LIFE STAGES, PART I: IN THE WHELPING BOX
Newborn to Two Weeks: From the time a puppy is born, learning is taking place. Puppies benefit from different handling, moderate differences in temperature, and being allowed to feel different surfaces under their bodies. People that are raising puppies should take the opportunity to handle puppies every day, taking care to touch their feet, mouths, and bellies. Placing items with different footing surfaces in the whelping box (such as newspapers, carpet, soft towels, rough towels, slightly slippery surfaces such as a sheet of linoleum, etc) will give them an early start on physical mobility and will prevent fear responses to these items at a later date.
Two Weeks-5 Weeks: At 12-14 days of age, eyes and ears open. This is the time to begin exposing the puppy to “background” that he might encounter later. Breeders could allow the litter to sleep near the washer and dryer, or allow the litter to explore the bathroom floor while toilets are flushing and bathwater is noisily tumbling into the bathtub. Puppies can be allowed to hear a car starting in the near distance, or a lawnmower, or be in the next room while someone is operating a vacuum. Hearing other dogs bark, children noisily playing, radios, televisions, and pots and pans making noise during dishwashing all will de-sensitize pups to normal life with humans and prevent a later fear response. Seeing various levels of light, other animals like cats and birds, and people walking or running by will prepare them for the visual stimulus they will later encounter. Don’t forget to expose to odors! Cooking, other animals, the scent inside a running car, grass and trees are all good things to show a young puppy. During this stage, daily handling by a human is crucial in order for the puppies to become accustomed to being picked up, examined and handled. Physical mobility increases dramatically during this time and even more exposure to different walking surfaces will greatly benefit a puppy.
At around three weeks old (sometimes earlier) puppies will start to show the instinctual desire to get away from their sleeping area to toilet. The area in which the puppies are kept should be large enough so that they are not forced to toilet near where they sleep. If pups are forced to toilet near sleeping area, this can significantly blunt their instinct to remain clean, and future homes may have more trouble than necessary when housetraining. Ideally, a low-sided box of shavings or shredded newspaper should be provided—the puppies will naturally use the box as a toilet area. This teaches the puppies to look for “their spot” and makes it much easier for future homes to teach “here’s the spot to go.”
Rapid development in mobility is seen between the ages of 3-5 weeks. It is at this point that objects can be placed with the puppies to further expose them to things they will encounter in later life. Ramps, slightly unstable surfaces such as a low-height wobbly board for them to climb on, crates with the doors left off, and toys that move and make noise are great ideas.
Between 4-5 weeks of age, the mother will begin to wean her puppies. She will probably start to show signs of stress when they approach to nurse, and might try very hard to get away from them. The whelping box area should be arranged so that the mother can get away from her pups when she needs a break, and breeders should begin to offer food several times a day.
When the mother begins to wean her pups, a very important learning process begins to take place. It is at this point that the puppies learn the basics of dog/dog social behaviour. The mother dog will begin to growl or bite the puppies if they won’t leave her alone. She may pin them with her jaws, or pick them up and deposit them somewhere else. The litter will begin to seriously wrestle and play-fight with each other. At times, these bites and wrestling matches will look and sound absolutely horrible, but this is a normal and necessary part of puppy learning. Many inexperienced/uneducated breeders take this “aggression” as a sign that the pups can go to their new homes or be completely separated from the mother or other pups. This is *not true.* Puppies should stay with their littermates and mother until at least 7 weeks of age. The social experiences that the littermates and mother give to a puppy in this short two-to-three week time are designed to prepare them for life skills in dog/dog behaviour. Puppies learn to inhibit the intensity of their bite, and that they must respect the wishes of other dogs sometimes.
Between 5-7 weeks of age, breeders should begin to prepare the puppy for life outside the litter. One of the most important parts of truly great “whelping box socialization” is to prepare the pups for the time when their littermates will not be present anymore. The biggest stress for a pup arriving in a new home is that there is no “puppy pile” to curl up in anymore! Breeders can prepare the puppy for this eventuality by making sure each pup has exposure to things while by himself.
Puppies should be allowed to explore new places without the rest of the littermates present. Crates with the doors shut can be introduced during feeding time and nap time, starting with a few pups in each crate and working up to each puppy being alone. Pups can be taken along in crates or in someone’s arms for a short car ride or two, to allow them to become accustomed to feeling the movement of a vehicle and to seeing the world rush by outside. Pups can be taken on short outdoor excursions in places that are safe from potential disease. New people should be invited over to play with the pups, with the whole litter and also with individuals.
Placement of puppies in their new homes should be done at the earliest at around 7 weeks of age. Pups that remain with the breeder should be socialized and trained as individuals until such time as they go to their new home.
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