The puppies are 6 weeks old today which is a big milestone! Later this afternoon they will have their first bath, first van ride, and first vet visit. We’ll spend the morning keeping them awake and tiring them out a little more than usual to aim for a quiet and peaceful journey! They are full of beans at the moment though. Here is their 6 week weigh in results:
I posted some pictures from yesterday’s big walk on facebook. As it turned out, the power went out just before pre-vet bathtime was scheduled, so the puppies will have their first bath tomorrow instead. The van ride and vet visit went very well for the little ones. There was a bit of fussing at first in their small crates as we travelled, but they quickly got comfy and dosed off. When we got to the clinic, I brought the puppies inside using two small crates- Haggis woke up and began complaining. We had him examined first to minimize the disruption and then he was able to go back to the van where he settled in for nap 2.0.
The exam our vet does is comprehensive but efficient. The puppies are brought out one at a time. They are weighed first, and then the tech takes their temperature while the vet records data on their file (name, weight, temp) and asks about any concerns- I didn’t have any concerns with this litter so that was easy. Then, she listens to heart and respiration. Checks ears, eyes, teeth and alignment, palate, tongue. Lymphnodes are palpated as is the spine. Range of motion of the limb joints comes next, then the puppies have their umbilical area and genitals checked. Skin on the belly is looked over and our vet parts the puppies fur to ensure there are no parasites. If everything looks good, the puppy is then vaccinated, our vet records all of that data along with any abnormalities found on the puppy’s file, and then the puppy returns to the crate and the next one gets a turn.
The vet exam at this age is a great experience for the puppies. They get to meet several friendly, dog-savvy individuals (vet, tech, and the extra staff that come to say hi to the adorable pups!) They get to smell the veterinarians equipment (Stethoscope, syringes, etc) and ‘help’ with the paperwork by trying to bite at the vet’s pen or grab the health files! The exam is very gentle so to the puppy, it must feel a bit like a massage. Our vet uses a very small gauge needle for the vaccination and the puppies rarely even notice. Since it goes fairly quickly, they are not away from their littermates long and it ends up being a brief, fun moment, followed by a good snuggle and a nap.
Fun things that the puppies are doing this week: individual training sessions that now include retrieving and crate training! Daily off-leash group walks sometimes on their own and sometimes with a grandma. These walks teach the puppies about following and as they get braver, which happens with age and exposure to the same trails, they will get rewarded for coming back when called and for ‘checking in’ (returning to humans on their own). However, right now on their walks the puppies don’t get very far from us and tend to walk along as a group right on our heels. The big snowbanks on the trails prevent too much exploring at the moment, but mostly this close following is a function of their age and and their utmost trust of their people. When they are less frisky, the puppies get some free time in the house (with supervision, of course) so they are also already learning how to operate their ‘off-switch’- that means that they understand that their are times when they are to just hang out and they entertain themselves gently or snooze.
Another thing that we focus on at this age is body handling. The puppies are growing very comfortable with being held, having ears stroked, tails petted, feet massaged. I can check their teeth and look in their mouth and ears. I can hold them on their backs while they relax. We had nail trim number 7003 today and the puppies each were very comfortable with this. For the new puppy families- I think it’s really important that you are comfortable with puppy handling yourself so that you can get these basic husbandry tasks done, and this takes practice. I will try to get some video of how I do this so that you can see it and keep up with it.
Puppy visitors at this age are quite regular, but local people who want to come and see them, please let me know and we’ll try to schedule you in! I generally don’t take photos or videos of our puppy visits because it’s enough just to keep an eye on all of the pups and make sure they are having a good time, watch for trends in reactions that may be clues to their personality traits, and actually interact with the visitors too.
Some very appropriate play with the best grandma ever (actually, Verona is the auntie to these puppies, but grandma by occupation). She is up on the couch so that they can’t overwhelm her but is choosing to engage the puppies in some gentle open mouth wrestling of sorts.
We woke up this morning to blizzard conditions outside (this winter might never end!) so the puppies had a big play inside, while I did some tidying- that is nearly a futile effort! Part of the morning cleanup involves scrubbing their artificial turf potty stations which is done in the shower at this time of year. Today the puppies were ‘helping’ with this and enjoying the spray from the water. They are a very brave crew, but of course, this made putting off their first bath any longer impossible, so once that cleanup was over, it was time for puppy cleanup. At this size, the easiest way to bathe puppies is in in the kitchen sink. Now that they are clean and dry, the pups have all cozied into their crates and are enjoying a long nap.
Just at the point when puppy families are eager for more updates, it becomes more difficult to provide as many- these guys take up a big portion of each day between taking them out for adventures, group play, individual training sessions, and cleaning up after them. So, if you are worried that you’re not seeing updates, please just know that it’s because the puppies are keeping me hopping!
Here’s a little clip of some play time today. The puppies are big into chasing, carrying and retrieving things. Their bite inhibition is really coming along- they are still biting human and dogs, but it’s a lot gentler. We keep squealing and they keep getting more civilized!
Note that Bonnie is now wearing a pink collar with paw prints on it and Phillis has a blue/green collar with squares. Watch at the end for the puppy that asks very obviously to go outside to pee!
Walking with puppies: watch this next clip to see what it’s really like. One of the most common questions I have from expecting puppy owners is about off leash walking. There are several keys to a successful off leash walk with puppies.
First: It needs to be somewhere safe. Take no chances around vehicles or other potential dangers. Remember that your puppy believes himself/herself to be invincible. Steep cliffs are a risk! Wildlife is a risk. Strange dogs are probably the biggest risk of all so choose low traffic areas and decide in advance what you’ll do when you encounter other off-leash dogs.
Second: It is much easier to walk a little puppy if there is an obvious route. Whether it’s a trail through the woods, designated sidewalk, or some other visual means of showing them where they are going- the point of the walk is to walk, not scatter.
Third: Show the puppy the direction of travel with your body motion. Baby puppies may or may not follow you in the literal sense (they maybe behind you, or ahead of you, or beside you) but they are following your lead with regards to direction. Watch in these clips how the puppies maintain a good little cluster near me as long as I’m walking. If I stop walking- they start finding something better to do. That doesn’t mean the puppy won’t sniff or check things out even if your walking- certainly the older and brave and faster they get, the more this will come into play, but if you make off-leash walks about walking and not randomly exploring, they will tend to stick with you fairly closely.
Fourth. Reward them! This is the first off-leash walk where I don’t reward the puppies regularly because I can’t actually do that and film at the same time, but generally, we reward puppies for the following things as close to 100% of the time as possible with food treats. a) checking in (ie when they zip off to check something out and then come back of their own choosing). b) Sitting when I stop c) Coming when called – at this stage, I use the call of “pup pup pup” to recall them- this is what they’ve been brainwashed with as I use this call every time they are fed. Building a super strong reward history for the puppies sticking near, keeping an eye on humans and coming when called can not be overdone. I keep doing this regularly even with adult dogs because these behaviours are so important and potentially life saving.
Fifth. Vary your route! If you walk the exact same route every day, the puppy doesn’t need to follow you. They know where to go and the surroundings aren’t novel; they become very comfortable and will tend to run off in search of newness or ‘the destination’. If the puppy needs you to show them where to go, they will be much more likely to stick with you and allow you the opportunity to reward them appropriately. It also helps keep life interesting!
On a sort of related note- I think that something worth knowing is that you can greatly influence your puppy’s confidence level by how you approach new things. Puppies sometimes dart towards new things (in these clips, you’ll see they are currently very attracted to tree branches) and sometimes, they hesitate. Unless they are hesitating for a really good reason (say, a strange dog were to appear on the trail ahead of them), I would just continue walking towards whatever it was that caused the attention, maybe interact with it myself, and move on. Puppies learn a LOT by observation of creatures they trust (like humans, or other dogs). If you were to hang back and just see what the puppy was doing- your body language puts the puppy in a position of leadership. They may decide the thing is okay, and approach it, or they may think ‘hmmm, human is not approaching, this must not be safe’. Since we generally are looking for confidence, I try to show the puppies that new things are okay and not put them in the position of having to decide on their own. What I don’t do is force the puppy to interact with things they are scared of, or bribe them towards it. I don’t really have any examples of this behaviour in these clips, but I think it is something that tends to come up on offleash walks especially as the puppies get braver and start to get further ahead of their humans on the trails.
For us and our dogs, we like them to stick fairly close on off-leash walks. This means they must be within sight, and within about 30 yards (closer if the trails are twisty, thick bush, etc). How we teach them to stay in this vicinity is by calling them back when they get close to the limit. This is where rewarding really pays off. Eventually, they realize ‘I can keep exploring if I stick within range’ and they will self-regulate. For safety reasons I think this criteria is important even for adult dogs. I do feel strongly that getting puppies walking off-leash as early as possible when it’ safe to do so helps build this behavior. Puppies who have spent most of their life on leash will tend to want to run and run when they finally get off leash and it’s a lot harder to build these limits in with a full grown dog. Starting off leash when the puppy is young, not so fast, requires very short walks and thinks you are the greatest is the best way to build mutual trust, if at all possible.