The first weeks of a puppy's life includes a lot of change; they transition from blind, deaf and toothless to exploring the world around them, learning where to eliminate, using their senses and problem-solving. A puppys' experience during this time can have a positive impact on them for life, and we will work hard to ensure that our pups will have a great start in this world!
I have attended seminars by Gail Watkins of Avidog, Myra Savant-Harris, RN and Dr. William Schultz, DVM. I've studied both the Avidog Transformation Puppy Rearing program and the A2Z Breeders course to get a comprehensive view of what is key to the development of healthy, social, smart and stable puppies.
Here is an view of what will be happening, week by week, for our puppies. Keep in mind that this is only an estimation as every pup and litter may have different behavioral markers indicating that they're ready for the next steps.
Newborn - 3 Weeks
Puppies are whelped and raised at our house. For the first 3 weeks they will be in my upstairs office with their mom, Intske, in a whelping box. Pups are monitored 24/7 at this stage. Even before their eyes and ears open, they have a good sense of smell, and can detect temperature. This is when we start Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) daily from day 3-16. These 3-5 second exercises cause a bit of good stress for the puppy, and research says this helps:
Improved cardio vascular performance (heart rate)
Stronger heart beats
Stronger adrenal glands
More tolerance to stress
Greater resistance to disease
"In tests of learning, stimulated pups were found to be more active and were more exploratory than their non- stimulated littermates over which they were dominant in competitive situations, and....in simple problem solving tests using detours in a maze, the non-stimulated pups became extremely aroused, whined a great deal, and made many errors. Their stimulated littermates were less disturbed or upset by test conditions and when comparisons were made, the stimulated littermates were more calm in the test environment, made fewer errors and gave only an occasional distress sound when stressed."
The Nose Knows
Concurrently, during day 3-16, we are following Avidog's protocol for Early Scent Introduction. We will introduce a new scent daily to each puppy during this time.
This involves cradling the pup, by itself, in our lap and introducting a scent item about 1/2 " from the pup's nose. If it wants to move towards the item (to snuffle or investigate), we allow that, as well - we allow them to turn away from the item. We will hold the scent in place for 5 seconds; We will use natural items (grass, leaves, moss, dirt, evergreen needles), fruits, herbs, spices, training items such as game birds, feathers, and other safe, natural items.
Transitional Period - 14-21 days
When the puppies start to open their eyes they are starting the transitional period. We will put a small litter pan in a slightly expanded whelping box so Intske can still visit puppies and feed them, but they have only the choice of litter area or sleeping area, since they still cannot get around very well. Instead of being stimulated to "go" by mom's licking, they can start eliminating on their own, now. They CAN tell the difference between "nest" and something that feels and smells different, and have a strong instinct not to "soil" their nest.
Also, during this transitional period, puppies will:
1. Begin walking
2. Start cutting teeth
3. Begin to be able to "lap" liquids and become interested in "mush" (goats milk and ground up venison or puppy food)
4. Begin vocalizing (barking, whining, growling)
5. Tail wagging and other non-verbal communication
Eyes open first, and their ear canals usually open around 7 days later. That period, between the time that their eyes and their ears open, is known as the "transitional" period. When puppies can hear it is the end of the transitional period.
Four Weeks Old
The pups are moving around more, so we give them more space, now. It helps them develop muscles by giving them room to walk and run, and it lessens tensions within the litter. The litter box area will slightly increase, and the area for exploring will increase a lot.
During this time, the new toys are still introduced, as are scents. We continue to handle and touch the pups and introduce a the sensation of a brush. We have been trimming their nails for a few weeks already.
At this time, we also begin more formal training, and the first step is to "load the clicker"; we use a clicker to "mark" when they are performing a behavior that will be rewarded, simple as that. But, we first have to let them know Click=reward. Once we have that we can reward desired behaviors, which the pups will then repeat in order to get the reward. Long term, the reward is phased out or sporadic, or pared down from a food reward to a verbal praise. Don't worry that you'll always have to give food. So, each pup gets a session of training; "click & reward" and in no time at all, they have a conditioned emotional response to the clicker.
A place to call my den...
Crates are introduced into the expanded weaning pen; doors are taken off, and pups can choose to go in or not. Later, we will progress to feeding them with the door open, then closed in the crate, and putting them in for nap time with door shut (but maybe a buddy with them). The goal is to make the crate a safe, rewarding place to be. Food, toys, sleep are all good things that come with that crate. This experience will serve them well for potty training, going to the vet, traveling, going to dog sports, recuperation from an injury. The crate is an invaluable tool to have in your dog management strategy.
The Fear Period
Around five weeks puppies are, for the first time, capable of experiencing true fear. We avoid any experience that might cause lifelong fear problems, while building more emotional resilience as we go along.
We keep building on what they know - humans handling them, toys and fun, exploration in safe places, and the confidence that comes with being trained and rewarded for manding, as well as small problem-solving challenges like how to get into that pool with balls in it that looks so fun!
We will also, as weather permits, take every opportunity to get the puppies outdoors for potty time and exploration. They have a strong instinct not to be left behind, and follow closely on walks. We will work WITH the puppies' innate instincts to follow, and get outside off leash in a safe area (free from loose dogs) with our dam to exercise them, enrich and reinforce their following instincts. Since Intske is such a water dog, we'll try to introduce the pups to Lake Champlain if the weather cooperates, too!
People, Place & Things
We encourage visitors but sessions will be kept short, puppies have naps and learn to relax when visitors come over, all skills they will need in their new homes.
We will also start acclimating the puppies to the car by letting them explore the car, have treats in there, and lots of cuddling the first time. The second time we will start the engine and let them feel what the car is like when it's idling. The next session we will go around the block. All positive, short, sessions.
We will find sunny, warm days and put the pups in the puppy stroller and walk them in a new place where there are new sights, smells, and people.
In week seven, our goals are:
Enter crate when asked
Eat in crate with door closed
Chew bone in crate with door closed
Nap in crate with door closed
Puppies chew bones in the car with the engine running
Training begins on:
To sit on cue
To come when called
To give up a toy
These "training" sessions are a lot less formal than they sound, they are more like a road map for how we interact with the puppies. They are games to play with them, and they are always kept enjoyable for both human and pup!
Pups can enter another fear period at this stage. Fear periods are a normal part of puppy development; knowing how to deal with them, what to do, and most importantly what not to do, have lifelong implications for the adult dog and it’s family. We will be alert to recognize when a puppy is experiencing a fear period, to help them through the period, without allowing any trauma that might affect their temperament forever.
Who Goes Where?
We will make every effort to match each owner or family with the pup that best suits them. We know our pups better than anyone, and to effectively match pups to homes, we gather information from prospective owners about their life style, experience in dogs, and expectations for their pup. We also keep careful records of each puppy’s reactions and personality to assist in placement.
Avidog's Puppy Evaluation Test (APET)
There are no right or wrong answers in the APET. There are no good or bad scores. There are simply differences between puppies that enable them to fit better in one home over another. Not only does the APET test help identify those differences, but it also identifies the homes where each difference will fit best.
And most importantly, the APET helps us create development and socialization plans tailored to each puppy and its new home. Rather than the one-size-fits-all training found in most books, the APET identifies things that owners should work on immediately, those they will have to manage over the dog’s lifetime, and those they can ignore.
Some aspects of a puppy’s temperament can be changed through training, development and socialization experiences but other traits are stabilized before a puppy goes to its first home. Puppies should be matched to homes that either want or can manage its stable traits.
Then owners can focus their efforts on changing the tweakable ones that are important to them. The APET helps you tailor puppy development plans to each individual puppy and home because it identifies those temperament traits that can be tweaked early in a puppy’s life and those that are relatively stable over a dog’s lifetime.
Once home, we ask that you have a relatively clear calendar until your pup is 16 weeks old so you can focus on its socialization and training. That early period is critical to a puppy’s long-term development and must be designed to get the most out of these few months. Vacations, business trips or heavy deadlines requiring long hours away from the puppy are not congruent with the work involved in preparing a young dog for its lifetime. The learning that occurs during those first months cannot be recaptured later.
Why Avidog? I've found it to be the most comprehensive program for breeding and puppy rearing available. Avidog combines science, art and over 50 years of dog breeding experience to create, develop and present puppy rearing courses, programs and equipment for puppy owners and dog breeders. Check out our Why Breed- Why Avidog page!
Our girl Intske when she was 1) newborn 2) eyes still closed 3) eyes just opening
Photos courtesy of Stabijkennel fan de Moaie Hôvingen
These early positive experiences are invaluable for puppies' brains. Also, at this age, puppies have the natural instinct to follow, and we can use this instinct to train them to stay with us as they grow up.
Video courtesy of Kennel fan de Moaie Hôvingen