Raising Canines by Virginia Broitman
NADOI's FORWARD Publication
Volume 7 ~ Issue 4, November 2001, pgs. 10-12
reproduced with permission
This summer, I had the good fortune to be able to house and care for a Border Collie bitch named Kay along with her nine pups. A friend of mine is a long-time breeder and she entrusted this litter to my care. They lived with me from the time the pups were six days old until they were 47 days old.
Having never raised a litter of pups before, I thought this would be a fabulous learning experience. Watching the pups develop day by day under the tender care of their mother was lovely to see. Observing the development of each pup's personality, and the way they interacted with one another, was also very interesting. In addition to my daily observations, I had some specific “projects” in mind for these pups, which will be discussed in this article.
I was able to observe the pups during three critical periods of development. Let's start with the Neonatal Period, which covers birth through about 13 days. During this time the pups can't hear or see, and are basically just cute little “lumps.” Their lives revolve around nursing and eliminating, both of which must be stimulated by the bitch. Other than that, they sleep a lot, crawl awkwardly, and will yelp if isolated from the litter.
During this period, the pups are not terribly exciting to watch, and the bitch does most of the work, feeding them and cleaning up after them. However, between days 3 and 16, the pups are going through rapid neurological development, and I decided to expose them to early neurological stimulation
(ENS). The ENS exercises were originally designed by the U.S. military for their service dog program. Their goal was to raise dogs for military service with enhanced performance abilities. Dr. Carmen Battaglia has an article about this program at http://www.breedingbetterdogs.com/achiever.html
if you wish to read all the details about it.
Basically, the purpose of ENS is to stimulate the neurological system by applying mild stress to the young pups in a very controlled and limited way. There are five simple exercises outlined in the article that are done once a day for no more than 3-5 seconds each. (Even breeders with limited time might consider doing these exercises because they truly do not take long to administer.) The results, as detailed in Battaglia's article, include:
Improved cardiovascular performance
Stronger heart beats
Stronger adrenal glands
More tolerance to stress
Greater resistance to disease
Battaglia also notes that pups exposed to ENS “mature at faster rates and perform better in certain problem-solving tests than non-stimulated mates.” Kay's litter was split into three groups, each with three pups. One group received ENS for 3 seconds per exercise. Another group received ENS for 4 seconds. The final group of pups acted as my placebo group.
Although I couldn't keep all the pups indefinitely to track their progress over the months and record possible differences amongst the groups, I do have a few interesting observations to mention:
A 4-second ENS pup was the first to open his eyes at 11 days, while two of the last pups to open their eyes (at 13 days) were in the placebo group.
Between 29 days and 47 days, I did some very basic clicker training with the pups and kept notes on each session. There was a marked difference between the pups' performances in each group. The placebo group had the least progress in the training sessions. Specifically, they were more easily distracted, worked slower and with less enthusiasm, required more luring to get sits to happen, and sometimes I had to abort a session based on their lack of focus. The 3-second ENS group performed better than the placebo group, as I had anticipated. Although distracted at times by a noise or another dog in the room, I was usually able to lure the sits easily. The big surprise for me was observing a difference between the 3- and 4-second groups. The 4-second group actually performed in a superior way, with more confidence, focus and enthusiasm, and most of their sits were offered
rather than lured. Often, adult dogs were milling around and still the pups were focused on the training.
When a visitor (not a dog trainer) observed four of the pups together without knowing which group they belonged to, she accurately picked out the one placebo pup amongst three ENS pups. After watching all the pups over a few days, she labeled a 4-second ENS pup as the “most advanced.”
When the pups went to their new homes, a few owners of ENS pups happened to comment on how accepting they were of handling. (This could be attributed to the ENS exercises and/or the abundance of handling all the pups received each day.) One of the ENS pups belongs to the breeder, who has been breeding collies for 30 years. She remarked on how incredibly pliant the pup is to all types of handling, and that she is even more affectionate with people than usual.
The next period of development is called the “Transition Period” which lasts for approximately one week. In Scott & Fuller's book, Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, they define eye-opening as the beginning of this period, and the startle reaction to sound (at 19.5 days on average) as the end. It was exciting to see the pups' eyes open during this time. Even though they see very poorly at first, I was amazed how much more connected I felt to them just because their eyes were open.
When I noticed that at least some of the pups' ears were open at 18 days, I began playing all kinds of CDs to expose them to lots of novel sounds. They heard classical, blues, rock, and reggae music, as well as many sound-effect CDs, like thunderstorms, wolves howling, train and siren noises, and even Terry Ryan's “children” desensitization CD that had some jarringly realistic sound-effects! I began providing a variety of odd, sound-making toys.
Also, because they were initially confined to an area in my kitchen, the pups experienced many normal house activities - cabinets slamming, vacuuming, dishwasher and washer/dryer noises, pots clanging, phones ringing, dogs barking, etc.
Whenever I saw the pups getting ready to nurse, I played a soothing classical music tape. I was curious to see if that kind of music could be used later to bring on a state of calm and contentment for the pups when they were separated from the litter and perhaps even when mildly stressed. Again, due to the reality of these pups going to permanent homes all over the country, I couldn't follow through with this idea. However, I do have a cute anecdote to pass along that might be a result of the pups' early exposure to music. One couple reported amazement to see their normally wild 9-week old pup immediately calm down and orient to a PBS opera program, which she remained attentive to for a full ½ hour!
For the first couple of weeks, the pups mainly stayed in the bottom half of a large airline crate with no door. Kay was very conscientious about cleaning up after them, and I made sure to help her keep things spotless. By day 12, I was amazed to see the pups would leave their crate consistently to defecate outside of their bed area. Clearly, they seemed ready for some simple housetraining and I wanted to try out an idea I got from Ian Dunbar. He recommends setting out a strip of sod in a large, shallow pan to create a toilet area. Because I didn't want to be toting the little pups outside yet, having a grassy area inside was the next best thing! This way, they could develop an early substrate preference for elimination.
Overall, I'm very pleased with the sod experiment. When the pups were very young, I tried to position them on the sod whenever I expected they'd need to eliminate. As the next 2-3 weeks passed, the pups got more and more consistent about targeting the sod on their own. Because there were nine pups, however, the sod needed to be changed every few days despite me scooping poop several times a day! But this is a great idea for a person who must leave a young pup alone for more hours than he is capable of handling without a potty break. A puppy-proofed area can be set up that includes the sod/elimination site.
The next period of development was the most exciting time of all - the Socialization Period. This was a time of dramatic advances in the pups' behavior. Each day, they became more mobile, animated and interactive, and it was hard to tear myself away from their charming antics!
During this period, I wanted to give these pups plenty of handling and social exposure. Each day, they received lots of handling from my husband and me, and any visitors who stopped by. We played with their ears, massaged their gums, gently pulled their tails, held them in all kinds of odd positions, and kissed their faces abundantly! Toenails were also clipped a few times.
By day 20, I also began introducing the pups to my six dogs in small doses. As the weeks passed, it was lovely to observe their meticulous manners with the adults. They learned how to modify their behavior depending on the adult dog they were visiting, because some were more patient and playful with the pups than others. I believe it was a useful “reality” lesson for the pups to meet a variety of appropriate adult dogs. Because Kay was such an exceptionally patient mother, they might have been in for a shock if their first exposure to another adult dog was not until 7 or 8 weeks old! Their saintly mother let them crowd her out of her own food bowl, and tolerated them gnawing on her like a chewtoy. She even endured their piranha-like nursing up until 47 days, although by 39 days she was using some creative “playful” behaviors to avert nursing sessions! Warning growls from Kay were very rare indeed.
By day 22, they went on their first of numerous car rides. Kay came along and the puppies nursed for the entire brief trip, insuring a great first exposure to travel. As the pups got a bit older, they had two visits to a school that hosted summer activities for kids. The kids all sat on the ground to gently pet and cuddle any pup that approached them. Although their initial movement and noise level gave a couple of the pups pause for concern, they all warmed up to the kids and ended up having positive experiences with them.
Although I saw one pup eating a softened piece of dog kibble as early as 15 days old, it was closer to 21 days when they became less dependent on mother's milk, and began eating bits of dog food regularly. By day 29, the pups showed enough interest in hotdog treats that I began conditioning them to the clicker. Over the weeks, I conducted mini-training sessions that focused on informal recalls (following behavior) and sits.
Yet another “chapter“ of the pups' care had to do with regular changes in their living quarters, and I was happy to see they adapted easily to these changes. At first, they lived inside only. Then they went outside for short visits. (We were having particularly nice summer weather at the time.) Next, they would spend a good part of the day penned in a shady area of the yard, sometimes exposed to a flapping tarp and a fan. At day 27, they were moved to a 20'x20' enclosure, and in the evening they experienced their first night sleeping outside on a covered porch. Kay, of course, was with them.
Eventually, both days and nights would be spent in the 20'x20' enclosure. It had plenty of cozy hideaways, a shallow pool of water, barrels to run through, low stacks of logs to climb on, wide planks and tippy boards to walk on, and toys galore. In addition to the confidence-building nature of the obstacles, several of the pups were destined for agility homes, so this early exposure was beneficial. Every couple of days, I'd add a new feature or food puzzle to their enclosure to keep it stimulating, and the pups just loved it. Finally, this enclosure opened up to a ¼ acre fenced yard for even more exploration and play.
I like to think the pups had an ideal upbringing - the care of an exceptional mother; clean, safe and enriched environments; unlimited interaction with their littermates; plenty of human handling and love; positive socialization with other dogs and children; and exposure to novel sounds and situations. It was such a joyful experience for me, but all too soon, the pups were due to return to the breeder's farm. Although many hours of each day were spent on this puppy project, I enjoyed every moment of it… except maybe the poop-scooping! Thankfully, several of the new owners have kept in touch with me, so I was able to tell them about my early experiences with their pups and receive progress reports on them!
I hope this article has given you some food for thought. If you are a breeder, perhaps you'll decide to use ENS exercises, or add enhancements to your environment the next time you raise a litter. For those of you who plan to acquire a purebred pup in the future, the article might motivate you to seek a breeder that puts in some extra effort with the pups. After all, so much can be done to positively influence the pups long before they are ready to go to their permanent homes.
For some of you trainers, this article might encourage you to spend time observing a litter, because puppy development is really fascinating! If you have the luxury of time, maybe you'll even consider raising a litter someday. Even if you don't know a breeder who would permit you to do this, there is never a shortage of rescued bitches with litters. Just think of all the valuable things you can do with the pups to enhance their adoptability. Personally, I'd like to house a rescued bitch and her litter someday, but with certain conditions. For instance, the bitch must not be feral, or otherwise stressed by me handling her pups. She would need to be tolerant of the presence of other dogs in the house. She would also need to be quarantined for two weeks at another safehouse before I got her to insure she's not carrying any diseases that could harm my gang.
After experiencing this litter, I find it hard to imagine getting a pup in the future who is not raised with these advantages. The next breed I plan to acquire is a Min Pin, and I've already found a breeder who will permit me to raise a litter that includes my own pup… yippee!
Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, by J.P. Scott & J. L. Fuller
University of Chicago Press, 1965
This excellent article was written by:
Take a Bow Wow / North Star Canines
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It is meant to provide resource, so that we can better understand canine health related issues.