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Puppy Rearing


Amber with her two day old 2006 litter. The whelping box for this litter was in the mud room that opens into our bedroom, so we could easily attend to the new babies during the night. Now we have a studio apartment added to the back of the house, and the pups are born there, where Jan can sleep right next to them on the sofa bed.

Puppies are born with very immature nervous systems compared to a human. Their eyes and ears are closed for about two weeks, and the only autonomic nerves that are working well are those of the face/mouth and forelegs, both of which are vital to neonatal survival. However, their nervous systems develop rapidly the first four weeks. Adult brain waves are seen starting about the sixth week. During these early weeks, the puppy’s nervous system can be stimulated first through touch and odors and later through exposure to an enriched environment. The nervous “disposition” of the adult dog is set by about three months of age, but the foundation is laid starting at birth.

The literature on the heritability (how much of the expression of a trait is due to genetic influence) of performance traits in dogs, such as hunting ability, indicates this is usually about 35%, and the heritability of body form characteristics is about 40%. Thus, the environment plays a larger role, much greater than 50% of the total, in what type of adult dog a puppy will be than direct genetic inheritance. Of course, part of the indirectly inherited traits, such as a normal physiology and metabolism, has a large secondary effect on the expression of the directly inherited characteristics. Nature (genes) and Nurture (environment) are inextricably intertwined.

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Jan with 2006 puppies

Starting at about four weeks of age, when the puppies are coming out of the whelping box on their own and exploring their environment, we start exposing them to new experiences. At least three times a week, we put in a novel object, such as a toy with a different texture or sound, a fox tail, or a cardboard box with holes cut out of the sides and top. They are also exposed to several different types of substrates, including carpet, wood shavings, bare cement (not as slippery as vinyl flooring but simulates the “slick” feel), gravel, and grass/dirt.

They are provided with various objects and obstacles to climb over, under and around. In addition, the puppy room has a radio which is played daily on different channels, from NPR talk shows to rock music (I won’t subject the puppies to heavy metal or rap!). As I spend a great deal of time in the puppy room they also become accustomed to the TV. At six weeks, they are taken two at a time into the main house for daily visits, where they start learning “house manners.” At seven weeks I bring first an electric sweeper, and a few days later, a vacuum, into the puppy room to accustom them to the sounds and action of housekeeping.


Jan and Kandu's Sun Ranger (Shaka X Penny) at 8 weeks old.

The puppies’ manners training starts at 3.5 – 4 weeks when they get their first semi-solid meal in a dish. Each time they are fed, I say Puppies, Come! As I set the dishes down. It takes only a few repetitions before the puppies come running when I call. At five weeks, I begin to train them with positive reward conditioning to Come and Sit. At seven weeks, when they are being taken for exploratory walks around our rural oak woodland property, I introduce them to a collar and leash. Part of effective early environmental enrichment is making sure the puppies meet several different strange people before they leave here, and I invite visitors to start coming by when the puppies are about 6 weeks old. The puppies are introduced as a group to the visitors and then are taken one at a time from the puppy room for one-on-one interaction with the friendly “stranger.”

To accustom the puppies to examinations by veterinarians and to being groomed, each visitor massages the puppies, looks in their ears and mouth, and holds each paw briefly. Of course, we are also doing the same on a daily basis.


Future puppy owner Brenda Bridges "socializing" Remba's 2006 litter in the indoor part of the kennel.

From four weeks on, the puppies sleep in large dog crates, with the front door removed. This accustoms them to being in small enclosed spaces, a precursor for later crate training.

Unless something unusual needs my time, I also take the puppies, two at a time, on car rides to the local stores. There they are exposed to slowly passing cars and people with shopping carts. Before their first vaccines, I do not put the puppies on the ground but just hold them in my arms, a safe perch for them to observe from. Passersby are encouraged to pet the puppies and give them treats I have brought along. The foundation laid by this early stimulation and environmental enrichment protocol results in puppies that leave here with curious minds and confident personalities. They are primed to learn and their nervous systems are resilient, bouncing back quickly from normal stresses. Their bodies are well developed for their age do to their high level of physical activity and their temperaments are stable. This is why Kandu feels confident enough to guarantee the mental health of their puppies in addition to their physical health, as long as the puppy rearing suggestions are followed and the puppy’s socialization and training continued.