After a couple of nights of good sleep, I am back up to speed after our loss of wee Finch. As with Kes, the needs of the surviving puppies are such that there’s not much time for mourning. Their exuberant burst of eating and squeaking and crawling around are a joy to witness, and fill the heart with hope. It’s impossible to be around these babies and not feel happy.
Every morning I get up and check on how everyone’s doing. Kes has relaxed considerably and now enjoys joining me in early morning chores as I get the farm organized. I don’t let her stay out too long because the babies start to cry, and I don’t want them to be stressed around food and security at this age! So I sneak Kes out right after a big feed at the milk bar, and by the time they wake up for second breakfast, Kes has had her run and is ready to settle back in to motherhood.
Before heading out for chores, I weigh each pup. Little tip: wait until they have just finished a meal and are falling asleep, as otherwise they won’t stay still enough to get a proper reading on the scale! Plus their weight will change with full bellies, and weighing after a feeding helps keep the readings consistent.
Ideally we’re looking to see a 10% increase in size every day. Can you imagine growing by 10% every 24 hours? That’s an enormous amount of energy expended!
Checking their weight daily, therefore, is a good indication of puppy health. I did have one pup stay the same weight for two days running, which worried me. But today she is up nearly 20%, leaving me to wonder if I mis-weighed her yesterday. I checked three times this morning and she definitely has grown solidly, so I am satisfied that all is well.
Puppies at this age have a very busy schedule. They eat nearly every hour, and sleep 20+ hours a day. They need to be bathed upon waking to stimulate and clean up their elimination (this is Kes’s job, thank goodness). They also have to engage in their training exercises, and experience some socialization with the outside world. Where do they find the time to fit it all in?
Their training comprises Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) and Early Scent Introduction (ESI). Both regimes have been developed to help build more confident and resilient adults.
ENS is a system of exposing each puppy to mild stress, once a day, to stimulate the central nervous system. It involves holding the puppy in several different positions (on its back, upside down, right side up) for 3-5 seconds, tickling its feet with a feather or q-tip, again for 3-5 seconds, and finally being set down on a cold facecloth for another few seconds.
My puppies don’t particularly enjoy the ENS, and I have to admit that I have my doubts about it. I can’t help but wonder if the improvement people claim comes more from puppies being handled individually every day, than from the specific protocol.
I don’t like making them cry, although I understand that the goal is to cause them mild stress. A couple of the puppies really fuss during the protocol and I have modified it accordingly. The last thing I want to do is create anxiety! So I shorten the length of time or acuteness of angle that I hold them, and let the puppy tell me if they’ve had too much. Interestingly, not one of them seems bothered by the cool cloth! But several really don’t like being held upside down. I can’t say that I blame them.
ESI is a lot more fun for everyone, and I am really enjoying this little game. It’s really quite simple: I hold each puppy and then place an object in front of its nose to sniff. Every day I choose something different, and then watch their reaction: a feather, a piece of pine wood, nutmeg, a leaf, wool from my sheep.
The first few days I saw nothing remarkable in their responses. Or, rather, their lack thereof. But when I presented the wool, well, that they thought was interesting! Coincidence? Or deeply programmed genetics kicking in?
I made note of which pups were most keen on the wool and will be interested to see if that translates in any way to interest in stock down the road. They all thought the geranium leaf smelled good, which was the most recent object to sniff, so perhaps they are just becoming more aware of their environment and difference as they develop.
No, I’m not sharing the details! At least not at this point. I have been taking lots of notes on the puppies, but one thing I have learned is that behaviour you see on one day will be completely different on the next, and at this age there is little to observe in any particular moment that will lead to predicting how a puppy will turn out.
I am mostly keeping notes to give me something to do, and also out of curiosity. Perhaps, if I raise enough litters, I will start to see trends. And I will share all I have observed with each puppy’s home, in good time. At this point I don’t want this information to establish biases for or against any of the puppies! They will make it clear soon enough what their path in life will be.