How Our Puppies Are Raised
We space our breedings out in order to ensure that each litter has our undivided attention and we can spend a significant amount of time socializing, interacting with and evaluating the puppies. All of our dogs live in the house, and we whelp and raise our litters in the house as well. Keeping the litter in our home with us ensures they are in a safe, secure, climate controlled area, and allows us to easily keep dam and pups under careful observation. As the pups age, it also affords us the opportunity to expose the pups a variety of normal household sounds and activities on a daily basis.
Directly off our living room we have a 12' x 18' room, not-so-creatively dubbed "the dog room", which was built specifically for our dogs and puppies. Both for ease of cleaning
and sanitation, and because a couple litters of puppies developed at taste for drywall, in 2011 the room was upgraded with a solid surface quartz and epoxy floor with integrated baseboard and FPR wall paneling. The door between the dog room and living room is usually left open, but can be closed when needed to provide more peace and quiet for the dam and litter, while still allowing us to keep an eye on everything through the window in the door.
A door from the dog room to the outside opens into a large fenced exercise enclosure where our dogs can safely romp about outdoors when we are not outside with them to supervise, and a doggy door through the wall provides access from the dog room to an outdoor 10'x10' dog kennel, also located inside the fenced exercise yard to provide additional security.
It is here that we whelp and raise our puppies. The 5'x5' whelping box made of easy to clean and disinfect PVC panels is set up in a corner, with an attached exercise pen providing additional interior kennel space of approximately 6'x 8'. A divider separates the two areas, keeping the young pups in the box but allowing the dam to move to and from the whelping box as she pleases. This way the pups have a warm, cozy nest where they can snuggle together on fleece pads under the heat lamp, and the dam has a separate, cooler area to which she can retreat in between feedings, allowing her to relax and take a break from the litter while still keeping careful watch over them. Via the doggy door in the wall, the dam also has free access to the outdoor kennel so she can stretch her legs, potty and get some fresh air whenever she wants.
Later, once the pups are weaned and their dam is no longer with them all the time, this division of the interior space remains, though it undergoes a bit of a remodel and serves a different purpose. After weaning the whelping box is converted to a puppy litterbox full of wood shavings, while the rest of the indoor area becomes a puppy nursery/playpen full of blankets and toys. The pups pick up on this demarcation of areas almost immediately and within just a few days they are keeping their living and sleeping area very clean by consistently going to the litterbox when they need to relieve themselves. This not only cuts down on the mess that a litter of puppies is capable of creating, making clean up easier and providing a more healthy environment for the pups, but it also assists with future housebreaking by affording the pups the opportunity to practice, and thus reinforce, their natural instinct to relieve themselves far away from their living area. Once the pups are old enough to easily navigate between indoors and outdoors, we reopen the doggy door to the outside kennel giving them access to that area as well and within a couple more weeks most potty breaks have moved outside and even the litterbox isn't getting used much any longer. Yet another big help towards housebreaking.
Raising & Socialization
Our pups are handled several times a day, every day, from birth until they go to their new homes. In addition to their daily cuddles, during the period of 3 to 16 days after birth they also undergo the Bio-Sensor "Superdog" Program of early neurological stimulation that was developed by the US Department of Defense for use with Military Working Dogs. This program is one that is widely used by breeders of all types, and while we don't know if it truly does make any positive impact in the development of young pups, it certainly doesn't hurt.
We do try to keep visitors and activity around the pups to a minimum until after the third week, at which time the pups' eyesight and hearing are up and running smoothly, and the pups are aware, active, mobile and starting to realize there is a whole new world around them to explore. After this milestone visitors are welcome, and between friends, family members and neighbors the pups typically receive several visits a week. Customers on our puppy waiting list often come to visit too, and Saturdays after our SchH club finishes training the pups are all brought out to romp and play and socialize with our club members. By the time they go to their new homes, the pups have already met dozens of people of different ages and ethnic backgrounds.
On top of the constant parade of human visitors, our pups are well socialized with dogs as well. In addition to spending time every day with their dam, once they are old enough the pups also get to interact with our other dogs. This provides not only additional playmates, but also important lessons for them in canine social behavior, communication and manners. We introduce the pups to our horses (through the fence or over a stall door only of course!) and cats too, just for the additional experience it offers them.
Our pups are also exposed to just about every possible facet of normal household activity. The indoor/outdoor puppy area right off our living room allows them observe the world beyond their enclosure and watch the general goings on around here, both indoors and outdoors, all day, every day. This means that from the time their senses develop enough to allow them to do so, they see, hear and smell people, dogs, horses, cats, tractors and lawn mowers, the TV and stereo, the vacuum, pots and pans banging around in the kitchen at dinner time, the buzzer on the dryer and the overly loud and obnoxious spin cycle on the washing machine.
Once the pups are fully mobile and aware, they begin taking forays outdoors and throughout the rest of our house on a daily basis. Inside they get to run around on a variety of flooring surfaces (vinyl, hardwood, carpet) and play tag and peek-a-boo over and under the furniture. They raid closets whose doors we forgot to shut, knock over the waste basket under the side table, splash about in the dog water bowl in the kitchen, try to figure out how to negotiate the stairs, drag the small throw rug out of the bathroom, pull the blanket off the couch and the clothes out of the laundry baskets, and confront large, noisy things like dishwashers and washing machines up close and personal.
Outside, they follow us everywhere as we take them on excursions around our 10 acre property. They chase one another up and down the hillside and steps on the deck, under the bushes, around the trees, over and under logs in the woods and bales of hay in the barn. They scramble up and down piles of loose rock, dig in the dirt, play hide and seek in the tall field grass, and check out the pond. Basically, they act like typical puppies, exploring their world with joyful abandon and enthusiasm while gaining confidence, and even more curiosity, with every new experience.
We begin crate training our puppies around 5 weeks of age. Prior to this they have been eating their meals out of large community pans, but now their food is put into individual bowls and they are crated for their meals. The first week we will crate 2 puppies together with their food bowls, in order to allow them to acclimate to the confinement of the crate without experiencing isolation at the same time. As they continue to develop and grow and get more and more used to the crates, they are separated until each pup is eating all of its meals in its own, puppy sized crate. At around 6 weeks old, after they've gotten some exposure to crates, we also begin taking them for short car rides a few times a week in order to accustom them to vehicular travel and help them get over any car sickness (or at least identify who gets car sick so we can warn the new owner!). As with the rest of crate training, we start with 2-3 pups together in a large crate and over time work up to pups being by themselves each in its own crate.
By the time they are 7-8 weeks old they are used to spending a few hours each day crated alone and have been on several car rides of varying durations. While it would certainly not be accurate to say our pups are fully crate trained or seasoned road travelers by the time they go to their new homes, important steps in the right direction have been made. We have found that this early acclimation in a gradual, positive manner makes our customers' lives easier as they travel home, settle their pup in and start crate training in earnest.
Evaluation, Testing, Placement
On whelping night we record the details of each pups' birth on a log sheet, including its birth weight and information about the sex and color of the puppy and any other important notes. We then fit each pup with a different colored collar to allow for easy identification. For the duration of the pups' stay with us we continue to maintain detailed records documenting our observations and the progress of each individual puppy. Admittedly, the first couple of weeks there isn't much to take note of other than monitoring weight gain, tracking whose eyes and ears opened first, and so on. But as the pups age we are able to see more and more of each pup's unique personality, and thus our observations become much more individualized and meaningful.
Much of the evaluation process is simple observation of how the pups behave and react as they begin to explore the world and we expose them to a wide variety of new sights, smells, sounds, objects and environments. It's amazing how much information about each pup's personality can be gleaned by just sitting back and watching as they experience new things, interact with one another and with other people and dogs, and adjust to the changing dynamics within the litter that occurs as they work out their own pecking order. Both in their puppy enclosure and strewn throughout the house they have access to a plethora of balls, kongs, stuffy toys, squeaky toys, nylabones, tug ropes and most every other dog toy imaginable. Watching them play together is not only enjoyable, but insightful as well. As they chew and carry and shake toys, run and chase and scuffle with one another, we are able to observe additional valuable information about each pup's drive and temperament.
Of course, we don't just sit back to watch them play. We interact and play with them often too, both together in groups and individually. As they continue to grow and their drives, senses and coordination continue to develop, this play becomes more intense and purposeful, and also more structured using specific training toys such as tugs, leather and burlap rags and balls on strings. This play serves not only to continue to foster drive development and imprint the pups with basic skills that will prove useful later in their training careers, but it also serves as an important part of our evaluation process of the puppies. We are able to discern differences in pups between when they play together with their littermates verses playing with us one-on-one, and how the presence of littermates affects their behavior. We are able to gauge their desire to chase and grab tugs, rags and balls, their natural tendency to retrieve or possess, and their grip, willingness to counter and overall intensity and fighting behavior.
During this play, as well as at random times during our excursions around and about, we test for environmental sensitivities of various kinds. We expose them to gunshots, car horns, slammed doors, stainless steel buckets dropped on concrete, and other abrupt, loud noises in order to test their startle reflex and, most importantly, resiliency. We run them through several scenarios designed to test their drive, confidence and willingness to play despite different, strange environmental factors or obstacles. Do they play differently on slick surfaces compared to surfaces where they can get good traction and footing? How about in dark versus well lit areas? Quiet versus noisy locations? Will they confidently chase a toy up and down short flights of steps and piles off loose rock, under a table or bush, into a tunnel or through other obstacles? Will they willingly negotiate walking across a raised plank or wobble board, and up and down a lowered A-frame climbing wall? Do they remain confident, or freeze up, when placed on a table or other tall surface? When faced with an impediment to getting food or toy or anything else they want, do they keep trying, showing persistence and problem solving ability? Or do they get frustrated and have a fit, or just give up and wander off to do something else? Answers to these sorts of questions shed incredible light on the depths of each pup's personality and are important factors in determining the best placement for each pup.
We do scent work ability assessment and imprinting as well, running them through a variety of different exercises, sometimes together in groups and other times individually. One day this may involve just scattering a fistful of kibble in the grass. Another day we may hide food under a rug or towel. And yet another day we may set up formal puppy sized scent boxes complete with tracking flag, trampled ground and food scattered within the box. Then we turn them loose to search for it and sit back and take note of the answers to another host of questions: Who keeps working until it's all gone, and who gives up or looses interest quickly? Who shows calm intensity, who searches in a frantic manner, and who is more lackadaisical or easily distracted? From time to time we will even throw an environmental test into the mix as well. If a gunshot is fired overhead while the pups are searching, how do they react? Do they startle, or just keep working? If they startle, do they get back to searching and is that searching as intense as beforehand? Our observations allow us to gain insight into each pup's potential for focus and concentration, distractability, resiliency, problem solving capabilities and future work ethic.
FORMAL PUPPY TESTING
Like many breeders, we also do formal puppy aptitude testing at around 8 weeks of age. While many puppy tests recommend 7 weeks, we have found with larger breeds like GSDs that waiting until closer to the 8th week of age provides more meaningful information. The puppy test is conducted in a location where the pups have never been, by a person they do not know. We observe the tests, but have no involvement and keep ourselves hidden as it is important that the pups are unaware of our presence, lest it influence their behavior and thus skew the test results. Our puppy tester then puts them through a series of exercises designed to assess a wide range of different aspects of drive, nerve, resiliency and various other temperament characteristics. Both we and the tester keep detailed records of our observations of each pup's behavior on each part of the test, and later we compare notes to ensure nothing was omitted or misinterpreted.
While this puppy testing is a part of the evaluation and home placement process, it is actually only a very small part. Through everything else we have done with the pups over the previous weeks, we already have a very good understanding of each individual pup's temperament and potential working ability. By this point we even have a pretty good idea of which pup is most suitable for which customer on our reservation list. So we don't look to these tests to answer any major questions about puppies. In truth, since a puppy test is really just a snapshot in time, and no 5 minute test on any given day can provide as much insight as weeks of observation and interaction, it would be erroneous to place a significant amount of weight on puppy test results.
What we do gain from the puppy tests is the opportunity to see if the behaviors and responses that each pup has consistently shown over the proceeding weeks, and thus our expectations of how each pup will act during each phase of the tests, will hold true in the testing environment. It is very insightful to see how the pups react when they are removed from the safe, comfortable environment where they have spent their entire lives thus far and are placed with a strange person in a completely foreign location where everything looks, sounds and smells strange and where there are no littermates or familiar, trusted people around to provide support and reassurance. Are the pups rattled by this experience, or do they confidently approach it as an exciting new adventure? Do the pups maintain the same sort of drive levels and general behavioral patterns we are used to seeing at home, or does the whole testing environment cause inhibition or change in what is their normal behavior? How the pups act under these circumstances compared to what we are used to seeing from them is one of the final pieces to the puzzle of assessing temperament and working potential. This, combined with the extensive knowledge we already have of the many facets of each pup's personality, helps us consistently make successful matches of pups to new owners.
Diet, Veterinary, and Miscellaneous
All of our own dogs are fed a raw diet. While we highly recommend this diet to customers, we understand that there are a number of reasons why someone might be unable or unwilling to feed this diet. With this in mind, our litters are raised onto a diet that is half raw, and half high quality kibble, alternating between the two at each feeding. This way all the pups are familiar with and acclimated to both ways of feeding, and can easily adjust to whichever their new owners decide to feed. We are of course always willing to discuss nutrition with new owners, and help them determine the best diet to feed their new family member.
Worming and Vaccinations
Our pups are wormed regularly throughout their first few weeks and treated for other parasites as needed. We perform at least two fecal exams on the pups between 6-8 weeks of age and while typically everything is clear by this age, this is not always the case. Almost all domestic dog puppies are born with worms, and even with a regular worming schedule and clean environment they can be hard to completely eradicate as pups are notorious for reinfesting themselves while still living together as a litter. Additionally, puppies are susceptible to parasites such as coccidia and giardia that are common in the environment, particularly in natural settings with a lot of wildlife such as where we live. Therefore we do recommend new owners have a fecal check done by their veterinarian shortly after taking their puppies home, to see if additional treatment is needed.
Our puppies are given a single Distemper and Parvovirus vaccine at 8 weeks of age. Additional vaccinations will be required over the subsequent weeks after the puppies go to their new homes in order to complete the puppy series and ensure long term immunity. For the overall health of the dogs, we use and strongly recommend Dr. Jean Dodd's minimal vaccination protocol. This means not stressing out the dog's immune system by administering unnecessary vaccinations, or vaccinating more frequently than is absolutely necessary to ensure immunity and compliance with the law.
Because unique, permanent identification can go a long way in reuniting dog and owner should the dog become lost or stolen all of our puppies are permanently identified with microchips before going to their new homes.
Registration and Naming
All of our puppies are registered with the American Kennel Club and the new owners are provided with the registration certificate when they pick up their puppy. All of our puppies are sold with the Limited form of AKC registration, which precludes the dog from being bred and having offspring registered with AKC. We are happy to remove this limitation and upgrade this to Full (Breeding) registration after the dog has met the breed worthiness stipulations clearly spelled out in our contract, which include working title or certification and passing hip/elbow evaluation.
We select the AKC registered name of all puppies we breed, using the German style naming system where each litter is assigned a letter of the alphabet, and the registered names of all of the pups in that litter begin with that letter of the alphabet, followed by the kennel designation of "vom Wildhaus." New owners of course are free to use any call name they desire.