Archives For January 2013

Puppies are as different from dogs as caterpillars are from butterflies

Puppies are as different from dogs as caterpillars are from butterflies

Do you look at a newborn puppy and see a little dog? Not me! For their first three weeks puppies are as different from adult dogs as caterpillars are from butterflies. They have different digestive tracts, metabolisms, senses and more. If you consider puppies as just small versions of their adult selves, you are likely to focus on their limitations. However, if you recognize puppies as a different state, you can see them as perfectly designed, fascinating, milk-seeking missiles.

At four weeks, puppies undergo a dramatic transformation, going from fully capable nursing machines to young dogs. Although most people think that is when we can start developing our puppies, there four important things breeders can do to develop their newborn puppies during their first three weeks:

Most mother dogs know when to sit up to nurse, increasing their pups strength and coordination

Most mother dogs know when to change nursing positions to increase their pups strength and coordination

1. Support Mom. Good dog mothers know more than we ever will about how to care for and raise puppies. They can provide all basic care that a newborn puppy needs for its first three weeks–nutrition, warmth, cleanliness, and appropriate stimulation and challenges. Breeders walk a fine line between allowing the mother to raise her babies and ensuring the pups stay safe. This requires respecting the dam’s instincts, even if we do not fully understand them. For example, although it looks rough, when mothers lick and clean their fragile newborns they are stimulating their pups in important ways and forming a bond through taste and scent. Most mothers know when to nurse lying down, sitting up or standing. Through these mom-imposed struggles during these early weeks, puppies grow and develop critical coordination and strength.

Beyond caring for and supporting their mother, breeders can help puppies develop to their full potential in three ways:

2. Developing Scenting. Seven years ago, I developed Early Scent Introduction (ESI). Daily from Days 3 to 16, each pup is presented with a different object to smell for 3 to 5 seconds. Since our dogs are primarily hunting dogs, I offer the pups game birds, such as pheasants and ducks. I also include natural materials, like dirt, wood, leaves, grasses and mosses. I avoid most foods but will let pups sniff fruit. Finally, I offer household objects made of leather, plastic, and metal. Puppies as young as 3 and 4 days show clear likes and dislikes. Most of my pups bury their noses in the pheasant and snuff loudly while a lemon slice evokes head-twisting avoidance.

Handling newborn pups helps them develop in many ways.

Handling newborn pups helps them develop in many ways.

3. Stressing Through Touch. Even newborn pups should be handled every day, if not multiple times each day, while they are weighed, examined and cuddled. Gentle handling causes healthy stress and imprints pups on people. Handlers should include others, not just the breeder and her family. Once my pups are a week old, I invite sensible friends to help with weighing, cleaning and cuddling. I usually have many volunteers!

4. Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS). ENS is a structured program of six exercises for baby puppies–four positions, foot tickling and a cold surface. Video of Mr Green, Early Neurological Stimulation and Early Scent Introduction. Although I have found no research to support it, I have found that ENS makes puppies easier to handle. Even high energy pups are more relaxed for everything from cutting toe nails to giving medications to safely holding them in your arms. Since golden retrievers are relatively cold impervious, you can see that I use a pie plate that is kept in the freezer.

Battaglia, Dr. Carmen. Early Neurological Stimulation, AKC Gazette, May 1995.

Newborn pups have their limits but are not helpless.

Newborn pups have their limits but are not helpless.

I am always surprised when people, dog breeding books and even veterinarians describe newborn puppies as “helpless.”  Although newborn puppies have limited abilities, they are anything but helpless.  Just ask anyone who has tried to convince a day-old pup to nurse on a particular teat or moved a pup away from its dam.  These tiny babies know what they want and will do everything in their power to get it.  And it’s darn hard to change their minds!

I suspect we consider neonates helpless because they do not have the senses that we humans depend most on—sight and hearing.  Newborn puppies are blind and deaf at birth since neither their eyes nor ears are fully developed until between 10 and 20 days after birth.

Furthermore, young puppies cannot control their own body temperature internally so need environmental help to survive.  However, even puppies only minutes old regulate their body temperature by moving towards or away from heat sources.  They are known as thermotropic.  If they are cold, they crawl toward their dam, littermates (forming what are known as a puppy pile) or other heat sources.  If they are hot, they move away.  If they cannot find the right temperature, they become very cranky.

Hot puppies cry constantly and move around a lot. Cold puppies may or may not be noisy but usually will not nurse.  Happy puppies at the right temperature are quiet and nurse contentedly.  A quick way to tell if pups are too hot is to put them in the bathtub.  The coolness of the tub will quiet them within a minute if heat is causing the problem.  Similarly, to see if they are too cold, put them on a heating pad.  If they immediately become quiet, they need a warmer spot.

The safest place for newborn pups is next to their dam.

The safest place for newborn pups is next to their mother.

The safest place for new pups is next to their mother.  There they are more likely to be warm, well fed and clean.  To encourage this, I adjust the nursery room temperature until mom and babies stay together.  I want it cool enough so the pups seek out their mom but warm enough that they can nurse.  For my golden retrievers, that is usually 70-72°F but may be a little higher for dogs with less coat.  Unlike some breeders, I do not put a heat source on one side of the whelping box because I do not want puppies choosing between milk and warmth.  My goal is to have their mom provide both of those life-sustaining essentials.

Though limited, baby puppies are very capable of meeting some critical needs–finding their mother and her milk. Neonate puppies can crawl and cry, both often quite strongly, and they have two powerful senses, they can smell and feel.  As soon as they are born, puppies can find their mother by scent and touch.  Once they have found her, they can locate her abdomen and then a teat. Within a short time, they can identify it as a milk source and start to suckle. 

Though they can only crawl, puppies can move many feet and even yards, typically in every increasing circles, to find their mother or a littermate. And, when lost, they can make their situation known through a variety of vocalizations, including a “lost-puppy” cry that most dams respond from the time the last pup is born till they are about three weeks old.

They can identify their dam by smell and touch, identifying which parts of her are important to them, and which are not. For blind and deaf creatures, they are pretty amazing and quite determined.

Through these two important canine senses–scent and touch–that breeders can start developing their puppies’ brains soon after birth.  Next post I will discuss the exciting new ways that breeders can make healthier, smarter pups!

I just sent Ivy’s puppies to their new homes and am starting preparations for Peach’s upcoming litter. As a result, I have been reviewing what I do as a breeder during the 8 ½ weeks the pups are with me.

Cute but also very busy developing day-old puppies

Cute but also very busy developing day-old puppies

Although that time is brief, I have long believed that it is the two most important months in a dog’s life, making my job as a breeder pivotal to the lifetime health and happiness of each Gaylan’s dog.

During its first eight weeks of life, each dog experiences the majority of his brain[i] and social skill development.[ii]  In these first few months, his brain undergoes 85 percent of its growth in complexity and size.  He figures out who will be in his social world—dogs, cats, people, strangers, horses, sheep, ducks and more.  His body develops to match these brain and behavioral skills since his muscles, nerves, eyes, ears, nose and internal organs are all changed by his brain and social development.  Therefore, these early life experiences, or their lack, will have large, lifelong and almost irrecoverable effects.  In many ways, they will define him once he is an adult.

By then, we are in love.

By then, we are in love.

Our challenge as owners and breeders is that most 2- or 3-month old puppies look the same.  Barring extreme abuse, all young pups are cute, happy creatures with wagging tails and quick tongues.  Some are reserved and others are bold, some have spots and others do not.  We cannot tell from looking at them which have had good developmental experiences and which have not.  In fact, it will be months or even years before developmental deficits appear.  Fearfulness, environmental sensitivity, stranger aggression, poor social skills and bite inhibition, lack of natural working ability, and poorly developed senses do not begin to show until 5 months, a year or even five years later.[iii]  By then, we are in love.

Two months, eight weeks, fifty-six days, 1344 hours can make or break a puppy’s future!  How exciting is that?

[i] Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger, Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origins, Behavior & Evolution (New York: Scribner, 2001) pp. 111-115.

[ii] John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller, Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog: The Classic Study (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1965), chapter 5, “Critical Period.”

[iii] Ian Dunbar, Canine Reproductive Behavior & Physiology for Veterinarians & Breeders Seminar (Bedford, MA, 2012).