Blackforest® puppies are raised in our house and receive the best care in order to prepare them for their future life as your companion. Below an article that I wrote for the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America Newsletter. It gives you a glimpse of their first 8 weeks in our family.
Lucy was as big as a barrel. The breakfast table had long since been replaced with the custom made whelping box. My husband had meticulously sanded every corner and even installed a ledges at the corner for seating. Soon we would be using them to observe a litter of puppies but for now the box was still empty. Lucy’s temperature had dropped and my husband and I were waiting for Lucy to go into labor. I’d done my homework and read my dog birth books. The important pages were open just in case I needed to re-read something. My vet and Lucy’s breeder, Lorra, were on stand-by. We had security cameras installed so they could watch and give advice. It was an exciting but also uncertain feeling. Thoughts went through my head … did I prepare enough? What if something goes wrong. A friend’s voice popped into my mind, “Why do you worry? If Lucy is with you, you are safe.” And that was exactly what happened. Lucy gave birth to her nine puppies as if she had done it a million times. We were in heaven watching the puppies’ first determined attempts to find their mother’s teats and suck their first gulp of milk.
As an educator I observe young children on a daily basis, watching them grow and become, helping them to develop their potential and to be successful in life. Reading Pat Hasting’s book Another Piece of the Puzzle about developmental stages of puppies, it seemed to be a very similar task, just compressed into a short period of 8 weeks.
Two routines became essential for preparing these little creatures for their new life with their new owners.
First, the early neurological stimulation called “Bio Sensor” by Dr. Carmen L. Battaglia. The program is to stimulate various senses early in the puppy’s life which enhances later development. Each puppy should be,
1. Tickled between the toes with a Q-tip.
2. Held perpendicular to the ground.
3. Held head down.
4. Held on its back in the palm of your hand.
5. Laying on a cold damp towel.
I did this program daily for the first 2 weeks. This routine has been shown to have positive long term effects on puppy’s development. Stimulating the puppies’ senses in an age-appropriate and safe way as they develop ensures that the puppies do not later become overwhelmed by the world around them.
Newborn puppies are blind and deaf but can feel and smell. Touch and smell are the first senses that I aimed to stimulate. To stimulate scent I added some old socks stuffed with sheep wool or fowl feathers, and T-shirts that held our smell to the whelping box. I wanted the puppies to learn that their world was bigger than just their mom and milk. In addition to handling and cuddling them, I dipped my pinky finger in some goats milk and encouraged them to suckle and teach them that food can come from humans
too. When they were one week old I gave them small amounts of goats milk with a baby bottle and a premie nipple. Most puppies got the idea quickly and, at the feel of my hand, became so excited that their little tails began to vibrate.
The second set of guidelines that resonated with my thoughts on raising puppies was the “Rule of Seven” by Pat Hastings. The “Rule of Seven” says puppies should have:
1. Been on 7 different surfaces.
2. Played with 7 different types of objects
3. Been in 7 different locations.
4. Been exposed to 7 challenges.
5. Eaten from 7 different containers.
6. Eaten in 7 different locations.
7. Met and played with 7 new people.
The key is to continually expose the puppies to new things one by one, without overwhelming them. This prepares them for the great big world outside the whelping box. At about 2 weeks (transitional period) the puppies opened their eyes and ears and started moving around like little drunken sailors. They tried hard to walk and use their voices a lot more when interacting with each other. It was time to start #2 of the Rule of Seven and add some different textured toys to the whelping box; rubber rings and PVC pipes were big favorites.
This was a time when I cooked more often, and made loud and sudden noises with pots and pans so the puppies learned to startle and recover. It is an important skill they need throughout their life to successfully handle new experiences. In addition, I added noises of TV, radio, phones, and the doorbell. During the time I went to work, I played a CD with noises such as cars, thunder, fireworks, babies and other dogs barking to desensitize the puppies and get them used to loud noise. I started playing the CD at a low volume and increased it daily to a very high volume. Believe me, by the end of the week, we all left the house because it was such a racket!
After about three weeks the puppies have the full use of all their senses and are very curious. Three weeks also marks an imprinting period in which it is important that they recognize other species such as humans and other dogs. Otherwise they might bond to a toy or objects. At this time the puppies made their best efforts to leave the whelping box. Once out of the whelping box, there was no way to get them back in. The puppies had graduated! A new chapter begins as the puppies move with purpose and show increased interest in their surroundings. The first meal prepared from kibble soaked in water and goat milk is interesting to watch. At first the puppies do not recognize the mush as food and walk right through, but they quickly learn to love the new food. As the bellies fill, the puppies sound like little piglets after a good meal. Mom Lucy was waiting patiently to lick up the rest off her babies and the food dish.
With the whelping box obsolete, we started to rearrange the house for the puppies’ next growth stage. The key was to give the puppies several different surfaces and areas to explore, as in #3 and #1 of the Rule of Seven. We set up 3 main areas: next to the kitchen (with the closest access to outside for
morning potty runs), one on our screened-in porch, and one in the yard (see photos). The main indoor area was corralled off with a pair of 30″ high x-pens arranged similar to a figure 8. For a more den-like feel, I draped sheets around the x-pens. I divided this area into two sections. One part was for play and sleep, while the other was for feeding. The feeding area also contained litter boxes, which were open heavy duty cardboard boxes filled with shredded newspaper. To start potty training I would not let them out of the litter area after eating, waiting until all business was complete. Puppies will also often relieve themselves when they are excited, so when visitors came, I had them greet and approach the puppies on the side where the litter boxes were. When someone came, the puppies ran to the litter area and eliminated in excitement.
In the sleeping and play section I placed several small plastic kennels and 8” PVC pipe fittings for the puppies to climb over and crawl through. The 8″ PVC pipe fittings made highly desired play and sleeping areas and it was hilarious to see the puppies argue and fight over them. Our home became an open house in which neighbors, friends, and children were welcome to gently play and bottle feed the puppies. I also made sure they briefly met dogs other than their mom. There was no interaction between the dog and the puppies. The intent was for them to observe and smell the visiting dog.
At four weeks the puppies were getting very curious and restless, so it was time to introduce them to the porch area there where more physical challenges were available to them to build muscles and develop coordination. Our porch was puppy Disney Land. We provided many different surfaces and toys to challenge the puppies and stimulate their curiosity. A ball pit, a disk swing, a wobble board, and metal grate introduced them to new surfaces, checking off #1 of the Rule of Seven. My husband built an activity box with bells, tin cans and paintbrushes so they could get used to various textures, sounds and visual stimulation. Every other day I rearranged the toys so the puppies got used to an ever changing world and never got bored.
The outdoor area was also set up with x-pens, and was the first open area the puppies experienced. Again there were plenty of chew toys, balls, boxes and an agility tunnel to crawl in. I positioned it under an overhanging branch specifically to give the puppies visual stimulation. There was also a tarp that would flutter in the wind, making crinkle sounds. To introduce the puppies to water, I gave them a kiddie pool with just a small amount of water in it. A wobble board made of plywood got them used to uneven surfaces and noise like thunder. Between these three areas, I aimed to give the puppies the many different surfaces, objects, locations, and challenges to desensitize and socialize them to be successful in life.
By now my days were extremely organized to the minute. While the first 10 days my husband worked mostly from home he had to go back to work more frequently but my daughter Johanna was “scheduled” to puppy sit week 6 and I cut my work schedule to work 1/2 days week 8 and 9. I am fortunate to have only a 3-mile commute so I could work, but be back quickly in case I was needed. In the morning at 6 am my clock went off, and I was sneaking down to get Lucy out to potty without waking the puppies. Shortly thereafter it was breakfast time for the puppies. Then I cleaned the litter area and stuffed a load of laundry in the washer, got dressed and off to work. At 11:30am I drove home, ate a quick lunch, fed the puppies and again cleaned the litter area, advance the laundry from the
washer to the dryer, and another load in the washer, and back to school. At 4:00pm a final ride home. Running up and down the stairs to and from the yard 18 times per day kept me in shape. Then the neighborhood children kept the puppies company and had fun while I was sanitizing and mopping the porch for the next day. At 6pm, it’s dinner time for puppies which we did outside if the weather allowed it. Then the last load of sheets and whelping pads into the washer and dryer, dinner time for the humans, a little more puppy play time and then lights out for puppies. I usually ended my days responding to correspondence from prospective homes.
Before the age of 5 weeks puppies don’t have fears. This was the perfect time to get nails trimmed and I took the first trip to the vet for microchipping. As the puppies became older and stronger activities became more complex. At 6 weeks I took them for short car rides to the grocery store or to my training center where they would meet new people and watch other dogs. I also took them to different parts of the house and yard to get #3 of the Rule of Seven. Our home became an “open house” with adults and children coming every day to play and interact with the puppies. With the number of visitors that came each day we easily covered #7.
In the final 2 weeks I frequently separated the puppies from each other and played just with one or two at a time to assess their temperament and build independence. Puppies started eating from separate dishes, which gave me a good idea on how much each of them ate. Somehow this sparked my creativity and I greatly enjoyed setting up the food bowls in letter formations or shapes, such as hearts, peace signs etc. (Photo 13) In preparation for their new homes I introduced clicker training to the puppies and rewarded good and desired behaviors. For example I clicked and treated when they sat or I only picked up the ones that didn’t jump up on the x-pen. Field trips got longer, either to friends who have fenced yards or to a farm to see sheep, ducks, and other life stock. It was fascinating to observe the different reactions as the puppies started to show different personalities and inclinations. Some were eager to chase the ducks or sheep others chose to stay close to me and observe. However, at that age, it is too early to conclude if one is a good sheep herder or not. I did it simply for exposure.
As the final days approached and each puppy was assigned to a new home I prepared the ones that would travel by plane. Feeding them their meals inside a tight Sherpa bag or kennel got them used to being confined for the flight. Looking back we had much fun with the puppies and they were part of our family. I let them go with mixed feelings but I also knew that their individual needs became greater than what I alone could handle. Each needed their own person to love, train, and play with. I am fortunate to have puppy owners who keep in touch with me and I greatly enjoy seeing the puppies thrive and grow up. After the last one was picked up, puppy Disney World was packed up and stored in the attic. Our normal breakfast area was restored and life went back to normal, well, almost. We added one new member to our family.
Holst, Phyllis A., MS, DVM: Canine Reproduction, The Breeder’s Guide, 3rd ed., Alpine Publications, Inc. Crawford, CO. 2011.
Hastings, Pat, and Erin Ann Rouse. Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development. Portland: Dogfolk Enterprises, 2004. Print.
Lee, Muriel P. The Whelping and Rearing of Puppies: A Complete and Practical Guide. Neptune City, N.J.: T.F.H. Publications, 1997. Print.
Dr. Carmen L. Battaglia. Early Neurological Stimulation.
Puppy information from the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America.
8 Things to Know Before Getting a Belgian Sheepdog
Birth of the first puppy