Goodwood Standard Smoothes
Preparing a puppy for transition to its new home.
Claire L. Mancha
With today's more restrained breeding programs, the odds are that most of your litter will go to other people's homes to subsidize that one pup that you'll keep for yourself.
You, as the breeder, are uniquely positioned to help each departing puppy transition smoothly from your home to its new pack. I want to stress that this is a labor of love that becomes a gift you can give both your puppy and its new family. There is no quick and easy way to accomplish this. If you really want to do it right, you'll be training for this from the birth to the departure of the pups.
Ideally, both the pup and its family will be delighted with each other from the start. You, the breeder, can pave the way to this happy, lifetime friendship with eiderdown rather than rocks.
The easiest way to prepare is to have a list of challenges that the puppy will face and deal with each at the proper developmental time. Here are my list of challenges: crates, sleeping alone, being with strangers, car rides, stairs, leashes, collars, vets, all different types of surfaces on which to walk, other dogs, other animals, being without siblings, eliminating on a schedule, the daily routine, food, weather, well, the list goes on and will be different for every breeder. Each of these items has a time frame in which the lesson will be learned most effectively. I will recap these in order at the end of this article.
While I approach this from the standpoint that you are doing the new owners a favor, you are also doing yourself a favor. What if Scarlett-the-Starlet turns out to be a pet, and Mr. MuggleFace turns out to be the one? If all your pups are equally prepared, there will be no worries.
Let's start with crates. I put a crate in my puppy pen as soon as the pups are really mobile. That way the crate is something they've seen since they can possibly remember. They play, they sleep, they eat; they do all kinds of activities in the open crate. When it comes time for serious crate training, between day 49 and 56 (they can hold their bladders and bowels at that time,) I put 2 pups in each crate and 3 in the last if there are an odd number. I have them all sleep in a circle facing each other. This is the easy part.
After a few days of rotating pups, into separate crates they go. Each crate has a warm bed, a toy, a treat and they are still in a circle so they can see each other. This makes for a couple nights of crying, but it's really not so bad. Better that you, the knowledgeable breeder who knows the agenda go through this rather than the possibly too soft owner who might undo all your hard work!
After a week or so of this, I move the crates to different rooms, or make them into towers. The idea is that they can't see the littermates. Feeding the pups in their crates from then on really seals the deal. I get my crates at thrift stores and always have a bunch of them saved up before each litter comes. I give each owner a fully prepared crate when s/he picks up the pup. The pup already knows its crate, already sleeps in it alone and already associates it with feeding time. It's a win / win situation. If you give the owner a crate, and show them how the pups already love their dens, it's not such a nightmare training the owners.
The car: once the pup trusts the crate, it's time for a car ride! It's good to have the first few rides not be ones that take the pups to the vet. Just load 'em all up and go 'round the block. It's a nice, safe, no consequences little trip. You'll also find out which pups travel well and which don't. Some physiology really comes into play here. You can adjust travel arrangements accordingly. Knowing the pup's reactions to riding before-hand will help prepare the new owner on what to expect. I never let a young pup ride loose in the car. As I figure it, these are not my pups to risk. The new owners can make that call.
I always take my pups to the vet at day three for dewclaw removal and for a healthy dog check up at week seven. I know many of us give our own shots, and I do too. But for that baseline visit, I want them to go through the medical wringer and be exposed to being at the vet. I also state in my contract that the new owners are advised to visit their own vet within 5 days of receiving the pup. That first visit will help prepare the pups for the trip with their new owners.
New surfaces and sounds: it is also very important that the pups already know all about different surfaces: carpet, linoleum, cement, pebbles, wood, grass, chips, mud, you name it. There is a time where this is best introduced. 21 to 28 days is the right window of rapid sensory development for this activity. Two pups at a time on the new surfaces will help ease the tension; everything is always easier with a buddy. Try a new surface every day for just a few minutes, then do it all over again.
This same window is a good time to introduce soft background noises as well. Many breeders I know leave constant noise on for their pups: radio, TV, whatever. I do not. I have had no problems with dogs being afraid or startled by new noises. I very much believe the need for constant noise is a human issue, not a dog issue. My pups are exposed to noise from daily living and that seems to be enough. That said, I do think noise exposure is important and should be addressed. I know of more than one shop dog who are in noisy places during the work week. It is nice to prepare the dog to the owner's environment.
Being alone: at 5 weeks, each pup should start his journey to independence. Being handled away from its dam and littermates is a big scary deal to a puppy. Get as many people as you can involved: family, friends, neighbors. They should take their assigned pup that day to a far corner of the house or yard and play, pet, handle, cuddle each pup all by itself for 10 minutes each day. This is a great time to get your future owners involved if they live close by. The more you do this, the more your pup will accept being handled by strangers and will learn that being away from its siblings and dam isn't going to kill him!
Collars and leashes: most of us use rickrack to tell our pups apart. This is really the 1st phase of collar training. They are already used to having something around their neck. So once each puppy is used to being handled away from the pack by its human, tie on a length of string to the rickrack. Obviously this needs to be a closely monitored activity. After the puppy plays with it, destroys it, chases it, whatever, you can pick up the string and hold it when they walk. Bit by bit. It's a journey. At 8 weeks switch to a real collar and lead. Walk with a bit with food in your hand and get Junior Mint thinking about food rather than the new outfit. After a few sessions, your pup will be walking nicely. Pet people take their dogs for walks! If your pup is ready to go for walkies, then the new owner and s/he can start bonding that much sooner.
Other dogs, other animals: your pup will not live in a vacuum. Your new owners may have a cat, for crying out loud. The best time to introduce a (nice) cat to puppies, is right away. Get that smell in their brains so they are familiar with it. If your cat is laid back, he can mingle with the pups if the dam will allow it. If the dam objects, take her away while the pups are being exposed. If you don't have a cat, the pup can still be safely introduced later at the new owner's house. You'll have to teach your owners how to manage the introduction. A nice, safe, older dog can be introduced around week 6. You don't want that field champion or master earthdog eating your pups, and your dam might have something to say about it too! Wait until those pups no longer look or sound like prey and let a nice member of your pack start training them in doggy manners. Many pet dogs are placed too early and have no idea how to behave in a pack. Pack manners are extremely important. It's useful for later when your pups meet other dogs. Dogs need to know how to read and send the right signals to make appropriate connections with other dogs.
Stairs: the people that take in retired Greyhounds from tracks have a heck of a time with their dogs and stairs. Of course, racing dogs don't have any need for stairs, but pets do. Even though we try to avoid stairs in our breed, it's a good idea that your pups know what they are. I have ramps all over my house so I have to make a conscious effort to train for stairs. Mostly the pups just stare at me, but it happens in the end. I throw food all over the place and watch them scramble. You'll want your pups to be big enough to actually maneuver the stairs, so that will depend on your chosen size of Dachshund. I wait until mine are just ready to leave, so 11 weeks on.
Routines and schedules: your household has a rhythm all its own. So will your new puppy owner's. The chances that they are identical are slim. So, when you give all that information about your pup to the new owners, please tell them your time schedule of waking, pooping, feeding, playing, nap time, and bed time so the new owner can make the changes gradually rather than all at once creating much confusion in little Rocket's brain. Small increments work much better than radical changes. Better yet, ask your new owners' their schedule and start training the pup to it before s/he leaves your home. That will really put you in the top tiers!
Food: same with feeding. You may feed MiraclePupFood only available at National Specialties, but the chances are that your owners will shop at the local supermarket or pet store. Give them enough of your food so the new owners can make the transition gradually, mixing the foods proportionally until Gizmo won't know the difference. As a side bar, in my opinion, it is your obligation to try to persuade your owner to feed what you feel is the ideal food. I steadfastly refuse to stop feeding my pups raw until every last effort has been made to persuade Mr. and Mrs. Petlover that it's the way to go.
Now, everybody's favorite subject: housebreaking! A breeder I know follows her little pack of pups around every time they go out in the morning with pooper-scooper in hand. No one comes in for breakfast until each one has done his/her doggy doody. This is a wonderful way to start housebreaking! What a gift you can give your people! The best way to think of this is that your pup thinks in pictures, like a Rolodex in his/her brain. If the Rolodex has no pictures of eliminating inside the house, then you are well on your way. I tell my prospective owners that I never really trust my dogs until they are over a year. It's just safer that way! People expect so much out of our stubborn little breed. Housebreaking is a routine that is learned by both the pups and the new owners. Sharing your methods and timing will make it all a much happier experience for both parties.
Lastly, try to place your pups between 10 to 12 weeks. There is a fear stage between 8 and 10 weeks that makes it a dicey time to do anything traumatic to the pups. Don't undo all your hard work!
So, let's recap. In a timeline, my challenges start at 2 days with the Dremel and nails and vet, 3 weeks with the surfaces and noises, 5th week, outdoors, begin housebreaking, being away from the pack, being handled by strangers. 6th and 7th week: crates, more car rides, the vet, the vacuum, other dogs. 8 weeks: collars and leads. 11 weeks: stairs.
This article is just a bare bones sort of inventory of things that we can do to help ease the transition for our pups. There are many, many other things that need to be done to make the pup achieve his/her potential. I am a firm believer in Dr. Battaglia's stress exercises, for example. As an earthdogger, I use long boxes to start tunnel training at 3 weeks. I drag rabbits pelts in the yard and put the pup's dinner at the end of the track. If your future owners are interested in conformation, stack, stack, stack. There are many articles that delineate what should be done at what week and why. It's all fascinating reading and is part of what I consider a top quality breeder's golden opportunity to really make a difference!
In closing, I would like to share the story of a good friend of mine who transported a puppy from one breeder to another via airplane. This poor pup had never been away from home, never been confined, never been with strangers, never prepared for this change in his life in any way. By the end of the 1st leg of the trip, the flight attendants were warning my friend that she would not be allowed to board another airplane with that pup. By the end of the 2nd leg of the trip, my friend was praying that the plane would go down in a fiery crash and so put her, the pup and the other passengers out of their misery. This is just plain unnecessary. Don't put your pups or your new owners through this! As I see it, as breeders at the level we fancy ourselves in DCA, this preparation is a moral imperative.
(Taken from Dog Fancy, 1972)
Dr. Battaglia's site
Sensory, emotional and social development of the young dog
Dr. Joel Dehasse, Behaviorist Veterinarian.