At six weeks old, puppies’ individual temperaments begin emerging, and it is at this time I start taking notes! When I see a pup giving nice eye contact, I jot it down. When I see a pup consistently playing by him or herself, again I write it down. When I see how they problem-solve, I write a little note. Is pink collar female a natural follower or leader? Does blue collar male exhibit more pack or prey drive? When the time comes to make my puppy evaluations, it is helpful to have these specific notes to cross-reference to make sure pups are consistent in what I am seeing daily to how they performed during their evaluation.
No more holding back. Water exposure, car rides, stairs, bridges, noises everything I can think of. Bring it on. Yes what I do and how I work with the pups is just as important as the environment we are working in.
As personalities emerge, it is important not to label the pups. Instead, take action and work with efficiency. I really have such a small, but impactful, period of time to help develop each pup into a potential service dog or a beloved and reliable family companion, and each pup is worth it.
This period is filled with many new and exciting opportunities ; however, it is soo important that I do not ever force a pup into doing something. Instead, I have to continue to show them that all environments and situations are safe. Lure, adjust, change the approach or the environment and do whatever I can do to empower and not enable. It is hard not to "Do" something for a puppy. BUT it is crucial to Let them problem-solve in a safe, supportive environment. Here is an example of what I mean: I set up a few pieces of wood and ask for pups to climb over them. There will be some pups that blow over them so quickly they stumble and fall along the way. No thought, no fear. All in. Then I have pups that think about it. Smell. Put a paw on the wood to make sure it will not "eat them" and then they carefully climb over the obstacle. Pensive. Cautious. And lastly, there will be pups that sit and scream and want ME to do it for them. As breeders, our first instinct is to problem-solve for them. I know, it is mine anyway and to be honest, I don’t like to see any one of them struggle when I know I can easily help. I am a problem solver and helper. I love efficiency and speed. I do everything fast: talk, eat, complete tasks, and I can get easily frustrated when things get delayed. However, I have to keep myself in check and practice patience because I know in the end it will serve my dogs needs best. So, if I have puppies that are reluctant to jump into the activity, so here is an example of how I would respond until I can get the puppies over the “hurdle”:
1. I will first use vocal encouragement to see if that alone can bring them over the wood pile. Who doesn't love having a cheer squad?
2. If that tactic does not work, I will use my hand to help lure them. Pat a spot I would like to see them touch.
3. Next, I will walk over the obstacle and show them how it is done. Like
humans, pups have different learning styles that suit them best, and some are
more visually focused.
4. If that is still not yield results, I remove some pieces of wood to make the
obstacle a bit more approachable.
5. Lastly, if that does not work, I will bring in mama as reinforcement. It is rare
that the lure of nursing doesn’t do the trick!
As you can see, there are many options I can use to guide the pup to accomplish this challenge without doing the work for them. I will never pick a reluctant pup up and place them on the other side or call it quits and leave them out of a learning experience. I NEED them to know they can do it. I need them to be empowered (not enabled). No one wants a puppy that expects a human to do everything for them; A puppy that lacks basic skills of problem solving or the belief in their own abilities.
Puppies are born with intrinsic traits that we cannot change, such as energy level, assertiveness or submissiveness, hand shyness, and tenderheartedness, just to name a few. However, we still have the ability to adjust some traits like confidence, motivation, drive, sight and sound sensitivity. So, if I see a puppy having an issue with unpredictable movement, I work with that pup! A puppy unsure of loud sounds, we work on that. For each situation, start with the exposure at a lesser degree than what caused the initial fear/uncertainty and then we build from there. I vary the environments and items/sound that could be deemed scary. Desensitize. Desensitize. Desensitize. I am always trying to promote the correct emotional response and work the pup through the “challenges” until they are not concerned any more. While I want to make sure the exposure is creating tolerance, I do not push a pup past their threshold. I do not let them “break down.” If needed, we take little breaks to allow them to destress. Some pups enjoy playing tug. Some want to play fetch. Some might even want to nurse. Once stress has been decreased, start again. Nice
and slow. Now is the time. Patience is key, and consistency is crucial. Puppies’ physical, mental, and emotional development is insanely fast. Experts estimate that one week of a pup’s life is the equivalent of six months of development for a human. Thus, we cannot dilly dally. Every day and every minute matters if I want to produce positively purfect pups. Yet life does get in the way and I do have a day here and there that I am unable to work my pups, or sometimes I am just not in the right mindset to effectively facilitate the activities , I try not to beat myself up. Just pick up where I left off!
When working with my pups, it is important for me to realize that dogs are situational learners. To help you understand, what that means is that cube toy, or a tunnel, or even a slide in in my front room with the TV on is one situation. Moving the pups and the object to the gravel in the play yard with a neutral dog around (Aragon or Rumble- NOT moma) that is another situation. Then if I move them to the garage on the concrete, with irritating noises blarring out of a speaker, and replace the cube toys & slide with two other items, now I have created yet another different situation.
Situational awareness is exaggerated in younger pups. As pups mature, they are not as sensitive to “different” situations and can better recognize consistencies across environments. This is great for us breeders, even those with more limited space to raise a litter. Between a batch of activity items and different spaces inside and outside to work pups, we can have countless options for new exposures activities every day. Hell, twice a day.
As I work on activity ideas for my litters, I try mixing and matching to create “new” exposure activities. Nerve strength, confidence, high approach, and low fear should be practiced over and over again. (The shop vac gets moved from room to room haha)
At an early age, I'm giving the pups necessary tools to live in a complex and unpredictable world. Not all pups will love the change of environment (I make a note!), but those pups excel with a quiet and predictable family. My adventurous and active pups will fit well with families that want a pup to travel and explore with. A pup that can be the life of the party. There is a human match for every type of puppy. While I can’t "change" who they are deep down, I can equip them with much-needed skills to more easily navigate life when they leave the nest. How amazing is that?
When puppies reach six weeks old, their exposure activities can be advanced.
Below is an overview of some of the key activities I may start to work on:
1. start kennel and potty training. It is imperative that I keep kennel training sessions brief. Just for an hour or so. (While cleaning their area) *We are still just trying to expose puppies to new situations, at the same time keeping all activities fun, safe, and rewarding for puppies’ mental and emotional development. (Kennel isn't fun- but safe and relaxing)
I have several dogs that are healthy, reliable, and friendly, to introduce my pups to. Ensuring that it is a positive experience for all. The goal of this activity is to further reinforce with the pups that dogs are friendly. They may play with them or even just tolerate their antics. As long as they are fun-loving and/or calm and content, then they are doing their job! Now I can do this with cats too!!
3. Sometimes I am able to expose them to different “types” of people. (Remember dogs aresituational. A blonde is different from a brunette. A child is different from an adult. Dark skin is different from light skin. High energy is different from meek, and so on.) I try to ensure people do not force themselves on my puppies or handle them to roughly. If my pups are avoiding a new visitors or yawning, lip smacking, etc., I need to abruptly end the visit! Honoring my puppies, always keeping their best interest at heart.
*Too often people tell their friends and neighbors “Come and meet our puppies!” or “All this socializing will be good for them!” without thinking of the consequences that come from unstructured visits. And many Breeder Do not allow any visitors!! As long as all interactions are well- controlled, positive, and safe, I feel I have done my job; ideally, my pups should meet 7-10 new people before they go home. This doesn't always happen- as many want to hold newborn pups.
The key goal here is to raise healthy pups that know the world is safe, people are kind, and dogs are friendly. Every exposure, every experience, every day we have with them matters.
When pups reach seven weeks old, they can learn almost anything!! However, they do lack focus and self-control. This can become frustrating when I am working with them and they will not pay attention. Despite this, puppies’ mental capacity has greatly increased, and it only takes a puppy one experience to remember how to do something. While this is fascinating and something us breeders can use to our advantage, it can also backfire. The first time a puppy climbs out of their puppy pen won’t be their last (and they will likely influence the rest of the litter too). They start to outsmart us, so now I always have to be on my toes, ready to anticipate their next moves. Happy healthy puppies are full of trouble!
Around this time, we start to prepare for puppies to go to their new homes. The first important step of this process is go-home vet clearances, which should include a head-to-toe physical inspection, we give their first vaccine, some get a microchip, and we do fecal analysis. We also continue to deworm puppies every 2 weeks with Pyrantel / Fenbendazole prior to going home, as well as provide any additional medications the puppies need, pending the results of the fecal. I don’t want my clients to have to pay for anything at their first vet visit other than wellness exam!
Puppy Evaluations –( Days 50-60)
Whew! At this time I will think "I made it through seven weeks of puppy raising", and now it is time to get ready to evaluate the litter. Being able to accurately assess the puppies is important. Let me explain. Someone comes to me and wants a dog to accompany them out camping & hunting. They want a pup that will excel and love that life style, and if I place in their arms a very laid-back pup that lacks drive and motivation, I have failed them both. If a family comes to me and wants a laid back pup that is not too demanding since their jobs and five children take up most of their time, and I place the pup that is assertive, and high energy with them, again I have failed them both.
Let me back up a little bit. I do allow people to choose a puppy based on picture, coat color, and/or gender at one week old, two weeks old, three weeks old, etc., I am still honoring my puppies as those owners know I cannot dictate the personalities, and the owners know they must respect that. Yet I still try to develop a community of clients that will trust me to match them to their perfect puppy! . To be a Dane Breeder that people can count on, so I still put in the work. Some say "You should not allow anyone to choose a puppy until they are ready to go home at eight-ten weeks. But there is still a big group looking for certain colors. I do ensure that my puppies have been seen by a vet and have undergone puppy evaluations before they go home. Once we have completed these necessary Vet visits & pre-go-home evaluations, we can now supply this information about each puppy to my clients on the reservation list. This allows clients to make informed choices before go home day ( in order of their spot on the reservation list) Sometimes I choose to match an individual puppy with a specific client . It's important in either case that my clients have all of the information they need to evaluate if the puppy will be a good match for their family, and vice versa.
It is amazing how almost always my clients choose the puppy I would have matched them with anyway.
Human nature is a funny thing. If you tell them that they cannot have a puppy because you know better, then they want that pup even more. On the flip side, when you tell them they can choose any pup they want, but you want to make sure the pup meets their needs and will excel in their household, then people are more open and understanding. Seem the more knowledgeable I am with the about each pup’s personality, the more trusting clients will be of my opinion and guidance. After all, they want the pup that is best suited for them. I offer myself up to clients in advance of go home day and answer any preliminary questions about the puppy evaluations. We hash through the pros and cons of each pup. And a beautiful thing happens. We both work together to ensure each pup gets the right placement, and in turn I am building a trusting community of informed clients who understand their dog’s unique personality and how they will fit into their family. The focus is moved from solely their own wants to the pup's needs as well. And that is what I want. Clients who consider what is best for the puppy as much as for them, setting up a beautiful, lifelong partnership to heal hearts and change lives. I love it. This is why I am here. When using a Puppy Evaluation Score Card and Score Interpretation Card, I am helping take the guess work out of puppy personality & testing. I would love to do recordings of the evaluations so that clients can see them all for themselves how the energy levels differ from puppy to puppy, or how the confidence is displayed! Most of the time a video alone could tell the clients all they need to make their decision. And make the “right” decision for them and the puppy. Seeing is believing. But this will only work when they are able to put color & gendar out of their mind. Then this would serve to make my job a little easier and minimize some of the follow-up clarifications.
Clients generally have an idea of what they want and if they don’t, they trust my recommendation (and I am always happy to give it). When I’m placing a pup with young children or for service work, therapy work, facility work, or with a very active family, I am very honest about the best matches for them. My reputation is on the line, and so are my puppies' needs. I am not willing to sell a dog to someone where I am setting my puppy up for failure. On the other side, I generally refrain from telling them what to do or which puppy they have to take home. (I have personally experienced this in the past and was not pleased with the experience). Therefore, we have to find a balance. I have worked really hard to make my program a place where people would be treated as I would want to be treated. There is no perfect puppy, but there is a perfect person for every puppy. so I spend a great deal of time talking with my clients about the pros and cons in choosing a particular pup. We tend to hash through my the top two recommendations, and they decide what they feel most comfortable with. For example, I might discuss whether they would rather move a little slower in training and build confidence with one pup, or work with another puppy that meets challenges with greater vigor.
Being able to identify and evaluate temperament traits in a puppy is highly
beneficial. Correctly setting up an evaluation is important to, because we want to get the most accurate picture possible, for both our puppies and our clients. It is equally important to remember that puppies can, and do, change, and their life experiences will shape and mold them. A once trusting and social pup can become terrified of dogs after one random scare. A tenderhearted pup that lacked confidence in its early months could really thrive in a household that works consistently at safe and well-controlled socialization, resulting in a confident pup a year later. That same dog may become fearful and ridden with anxiety, if placed in the wrong household. I am not placing blame nor passing the buck, but it is important for everyone to understand that good people with the absolute best intentions just do not always do the right thing when it comes to dogs. They simply may not know any better and treat their dog like a child, which never bodes well for the human or canine. But that is another rant, for another day.
Here is some insight to my fo puppy evaluations:
1. We test all puppies. This is important information that helps me and my clients make informed decisions and help ensure puppies end up in a household where they will thrive.
2. We do not test puppies earlier than 6wks.
3. We never test puppies on vaccination day, or an hour before or after their mealtime. (It is not ideal to test stressed, hungry, or full puppies)
4. We don't test puppies that are under the weather, have diarrhea, or a parasitic issues. We try out best to get any of that under control before conducting any testing.
5. I cannot test on the day of any stressful events. On testing day, we do not even conduct an exposure activity.
6. Do not test in any area where there may be an overwhelming
scent, such as a garage with gasoline on the floor, or in our pole barn where the smell of grill or smoker evident. This may skew the results as pups may be distracted.
7. *now they say to Use a neutral tester (someone your pups have not met) to perform the evaluations, which removes bias from the results.) Keep in mind that then I will have to spend some time training the neutral tester. It is ideal to have the same person test all of your puppies.
Since this person only needs to perform the beginning of the test, which includes approach to a person and motivation to work (fetch, go over an obstacle, etc.), and then I can perform the rest of the test myself anyway. I have done the tests myself, as the neutral tester I recruited never showed. I have been able to adjust the evaluations as needed to remove bias from the results as I am not looking for a pup myself. (I would LOVE to find a neutral person to be a part of a successful team. Just hasn't happened yet. )
8. We Perform the test in an enclosed area, but make sure it is large enough to work in (the neutral tester, the items, a puppy, and enough space to move).
9. Would love to film the evaluations (tripod and camera will be needed). So I can show these videos to clients to help them select their pup, as well as use them myself to learn from and improve. I could spend a bit of time reviewing evaluation videos and scorecards before clients arrive, and later on. How accurate was I? What did I miss? How could I have improved? I could really learn a great deal.
10. I do not allow other people or dogs in the testing area. No kids playing, dogs barking, no littermate(s) crying, or music playing, etc. This needs to be a calm, neutral setting.
11. Keep the temperature of the testing area comfortable. If puppies are cold or hot, they will not test with accuracy.
Well this tells you all what is happening over here. By the time we get through all of this it will be about time for my babies to start going home.