Do Male Dogs Know Their Own Puppies? Very Surprising!

pitbull puppy yawning on deck outside

A female dog could pick her puppies out of a figurative lineup, but you wonder whether males know their puppies as well. In today’s post, that’s exactly what I’ll discuss.

Do male dogs know their own puppies? No. Male dogs are not aware of which puppies are their offspring. Male dogs are generally protective of puppies, but not specifically towards their own puppies.

If you have yet more questions about whether male dogs can identify their own puppies and how they care for them, this is the article for you. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be able to decide what to expect out of your male dog after the female gives birth.

Let’s get started!

Does a Male Dog Recognize Its Own Puppies?

According to a classic study published in the journal Behavioural Processes, even if a female dog doesn’t see her babies for two years, she will still be able to recognize them when they reunite.

This calls to mind a heartwarming moment, like something you’d see in an animated Disney film. 

You have a male dog and you’re curious if he has the same kind of identification abilities for a litter.

He does not, at least as far as canine experts believe. 

Obviously, we cannot ask dogs what they do and don’t see and/or think. 

Watching how male dogs have treated new litters has provided us with some valuable insights, though. 

The male dog is aware that the female has birthed a litter but doesn’t necessarily perceive the litter favorably. To the male dog, the new puppies are members of the pack, but they’re weak and immature. 

Does a Male Dog Have Paternal Instincts?

From seahorses to mountain gorillas and emperor penguins, many creatures possess paternal instincts. Are dogs one of them?

I would say protective more than paternal. 

Remember, a male dog understands that a litter of puppies is the weak link. I’ll talk more about how a male dog may react to puppies, but in many cases, their overprotectiveness kicks in.

This can make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside since it appears that the family is bonding, but it’s not exactly as it seems. 

If you introduced the same male dog to a different litter of puppies that didn’t belong to him, guess what would happen?

That’s right. Even though the dog didn’t sire those puppies, he could still want to safeguard them. 

Thus, if you have a female and male dog and the female just gave birth and you noticed the male being ultra-cautious, it’s not that he’s being paternal, per se. He’d do that with any litter of puppies.

Considering that the male dog doesn’t recognize the litter as his own, this behavior makes sense. 

How Do Male Dogs React to Their Puppies?

Although overprotection is one reaction a male dog can have to puppies, it’s not the only one. 

If you plan to keep a male dog in the same household as a new litter, you must be prepared for any of the following reactions to occur.


Do father dogs love their puppies? In a best-case scenario, that’s exactly what would transpire.

The male dog will show all sorts of affection towards his young, even without necessarily recognizing the puppies as his own.

He might lift them up by their puppy scruff and carry them to and fro. He could clean the babies so they’re nice and tidy. 

Further, male dogs even get cuddly with the newborns.

It can be hard to witness this behavior and believe that the male dog doesn’t know the puppies are his offspring but it’s true. 


Without those paternal instincts to guide him, a male dog might not act very lovey-dovey with the puppies at all. 

He just won’t seem to be bothered either way. 

In a situation like this, you have to let the male dog do his own thing. You can’t make him care about the puppies, and you certainly can’t make him love them. 


On the complete other end of the spectrum is the most dangerous reaction to puppies, and that’s aggression. 

Your male dog might not be paternal, but he’s loyal, affectionate, and caring. He wants your attention, and when you’re fawning over the new puppies all the time, the male dog sees that. He also recognizes that the female dog is getting more care. 

Unfortunately, this can cause your dog to lash out at either the female, the puppies, or sometimes both. 

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how potentially bad this can be.

After a female dog goes through labor and gives birth, she can be completely exhausted. Especially if it lasted a long time or their were complications.

She may not be very hungry in the aftermath of the birth, so she’s weak as well. If a male dog turns around and attacks her in this state, she won’t be able to defend herself very well.

Your female dog could end up seriously injured. You’d have to take her to the vet (possibly even an emergency vet) immediately to get treated.

If the male dog goes after the puppies, the consequences can be even more devastating.

It doesn’t matter so much if the puppies are newborns or a few weeks old. They are in no shape to withstand physical brutality from a full-grown male dog. 

Whether the dog primarily bites or scratches, the puppies might not survive the onslaught.

Further, the female dog is not going to stand idly by and let someone attack her babies. She has intensely strong maternal instincts.

Even if she’s tired and hasn’t eaten, she’s going to jump to her feet and defend her young. If the male dog hadn’t already turned his aggression towards the female, that could happen now. 

You’d end up in a situation where both the puppies and the mother are injured, perhaps critically. 

Should Male Dogs Stay Away from Their Puppies?

If your pup is on the more docile side, then he might not respond with jealousy and aggression when presented with a new litter. 

That said, it can be difficult to predict how your dog will react to the puppies, which has you wondering if you should separate the male and the newborns.

Yes, separating the male dog from any newborns is a great idea.

Don’t wait until the mother dog gives birth though. As she goes through the last several weeks of her pregnancy, keep the male dog away.

That doesn’t mean you have to kick your dog to the curb. Just put the mother in her own zone and then use doors or doggy gates to prohibit the male dog from getting too close.

Once the mother gives birth, it’s still not the best idea to bring the father into the equation. Give the puppies some time to mature. 

The recommended timeframe for introduction is when the puppies are at least six weeks old. 

At this new and exciting time in their young lives, keep in mind that the puppies are weaned and stronger, so their curiosity is going to take hold.

They’ll want to check out anything and everything, licking edible and inedible objects alike, crawling, and climbing. The dogs aren’t quite at peak mobility yet, but they’re quickly getting there.

During their initial meeting with dear ol’ dad, the puppies will be very much curious about the male dog. 

Don’t put the puppies in the same room as the male and walk away. Stay in the room the entire time and keep a close eye on your male dog. 

You know him well, and if he’s getting agitated, you should be able to recognize that.

You might notice that your dog’s body stiffens. His ears could go flat, and he might bare his teeth while snarling or growling.

Separate the puppies from the male dog immediately and resume socialization another day.

Socialization is not an overnight process, I should stress that. You want to incrementally increase how much time the dogs spend together until they’re comfortable with one another, and that will take time. 

Does a Male Dog Feel Sad When You Take Away Their Puppies?

If you’ve decided that you won’t keep the puppies, then the time will inevitably come when the litter is separated from its parents.

You shouldn’t do this any sooner than nine weeks, as it could reduce the puppy’s sociability and increase their nervousness for the rest of their lives. 

If you wait until that time, then a female dog might be more okay with losing her babies. Male dogs though likely will not be sad.

Maybe if the male bonded well with the puppies, he might be a little distraught, but he doesn’t even recognize them as his babies. Thus, the loss isn’t as big of a blow as it can be for the mother dog. 

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