After Buffy's poodle puppies turned 2 weeks old, they have finished their ENS and ESI and were ready to begin the next steps in their puppy curriculum. Their eyes were open, and though their vision wasn’t perfect, they were beginning to get their first looks at the world around them. A few days later, their ears began to open, and this is when I began sound exposure. On day 18, I simply banged on a metal bowl about three times when the puppies were cuddled together, safe and warm. Their first introduction to unexpected loud sounds helps them to understand this is just a part of life, and not something to panic over. Have you ever known a dog who was fearful of loud noises? Fireworks for example? By exposing the puppies to a variety of sounds in their first 8 weeks of life, we can do a lot to prevent anxiety associated with loud noises. I may begin with banging on a pot, but as the puppies develop, they will get to hear a variety of sounds from vacuums, music, babies crying, and yes, even the dreaded fireworks! I use real items as much as possible when doing sound exposure, but I have also installed a television in the Puppy House to further expand my options.
I have found this to be one of the most successful parts of my curriculum, as long as puppies are continued to be empowered once they leave my care. The 4th of July is just another day for my pack, and my kids can enjoy fireworks without worrying about upsetting our dogs.
Week 3 is a big one for the puppies. Not long after starting sound exposure, I begin introducing Whelping Box Novelty items. These items are safe, novel objects for the puppies to explore with their new eyesight. This helps to encourage curiosity in their world and discourage fear of new objects. Day 21 is a stuffed elephant, day 24 is a pillow, and day 28 is one of my favorites, a storytelling stuffed dragon. It is just too cute.
Along with getting to investigate new items, the puppies will also get their first taste of puppy food on about day 25 (assuming their teeth have started to come in). This begins the weaning process for the puppies and begins to give their mom some time off! I grind up dry puppy kibble in a blender and mix it with warm water making a soup-like consistency. Young puppy tummies are notoriously easy to upset so I move slowly giving them a serving of puppy gruel once a day for about three days and gradually increasing the quantity and frequency over the next several days. Depending on how the puppies handle the transition, I sometimes add canned pumpkin and Purina Forti Flora (a probiotic) to the mix to aid digestion. Of course, along with the introduction of puppy gruel comes the necessity of encouraging the puppies to use a separate potty area. As long as the puppies are nursing, their mom takes care of all the clean-up. Buffy keeps her whelping box so clean, that you wouldn’t even know that her puppies have ever pooped! But this efficient housekeeping doesn’t last forever, and so I set up a potty area when they are 3 weeks old.
I start by covering half of the whelping box with potty pads and leaving the other half with a soft bed. Puppies have an instinct to move away from their sleeping area when they need to potty and the potty pads had an attractant built in to encourage them to go there. Once the puppies are regularly using the pads to potty, I can increase the size of their sleeping area. When the puppies are 4 weeks old, assuming the weather is warm enough, I can even begin teaching them to go outside using the doggy doors! This gets a little more challenging in the cold winter months in Colorado, but the puppies are still very successful at learning to use a litter box by 5 weeks old. Once they get big enough, and the weather is not too chilly, they will also get to learn how to use doggy doors, even in the winter. Not only does this make my job a little easier keeping things clean and fresh, but it also really helps give the puppies a head start in potty training when they go to their new homes! At the end of the puppies’ first month, they leave the whelping box and get to graduate to a toddler stall. More room to play and explore and more challenges in the curriculum! Stay tuned for weeks 4 and 5!