How We Raise Our Litters
From birth to when the puppies go to their new homes at 9-10 weeks there is a lot of care and work to be done to ensure the puppies have the absolute best start in life! Our puppy curriculum has elements of Puppy Culture, Badass Breeder, and our own decade of experience raising poodles. Here is the way we raise a litter and what the puppies experience before going to their new homes.
The dam (mother dog) sleeps in our bedroom for about a week before her due date so we can monitor her through the night. She will give birth in a specially made raised whelping bed with a heating pad and a soft, grippy surface for the puppies to get traction while they nurse and learn to walk. They are born right next to our bed and the puppies will remain there for the first three weeks. Puppies often need care during the night so having them next to our bed ensures they always have attention when they need it.
Custom raised whelping bed with stairs.
Drawer full of whelping supplies and ESI kit.
Whelping supply kit.
The First Two Weeks
The mother and puppies are kept away from other dogs in a quiet and private area so the mother feels safe and secure. Having the puppies next to our bed means they can be monitored throughout the night to make sure they are all able to nurse and are not being laid on. For the first week we don't get much sleep!
The puppies are weighed daily to make sure they are all gaining weight. Their nails are trimmed every couple of days. At three days of age we begin Early Neurological Stimulation exercises once per day. These are simple stimulation exercises that involve holding a puppy in several different positions and using a cotton swab on their feet and a cold washcloth to stimulate their nervous system. These exercises help puppies cope with stress later in life and have many physical benefits as well! This continues until sixteen days of age. At three days we also begin Early Scent Introduction exercises. This involves allowing the puppies to sniff a different novel scent each day which has been proven to help them with scenting-related sports and tasks in the future.
Two Weeks Old
At two weeks of age their eyes begin to open and they start to take their first real steps! Puppies are still getting their Early Neurological Stimulation and Early Scent Introduction exercises and are being handled frequently and weighed once a day. Their mother is still cleaning up after them.
Three Weeks Old
At three weeks of age the puppies and mother are moved into our dog room where they are kept in a large pen. The puppies are starting to walk now and can eliminate on their own. It is their natural instinct to leave their bed to do their business and this is where the start of potty training begins! We place a litter tray next to their bed so they begin to eliminate on the litter as soon as they leave their bed.
The puppies are starting to interact with each other and can be heard making little growling and barking noises! They will play with our hands and try to nibble on fingers.
Though the puppies are still nursing, we will begin to offer them their first solid food! We feed raw food (Big Country Raw) and mix it with raw goat's milk so it is easy for them to lap it up. While they are eating we play common household sounds to desensitize the puppies to noises they might be afraid of when they are older. We will expose them to the sound and feel of a running clipper so when it comes time to groom them they are used to the noise.
Four Weeks Old
At four weeks of age the puppies' balance has slightly improved and they are walking farther and playing more each day! They are now fed three times a day and are nursing a bit less. They sometimes venture out into the playpen but they are still sleeping quite a lot and are not awake for long. They are using the grass pads more and more to eliminate.
At this age the puppies will get groomed for the first time! They will get their muzzle, feet, bum, and tail base shaved. If owners prefer the teddy bear look, they will not be shaved again after picks have taken place at 7 weeks old.
We begin exposing them to a variety of different surfaces at this stage. Nothing unstable, as they are still wobbly on their legs, but different sensations underneath their feet such as smooth rocks, a mirror, dirt and sticks, grass, dry leaves, etc. Exposing them to different tactile stimulation will help them grow to be confident dogs.
They also have a puppy gym where we hang toys and objects that make noise and have different sensations when the puppies bite or run through them to help with desensitization.
Five Weeks Old
At five weeks old the puppies have a much better grasp of walking and are starting to run and play! Sometimes they even fight! They are still nursing but not as frequently, and are eating more and more solid food. The puppies are moving out into the playpen on their own and exploring all of the toys. They also may join us in the rest of the household when they are being supervised.
The puppies' whelping bed is replaced by small crates where they will spend the night away from their mother and begin their crate training journey. The puppies are fed in their crates and in their pen that is their only bed so they learn to like being in the crates and will seek them out on their own to sleep in.
We start testing their startle recovery at this stage by making sudden loud noises and seeing how they respond. The puppies are being brushed and handled frequently and are still being exposed to desensitizing sounds. They are taken outside in fair weather to experience the smells and sights of the outdoors. We have a dog run area that is completely fenced and has artificial turf, lots of dog toys and things to climb on and run through and even a small pool for hot weather.
Our outdoor dog run.
Six Weeks Old
The puppies are very active at six weeks old! We begin taking them outside to potty to give them a head start on housebreaking as well as letting them roam in our fenced back yard. If the weather is warm enough we leave the door to the dog run open and the puppies often choose to go outside to potty!
At this age we work more on building their confidence with unstable surfaces, wobble boards, ramps, teeter-totters, and tunnels. Puppies begin their manding training, which is where they are taught to sit for attention rather than jump up excitedly. We introduce them to treats and begin training a marker word and recall. The puppies are introduced to the stroller and they can begin going on outings to safe locations outside of the house while in the safety of their stroller. We take them to pet-friendly stores, around our neighborhood, and to busy playgrounds to get them used to the sounds of children playing.
Seven Weeks Old
Puppy evaluations take place at 7 weeks of age. We have one of our certified dog trainers, who have not met the puppies so far, bring them into a neutral area and perform a series of personality tests which will show each puppy's potential as far as sociability, startle response, toy drive, etc. This will help us determine which puppy will be suitable for which home. After the results are in, we will make our suggestions as to who gets what puppy. If there are multiple suitable puppies, the families will get to choose between those. If any potential owners are looking for a sport dog the puppies will also be evaluated by our agility trainer for sport-specific qualities.
Confidence training is still ongoing at this stage. We begin to introduce a leash and collar, dog clothes, a muzzle, and continue our body handling work. Puppies are still going on outings and meeting new people and animals. They are introduced to horses, chickens, and larger dogs.
Eight Weeks Old
At 8 weeks of age the puppies are now old enough to go to the vet. They will receive their first set of shots, a microchip, and a veterinary examination. They will begin more structured clicker / marker word training, critical thinking training, and housebreaking. They will be sleeping in crates at night.
Puppies will be going outside a lot more and will get to experience different weather, a pool or splash pad (weather permitting), and leash walking. They will receive a full groom with the professional blow dryer and have lots of experience on the grooming table.
Nine Weeks Old
At 9 weeks of age the puppies are ready to go to their new homes! While we do everything we can to give them the right exposures and desensitization it is up to the new owners to continue this training so the puppy grows up to be well-socialized and confident!