Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Developing Social Skills or the Appearance of Dominance

The pups have undergone a huge change in the last few days with regards to their social skill development. Prior to this, we didn't see much in the way of social communication either among the pups or between pups and adults. Yesterday, there was a big change with pups soliciting adults, adults really correcting pups, and pups exhibiting dominance displays among each other. What does all this mean? Basically, that life has gotten even more interesting than it was before :-).

There has been a recent trend among positive dog trainers to downplay or even deny the existence of dominance in dog-dog interactions. I think this is a subtle or even overt put down Caesar Millan, who talks some about dominance (but even more about leadership). Personally, I think it's total hog wash. Watching pups develop in these early weeks, dominance displays are frequent and obvious. I've always seen dominance displays as a fabulously sophisticated way for dogs (wolves, coyotes, etc) to establish a leadership hierarchy with no or only limited amounts of violence. Like the establishment of human society, dogs use dominance to establish rules, status and manners. It's not a negative, it's a positive that we should be in awe of.

You'll see some puppy tiffs in the videos, one where Miss Pink corrects Miss Yellow and then just starts decking everyone around her. Another of her and Miss Red having a moment. These tiffs give the puppies practice in communicating their needs and status without hurting another puppy. You'll see them use all of the signals that adult dogs use--height, head and tail position, mouths and vocalizations. They get up on their toes and even bounce to get higher, arch over the other pup with their tail as high as they can get it, they grab and snarl. All of this is not only normal but an important set of skills to learn well so they can be subtler in the future. But first, they are practicing with rather coarse attempts.

The pups are also being taught key lessons by the adult dogs. You'll see them soliciting Corey and Dreamer, licking at their mouths. With Corey, this results in patience and tolerance but with Dreamer, it results in her regurgitating her meal for them. Don't worry, I spared you the photos/video of that! But all of these efforts are the beginning of polite greeting of adult dogs.

In video Day 31-32 066, you'll see Mr Blue make a serious mistake, playing tug with Dreamer's teat. She uses a quick and immediate correction to put an end to that behavior, and then goes on with playing with him and the other pups. He learned his lesson and nursed quite politely the rest of the morning. I also tried to get some photos of Dreamer playing with the pups but my camera isn't quite fast enough. There is some video but it doesn't quite capture the entire exchange.

Enjoy the videos and see if you can see the pups learning how to speak "dog." You'll see more and more of it over the coming weeks. Which is your favorite interaction?

Monday, February 27, 2012

I'm Ba-ack!

Two hours ago, I got home from the presentation that I have been working so hard on. Life will be returning to normal around here! It was such a pleasure to take the dogs for a walk and then do a little training this afternoon. Even Dreamer got to participate and she was elated. By the time the pups are four weeks old, most moms are ready for some excitement, even if it's just some heeling and a walk in the woods. After spending 10-14 hours a day sitting at my computer for the past nine days, I get it!

My thanks to all who pitched in to get the pups, Dreamer, Una, Corey, Andy and I through this craziness. Rosie and Lise came and stayed so they could manage the pups during the day. Marcy took care of Lise's dogs to free her up. Nancy packed orders, cleaned up after pups and walked my other dogs so they wouldn't lose their minds. Blanche took Una out training. And, as always, Andy created fabulous meals, stoked the stoves and generally kept the place running. My love and thanks to you all!

So, the High litter is four weeks old! How cool is that. In a month's time, the pups have begun to see and hear, become very mobile, can now control their body temperature, and are engaging in social interactions with each other and other dogs. They are still quite near sighted (remember my Mr Magoo still fits) and have trouble locating sound but they are developing those senses more and more every day. They have some startle reflex (which doesn't exist in the first few weeks) but don't have much in the way of fear so they have to be protected from the world around them. They are also limited in what they can learn but if lessons are tied to their primary reinforcers (food, water, cleanliness), they can learn some things. So, at this point, they are learning to recognize the various ways that we call them and beginning housebreaking.

The pups have become so good at potty training that I'm rewarding them with more space today. We proceed slower than some breeders in giving our pups space to live in so that housebreaking is ingrained in them by six weeks or so. I figure they get tons of play time out of the pen so they aren't deprived if we limit their space inside the pen. Today, they have hit the potty box 100% of the time when pooping and close to 80% when peeing. I'm thrilled with that!

They are nursing standing up now, which is very difficult for pups this age and size but is important to their physical development. It is so difficult to access mom, I think the calories required to accomplish nursing may be equal to or even greater to what they take in. But they are learning to stand on their hind legs, balance, adapt to mom's movements and the pushing and shoving of their siblings. They are also learning that the early bird gets the worm; if they are slow to realize Dreamer is there, they tend to get stuck with the more poorly producing teats.

Some of you have asked why we started feeding the pups earlier than we normally do. I made the decision after two days of no weight gains despite having access to Dreamer 20 hours a day to nurse. At that point, Dreamer was eating 10 pounds of food each day yet was rail thin, well under an appropriate weight even for a nursing bitch. Yet the pups were a pound behind where I wanted them to be and not gaining. So, I fed them and they haven't looked back. Although not quite up to my prefered weights, they are gaining rapidly so my concern has lessened.

The pups are eating ground meat, bone, organs and vegetables with grains, salmon oil, probiotic and a general multi-vitamin supplement. They love turkey and beef, like chicken and lamb but were unimpressed with pork. They have access to water but unlike our pups who eat a bit later, are thus far not interested in it. Dreamer must be providing them all the hydration they need. Yes, they are still nursing many times each day and will continue to do so until they go home.

That brings you up to speed on the babies. Enjoy the photos and video from this week!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

New Photos are Up!

Just a quick note to let everyone know that all is well with puppies and Dreamer. I'm running flat out to finish a major work project but got some new photos and videos up with the help of my trusty team of Puppy Moms--Lise, Rosie and Nancy. I promise to post more next week after work slows down.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Teeth! and More!!

The pups start their fourth week with a big breakthrough, actually many of them. Yup, the pups' canine teeth made their appearance yesterday. They don't have any jaw power so no puppy scenes yet but those are coming.

I have finally gotten over the flu but Rosie Higdon still came up from VA to help for the weekend. Hopefully, spending time with the babies will be worth the work. Dreamer is showing more signs of a pending mastitis so Rosie and I are rotating hot packing every two hours. Dreamer is sure she is getting the raw end of this deal but as we tell her, it's for her own good.

The pups are interacting a lot with their environment now. Check out the videos to see them explore their world. They now have a pile of toys with them in the box and four different footings that they traverse each day. They are starting to problem solve when they get themselves in predicaments, which is often now. Their array of vocalizations is increasing daily, too. Barking, whining, howling (literal heads-back, muzzle-to-the-moon howling), grunting, purring, mewing and all out screeching. We've tried to capture many of them on the videos so turn your volume up or down as needed :-).

We have some great news from our other girls, too. Today was Ultrasound Day for Chex and Scoop. Marcy and I were holding our breath because we had bred Chex twice in the past few years and she missed both times. We weren't sure if she could ever get pregnant again but sure enough, she has six or so pups in there! Yahoo!! Good boy, Striker! I can't wait to meet these Striker x Chex babies!

Not to be outdone, Scoop is also pregnant by Goose. Looks like she has eight to nine pups in her first litter. So we are going to have an exciting March, sending Dreamer's pups home and welcoming the Heart and the Country Music litters into the world. What fun!

Hey, if anyone actually is reading this, drop a comment below. I can't tell if I'm just talking to myself or not. New photos and videos are up. Week 4 folder will be started soon!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Still Down with the Flu

I'm still down with the flu but there are new photos on the webshots site. Click the link to the right for Week 3. More as soon as I'm up and about. Marcy and Lise visited today to help with the pups, which was a real treat!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Let the Puppy Games Begin!

The pups hit another exciting milestone yesterday--they started to play! I love this stage where they start interacting with each other and their mom. I haven't been able to get any video of the interactions but I'll try to today. Instead I posted a favorite clip of mine from the Wine litter. It is of Corey playing with one of the pups under Una's watchful eye. This pup is about five days older than the High litter so you know what you have to look forward to.

We are redecorating the whelping box today, too. The sheets came off since the pups' eyes have adapted to the world around them. We are also adding toys so the pups have some inanimate objects to interact with. I hesitated to do it sooner because of the number of pups Dreamer has to deal with but things are going pretty well so it's time. Toys for pups of this age have to be incredibly safe since they have no concept of danger and will plow full steam ahead toward whatever it is they want, regardless what danger might be in the way. Our job is to figure out how to keep them safe while still stimulating their bodies, minds and senses.

Dreamer just went up to 6 pounds of food today. She is content and calm in the box now, happy to stay for long periods, cleaning up, nursing and sleeping with the pups. As you can see in the photos, Corey is offering to help in the whelping box.

Hopefully you got to see Mr Royal Blue demonstrating the Biosensor and scent exercises we do with the pups every day. If you didn't, you can see it here. I think he's a star!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The lights are turning on!

Tonight was one of those exciting moments in the lives of each litter where I could see the pups really responding to the world around them. Though a simple act, about half of them woke up when I turned the lights on tonight. That means that their eyes are beginning to function and soon they will be toddling around the box. They still won't hear for another 5-6 days but they are growing up for sure.

Puppies this age always remind me of Mr Magoo, though I'm sure I'm dating myself with the analogy. Like the cartoon character, young puppies are nearsighted for many weeks as their eyes continue to develop. This leads to some pretty funny situations. For example, for quite a while during woods walks, they mistake trees for us. You know, big and tall, relativley speaking. So they present themselves to a tree and then get very confused when they've realized what they have done.

Their developing eyes explain why many young, talented pups are thought to be bad retrievers. What really happened was the retrieve object went out of their sight, even though it was thrown only 5 feet or so. You'll see me typically rolling retrieve toys so the pup has a better chance of following it's movement.

Things have quieted down so I'm going to do the Biosensor exercises and videotape them smelling their first chukar partridge. So, stay tuned and I'll post some additional video and photos later tonight.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Catching Up!

The High pups are doing great! I've posted some new photos and video on the site so click the link that says "Week 2 Photos and Video" to check them out. There won't be a lot of photos for a few days until their eyes are fully open. We limit flash photography and bright lights during this transition period so the pups' brains and eyes can gradually become accustomed to seeing the world. That's good for the pups but doesn't make for good photographs so we typically just skip it rather than post dark and blurry shots.

So much has changed in the last few days, I'll try to catch you up. Dreamer is transitioning from the hyper-protective dam to a somewhat bored, do-I-really-have-to working mom. This is a normal progression but it always surprises me how quickly the dams begin to leave the pups for longer and longer periods. She is still keeping them spotless and well fed, as evidenced by the pups' constant weight gains.

The pups are up on all four for short spurts, before falling over and rolling across the box. They are barking, scritching and scratching like older dogs, which is so cute that it's hard to bear sometimes. They can control their body temperature much more so are comfortable at 68 degrees away from Dreamer, a big change over their first few days.

Watching puppies this age is a study in contrasts. First, I am struck by how cute they are, all rolly-polly and squished faces. Almost everything they do makes me smile. But when I look deeper, I see "survival of the fittest" played out on every level. The battle to nurse is just that, a battle. It is the essence of sibling rivalry--what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine if I can get it. The pups push, shove, pry and wrench each other off a nipple without a second thought. Each pup wants to be in the middle of the pig pile so its siblings keep it warm without it using too many calories. There is no thought given to the smaller or weaker pups. Lucky for our crew, we are here to ensure everyone gets their share but I can see how the very process makes pups stronger, builds their bodies and brains, and adds that natural stress that enables them to handle stress later in their lives.

We supplement that stress by doing Biosensor activities once each day plus introducing scent items. I'll videotape a session in the next few days but this set of exercises mildly stresses the pups to strengthen their nervous and adrenal system.

We've had fun with the scent items. Tonight is a game bird but till now, we've done other items. Thus far, moss and spruce are tied for top interest items with apple bringing up the rear as totally uninteresting. I'll try to videotape a session so you can see the pups go from an unfocused week-old puppy to a focused scenting machine in a second. It's pretty fabulous to see and hear, since they end their investigation with a telltale snort.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Just a quick note to thank everyone for their kind thoughts for Dreamer. She is feeling much, much better and is resting much more comfortably. The pups are growing fast and quite strong. The largest pups are 1 1/2 pounds, the smallest 1 lb 4 oz. They are spending a lot more time sleeping now so Dreamer gets a little bit of time to herself.

Today's scent was evergreen and they were intrigued. It was toenail night again so 180 toenails later, I am ready to get some shut eye.

Photos and vidoes are loading so check them later or tomorrow.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Breeding Challenges

Each day, we post darling photos and videos of our pregnant dams, the handsome sires and their beautiful pups but behind those images is the reality of breeding. You read a bit about one of those realities when Miss Rainbow died. Tonight, I'm going to tell you more, probably because I'm incredibly tired after ten days with minimal sleep.

Most litters go smoothly, with easy breedings, pregnancies and whelpings. Dreamer's has not followed that pattern and although an outlier, it is our existence at the moment. Last night, I feared that Dreamer had developed a uterine infection. To be totally gross, there was a smell in the nursery that I knew shouldn't be there. Her discharge, something that all dams experience, had changed to a color and consistency that I didn't like. So tonight, I took her in to my fabulous vet, Dr Jim Zgoda at Otterkill Animal Hospital for a check up. Ultrasound confirmed that there was fluid in the uterus that shouldn't be there but it had not become the dreaded pyometra.

However, treatment for mild infections is not easy on the dog but the alternatives are either let it progress or spay Dreamer in the next few days. So, tonight we start prostaglandin treatments. HOpefully Dreamer will come through without problem but I suspect we won't be getting much sleep tonight.

Wish us well tonight and send Dreamer positive thoughts that she won't be too uncomfortable for the next three days.

Let the Games Begin!

It was a big night, last night! It was 72 hours since the pups were born and that means the beginning of our developmental program. That means, the pups went to school for the first time. Now mind you, they have learning all kinds of things with Dreamer in the whelping box. They've learned how to find mom or each other for warmth, how to root around to find a nipple and how to hang on for dear life while brothers and sisters try to pry you off, how to throw your weight around if you have it or how to be sly if you don't. Yesterday, they learned how to balance precariously on each other or their mom's foot to grab and hang on to a dangling nipple.

But now they are going to learn some additional subjects, such as Biosensor 101 and Scents 101. We started last night with Biosensor, a set of exercises developed by the military for their working dogs. These series of movements slightly stress the pups in ways they don't typically experience in the whelping box. Stress has to be managed carefully in young animals because it can be detrimental or developmental, depending upon the amount, timing and type of experiences. We don't want to throw too much at them too soon so this program goes step by step from now till they go to their new homes, then we give their new owners information on how to keep up the lessons.

I'll post some videos over the next few weeks but tonight, I'm off to do Biosensor on the pups and introduce them to "moss."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We are Growing!

Andy and I were both anxious last night but everyone came through with flying colors, if a bit sleep deprived. The pups are all consistently gaining weight and everyone is over 1 pound as of this morning. For me, that's a big hurdle for golden retriever pups. I want them to be 1 pound before the end of the first week and then growing steadily after that till they go home at 12-15 (yikes!) pounds.

It's so interesting to see the changes in the pups and Dreamer over the past few days. Initially, we couldn't drag Dreamer away from the pups...literally. It was like having a mule on the end of the leash. Yesterday, she started spending a minute or two outside the box (hence yesterday's sadness) and even came downstairs when dinner was being made. She couldn't concentrate enough to eat it down there but she could leave the pups for a short, three-minute trip.

This morning, she voluntarily went for a trip outside with Una and Corey and again supervised breakfast preparation. She had to eat it upstairs with the pups but was probably away from the box for at least five minutes. However, when she came back to the nursery, she ended up in the laundry basket not the whelping box :-).

She's also just started nursing sitting up. I've found this to be an important developmental opportunity that dam's give their pups as (and so that) the babies get stronger. Many folks force their bitches to lie down to nurse for weeks and I would too if the pups weren't gaining weight. However, if they are, I think the challenge that nursing sitting presents to the pups is fabulous. Without fuss or muss, without expensive or complicated equipment, without extensive scientific studies or publications*, mama dogs help their pups gain in strength, coordination, and problem solving. When you are only 2 inches high and blind, exactly how do you get to that nipple 6 inches off the ground? I'm not going to give away the puppies' secret but they do and in doing so, they learn to be persistent, to fight for what they want, to balance, to use all those wonderful muscles God gave them, and I'm sure much more.

Photos and videos are being uploaded now so check them out.


* For those that don't know me well, I'll share that aside from observing dogs, I base many of my dog rearing methods on science so I'm proud that I can also learn from my dogs and not be a total geek :-).