Update: Puppies, mostly

Four weeks old!

Boy 2 makes a brave foray into the world.

We’re moving into the least stressful, least busy part of rearing puppies. Are the babies weaned yet? No, of course not, but they were already showing interest at three weeks and one day (Boy 4), or three weeks and four days (Boys 1 and 2), or four weeks (Boy 3). Many puppies aren’t interested until they’re five week old, or even six, or possibly even later than that, so it’s great to have puppies willing to try real food so early. Especially Tiny Boy 4, of course!

Ordinarily, it’s impossible to tube feed a healthy puppy past three weeks. The puppy is too strong and objects too vehemently, so you have to move to some other method. This is particularly exciting when (a) the puppy will not gain weight without extra formula, but (b) will not take a bottle. It’s dangerous to drip milk directly into the mouth from a syringe because the puppy can still aspirate formula into the lungs, even at three weeks, when he’s better at controlling the swallowing reflex. I’ve done it that way, and it can work — I had to handle Morgan’s little tricolor boy that way last year — but I hate taking that kind of risk.

Amazingly, Tiny Boy 4 was fine with tube-feeding even right up to the 4th week. I guess his infant brain might have sorted out the relationship between tube = not hungry. Classical conditioning is a wonderful thing. Or at least, a powerful thing, and wonderful if you can get it to work for you rather than against you. But naturally I would far rather have the puppy lap formula, which is much safer than putting formula in his mouth.

You try to get a very young puppy to lap formula like this:

  1. Get a syringe filled with formula
  2. Put the puppy on a towel on the counter, being very careful he can’t possibly fall off.
  3. Offer the puppy the tip of your finger.
  4. If he makes any kind of licking or sucking motion, dribble milk gently onto your finger and let him lick it off. You may also drip milk onto his tongue as he licks your finger.

This is much more likely to work than presenting a dish of formula, because suckling behavior does not resemble lapping behavior and the puppy will not know how to lap this early. The puppy wants to raise his head and find a nipple. You offer him a chance to lick formula off your finger held above his head, then lead the puppy’s head downward until he’s licking formula off your finger with his head down rather than up. THEN you try a saucer, and by “saucer” I mean a tiny jar lid because this is a very small puppy and saucers would be much too big.

And there we go, at three weeks and two days, Tiny Boy 4 was lapping milk out of a dish. Messily. Formula on his face, my hands, the towel, everywhere. But some certainly inside the puppy. At three weeks and four days, he was willing to take a little bit of puppy kibble softened in formula and then made into a very milky mash. Again, highly messy. Lots of cleanup. But very excellent movement toward eating real food and therefore retiring the tube, even if he was still tolerating tube-feeding.

Because Boy 4 was clearly willing to lap up a lot of formula even after nursing OR being tube-fed, I sharply increased the amount I was tube-feeding and offered more formula in a dish after every single nursing session, and by three and a half weeks, Boy 4 had stopped gaining barely 20 grams a day and gone up to close to 40 grams a day, and was finally looking less thin. As his ability to handle milky, mashed food is much better, I’ve finally been able to retire the tube, which is excellent.

Boy 4, contentedly asleep

I’ve also finally decided it’s safe to leave the puppies in the puppy room overnight rather than keeping them in the bedroom. They’re all too big for Leda to lie on one and accidentally smother him, they’re all going to be able to cope with cooler temperatures if one gets separated from the others, they’re all able to toddle around to find the others should they get separated. You can see from the picture above that I’ve made a small area outside the whelping box so that if they get out of the box, they won’t wind up on tile. Over the next week, that area will expand, plus I’ll flip the whelping box upside down and boom! it will become a den. Some puppies just love having a den, while others move toward the front of the room and never retreat to a den. Up to them; I always provide a choice. The key is to provide a chance for tiny puppies to toddle a short distance from wherever they were sleeping before they pee. The cleanliness instinct appears just about here, at three and a half to four weeks, and if you give the puppy a chance to move from the sleeping area to do his business, that supports the instinct to keep the den area clean and therefore smooths out the transition to actual housetraining, which of course does not start just yet, but will come very soon — next week, in fact.

Anyway, keeping the puppies upstairs at night does mean that I will have to go up a couple times a night and make sure Leda nurses them. She is possessive and doesn’t want any other dogs near her puppies; she wants to be in the room with them; but she’s not keen on nursing and would quit immediately if I didn’t make her do it. She decided that at three weeks, by the way, which sometimes happens. Good thing she’s a cooperative dog and willing to nurse them if I pick her up, put her in the whelping box, and make her lie down, which I’ve been doing at ten pm, midnight, two, and four. I’ll cut that to twice a night now.

And yes, she is going to have to tolerate other dogs interacting with her puppies, starting today. Morgan and Naamah are very keen to take on the role of big sisters. It’ll be a bit before I let the boys interact directly with the puppies, but my young adult females are completely trustworthy with tiny babies and will be fantastic for socializing these puppies. That will work much better than just leaving the whole job to Leda, who doesn’t want to nurse her puppies and is probably going to be avoiding them most of the time until they’re closer to completely weaned. In fact, when you hear someone say, “Puppies should be with their mother until eight weeks,” this is largely wrong, or at least not ideal. Many (not all, to be sure, but many) bitches want almost nothing to do with their puppies between five and nine weeks and spend bare minutes a day with the litter if allowed to choose. Socialization comes much more from littermates (bite inhibition) and young adult members of the pack (everything else), and that is why having a fair number of dogs that can interact with tiny babies is very helpful in every possible way. My young females are superbly gentle and kind with the tiny tots.

Meanwhile! Two chapters to go with Invictus. I’m off work until the summer session starts, which is June 6th, so I’m going to take a stab at finishing the draft of this manuscript THIS WEEK so I can MOVE ON to something else — anything else, the way I’m feeling now!

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3 thoughts on “Update: Puppies, mostly”

  1. Camille McAloney

    Have you ever thought of writing a non-fiction book of your experiences and insights as a breeder? I think it would be a really cool read!

  2. I could title it, Breeding Great Dogs as a Hobby: Always Hard, Often Heartbreaking, Yet You Can’t Stop.

    Seriously, no, I hadn’t thought of it, but maybe I should actually write a table of contents and see how coherent my thoughts might be.

    Much better known people than I have written great books. Patricia Craige, Chris Walcowicz, Mary Roslyn Williams … But it might be fun. I can see I’d put a different spin on it than anybody else! Structure and genetics before you get to the breeding part … And I’ve had seven one-puppy litters, litters D, G, H, I, J, M, and N. Not counting the litter where the one puppy didn’t make it. So I’m a definite expert on socializing the single puppy. And on losing a lot of money in a hurry …

  3. Camille McAloney

    I would LOVE to read your take on things. Seeing how structure fits together in to movement is just so satisfying. And of course I think your scientific background in genetics (among other things) would be a great perspective!

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