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Puppy Development

THE PRENATAL PERIOD

The stages of development in a puppy’s life and the influences on the puppy during this stage may vary slightly from litter to litter and each puppy within a litter can go through learning stages at a different rate then its siblings. In order to raise the best puppies possible, the activities done during these sensitive periods are all adapted to meet the needs of each individual puppy.

We know that raising a healthy puppy begins before it is even conceived. It starts with the health of the parents. Our selection and pairing of parents is based on their genetics and their temperament. Our dam’s and sire’s are well taken care of emotionally, physically, and nutritionally which not only meets their needs, but also prepares them to produce high quality puppies. 

Our dam’s life stays pretty much the same until the third trimester. Then she gets frequent relaxing massages. Research has shown that a pregnant female who is massaged during this trimester produces more docile puppies. It activates the parasympathetic system, facilitating relaxation, digestion, and emotional attachment.  Not only does she enjoy massage, but the physical contact provides her unborn puppies with a better start to life. We also use calming music to help keep our mums relaxed.

THE NEONATAL PERIOD

The neonatal period is the first two weeks after birth. Puppies are born with their eyes and ears closed, and with the inability to regulate simple body functions such as body temperature and elimination of urine and faeces. Pat Hastings and Erin Rose Rouse of the book entitled: Another piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development state that at this early stage, there is almost no difference in brain activity between the time the puppy is sleeping and the time when they're awake. Studies have shown that handling and other interaction experienced during the neonatal period can lead to a quicker maturation of the nervous system and an enhanced development of motor and problem-solving skills. Our puppies are exposed to a series of individual handling exercises each day from Day three to when they join their new families. The U.S. Military in their canine program developed a method called Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) that serves to improve a puppy’s growth and performance.

During the neonatal period puppies develop an olfactory imprint of their mother and their siblings. The senses of smell and touch are better developed during this period and are the only senses usable by the pups to get information from their outside world. It is during this period that three important activities happen with our puppies. The first of which begins shortly after birth with scent imprinting. Scent imprinting is associating our smell with the pleasure of nursing from mum. This imprinting will continue daily with the puppies until weaning.

 

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The Three Neonatal Activities

The first of which begins shortly after birth with diabetic scent imprinting. Scent imprinting is associating the smell of low blood sugar with the pleasure of nursing from mom. This imprinting will continue daily with the puppies throughout their curriculum.

 

The second activity begins on Day Three when the puppies begin Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) exercises. ENS is a process that is conducted daily from Day Three to Day Sixteen. It introduces mild stressors to young puppies in a controlled manner. These stressors stimulate the neurological system which improves the growth and development of the puppy's immune system, cardiovascular system, and stress tolerance.

ENS requires handling puppies one at a time while performing a series of five exercises. The handler starts with one puppy and stimulates it with the following exercises:

  1. Tactical stimulation (between toes)

  2. Head pointed upwards

  3. Head pointed down

  4. Laying on back

  5. Thermal stimulation

The third activity also begins on Day Three and runs alongside the ENS protocol. It assist our puppies with building their overall scenting ability by using Dr. Gayle Watkins Early Scent Introduction protocol. Each day we present each puppy with a new scent; one that its never smelled before. Scents include: dirt, grass, and flowers, herbs, spices, fruit, wood, tennis balls and leather. One puppy at a time, we hold these scents just in front of the puppy’s nose, allowing it to sniff the scent for five seconds. We are looking for one of three common reactions; they move toward the scent, they move away from the scent, or they have no reaction at all. According to research, dogs that are taught and engage in scenting have a more optimistic attitude toward life and have fewer behavior problems.

During the neonatal stage our puppies spend as little time away from their mother as possible. Their  daily care and enrichment exercises are carried out in the whelping box. The puppies innately crawl in circles moving their head from side to side as to ensure their ability to not go too far away from their mother and to find her for food and warmth. They are constantly monitored as their young life and body is very fragile.

Even before the puppies commence to demonstrate evidence of hearing we commence sound conditioning by using a variety of recordings and also quiet time.

Other activities we carry out include:

  • A nail trim on Days four, eight, twelve, and sixteen. 

  • The first deworming on Day fourteen.

THE TRANSITIONAL PERIOD

Weeks Three And Four

The transitional period is approximately from day fourteen to day twenty one. The puppies begin to open their eyes, and shortly after their ears open. They begin to have a greater awareness of their environment, begin to have more control over their movements, toilet training begins, and teeth begin to emerge. Consequently, weaning commences. It is during this phase that vocalisation begins to be intentional and puppies begin to show interest in playing with their littermates.

During week three the puppy living environment transforms from a whelping box to a toddler center. A toilet area is added to the puppies new living quarters and we begin toilet training habits through the use of artificial grass. We begin working on socialisation and confidence exercises by spending increased time and attention one on one with the puppies and by beginning to work through an enhanced version of Dr. Carmen Battaglia’s Rule of Seven socialisation protocol. At this point the puppies have the physical ability to startle, but cannot yet feel the emotional fear response associated with startling. We use this to our advantage and begin to expose the puppies to loud noises such as doors closing, dropped objects, a hair dryer and vacuum, music, and the clamoring of pots and pans. One new unknown object is added to their toddler box each day for them to investigate. Items include, a larger stuffed animal, a cut up fruit piece (large enough for them not to eat), a baby wipes packet, a box, etc. All of these activities teach the puppies how to physically recover from startling noises and sights without needing a training component to manage their emotional state. During week three puppies are offered mince slurry to begin the transition to eating on their own. Soft toys are introduced to the puppies to chew on and play with. 

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Week four is sometimes referred to as the Awareness Period since this is the first time that the puppies will have the use of all of their senses. This week continues to be one with new sights and sounds being introduced in order to to encourage the startle response and recovery action that will be critical through the puppy’s life. Although their mum is permitted to spend more time away from her puppies, during this time it is important that she teach them submission, bite inhibition, and to settle when they get overly excited. Their toddler center becomes a much larger outdoor play pen to accommodate the growing puppies and their need to have more room to play. During this week we increase the frequency of feeding solids and include a greater variety of food types. Puppies are called with a high pitched repeating “pup, pup, puppy” call to encourage them to associate coming to me with the joy of being fed. This is an exciting week as they begin their advanced puppy enrichment curriculum. Enrichment items may include: more difficult obstacles to navigate, water bottles, crinkly and squeaker toys, slightly elevated surfaces, additional objects and textures to walk on, noisy items, elevated areas for sleep and play, shiny items, and items that roll.

The puppies begin to be taught problem solving skills such as climbing over small barriers to get to their food. Good manners are also being introduced. The puppies are taught marker words, to sit when a human approaches their toddler center, and not to jump on or bite at the human’s hands, feet, or clothing when they are in the toddler center. Wire crates are introduced to their area this week. They are placed in their area so that they can become comfortable with them. They have the ability to explore them, to go in and out of them, and to occasionally find treats, raw meaty bones and new objects in them. Invariably they will sleep in them at times. Their little brains and bodies are growing and learning with each new lesson. Our job is not to just stand by as a passive observer, but to guide them, to offer support, and to encourage them.

Other activities include:

  • on days sixteen, twenty one, twenty eight puppies are given a nail trim.

  • the introduction of raw meaty bones.

  • a second deworming at four weeks of age. 

THE SOCIALISATION PERIOD

From Five Weeks

During the first part of this stage of development puppies enter into their first fear period. We slow things down a bit with the socialisation and enrichment curriculum and ensure that during curriculum time puppies have adequate places where they can go to retreat from over stimulating areas. Enrichment curriculum experiences continue, however just slower with less stimulation. Feeding from Kong toys is introduced during this phase. Kong feeding has many benefits including equal food delivery and slower eating. Each piece of food that the puppy extracts from the toy rewards them for chewing on something appropriate to chew on and for lying down calmly and quietly. A line is tied to the Kong in order to have the ability to attach it to the side of their puppy pen to keep the Kong in place. This allows the puppy to easily lay down and enjoy their treat without it rolling off.

During week six, weaning from their mother is almost completed and the puppies have successfully been transitioned to a wide variety of fresh foods. The introduction of new foods continues. The curriculum during these next few weeks of the socialisation period is vast and includes items that will provide them with both physical and mental challenges. The puppies are provided with items to chew on, toys to allow them to tug toy play with their littermates and with humans, objects that they can interact with and discover how to move and carry, items that are larger then they are, items that make noise as they move, wheeled objects, objects with mirrors, unstable surfaces, falling objects, tunnels, activity cubes, objects moving above their head, water play and much more! During this time, we also expose the puppies to new humans wearing various clothing such as glasses, coats, hats, scarves, and face masks. Puppies are provided with exposure to outside yard noises such as lawn mowers, chain saw, tractor, cars etc. Exposure to other dogs is also included in this phase of training; in a safe manner. All of their curriculum lessons assist with developing strength, agility, coordination, and skills to function as an adult. It is critical for puppies to develop the ability to problem solve and the physical and mental skills necessary to prepare for and excel in real world activities.

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Puppies have more time separated from their littermates during this period. Separating each puppy for increasingly longer periods of time teaches them independence and decreases the likelihood of separation anxiety problems later in life. Part of the time away from littermates is spent bonding one on one with humans, getting exposure to grooming , engaged in clicker training, and going on short car rides.

 

Socialisation training is critical in that it reduces the number of things in the world that a puppy may be frightened of and it provides them with startle and recovery opportunities in a safe environment. Behaviourists agree that the more often a puppy has the ability to startle and recover to sounds, sights, objects, and humans, the greater the list of things that the puppy is not afraid of grows and the less they will be bothered by it in the future.

Our puppies begin to join their new families after eight weeks of age. Fear in puppies usually increases rapidly during the seventh week therefore,  separating puppies them from their littermates, leaving with strangers, being placed in a new home and exposed to new situations can be overly traumatic prior to this time. Research by Scott and Fuller has shown that dog to dog socialisation is not complete until eight weeks of age, so placing puppies in a new home without continuing exposure to dogs, can make meeting and coexisting with new dogs a challenge.

Between six and eight weeks of age, temperament testing is conducted to evaluate the puppies' stable traits (assertiveness  - with humans and dogs, motivation, energy level, prey drive, human focus and tenderheartedness) and adjustable traits (confidence, nerve strength/resiliency , touch tolerance, sound sensitivity and sight sensitivity). The curriculum we implement assists in influencing our puppies' adjustable traits. It helps create confident puppies that are brave and bounce back quickly when startled, that are compliant with being touched, and adapt to new sounds and sights well because we work hard from a young age to desensitise them to stimuli that might frighten puppies at a later age. The puppy evaluations allow us to determine what things the puppies still need help with or are sensitive to. It also allows us to establish where individual puppies' talents are and the kind of home that would help them thrive. Aptitude testing allows new families to have greater understanding of their puppies, setting them up for success.

Other activities include:

  • continued individual handling exercises.

  • grooming: beginning at five weeks of age the puppies get weekly nail trims and brushes. Puppies are washed and blow dried prior to joining their new families.

  • Deworming: puppies are dewormed at eight weeks.

  • Vaccinations: at seven weeks of age, the puppies have their first veterinarian check up, their first vaccination and are microchipped. A veterinary health certificate and vaccination certificate are supplied to new families.