So I said that a blog post on puppy raising would come on Friday....several Fridays ago, but that's neither here nor there. It's Friday so I say it counts. I wanted to write on some of the aspects of puppy raising because I am actually doing that right now. Rush is our second Bernese Mountain Dog and Great, Great Nephew of our first Boy Khyber. Both bred by the amazing Shelly Leary of Swiss Silhouette Bernese Mountain Dogs in Cove, Oregon. Every puppy journey for me begins with finding the right breeder. I have known Shelly since she first started in BMDs with her first girl Shyla. I have watched her blossom into a breeder of extremely high standards in every way. Knowing my puppy is coming from a truly dedicated breeder who's main goal is to produce better dogs with each generation and help preserve the integrity and health of this breed and ensure a strong future for them is of huge importance to me. Shelly more than meets my criteria for a reputable, preservation minded breeder. Another perk for me is that she lives 20 minutes away and I had the great opprotunity to watch both Khyber and Rush's litters grow up from the time they were just a few days old. We watch the puppies carefully as they grow getting a feel for each personality and temperament through the first 8-9 weeks. It is amazing how much puppies change from week to week. Right around 8 weeks of age we begin the process of studying each puppies physical conformation, structure and temperament. For me, I have goals of finishing a conformation champion, working title and obedience titles. So it is important that my puppy have the structure and temperament to meet those challenges.
Part of Shelly's puppy raising process between birth and 9 weeks is to incorporate the ENS (early neurological stimulation) a process of introducing daily stimulation in early life through a series of stimuli that will produce neurological stimulation which would not occur naturally in the early days of life in canines who are born with closed eyes, limited digestive abilities, and inability to thermoregulate. The benefits of which are stronger heart beats, stronger adrenal glands, more tolerance to stress and greater resistance to disease among others. She also incorporates Puppy Culture and has goals that each puppy has to meet prior to leaving for their new home such as meeting 100 new people, experience several new surfaces, ride in cars, be crated etc. between birth and 8 weeks. It's more than a full time job to raise puppies to be sound, healthy, solid representations of their breed.
Rush joined our pack at 8 weeks and change. He has certainly had to hit the ground running coming into a home with 5 other adult dogs, me working and homeschooling has been a bit different compared to how Khyber came to us. When I took 10 days "maternity leave" to get him used to everything and took it nice and slow.....those were the days. Rush is a typical second kid. He has handled it all very well, he's is so far a very outgoing, friendly, smart and generally good puppy with a side of naughty.
Once puppies come home it becomes the responsibility of new puppy parents to continue social development through competent socialization through all of these rapid phases of canine development. Understanding critical periods of canine development is really important! For Rush that has meant spending time in the grooming shop where he gets to greet all kinds of people from his x-pen, walking on leash (we do not take our puppies on any public access grass until they have completed their puppy vaccinations due to the high risk of parvovirus in our area) His walks are on paved surfaces. He has been going to my group obedience classes since week 10 where he happily sits in his x-pen with a buffalo trachea to keep him busy and occasionally he gets to try his hand at demo-dogging. He really has taken it all in his stride so far! He had his first dog show experience last weekend and was totally overjoyed that all those people showed up just to see him!!!
For me socialization is about creating positive interactions in a controlled way, not chucking the world at my dog and hoping he comes out ok. Not all exposure is created equal and it can have negative results if not handled properly. For instance socializing with other dogs: There are ways that can be done that create a puppy who finds reason to fear that interaction if he is thrown in a dog park with 12 other dogs who come at him all at once, or it can be a positive interaction with one other dog that you know well and is not reactive or over the top in a controlled, calm environment. I am always careful to seek socialization opprotunities that have the best probability to be a positive experience for my puppy. I also focus on teaching the behaviors I want in those interactions wether it is greeting and interacting well with other dogs, or greeting and interacting with people. Socialization has an aspect of reinforcing desired behaviors and not allowing undesirable behaviors to go reinforced by me or by the environment as well as giving puppy positive experiences and a variety of new interactions.
One of the major aspects of puppy raising is the practicalities of house training, crate training, and teaching your puppy to live in your environment like a civilized creature. It goes without saying that puppies require supervision and I honestly cannot imagine this challenge if I worked outside of the home. My office and grooming salon are at my house so I have frequent opprotunities to check on Rush and obviously I can bring him to work, which makes things much easier. It is essential for all of my dogs to be comfortable in crates and x-pens since spending time at dog shows, or training events requires it so that is one of the first things we do. Since Rush was introduced to crates and x-pens before coming to us this was really no big deal for him. House training is the first major training goal for me and I am sure most of us. I will go the extra mile with this because I want it done fast. I teach my dogs to go potty and poop on command (they need to know the difference in case they forgot to take care of number one or number 2) I go outside with my new puppies EVERY. SINGLE, TIME, so I can say "Go potty" and be right there to reward them when they do it. Rush learned what go potty means pretty fast, a skill I am grateful for considering it is getting dark and cold faster and faster these days! I am happy to say we are at the point where I can open the door and tell him "go potty" and he does. It's awesome. He still needs to be supervised and taken out frequently during the day but that is to be expected. Once we are all in a working routine when it comes to daily life that is when I will start working on obedience training. We have started with sits and downs, working on reward markers and leash manners (which so far has been fabulous!) He is also working on grooming work. I am hugely motivated to teach my dogs to accept everything about grooming early. Bernese Mountain Dogs are not small. Large dogs that are not introduced to grooming early learn to use their mass against you and it is exhausting. He gets on the table regularly for treats and fun, he's been groomed at least 4 times, gets brushed and nails clipped or dremeled pretty regularly. This helps them get used to the process positively and in pieces so it is less overwhelming. We did that with Khyber and seriously you can't keep him off the grooming table. It's his happy place!
With my puppies my hope is to begin to create a motivated, well mannered, sound, capable dog early. Some of that work is done on the part of his breeder then continued by me once he is home. Common mistakes puppy owners make is not addressing some of these issues right off the bat. We allow our puppies to get heavy reinforcement from a wide variety of environmental experiences without being the main source of their reinforcement, we accept behaviors we would really never accept from the adult version of the dog and our training programs tend to start from a place of already having issues to correct or eliminate rather than knowing what kind of dog we want and starting from the time they are little, reinforcing those behaviors we like.
My goals for the next few months with Rush are to start his obedience training program, continue to maintain good leash manners, teach him to be calm on the grooming table, and be civilized in the house. Among behavioral goals we have to get genetic testing done on his heart, eyes, hips and elbows, DM (degenerative myelopathy), Von Wildebrand's, and Hystio (a genetic cancer). We do all needed health testing on any dog with a potential for breeding in the future. Hopefully we have given him the best start he can have and that will lead to a bright future as a member of our family, a show dog, and hopefully eventually a versatility dog. Stay tuned to watch him grow!
Thanks for reading!!!