We have been exceptionally busy here at the farm helping Riley raise her six puppies over the last few weeks. It is amazing how much the puppies have changes in just three weeks. Not only are they growing like weeds, but their bodies are continually maturing. For instance, did you know that puppies are born with their eyes and ears sealed shut? So imagine their surprise and excitement last week when they began to see the world around them and hear each other grunt and squeak! Another big development this week is the emergence of puppy teeth - it just all happens too fast.
While the puppies are growing before our eyes, we have been focused on socializing them. Traditionally, socializing puppies has long been considered the responsibility of the new parents; however, we believe it truly starts before they are born. As breeders, it is our responsibility to promote a positive environment for our puppies, which will help them to acclimate to any situation they may experience in their life.
So, what happens in the early weeks of the puppy’s life? Here are some of the things we do to stimulate and socialize our puppies:
In the first three weeks, Riley is doing much of the work and we spend most of our time ensuring the puppies are kept warm and their space kept clean. The best way for us to begin socialization during these first weeks is through simple touch. We handle and cuddle the puppies several times throughout the day in order to create a pleasurable connection to the human touch. Furthermore, we use this time to handle their paws and clip their nails.
The first three weeks are considered to be a critical time to begin stimulation exercises. In addition to the daily cuddling time, on the third day through the 16th day, we incorporate early neurological stimulation exercises into our daily routine. These are a series of five exercises that were developed by the US Military to help improve the performance of military dogs and has since become known as the “Super Dog” program. The five exercises completed once daily are:
1. Tactical stimulation (between toes)
2. Head held erect
3. Head pointed down
4. Supine position
5. Thermal stimulation
Extensive research has shown that doing these exercises during this critical time in the puppies’ lives can lead to the following benefits:
1. Improved cardio vascular performance (heart rate)
2. Stronger heart beats
3. Stronger adrenal glands
4. More tolerance to stress
5. Greater resistance to disease
To learn more about the “Super Dog” program, you can access the full article by visiting the Breeding Better Dogs website.
Now that we are in the third week, the puppies are really beginning to understand that they are “dogs” and are starting to learn how to behave like dogs (ie. how to play appropriately and bite inhibition,) both from their mother and from their siblings. While we keep the puppies together with their mother majority of the time, it is just as important for us to begin spending more one on one time with them.
Socializing puppies also means exposing them to a variety of stimuli in their environment. We do this by adding new and interesting toys to their space, as well as, giving them time to explore and walk upon different surfaces, including carpet, tile, and towels. Additionally, this is the right time to start introducing different, and even startling, sounds into their environment, such as running the vacuum, slamming doors, dropping food bowls, etc. Furthermore, we are exposing the puppies to a variety of different people, so as to encourage a positive experience with all humans. Finally, we have created a potty area for the puppies. While they are primarily still nursing with mom, she is beginning to lighten up on some of her duties. Adding the potty area will not only help in keeping their living space clean, but will also help in the housebreaking training!
The next few weeks will bring even more developments: we are starting to slowly wean the puppies as we introduce solid food, expanding their area to include play, potty, and eating areas, and we will continue to expose them to a variety of experiences to help prepare them for their new lives as happy companions.