran across your web site when I was researching information on shepherds.

I have a male shepherd who is a few years old, he's a big baby, and loveable as hell. He's registered. My female shepherd was orphaned, we don't really know too much about her background.

She (Sadie) looks identical to our male, except smaller of course. She inadvertently became pregnant from our male, we were not planning on this breeding, but decided to go ahead with letting her have the litter anyway.

I had Sadie about 3-4 years, she's always been real skittish, distant from most people, except she seems to trust women. She does not want to have anything to do with children and has snarled at a few who have approached her. She loves me to death and trusts me totally, and I'm not sure how this bonding occurred so naturally, but it did.

Anyway, our two Shepherds, male and female, and my 6 year old West Highland Terrier (whom I've bred twice) always "ran the yard" together. Every now and then my Westie and Sadie butted heads, but I didn't think too much of it.

About 2 weeks prior to Sadie's whelping, I came home late one night only to have my neighbor lady come out pre-warn me that Sadie killed my Westie; I guess she tore into her quite viciously for about a half-hour and from what the neighbor had said, it appeared she was trying to "eat" her. She was afraid to enter my fenced yard to brake it up.

I was heartbroken--mainly because I had my Westie for such a long time and loved her dearly, but also because I had bonded with Sadie in the last few years and I knew Sadie loves me and trusts only me.

My first gut reaction was to have Sadie put to sleep, but I knew I would have to wait until she had her pups. The reason I began to research the internet was because after she had the pups (litter of 10), I found out that she was eating the pups. She has 4 healthy pups left that she seems to be half-ass caring for. They're 3 weeks old now. Someone told me that they heard of dogs eating their young if they were undesirable or not healthy, or if the female felt that they could not feed all of them.

I never heard of such a thing, but wondered if it didn't have something to do with the fact that she killed my Westie and got a taste of her blood. Can you help me understand this? Is this normal or is she just a killer? I still may have her put down afterwards, but I'm feeling guilty about that also. We have a neighborhood of young children and that worries me too.


A. Pat,

This is a disturbing situation.

I wonder if the female killing the sheltie had anything to do with killing her babies. It could be maternal aggression but the pups were not born and I don't know the time frame between the killing and the litter.

Females can kill their babies for several reasons.

1- If a female does not have a safe quiet secluded den they can get nervous and kill their babies. When that happens the problem is with the owner not providing what the dog perceives is a safe place to have babies.

2- A female can also kill her pups if too many people are coming into the whelping area when the litter if first born. Some can get nervous and kill the pups. This is also more of an owner problem than a dog problem.

3- There is also the possibility of the female being mentally unstable.

The issue of the sheltie being killed could very easily be a rank-pack structure problem. I don't know the temperament of this dog or the sheltie. But "female on female" aggression is a common problem. Female dog fights are the most vicious.

I will guarantee you that this dog had gave off signals that there were problems on the horizon - you just missed those signals.

We never leave adult females together when we are gone unless we 110% know there is no sign of potential problems. And we always error on the side of safety. Doing otherwise asks for problems, but then you found this out.

You would have been better advised to use dog crates and keep these dogs separated.

You would have been better advised to establish pack structure and control the environment that your dogs are allowed to live it.

The fact is you allowed an accidental breeding. You were not paying attention. Then you allowed your female to kill the other female - you were not paying attention. The moral of this story is to educate yourself to pack structure and then change the way you live with the dog.

Ed Frawley
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