This is a tough one. Every dam is different. And we always
start weaning them at three weeks, which is well before the dam ever does.
With Summer, she's very slow. I get the feeling she'd be happy to nurse them to adulthood. LOL! Even at 7 weeks, she will still let them nurse, which we actually try not to discourage, but she still has lots of milk and a very strong drive, so we let her. However, at 6 weeks, she did start the weaning process herself, which involves her regurgitating her food for the puppies to eat. It looks gross on the camera, but that's how dogs in nature start to wean their pups.
We started with a gruel mixture at 3 weeks of age, and now at 7 weeks the puppies are eating straight kibble, which we moisten a little bit to make it softer, keep them from eating it too fast, and make sure they're getting enough liquids in their diet. So they are already weaned to the point where they will be when we send them to their homes on the 10th and 11th. But after every meal we give them, Summer still wants to get in and nurse them, and often she will both regurgitate food for them and
let them nurse, even after they've had their human-fed meal.
Usually, by this time the dam isn't letting them nurse anymore. For one thing they have needle sharp teeth, and it hurts! So usually she will correct them and prevent them from nursing. I'll try to find a video I have of another mama dog who trained her litter really well that the milk bar is permanently closed, and I'll post it because it's fascinating.
I don't understand why Summer continues to allow them to nurse, but she definitely wants to. It's not like she reluctantly tolerates it, like most dams do by this time. As I said, we're not going to make Summer too anxious by discouraging it.
We always let the dams watch their babies leave. They meet the new owners and are in the room as they waive goodbye. I think we had one bitch who seemed a little put out for a few hours after they left, but mostly they have zero problems with it, and just go back to their old lives with ease. And we often keep a puppy from the litter, so she has at least one remaining to mother for as long as she feels like it. By 9 weeks, when we send them home, puppies have usually become pack members who are "co-parented" by the other dogs in the pack, so by then mama has started turning over responsibilities.
But the short answer is that they usually aren't bothered in the least. Again, since this is Summer's first litter, and she seems to be really into mothering these puppies, we don't know how she'll react. But she was fine with us taking them away for a 4-hour trip to the vet. And, of course, Summer had no way of knowing that they were ever going to come back, once they left. So...
This is a great question. The answer is no one really knows for sure, but sometimes it sure seems like it. We've had littermates meet again after a year old, and they go so crazy it's obvious that they recognize their siblings. We've also had it where it feels like two strangers meeting rather than siblings reuniting.
As for the mama dogs, I'll say that for the puppies that remain with us there is always a kind of family recognition, though I don't think mama really considers them her children, as such, when they reach maturity. I don't know if they recognize their kids months or years after the pups go to their homes. Keep in mind these aren't humans. Mothers will mate with their male children, for instance. So it's not a human-like dynamic.
But I've seen obvious recognition between siblings, sometimes after being separated for years. It's amazing. But I've also seen them not seem to recognize each other.
To me, I think they do know their siblings. I mean, they must, because every puppy we place recognizes Theresa and me, and greets us like husbands coming home from war or something. So if they recognize us, they must recognize their siblings, right? Anyway, most of the time it seems like they do, if the absence has been months rather than years.
I'm not sure it's "closer," but it's definitely "different." And it seems to be true for grandkids, too. For instance, our Ziva is great-grandmother to these puppies. Somehow, she seems to know that. She always seemed to know that Khaleesi was her child, and she seemed to know that Summer was Khaleesi's child. Her relationship with them isn't necessarily "closer" with them that it is for Gibbs or Ruby or other unrelated dogs we have, as Ziva is completely bonded to Gibbs. But when Summer was younger and we brought another puppy into the house, Ziva seemed to caretake for her granddaughter Summer when she didn't do the same thing for the unrelated puppy that we bought. Is that because she recognizes Khaleesi and Summer as "hers"? I really don't know. But it's fascinating to see the difference play out. You watch and think she must know, but then really how can she? It's not like she has a human intellectual capacity.
So, after all this time and watching them all so closely, and seeing the different dynamics at work, all I can say is that I really don't know, but it seems like she does, and that pleases me so that I'm happy to believe it to be true.
Great questions. Hope I did them justice.