A healthy new litter of puppies is not just something to dream over, but will need a great deal of care. Whether a puppy has been bred to be a show winner, Obedience dog, shooting dog, retriever, a seeing eye/guide dog, or any one of a number of other aspects of the purebred dog, it is the breeder's awesome responsibility to ensure that the puppies are brought to their fullest use at maturity.
Hopefully, a new breeder will have found a wise and sharing person to be a confidant and mentor. A mentor should be able to provide guidance and advice as the litter progresses, drawing on past experience to help the new breeder so the best possible things are done for the new pups.
It is extremely important, as mentioned last month, to keep a diary on every-thing to do with the litter and the mother. Record the date of birth. Note the weight of each puppy daily during the first week, and then weekly thereafter. Other useful pieces of information include the puppies' color, markings, when the tails and dewclaws are dealt with (if appropriate) and by whom, how the tails were measured, when the eyes open, and when and how weaning is started. It is wise to note the general health of the litter and mother during the first few weeks after the birth. Keep a record of the mother's temperature daily for the first week to monitor possible infections.
Keep the vet's address and phone number handy, along with that of the helpful mentor. When subsequent litters are born, the breeder will be glad to have everything written down as a source of reference. The vet's and mentor's comments, when the litter is seen for the first time, should also be recorded.
THE EARLY DAYS
The first three weeks of a puppy's life are critical. This time determines its survival chances. From birth, newborns should be handled daily so that the dog-human bond begins. It is vital that the pups start to nurse as soon as possible so that they acquire the mother's protective immunities. Newborns are born with their eyes closed - they open on about the tenth day, and usually bitch puppies open their eyes a day ahead of the males. At birth, the ears are also closed, so the puppies cannot hear at first. But they can crawl, seek warmth, and want to suckle and sleep.
A puppy that cries incessantly is too hot or too cold, not getting enough to eat, or its mother has not stimulated its bowel movement. If a pup is too cold, its digestive process is slowed. This can cause death in only a short time, so a careful check should be made of its body temperature. If the litter is large, the newborns should be rotated so that they get a fair chance at nursing. If a puppy is hungry, bitch's milk replacer is available commercially and should be used to supplement the feeding.
It is important not to overfeed as this is just as harmful as underfeeding. A puppy twitching in its sleep is quite normal and an indication that all is going well.
CONSULTING AN EXPERT
Very shortly after the birth, a knowledgeable breeder should evaluate the litter, scrutinizing evenness of size, quality of color and markings, general vigor and health. There are certain qualities of conformation, apparent to a knowing breeder, that will portend plusses and minuses at maturity. These are more obvious before the pup starts to put on its "baby fat" in the first week or ten days.
In breeds where docking is the norm, the puppy's tail should be docked between the second and fifth day. It is best to rely on the breeder's opinion as to the proper length of the tail, because not all vets are up to date on what is currently considered correct. Some breeds normally require ear cropping, too (this is illegal in the United Kingdom and some European countries). Consult the breeder about the best age to do this. It is usually done after the first shots are given. Young pups should have their toenails clipped twice a week to protect the mother's mammary glands from being scratched, and once they are weaned their nails should be tipped off once a week.
The breeder's opinions should be recorded in the diary. if the litter is large and one color, it can be difficult to distinguish puppies, so it is important to mark each one. With coated breeds, scissors can be used to cut the coat in different places on the puppies' backs or legs. Nail polish may also be used as a marker.
The second critical stage in development is the third to the seventh week. Environment now becomes an important part in its life because by this time it can see, hear and smell. Feeding a pup solid food should start at about three weeks. if the mother is fed a nutritious soft food in a flat pan placed in the whelping box, the pups will investigate and then eat the food. Many breeders begin by feeding small meat-balls of ground raw beef once or twice a day by hand.
As feeding progresses, commercially prepared puppy food mixed with warm water - and perhaps with cottage cheese, or ground meat or cooked eggs - is suggested as a suitable food. Milk is not recommended because it loosens the puppies' stools. The puppies will still be nursing at this stage anyway.
Puppies must be fed four times a day at first, at the same time each day. When they are about eight weeks, this should be reduced to three times a day, depending on the breed. As the pups nature, this should be decreased to twice a day until they are one year old. It is up to the owner to establish feeding routine but, generally, food should be fed at the same time and in the same place daily. An evening meal should not be fed too late. Medium-sized and small breeds will do well on just one meal a day throughout their lives, but Toy and giant breeds will do better on two meals. The weight of a dog compared with its size should always be a determining factor. Obesity is undesirable and harmful. It may injure a young dog's bones and ligaments. Supplements should never be given to a puppy or dog without a vet's advice. And water should be available early in the weaning process.
A stool sample should be procured from several pups in the litter and taken to the vet for examination. if worms are present, the vet will offer advice on medications and procedures. if the first checks are done as soon as the puppies are on solid food, it will allow time for a second check before they go to their new homes. Ideally, a puppy should always be free of worms when it is delivered to its new owner.
TEETH AND IMMUNIZATIONS
At three weeks the first teeth start to show. At this time the dam will probably want to leave the pups for periods of time - this is quite natural. The pup's teeth should be examined to check for proper bites and the findings recorded in the diary. Permanent teeth do not start to set in until about four months. By this age, puppies should be used to having their mouths examined and have their teeth checked twice weekly to ensure that the baby teeth are shedding properly. Occasionally some baby teeth will need to be pulled by the vet so that the second teeth are correctly positioned. The whole teething process continues until the large molars arrive at about six months.
The vet will recommend when the puppies should receive their first immunization shots. This is important because there are several killer diseases that may be carried from puppy to puppy. When a pup leaves to go to its new home, its medical record should he provided with its pedigree, registration papers and the breeder's record of its socialization to date.
BEFORE LEAVING HOME
It is up to the breeder to teach a puppy some form of socialization before it leaves for its new home. The puppy should also have some idea about housetraining. If the young dog is allowed to wander outside its sleeping box to defecate and urinate, this activity will become instilled in it. An inside pen with a dog door leading to the outside will give the puppy the opportunity to housetrain itself.
A puppy should also be well acquainted with a crate. An airline crate which is the correct size for the particular breed is useful for these crates are lightweight, portable and easy to clean. A crate with soft bedding, placed in an enclosed inside pen, will soon become a comfy haven for the den-loving canine.
A puppy is responsive and should be taught to learn as much as possible before it is ten weeks old. it should be introduced to a leash. It is best to use a soft web or fabric leash - choke collars are not recommended. When done early, leash training is very easy. The pup should have a simple, informal "call" name and should respond to the trainer's voice. At first it should simply be taught to understand simple commands like "come," "no" and "wait" - and be rewarded lavishly with praise as well as a treat. It will enjoy playing games such as retrieving a toy or a ball.
Puppies must also be introduced to traveling by car. It is much safer for both driver and puppy if it is always in a crate when out for a drive. If car riding is started early, motion sickness is rarely a problem.
THE BREEDER's RESPONSIBILITY
The breeder should try to determine the potential adult temperament of each puppy before it is sold. it is always best to try to match a pup to the new owner's needs. This will help to reduce the likelihood of a pup being "returned" or ending up in a shelter. A potentially aggressive pup should not be sold to a family with young children. It should be neutered as soon as possible. A shy, retiring pup should go to a quiet home without young children.
From the third to seventh weeks of its life, a puppy's brain and nervous system are developing to full capacity. The puppy will form attachments to the others in the litter and will begin to develop a bond with humans through daily handling. This is the period when puppies start to play, fight and establish an order of dominance. The breeder should now start to teach a puppy. If a puppy is taken from its home in this development stage it can survive, but it is likely to bond only with people, and may not show any interest in dog activities, including sexual matters. Removing a puppy at this time can make a dog aggressive.
Although the excitement and focus naturally tends toward the puppies as they grow older and learn new things, the mother should not be forgotten, for it is thanks to her that the litter has been produced. It is important to keep her clean and well-groomed, and to give her long walks and playtimes on her own. Although the mother and her pups share many moments together, it is vital that they are all given individual attention - yet another reason why the time-consuming dedication required for breeding should be considered carefully well in advance.
SETTLING INTO THE NEW HOME
By about ten weeks the puppies should go to their new homes. This gives the new owners time to bond with the puppy, to continue housetraining and simple obedience. Bringing a puppy into a home with children can be a rewarding experience. However, children must be taught to be kind and gentle with the puppy during these critical development stages, other- wise the dog may turn out to be aggressive or dominant. Children must allow the pup time by itself to eat, chew and sleep. A child should never be given total responsibility for a dog - an adult should oversee things. Since the dog is a pack animal, a puppy must be taught that it comes at the bottom of the pack in the hierarchy of its new family.
Socially acceptable behavior must be established and kept with a gentle firmness. Dogs need to know the limits of what is and is not allowed. This should be conveyed with no conflicting signals. Praise should be given when the puppy is successful. Discipline should be gentle and accompanied by speaking. A dog will readily sense displeasure and will respond to a firm "no" or "shame." A dog should not be hit with the hand or a rolled up newspaper, shouted at or have its head threatened. It is important that the dog acts bravely when subjected to loud noises, such as thunder, and not be shy.
The crate is an ideal spot to put the puppy when the owner is out or otherwise occupied. The crate should not be used as a punishment. Two of the best locations for the crate are in a fenced-off area in the kitchen or in a close-by laundry room.
With proper perseverance, housetraining can probably be accomplished in two weeks. Consistency is the key word to all training. The pup should always he fed at the same time of day and should be taken outside to the same spot and through the same door The pup will want to eliminate after waking, after eating and after playing. Other times may be a little more difficult to predict but the puppy will hint at its intentions through body language such as sniffing and circling. The puppy should be hustled outside. Someone should stay with the pup and give praise when it has finished.
A very young puppy should be taken out as soon as it wakes up and immediately after it has eaten. At first this will be many times during the day (and night) but as it grows up and can control its bladder for longer periods of time, the trips outside will dwindle to three or four times a day. Praise for its accomplishments is essential for the training to be effective. There is no short cut to this training but if the owner is assiduous at the beginning it will pay off with a quickly housetrained dog.
A puppy should never be allowed to eliminate in the house - paper training is a waste of time and a bad habit. If the pup starts inside, it should be quickly scooped up and told "no" loudly, carried to its spot outside and then praised well when it has finished. It is pointless to punish a dog for a past mistake because dogs have no sense of time and will not relate to the accident unless is actually caught in the act.