What to Expect When a Sled Dog is Expecting

August 21, 2017 Posted by: Jessica Millman, Kennels Volunteer

Once a year, the kennel’s staff waits in anticipation for the newest sled dog recruits to be born. Although there is a lot of excitement and eagerness to meet the puppies, there are also a lot of sled dog pregnancy factors to monitor as we wait. This process begins before the chosen mated female is pregnant. In order to achieve a litter that exceeds physical and temperamental expectations, the parents of the litter have to hold desireable performance qualities. The qualities we look for are: thick fur coat, long legs, large paws with compact pads, fluffy tail, correct body proportions, sweet disposition, and extreme desire to run and pull. The Denali Kennels manager takes the lead of who will be mated with whom for that season. The genealogy of every dog in the kennel is stored and tracked very closely to avoid inbreeding. It is not uncommon to breed out with other freight kennels in the state to keep genetic diversity.

A sled dog sitting on her hind legs, exposing her large belly
Clove, mother of the 2017 litter of sled dog pups in Denali. NPS Photo

This year’s chosen mated pair was Clove and S’more! Clove is a 4 year old female who is one of the loudest, most opinionated dogs in the yard. She’s a hard worker, very motivated, and intuitive out on the trail. Both of her brothers are also exceptional lead dogs in winter with a lot of wisdom and spunk. S’more is a 2 year male who is known for his sweet disposition and dashing good looks (aka long legs, thick fur coat, long fluffy tail, and soulful brown eyes you can get lost in for days).


About 35 days after the breedings, a veterinarian confirmed with an ultrasound that Clove was pregnant. We deep cleaned and disinfected the large double pen in the dog yard and moved Clove into her special pen where she will whelp and raise her pups. The puppy playground is ready for action in the pen so that the puppies have something to play and climb on when they are old enough. Clove will live in the pen until her puppies are finished nursing. She began her maternity leave a few weeks before her due date and was not included in demonstration runs for the safety of mom and pups. She had daily short walks on the park road to stay exercised, and her dog walkers tell us she’s very good about letting them know when it was time to turn around and head back home. She will be able to rejoin fall training with the team at the end of September.

a sled dog lying on her back, exposing her large belly
NPS Photo

In addition to an ultrasound done by a vet, there are other signs kennels staff monitored to ensure Clove’s pregnancy progressed smoothly. It is common that a pregnant female’s appetite fluctuates. A dog that lives for food may not be as exuberant about food, whereas a dog that has a lackluster appetite may be even more hungry than usual. This change in hunger depends on the dog. Clove maintained a good appetite and was fed twice a day for the final few weeks of her pregnancy to ensure she had enough calories for herself and all of her pups. Enlargement of the abdomen begins to occur 5 weeks into the pregnancy.  As the uterus puts more pressure on the bladder due to the increased growth of puppies, it is common to see frequent urination from a pregnant female. As she gets bigger, hair on the abdomen around the mammary area will shed 45-50 days post breeding. This happens so puppies have an easier time latching onto mom for nursing after they are born. Nursing is vital to the health and survival of newborn pups, especially in larger litters. Milk can usually be squeezed from the nipples during the final seven to ten days of pregnancy.  


When Clove was a week out from her due date, roughly 63 days from the first successful breeding, her rectal temperature was taken twice a day. A normal dog temperature, male or female, can range between 100-102.5 degrees. During the stages of pregnancy, her temperature was slightly lower (100.5). When the onset of labor began, her temperature dropped (98-99.4 degrees). Kennels staff knows that when this happened, Clove would begin whelping (labor) usually within 24 hours.


During the early stages of labor, kennels staff closely monitored Clove’s behavior. It was expected that she would lose her appetite 12 hours before labor. She sought out a place to hide or seclude herself and attempt to dig a nest where she could whelp. Often other females in the yard will also display this nesting behavior as the litter gets close to arriving. We heard Sylvie digging in her house near the time Clove was about to give birth, knowing that puppies were coming.

a sled dog nursing seven puppiesClove and her pups. NPS Photo

Whelping is a busy time for dogs and kennels rangers as we all work hard to give Mom and her newborns everything they need. We hung a privacy tarp on all sides of her pen to help create quiet space and ask that visitors respect it. Kennels rangers and a vet tech were on hand to check each pup as they arrive. We recorded their markings, gender, birth time and weight at birth and then quickly returned the pups to mom. Even though this is Clove’s first litter she instinctively knew how to care for her pups and we left her to do her job once we were sure her labor was complete.

a woman holding a small puppy
NPS Photo

After the last puppy was delivered, mom and her pups are left to bond and nurse, and kennels staff closely monitors the pups health regularly throughout the day! Puppies can be seen playing in the pen with mom a few weeks after they are born on the puppy cam.

a tiny sled dog puppy being held by a womanNPS Photo

sled dogs, breeding, pups

Last updated: August 21, 2017

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