Dogs generally reach sexual maturity at about six months of age, with small breeds often maturing earlier than large breeds. Female dogs, or bitches, become sexually receptive to mating during a period called estrus (also called season or heat), which occurs about twice a year for 6 to 12 days. After a gestation period of about 63 days, an average litter of three to six puppies is born.
Blind and unable to stand, newborn puppies are helpless and spend 90 percent of their time sleeping and 10 percent nursing. Becoming chilled is the greatest danger facing a healthy newborn puppy because its immature circulatory system cannot sustain an adequate body temperature. For this reason, newborn puppies tend to stay close to their mother or cuddle together for warmth. Mothers clean, nurse, and defend their pups until they can live on their own, but fathers do not involve themselves in the care of the young.