How I Raise & Train My Puppies
How old should puppies be before they can be trained?
Most people think they must be at least eight weeks old. Puppies do learn well at eight weeks old, however, I start training my puppies at birth. That really sounds absurd, doesn’t it? How can puppies learn when they don’t even have their eyes open? I find it much easier to start training them at birth than if I waited until they are older.
Newborn puppies have never had any hands on them so they don’t know what is happening and it may even be frightening for them to be held. Puppies will squirm and struggle when they’re first picked up so it is important to hold them firmly so they don’t fall out of your hands. I love picking the puppies up and petting them and getting them used to being handled. . When they are squirming they are exerting a lot of effort and that wears them out; then it is time for them to take a nap. After they fall asleep in my hands, I turn them over and lay them on their back in my lap. Sometimes they will awaken and try to turn right side up. I keep turning them back over on their backs. This will wear them out very quickly and they will fall asleep on their back on my lap. It is much easier to teach a small day old puppy the art of surrender than to attempt to teach a puppy who is a couple of months old.
When the puppy is asleep on my lap and laying on his back, I trim the hair off the bottom of the feet with small, sharp scissors, being very careful not to accidentally cut the puppy’s feet. After I have finished trimming the hair, I use finger nail clippers to trim the ends off of the toe nails. Puppy toe nails grow rapidly and are very sharp! When you pick puppies up they can scratch you if they are squirming, but more importantly they will scratch their mother while they are nursing. The pups need all the nourishment their mother can give them, therefore keeping the mother comfortable will allow the pups to nurse longer. Keeping the toe nails trimmed is better for everyone, the puppies, the mother and whoever is playing with them. Starting this training early teaches the puppies how to behave while having this done, as well as keeping everyone safe from being scratched.
When trimming the nails, it is important not to cut to the quick as this hurts the puppy and makes the toe nail bleed. Usually, but not always, the newborn puppies toe nails are pink and you can see where the quick is inside the nail. When you know how to do this safely, so the puppy is not hurt, he will learn to trust you and will go to sleep when it is time to have his nails trimmed. I trim the toe nails every three days because they grow very fast. The puppies learn quickly to lay still and let me trim their toe nails.
On the days that I don’t trim toe nails I take a small comb and I comb the puppies coat. It really tickles the puppies the first couple times they are combed; it makes their skin crawl. They have dried amniotic fluid and their mothers saliva on their coat, which when dried and combed out, becomes dander. Combing their coat allows fresh air to get to their skin and helps to rid them of dander. When the puppy has dander on his coat, I take my hand and pet the puppy until the dander is gone. The natural oils in my hands makes the coats shiny and they learn that being handled and groomed makes them feel good. They learn to enjoy the time I spend with them every day.
At two weeks of age their eyes and ears open.
Now they can start seeing things, although at first their vision is blurry. They can hear much clearer since the ears are opened too. Sometimes things they are used to hearing will scare them, because it sounds different now that the ears are open. It is louder and the puppies have to adjust to the newness of hearing all over again. I talk to the puppies and they listen for me to come and see them. This helps them to adjust to the new volume of familiar sounds.
Three weeks of age is another fun time for training puppies. This is when they will start learning words and building a vocabulary. They will also start learning to eat solid food. There is a little bit of planning that must be done so I will share with you what I do. I purchase a pound of extra lean ground beef. I press the raw meat into ice cube trays and freeze them. Once the meat is frozen I pop the cubes of meat out of the tray and put them in a plastic bag, then put them back in the freezer. When I take a thawed meat ball to feed, I take a frozen meat ball out to thaw for the next feeding.
The first word I teach my puppies is cookie.
Here is what I say to the puppies to introduce them to raw meat. “Hello puppies, are you in there? Who wants a cookie? I’ve got cookies.” I walk into the room where the puppies are and they are all crawling around in the whelping box they were born in. I pinch off a tiny piece of raw hamburger and push it into the first puppy’s mouth. He has never had any solid food in his mouth so he immediately spits it out. I keep asking them if they want a cookie while this is happening. I will retrieve the meat the pup spit out and by the time I do that, he has gotten a taste of the meat and is hunting, really looking, for that meat! I put the meat back in his mouth and this time he is sucking the meat out of my fingers like he is starving. Then I go the second pup and do the same routine again until I have taught each puppy what the meat is. All this time they are hearing me call this food a cookie so they are associating the meat with the new word. By the time I get done teaching each pup in the litter what raw ground beef is, they don’t spit it out ever again; they love it! I continue to pinch tiny pieces of meat off, and at the same time, I teach the pups to stay in the place they were in when they got the first bite of meat. They learn that I will be fair and give them all a pinch and then start over again at the beginning of the line. The puppies learn patience and trust when they are only three weeks old.
Also at three weeks of age, I am going to start feeding the puppies some very soft food to start the weaning process. I purchase the little jars of ground veal baby meat, Gerber Baby Rice Cereal and goats milk. I warm up the milk a little bit and put about a teaspoon of the ground veal in the milk. I add some of the rice cereal until the gruel is very thin and I stir it up so the meat and the cereal is all blended with the milk. I put this in a pan that is called a flying saucer pan. It is a stainless steel pan that has a hump in the middle to keep the food at the outside edge of the pan. This is supposed to keep the puppies from getting in the food dish, but they still get in there! I put this in the middle of the pen, put the puppies around the edge of the food dish and push their muzzles in the cereal. They start licking it up and this is their first time eating out of a bowl. They are still nursing on their mother, but this supplements her milk and starts the puppies on solid food. Each day I ad a little bit more cereal, but only a tiny bit because if you ad too much, too quickly, they will get sick. When they are used to eating the cereal I will take puppy chow and put it in the blender to pulverize it to a powder. I sprinkle this powdered puppy chow on top of the cereal, but only a small bit, to get them used to it. I gradually ad more and more as they get older. The puppies get this cereal mixture all over them as they fall into and walk through the dish. When they are done eating, I bring the mother back in and she gets to lick them clean. She really likes this treat! If there is any puppy food left she gets to eat that too.
The puppies are about five weeks old now and I have put a bowl of dry puppy kibble in their pen for them to eat whenever they want to. I put this in a bowl they can’t tip over because they will walk through it and even sleep in the bowl. They are getting their baby teeth in and are very able to chew the dry puppy chow.
Five week old puppies are up on their feet and walking around anywhere they want to go.
It is time to teach them some new words and skills. I have them living in my sun room in their pen. I put a sheet of plastic on the floor and then put the exercise pen on the plastic. I put newspapers on the plastic as this is portable and can be thrown away when soiled. The whelping box is in the pen for them to sleep in. I will now teach them to go outside to go potty; this will begin their house training.
As I head for the sun room, I get the thawed meat ball from the refrigerator. At the end of the sun room there is a sliding glass door that leads out onto a cement patio and then onto the lawn. I open the sliding door as I enter the sun room, and at the same time, I ask the puppies if they want a cookie. I then go the puppy pen and unlock it and ask the puppies, “Do you want a cookie? Let’s go outside.” I turn and go out the door and the puppies follow me because they know I have the cookies! I lead them right out onto the lawn and I tell them, “go potty” several times. This is a new word and I want them to learn it, so I repeat it many times. As the grass tickles their tummies, they squat and go potty. When each puppy goes potty he gets a cookie and is told how good he is! They learn very fast what “go outside and go potty” means. Within a week and a half these pups are waking me up so I can let them outside to go potty. There pen is clean and their room has a nice fresh smell to it. By the time they are six and a half weeks old they are well on their way to being weaned and house trained
When the puppies start keeping their pen clean
I take the whelping box out and replace it with a large crate with the gate removed. All the pups will fit in this crate because I don’t want to separate them yet; this would be too much change all at one time. The crate is their new bed. I want them to be familiar and comfortable with the crate because it will be a place where they feel safe. When the puppies go to their new home and they are ever scared or confused they will go to the safety of their crate. Having the gate removed teaches them to come and go at will and there is no stress learning what the crate is.
The puppies are being prepared to enter their new life as the only puppy at their new home.
I encourage feeding each puppy in his crate when they go to their new homes. This way, no matter where they are in the world, they can eat because that is where they are used to eating when they are at home. If a dog is used to eating on the kitchen floor and they go on vacation with their family, they could go off their food and it would upset their entire system. By feeding in the crate a lot of problems can be avoided.
All the puppies are house trained, crate trained and they have a pretty good vocabulary by the time they are eight weeks old.
When the new owners come for puppy orientation, they are given a list of the vocabulary all the puppies know, a bag of dog food with feeding instructions, a crate and a very nice well rounded puppy that is well started on his or her training. The puppies have a great start and show lots of confidence. The most important thing I can teach a new owner is when they first get their new puppy home, show the puppy the door they will be using to go outside to go potty. The puppy will only know the door they came in, but they need to know where the door is to the restroom at their new home. Changing from being a part of a litter to the only puppy, changing homes and changing people is stressful and the puppy will have to go potty first thing.
Here is a list of all the knowledge the puppies have learned from birth: How to be touched and held. How to have their feet trimmed and toenails trimmed. How to be combed and petted. Learn to see and hear and adjust to volume changes. Learn to eat solid food, wet and dry. Learned to eat from a dish, with siblings and alone. Learned patience and trust. Learned to be in an exercise pen. Learned to be inside the house and outside. Learned to be house trained. Learned to be crate trained. List of vocabulary: cookie, let’s go outside, go potty, good boy/girl, stay.
I am confident all the puppies will do well in their new homes since the foundation they have should serve them well. I am also always available to answer any questions a new owner may have. It is important that everyone is happy and comfortable and I have done all that I know to make the transitions for everyone, people and puppies alike, as stress free as possible. These puppies are now ready to continue on with higher learning in whatever direction their new owner should decide to go. I always encourage people to go on to teach their dogs how to do things and to be involved in an activity with their dogs, such as agility, obedience, herding, flyball or conformation. There are many other activities besides these that people can become involved in. These are not merely suggestions but are requirements of the new owners, to assure me the puppies that I have brought into the world, will continue on and be involved in an activity they and their owner can thoroughly enjoy.
Dana Wellock (Aasum Lancashire Heelers)
Lancashire Heeler Puppy Gallery
"Mum's been at the sherry again!"Photo by Debbie Felstead