The first puppy opened her eyes at 12 days old. It will be a while before the puppies have useful vision, but when they start pointing their little muzzles at us and trying to focus, it's just heartbreakingly sweet. Those shining little eyes are like a hotline to our souls.
To review, puppies' eyes and ears are sealed shut when they're born. Their eyes open first, (usually at around 12-15 days old for our breed) and their ear canals usually open around 7 days later. That period, between the time that their eyes and their ears open, is known as the "transitional" period. This is because useful vision and hearing are thought to be necessary for the puppies to enter into the next developmental period, which will be the socialization period.
What's really important to know is that scientists use behavioral rather than time line markers to determine when different developmental periods begin and end. So it's the eyes opening and the startling that dictate the beginning and end of the transitional period, not "The third week of life" as those ubiquitous internet "Puppy Development" charts would lead one to believe.
This means that one puppy's transitional period might be when the puppy is from 10-21 days old, and another might be from when the puppy is 18-22 days old. I'm not kidding, it can vary that much, or more.
For those of you who are interested in some of the finer points of Bull Terrier type, The Bull Terrier is the only AKC breed who's standard specifies a triangular eye: The EYES should be well-sunken and as dark as possible, with a piercing glint and they should be small, triangular and obliquely placed; set near together and high up on the dog's head.
While the socialization period for these puppies will not officially begin until later this week, the puppies are already responding to our touch and showing a desire for human contact.
The whole weaning process varies so much from litter to litter and breed to breed, that it's difficult to give one "procedure" for weaning litters, but, for what it's worth, this is how we do it. We feed our moms goat milk and mother's pudding in the whelping box, the puppies tell us when they're ready to start lapping liquids by jumping in and helping themselves.
This litter began snagging mom's food before their eyes were even open - they jumped into her dish of pudding at 14 days old. I do not recommend giving 14 day old puppies mother's pudding - way too rich with too much sugar plus corn starch which is not what I would start a baby with. We let them have a little fun and then took the bowl away, and we have not fed Pippi pudding in the whelping box since. But the point is that we knew the puppies were ready to lap liquids from that moment, so we moved ahead with introducing goat milk to them.
Because they're so young, we've been really taking it slowly and only giving them a tiny bit of goat milk in the bottom of a pyrex pie plate, just to get them used to lapping liquids. I feel it's an aspiration hazard to give them liquids before their eyes are open so we just coat the bottom of the plate with milk - maybe 1/8 inch. But from here on in we'll present a little dish of goat milk for a few minutes before each feeding. By a week from now we'll have them doing goat milk meals to completely replace a feeding or two each day.
Here they are, going to town on the milk. Of course, there had to be drama associated with this. Note that Bijou Bee in the background is using her new-found eyesight to look for her mother instead of joining the others at the milk dish. She's making loud complaining noises as she pointedly ignores the milk.
I guess Bijou Bee didn't like the milk, and I guess she was annoyed that everyone else was having a good time eating because, after a couple of perfunctory licks at the bowl, she did this, still whining pitifully the entire time. We call this move the "Dog In The Manger" - "If I can't enjoy it, neither can you." Note that our tiniest girl, Mina, is not deterred by the fact that her walrus-like sister is sitting on her head. Go far and prosper, little one.
Speaking of Mina, this is a big milestone for her and a big weight off our shoulders. She'll now have the opportunity to eat as much as she wants without having to fight the bigger puppies, and we won't have to be constantly watching out for her to make sure she's getting a good turn on a good teat. You'll see her gain by leaps and bounds over the coming weeks.
While our hearts go out to Bijou Bee as she has a come apart over her first-world problems, we all know her future is assured. We can enjoy her little drama, because we have the long view of her life. If Mark and I have any breath left in our bodies, she'll know nothing but love, acceptance, and security for the rest of her days. But not every dog is so lucky. So now I'm going to tug on your heartstrings a little.
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."