I feel tired today. In looking back at the last 8 weeks, I am starting to understand why! I take puppy raising very seriously. I have no way of knowing if what I do with these pups helps them get a better start in life, but at least I feel like I've done all I can.
Here is a basic summary of some of the things we did with the pups as they grew up, all in one place. I wrote this as a response to a post on our SVBT behavior question forum from someone who was asked to give a presentation to breeders.
1) The first 2 weeks: passive exposure and early neural stimulation. Here is an example: http://ahimsadogtraining.com/handouts/ea...ion_en.pdf
The puppies should be handled, gently, daily, and on all parts of their bodies until their eyes and ears open. Care should be taken to keep the puppies safe from disease, as puppies are not able to mount things like a fever response until 3 weeks of age, so a limitation on the numbers of people who handle them is key.
During the entirety of puppyhood, keep pups around normal household sounds like the TV, pots and pans, dishwasher, vacuum, etc. They should be protected enough that they can feel safe if they get alarmed, but exposed enough that they are habituated to these experiences by the time they go to new homes. I also bathe the pups and clip nails once a week.
2) Week 3 - 8: Active socialization.
Week 3: Real walking and attempts at play begin, usually starting with mouth-mouth biting. Since the puppies are now old enough to mount a fever response if they were exposed to something by accident, careful socialization with strangers is now permitted. I suggest exposure to walking practice on a variety of surfaces, temperatures, etc. Daily handling is still very important, but strangers may participate in handling as well. At our house, we have weekly "puppy potlucks" starting at age 3 weeks. We have 10-12 visitors come over and each bring something fun to do with the puppies involving sight, touch, smell, sound or taste.
Puppies should be handled and kept under threshold. Puppies who seem afraid or upset should not be handled "through" this - the handling should be decreased in intensity but increased in frequency to help the pups be successful. Flooding at this age can have lifelong consequences.
The puppies can also start introduction to solid food this week and it is a good opportunity to introduce hand feeding. I feed 3 meals a day (30 minutes each) starting at 21 days of age and continuing until the puppies leave.
Weather permitting, I have the pups start spending time outdoors for supervised play on week 3.
Week 4: Play begins in earnest. The pups should be given opportunities to play with adult dogs that are GOOD WITH PUPPIES if possible. By good with puppies, I mean the dogs are gentle and tolerate, but engaging and will stop play if it gets too rough. Play with toys should be encouraged. I also introduce potty pads at this age and begin gently placing the pups on the pad when I suspect they will eliminate. Continued hand feeding and begin luring into a sit is a great thing to start.
Puppy potluck: I have each person spend time tugging with and/or hand feeding a puppy so the puppies learn to play with a variety of different people (with different skill levels) and get classical conditioning as well to the presence of strangers.
A balance board can be introduced now so the puppies can learn to manipulate moving surfaces. This may help with future experiences in sports like agility, or with things like learning stairs, traveling in elevators, etc.
Week 5: The week of OUCH. This is the week puppies usually start using their teeth pretty hard, but they are a little young yet to learn inhibition with people. Learning inhibition with other dogs seemed to start at this age with all the litters I have raised previously (all medium size herding breeds. Smaller dogs and neotenous breeds develop more slowly).
Continue allowing play with household dogs who are good with puppies. Still no strange dogs allowed due to disease risks. Continue luring into the sit. I introduce the clicker just to charge it this week.
Collars: I introduce wearing collars under supervision this week and continue until the pups go home. I do not leave collars on unsupervised pups.
Puppy potluck topics: Brushing, gentle restraint and active tugging. Remind puppy potluck goers that the puppies are very bitey right now and they MUST always use a toy during play. I also start doing gentle restraint (body hugs like for a cephalic catheter, gently holding on my lap on their side like for an ortho exam, sitting with head held gently like for a jugular blood draw) and demonstrate it for the puppy potluck people if they are interested. Once the puppies are getting sleepy, we practice this type of handling. If the pups struggle, we hold them gently and talk softly to them. Usually in a few seconds they stop and then we release the hold. Because our puppy potlucks were so big with this litter, I did most of the brushing and restraint myself rather than in a group to make it easier/less chaotic on the pups.
If the pups are worried about restraint, counter conditioning should be used - this should now be EASY since the puppies are already accustomed to being hand fed by a variety of people.
WEEK 6: Bite inhibition learning continues with other dogs, and begins with people. At this age I begin giving feedback to the puppies (cease play and say "ouch") when they bite hard. Every few days, I respond to softer and softer bites. This allows the pups to learn what hurts and cases play to stop, and what level of contact is allowed. Dr. Ian Dunbar has a nice protocol published for this - I just start younger since I have the opportunity.
The adult dogs may begin correcting the puppies with snaps, muzzle grasps, growling, etc for hard biting. This is normal and should be permitted as long as the adult dogs do not scare the puppies too much nor injure them.
Puppy potluck: Same as last week, but introduce hand targeting and sit cue during the luring exercise while people are doing hand feeding if the puppies are hungry. This was foiled for my litter this year because the pups weren't that interested in food on the week 6 potluck.
I also have the mother dog sleep separately from the puppies starting this week (in a different room).
WEEK 7: Housetraining begins. I take the puppies out every 30 minutes when they are awake, and separate them into individual crates to sleep at night. This is NOT FUN but I believe it is exceptionally useful. This allows the stress of being separated from littermates to be experienced in small doses in a familiar environment before the puppies go to their new homes (another major stressor during puppyhood).
Learning to sleep separately for a week or 10 days before going to a new home I think makes it easier for the pups and easier for the new owner, as a familiar routine is already in place. Fewer things being changed when the transition to a new home occurs, the better as far as I am concerned.
I make it a point to take the pups on several car rides this week as well, and they usually have their CERF and vet exam this week. Take plenty of treats and favorite toys along for the vet visits and spend some time playing in the exam room before and after. The vet staff will usually be happy to help
WEEK 8: Puppies can begin going home. You will be sending home puppies who know how to play with puppies, adult dogs, toys, a variety of people, are comfortable around all sorts of noises, surfaces, smells, sights. They know what the clicker is, how to follow a lure, take treats, how to do hand targeting and are learning how to inhibit their bite with people and other dogs. They know how to wear a collar, ride in the car and visit new places. They can sleep in their crates and have a very elementary introduction to house training.
I think these skills help puppies and their owners stay happier together and bond more quickly with less stress on both ends of the leash. I have done this for 6 litters in a variety of formats over the years with excellent success.