Large litters often lose pups in the first couple weeks, often called fading puppies. To avoid this, weigh your puppies daily.
"Nipple guarding" is one of the reasons. The stronger, more dominant pups will guard the best milk producing nipples. Even though they are not nursing, some pups will just hang on to a nipple and claim it, as they attempt to eliminate the competition for the best milk.
Many breeders will often supplement the small pup, but the small pup needs mom's perfect milk. I often recommend supplementing the smaller pup just enough to build up his energy and stamina and then pull a couple of the largest pups from mom and supplement them two times a day. You can even separate the bigger couple of pups in a warm box and they will be content with the warmth while the tiny guys will benefit from time with mom.
Mom will have lots of milk by two weeks. You can still pull the big pup from mom to let the small ones eat if you feel it is needed, but if mom has plenty of milk you can just pull them to let the smaller pups drink and then return them without supplementing them.
Do not put the little ones on five minutes prior to allowing the big pups to nurse as mom will not let her milk down for just a couple of small pups. This will only tire out the little ones, and they get nothing. This has been a common mistake of breeders thinking they are giving the little ones a head start, when really they have just tired them out and when mom lets down her milk, they have given up.
A good scale is so very important to making a whole litter thrive.
Allowing puppies to guard nipples is a bad idea, not only because it means less good milk for the rest of the litter, but because it is allowing the pup to practice alpha behaviors. If you want your puppies to have the best chance at getting a forever home do not start them off on the wrong foot by allowing them to guard. Within every litter there is at least one alpha puppy born, sometimes more than one. These puppies have a higher percentage of being given up by their owners because a lot of people do not understand natural dog behavior and the alpha tendencies get out of hand, creating a wide variety of undesirable behaviors. I have seen breeders laugh at their very young puppies as they guard their food bowls from the rest of the litter. This is not cute and should never be laughed at. Breeders who allow this are dooming the pup to be one of the statistics—given up by humans, deemed a bad puppy or untrainable. Remember, there are no bad dogs, just uneducated breeders and owners.
Courtesy of MistyTrails Havanese
Although this section is based on a whelping of an English Mastiff, it also contains good general whelping information on large-breed dogs. You can find more whelping information in the links above. The links below tell the story of Sassy, an English Mastiff. Sassy has a wonderful temperament. She loves humans and adores children. An all-around mild mannered, wonderful Mastiff, Sassy, however, is not the best mother toward her puppies. She is not rejecting them; she will nurse them when a human places them on her to feed, however she will not clean the pups or pay any attention to them. It is as if they are not her puppies. This litter is getting mom’s milk with major human interaction, manually giving each and every pup what they need. In return, the pups will be super socialized and will make remarkable pets, however the work involved is astounding. It takes one dedicated breeder to keep this situation healthy. Thankfully this litter has just that. Read the links below to get the full story. The pages within include a wealth of information that everyone can appreciate and benefit from.