I have to admit, I am becoming a little intimidated and overwhelmed by all the information I am finding on how to raise the perfect puppy.
I’ve been planning this litter since my last litter, three years ago. I spent a year researching and traveling to find the right stud dog. For months I’ve been following the Puppy Culture FaceBook page, and have signed up for another round of Puppy Peaks. I’ve studied Susan Garrett as she raised her recent litter, and now puppy Momentum, meeting every need and stimulating every neuron for maximum possible perfectness.
And now Sylvia Trkman has a gorgeous litter on the ground, each pup of which will have a lifetime of her classes as part of their puppy take-home package! (Check out her pictures and videos, and be warmed by the love she showers on these babies!)
I’ve also been lurking on quite a few discussion lists focused on raising sport puppies, and observing the expectations of puppy buyers out there. They really want the world! As a breeder I’m expected to do hundreds of dollars worth of testing to make sure there’s no genetic flaw to be found, wean my puppies to raw, and then make sure they are introduced to every possible scenario so they will burst forth into the world with shiny perfection.
Genetic testing aside (I take issue with this approach to health, which I’ll discuss some other time), I actually am cool with all the rest. I fully plan to do everything I’ve read about, and anything else I can think of. I want to give my puppies the very best start to life possible. The question is, can I do it all?
First, there’s the work in the neonatal stage (first three weeks). There’s ENS (Early Neurological Stimulation) to make sure their brains develop through very mild stress stimulation while touch, smell, and taste are their only senses. And there’s ESI (Early Scent Introduction), to develop each puppy’s olfactory capacity. Not to mention putting down different surfaces for them to crawl over.
At 3 weeks of age socialization begins, along with potty training. Apparently I also need to build them an ‘adventure box‘ for their play area, to introduce them to various objects, sounds, and textures. I should be sure to add in a miniature agility course, of course, complete with puppy-sized wobble boards and a dog walk.
From here on in they’ll need to encounter progressively more difficult challenges to allow them to problem solve and build self-confidence. They’ll need to learn to do things themselves, and experience failure and frustration followed by the joy of solving their own problems.
At this point I will need to introduce them to lots of new situations, people, animals, and experiences. And do so in such a way as to build confidence, and not create fear. I’ll need to protect them to an extent, but also allow a certain level of stress for growth. Apparently there’s some optimal stress balance to be found.
There’s also an optimal amount of exercise they need, in order to build strong bones and prevent hip dysplasia. Too little or too much will do the opposite.
Let’s not even get started on providing the perfect nutrition and building immune systems!
And I have just been reading this informative blog post, explaining how puppies do best what they learn first (super important to keep in mind!), and the four most common problem behaviours that breeders reinforce in their litters (1) pottying anywhere; 2) not coming when called; 3) jumping up and barking; and 4) ground sniffing).
The article advises to teach an alternative behaviour to jumping up and barking, which will become the puppies default behaviour for life. But what? The solution is not simple: sport people will want a sit, conformation people a stand (my puppies won’t be doing conformation so we can at least scratch that one off the list!), while others might want a specific type of sit (obedience), or a moving default such as a hand touch.
To top it off, the article explains that some puppies are ‘positive stressors’, meaning they move when they are stressed. Such puppies do better with a stationary default, and training a moving default can be problematic. So-called ‘negative stressor’ puppies are the opposite, becoming stationary when stressed, and do better with a moving default.
You’d think that the answer would be to teach each puppy what it needs, but apparently (again, according to this article), I won’t know which puppy is a positive or negative stressor until they are over seven weeks old. That’s a good month after they should have received their default training.
In lieu of any of the above, the author suggests teaching ‘quiet eye contact’ as the foundation behaviour. Because who doesn’t want that in their puppy? Problem solved? Not if you do agility or herding! The last thing we want is a dog who looks back at us while engaged in either of these sports.
OMG, I feel like I’ve ruined my puppies and they haven’t even been born yet!
As excited as I am about puppies, the responsibility that comes with bringing a litter into this world weighs heavily on my shoulders. I will be doing everything I can to give these pups the best start possible, but I also know that things can fall the the cracks, individual personalities will vary regardless, and some things simply can’t be prevented or created.
I’m also human and, try as I might, I just might not be able to do everything. Or maybe I’ll miss something. Or maybe some new scientific discovery will happen two days after the critical moment I was supposed to have done something with my puppies, who will now be irreversibly lacking in whatever that scientific discovery just discovered.
But you know what? Hannah never received any of the above, and she’s amazing. Kes had a horrible start to life, and she has grown into a tremendous dog with no issues. Holly spent the first nine months of her life in a horse stall (minus a short stay with a family who adopted her but wasn’t the right fit, at around 5 months), missing all the important developmental stages, and she is still a fantastic little dog.
I will do everything in my capacity to help these puppies flourish, and follow all of the above and then some. Provided that it makes sense and my intuition says it is correct for the individual puppy.
And I will trust that any mistakes or omissions will not be the end of the world. Puppies are resilient, the life force is strong.
The first hurdle is getting through the birth. Kes is calm as a cucumber. Me, not so much. The house is scrubbed, the whelping pen set up, my puppy binder is prepped and all systems are go.
Birth is dangerous for all involved, and I will feel much more relaxed and happy once pups have safely landed and are having their first meal at the milk bar. When will that be? Once again, Kes is not telling.