Around day 63, the birthing process begins with our dogs. Approximately one week prior to the due date, we set up the whelping box in the living room.
Now begins the process of getting our dam accustomed to the whelping box. We do this by feeding her and sitting with her in it, and giving her bonies and other treats while she is inside it.
When, after a few sleepless nights, it is time for the birth, we encourage the dam to seek the whelping box, if she has not already picked it as her birthing spot.
The whelping box consists of a large plastic basket that allows the dam and her puppies to stretch out.
During birth, we try to provide our dam with an environment of safety and security, and, accordingly, we conduct ourselves quietly, calmly, and with self confidence.
When the contractions begin, and thereby the expulsion phase, we gently massage the dam’s belly in the direction of the vagina, in keeping with the rhythm of the contractions, to help facilitate the birth process.
When the puppies are born, we help open the sac and remove the membrane in which it is covered, and also cut the umbilical cord. In this exciting, yet delicate moment, we also try to bring the tiny little being to life through massaging, aspirating the small nose and mouth, or even performing mouth to snout resuscitation.
As soon as the newborn puppy is breathing on its own, we check to make sure all its limbs have developed properly, weigh it, and note its sex and markings, as well as any special circumstances during its birth.
If the puppy cannot find its mother’s teats on its own, we place it on one of her hind teats so that it can get a maximum amount of milk.
We also check to see if the puppy has passed its first stool, the meconium.
The puppies’ suckling and massaging of their mother’s teats to get more milk releases the hormone oxytocin, which puts the mother in a happy mood. This allows her to better overcome the pains associated with labor and birth, and soon let the joy of motherhood take hold. The hormone also triggers the subsequent births.
It is important to us that the other dogs that we own have the opportunity to be present during the birth so they can take part in this joyful occasion, and maybe even help with the process. We also feel that their presence strengthens the bond of the pack. If we notice that the dam does not tolerate the presence of the other pack members, we separate the dogs to give her the peace and quiet she needs.
During the first 3 weeks of life, the puppies act purely on instinct and spend their days sleeping, eating, and eliminating. The dam keeps the whelping box clean on her own, but we constantly change blankets and padding nonetheless. We make sure all puppies gain weight at the same rate, and that means we ensure that the mother does not favor a particular puppy, that all puppies have access to their mother’s teats, and that no puppy has strayed too far away to find its mother’s teats and starts to lose body heat. In the winter, we use heat lamps and electric blankets to keep the whelping box warm. We also use these in the summer if we notice that the puppies are climbing on top of one another, and constantly try to form a ball.
We often climb into the whelping box to sit down with the dam and pet her. We also start picking up the puppies so we can pet them, and they can get used to our scent and our handling of them.
The whelping box remains in the living room, right in the center of all the action, so that mother and puppies do not feel cut off from the rest of the family.
After approximately 10 to 14 days after birth, the puppies open their eyes and ears. Now comes the most important step in the development of the puppies, and our training with them begins.
The imprinting phase occurs between the age of 3 – 8 weeks. Since the puppies have now opened their eyes and ears, they take an active part in their environment and begin to learn.
Through our pet boarding activities, we see firsthand how many dogs display fear or aggressive behaviors. We take our puppy socialization responsibilities very seriously, and try to give our puppies as many impressions as possible so that they can approach new situations with a sense of confidence and curiosity.
I study dog psychology and I know that the imprinting phase is the most important stage in a dog’s life. What puppies can learn easily in this stage, they can only acquire with great difficulty in later years. As the saying goes (and here it applies in the literal sense): you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Shortly after the puppies have opened their eyes and ears, we pick them up more often to pet and cuddle them. Furthermore, we expose them to common noises such as those produced by TVs, phones, and kitchen appliances, so that they can get used to them.
In light of our experience with the dogs that board with us, we make sure that our puppies are familiar with the sounds of vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers, since they will encounter these frequently in their daily lives.
As soon as the puppies have opened their eyes, we begin feeding them to relieve the mother of some of her feeding responsibilities, and to avoid having her regurgitate her own food for the puppies. Depending on developmental stage and preferences of the puppies, we feed them puppy milk or porridge, and later raw ground beef and dry puppy food. In this important stage of their development, puppies view people as something positive that brings them food, and we therefore use their appetite to get them to carry out some commands, for example, respond to their name.
It is extremely important to establish boundaries, even with these little dogs. Whenever the puppies start chewing on us or become too pushy with us, we use the muzzle grip, pick them up, or remove ourselves from the situation. In nature, the mother also uses the muzzle grip to discipline her puppies.
As soon as the puppies increase their mobility, at around 4 weeks, they are allowed to explore our home and the dog runs outside. We provide them with various toys, tunnels, seesaws, and boxes so that they can make a new discovery every day. Clattering empty cans and fluttering streamers are also used to desensitize the puppies.
At the age of 4 weeks, the puppies can see, smell, and sniff the other dogs that are boarding with us and playing in the yard through the mesh of the puppy runs. This gives them the opportunity to meet dogs of every breed, age, and sex early on. At this time, they should also have made contact with our cat, Mickey, who often spends time in the living room. Furthermore, we feed Mickey close to the puppy runs so that the puppies have the chance to observe and sniff the cat.
We also invite our friends and family (of varying ages and sex), as well as potential puppy buyers, to interact with the puppies so they have opportunity to learn new human scents and experience being handled by different people.
It is also important to have the puppies walk on various floor coverings such as tiles, laminate, stone, grass, etc.; so they will not be afraid to follow us anywhere. We therefore take small excursions into the courtyard with them.
In order to expose them to water, we set up a splash pool in the yard during the summer, or introduce them to the shower.
With every feeding, which occurs approximately 3 – 4 times a day, we take care of each single puppy. We try to keep them from standing in their food, and play CDs with sounds of thunderstorms or partying on New Year’s Eve, so they become accustomed even to these kinds of noises. Or we work on recognizing their names, which, by the way, are generally chosen by the new owners.
When, by week 5 – 8, the puppies are more steady and mobile, we start putting a collar on them for certain periods of time during the day. They are under constant supervision so they do not get stuck somewhere! During this time, it is also important to us that the puppies are left alone or in groups of two for certain periods of time, and that they have experienced a crate from the inside, so that they will recognize this as a place of quiet retreat in their new homes.
House training is of course a very important topic with us, and we take care that the puppies do their business outside. We refuse to have the puppies urinate on newspapers, etc., and they are not allowed to tear up newspaper or cardboard either, because we do not want them to think that this is something that will be tolerated later on.
When we release the puppies, we cannot guarantee that they are 100% house trained, because physiologically, they are not able to control their bladder at this age.
When the puppies are 6 – 7 weeks old, at the latest, I take them and their mother out on short car rides (usually I take them on short rides as soon as they open their eyes).
When the puppies are old enough to ride in the car, we also train them to walk on a leash so that they can go on short walks. At 7 weeks old, I take the puppies to the surrounding horse pastures to let them sniff the horses.
Their first visit to the vet also occurs during week 7 – 8. We allow the puppies to explore the examination room alongside their mother, and pet them and cuddle them while they are being examined and receive their first vaccinations.
As you can see, raising puppies requires a great deal of time and discipline. We focus on each puppy individually and try to address his/her ”weaknesses”, for example fear of certain sounds, early on. During training, some puppies therefore need more iterations than others.
We hope you understand that we can only offer limited visiting hours since I need time to train the puppies, and to care for my own dogs as well as those boarding with us.
At the age of 4 weeks, our puppies are dewormed for the first time (roundworms); they are dewormed a second time just prior to release into their new homes. When the puppies are 7 – 8 weeks old, they are examined by Ophthalmologist, Dr. Staudacher of the Veterinary Clinic in Aachen, and tested for genetic eye diseases. They are also vaccinated and receive the Tasso microchip.