How Our Puppies Are Raised
Environment & Socialization
Just as all of our own dogs live in the house with us as our companions, we whelp and raise our puppies in the house as well. Directly off our living room we have a large room, not-so-creatively dubbed "the dog room", which was built specifically for our dogs and puppies. The whelping box nestles safely in a corner, and there is plenty of space to give the dam an indoor kennel area so that she can take breaks from her puppies as needed. Once weaned, this same area allows plenty of space for a large indoor enclosure for the puppies to enjoy. Directly off the dog room is access to a large, fenced dog yard and a secure outdoor kennel so dam, and puppies once old enough, can come and go in and out as they please during nice weather.
Keeping the puppies in our home with us ensures they are in a safe, secure, clean, climate controlled area, and allows us to easily keep dam and pups under careful observation. The puppy enclosure being located right next to the living room allows the puppies to experience the everyday goings on of a normal household even when we aren't actively interacting with them. 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.
In addition to exposing them to everyday life, we put great effort into raising our puppies with an "Enriched Puppy Protocol". This term has been popularized (and marketed) by many behaviorists and breeders in recent years, most famously by AviDog and Puppy Culture. It isn't rocket science, but it is does require a great deal of time, attention and planning. The payoff though is huge, as anyone who has a puppy bred and raised by us can attest. So what is it? Well, it is basically the exact opposite of the sterile, spartan, almost laboratory like environment that many people think of when they envision a breeding kennel. It also takes a lot more than just keeping puppies off in a corner of the house where they experience things, but only from a distance. True enrichment requires paws-on exploration and interaction.
Thus, from day one, our puppies are exposed to new, novel things to expand their senses, get their little brains working and exploring, and to instill lifelong curiosity and confidence. With very young puppies this is as simple as having a variety of different types of blankets for their whelping box, so that daily blanket changes bring with them new smells to sniff and different textures to feel with their baby puppy toes. As the puppies grow, so do the enrichment opportunities. Toys are swapped out for new and different ones daily, so that they experience a wide variety of different sizes, colors and materials of objects to chew and carry around. The puppies find the "furniture" in their indoor and outdoor play areas rearranged on an almost daily basis. One day they might have little plush beds to sleep in, a mini agility tunnel to run through, an old plastic baby gate lying on the floor to walk over and an adventure box to play with. The next day it might be small crates to sleep in, wobble boards and saucer sleds to run over and a small children's slide to climb on. Meals are sometimes fed in community puppy pans or normal dog bowls in their puppy pen, or later in crates. Other times they might find themselves eating in an entirely new location like the kitchen, the bathtub, the basement, out on the deck. Instead of in a bowl, kibble meals might be scattered in the grass, or in a snuffle mat, or (an absolute favorite that is always video worthy) in a ball pit.
Properly enriching a puppy environment isn't just throwing new stuff at them constantly. It needs to be done with thoughtfulness and an understanding of early canine developmental stages to ensure that everything is age appropriate. We don't want to scare them. We don't want to present them with something that is overwhelming or discouraging. Challenges should be challenging, but achievable with a reasonable amount of effort. And all of it should be fun. Puppies raised in a manner where new things are safe, exciting and enjoyable, and where any obstacles in their path are surmountable, grow to become adult dogs who are bold, self-confident, curious, and always willing to try new things. These are traits everyone values in a dog, regardless of whether it's a working dog, dog sport partner, or beloved family pet.
Of course there is also a lot more to properly raising puppies than just providing them with environmental novelties. Dogs are social creatures, and interacting with other beings is of vital importance. 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 (ENS) that was developed by the US Department of Defense for use with Military Working Dogs and popularized decades ago by Dr. Carmen Battaglia. We also add AviDog's early olfactory stimulation to this as well. These programs are widely used by breeders of all types, and while we don't know if they truly make any positive impact in the development of young pups, they certainly don't hurt. Daily handling continues after the ENS programs are complete and we start exposing the puppies to basic husbandry tasks that will be a part of their future lives. Playing with feet, weekly nail trims/grinding, looking at teeth and ears, mild amounts of restraint, checking various body parts, some light grooming with a soft brush and baths as needed are all done in a manner that keeps these experiences, if not enjoyable, at least tolerable for the puppies in order to help set the stage for dogs who are manageable for grooming and vetting as they mature.
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 online and they are starting to recognize and interact with other creatures. Once the puppies are ready, 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 our schutzhund club members are always happy to socialize them on training days. 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 through interactions with our pack of expert puppy raisers. We have been blessed with multiple generations of dogs who are happy to take on puppy babysitting duties and always enjoy puppies, providing not only additional playmates but also important lessons in canine social behavior, communication and manners.
Once old enough, the pups begin taking forays outdoors and throughout the rest of our house on a regular basis. Indoors, they get to run around on a variety of flooring surfaces (vinyl, hardwood, carpet), negotiate new obstacles like stairs, engage in typical puppy shenanigans like raiding the dirty laundry, pulling blankets off the couch and dragging the bath mats around the house, encounter bizarre objects like ceiling fans and confront large, noisy things like dishwashers and washing machines and flushing toilets up close and personal.
Outdoors, 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 flower beds, and check out the pond. They get to meet the horses and chickens and cats, and more large, noisy things like cars and tractors and lawn mowers.
As they are rampaging around like typical puppies, exploring their world with joyful abandon and enthusiasm while gaining confidence with every new experience, we aren’t just enjoying their antics and chaperoning to keep them out of trouble. We are also carefully observing them for insight into their individual personalities and taking note of any reactions or behaviors that would later be pertinent to their evaluation and placement.