Why do I call this a "race against nature?" Because when you meet a "great" dog, one that's never aggressive, calm in public, friendly to strangers, gives up his food and possessions willingly, a fun companion that you can take anywhere and do anything with, that is directly in opposition to a dog's default genetic programing. People often think there's something "wrong" with an aggressive or fearful dog, when in fact that's normal - you have to do some pretty strong interventions in the first 12 weeks of the puppy's life in order to shape the kind of dog you would want to live with.
Why should this be so? We go into this in depth in Puppy Culture, but suffice it to say this is an adaptive evolutionary strategy tied to the mobility of the puppy.Puppies don't have the mobility to travel too far from the protection of their family too much before 8 weeks old, so it stands to reason they should trust everything they meet. By 8-12 weeks old, they have the wherewithal to wander off and get into trouble - it's a very good thing, from a "survival in the wild" point of view, that they should mistrust and fear stuff they encounter at that point. Bobcats, high and unstable surfaces, bodies of water - the world is full of dangerous stuff and, in the wild, at least, fear of the unknown is an excellent adaptive strategy. Not so good when your dog goes to your daughter's soccer game and perceives the bleachers as monsters and the other children as a threat...
So It's a "race against nature" because the puppies' biological clock is ticking and that window of opportunity is closing a little more each day. Contrary to what you might read on the internet, you don't have until 4 or 5 months to get this socialization work done - a great deal of the most important and irreplaceable socialization experiences should take place when the puppy is still with the breeder. Sure, if important things were missed by the breeder, you can try to make up for it later, but it's a long hard slog up a steep hill, and the hill gets steeper and steeper every day after 12 weeks old.
Here are the puppies having a time with Tuesday's enrichment item - It's an awesome toy I picked up at Tractor Supply. I love it because it has a furry outside crinkly part, plus a squeakers and a bungee inside.
It's important to note that we take the enrichment items out of the whelping box after the puppies fall asleep. I don't believe in cluttering up the puppies' environment with a lot of stuff that's just going to get dirty, anyway. They're learning how to walk now, so they need unobstructed space in which to move. Also, in my observation, the most productive enrichment at this stage involves the presentation of novel objects so you get the startle/recover/curiosity/exploration cycle. Of course, as they get a few days older and move in to their weaning pen, they will have toys and objects to play with all the time. But that's a different class of enrichment and is not as effective (in my observation) for building enrichment seeking/emotional stability.
New toys are great "novel" items - we buy them by the box full from Pet Edge. It's amazing how you can put three toys down, one of which is new, and the puppies will swarm the new one. But something as basic as being taken out to walk on the living room rug for a minute is equally novel and good. Just a sheet of foil in the bottom of the whelping box for a minute or two, or adding a potty area with pet litter, are new experiences that trigger the startle/recover/ curiosity exploration cycle very nicely.
Remember, these little lives have been on this earth for about 21 days - something as simple as a crinkly bag of baby wipes is like a trip to Paris for them.
Our puppies will meet four different families this week. Laurie is an old "virtual" friend whom I've know for almost a decade - so wonderful to finally meet her in person (and possibly place a puppy with her!) We can now check off the box next to "People With Tattoos and Cool Jewelry" on our socialization list.
The puppies can hear now and sound becomes a very important tool in shaping their personalities. This is a deep subject that could be a whole article, but I'll distill it down - there are three basic areas of importance when it comes to sound at this age. Our goal is to balance these three types of sounds to create emotional stability and low stress levels:
Classical Dinner Party
Bucky Pizzarelli & Frank Vignola
(OK not classical but honestly so awesome it has to be good for the puppies ;o))
Stephane Grappelli (ditto above)
One last word about music. Far be it for me to dictate your musical tastes, but just be aware that the music you play for your puppies can have a lasting effect on his adult personality - look at what happened to one of my friends' puppies when she played Jethro Tull for the litter...
Weaning is going nicely. Pippi is definitely interested in spending less time feeding them, and we've got them eating a slurry of goat milk and lean ground venison, so everyone's happy.
They started showing interest in lapping liquids a while ago, but psychologically it can be difficult for the puppies to take the leap and really start eating on their own. That nursing has deep emotional salience for them - it's not about food, it's about all the self-soothing that goes along with it. So we had some stubborn hold-outs who were crying instead of drinking. Here's a few tips if you run into that situation - obviously this assumes that your bitch is not interested in staying in the box with the puppies anymore, and that can vary HUGELY from bitch to bitch:
Jane Messineo Lindquist (Killion) is the director of "Puppy Culture: The Powerful First Twelve Weeks That Can Shape Your Puppies' Future" as well as the author of "When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs."