Six Weeks Old
Carry pups in pairs to different rooms.
Feed treats as you increase body handling.
Invite some dog-savvy friends over for
a puppy party.
SIX WEEKS OLD
Pups are bursting with personality at this age. This is a period of low fear and high curiosity, which makes it the peak socialization time! Keep thinking "something new each day" -- but don't let that feel daunting. It's actually really simple. Think about what you have on hand. Old yoga mat? Cookie sheet? Pop them in the pen for an afternoon. Turn the TV on to a kids' channel so the pups hear those high-pitched voices. Got any weird Halloween stuff hanging around? That could be a new visual for the pups!
Embrace the in-home field-trip! Carrying two pups to see themselves in the bathroom mirror is a big win. Introduce another pair to the plumber who's fixing your kitchen sink. Show another pair your laundry room dryer when it's noisy. These are all one-minute field trips that can have a giant impact! (Plus, they're fun.) Your everyday life is an adventure park for these little ones who've barely experienced a thing. (Next week, progress to singleton adventures because they'll be braver since they already saw these things with a buddy.)
At this point, if you possibly can, give the litter more space -- maybe 8' x 12'.
Teach pups to tolerate touch by feeding treats in exchange for body handling. Get pups accustomed to being touched everywhere -- particularly toes that will need to be clipped, and ears that will need to be cleaned. Hugging and holding are natural to humans, but not to animals, so use food (cream cheese on the tip of your finger works great) to train them to tolerate it.
Teach pups to trade. To fend off the development of resource guarding (which is a natural impulse) teach your pup that giving up something good can mean great things. Do an “exchange” with each pup (remember at this age they are one-trial learners, so it’s ok if that’s all you have time for!): When they’re chewing on a good bone, offer them something completely delicious while you take the bone with the other hand. Then immediately give the bone back. You’ve just taught them it’s worth it to give up their treasured item. This lesson is so easy to teach when pups are young -- and so very difficult and even dangerous to teach when they’re older!
Pups are little alligators at this age. Teach them that, while “biting” each other is a normal form of dog-to-dog play, it’s not how pups interact with humans. Use a toy as an intermediary. And instead of rolling around on the ground with the pups, running crazily, using high-pitched voices … teach the pup to have fun with you through structured, calm play. The more calm interactions you have with the puppy, the more calm the puppy will be with you.
Introduce challenges in the form of mini agility equipment like a wobbly board (teaching them not to be afraid of unstable surfaces), a ramp (teaching them to be confident on elevated surfaces) and a tunnel (teaching them to accept things covering heads).
If, like most normal humans, you don't have mini agility equipment lying around, just improvise! We have a low bench out in our yard that can be like a balance beam, a saucer sled that wobbles, and blankets that can make tunnels between chairs. Ta-da!
These things are designed to be a little scary, so that mastering them is a big lesson. Don’t actually place the pups on the equipment, because that only imprints fear and panic! Instead, use treats to reward exploration. Two minutes is plenty long for one session.
A carefully planned, a six-week-old puppy party is a great way to introduce puppies to a lot of novel things at once. Got any dog-savvy friends? Invite them over. Have them play with the pups, inside and out, with various toys. Then have the pups nearby while everyone sits at the table for a fun dinner, so pups get used to the idea of groups of people talking and laughing in the home. As always, the more diverse the group, the better: kids and older folks, various races, people with facial hair, those wearing hats, glasses, etc. Here's a video of a classic Puppy Culture party.
Important note: A house full of non-savvy dog people runs too high a risk of something bad happening that might imprint on a pup forever, so either keep numbers small enough to oversee closely, or stick with just those who know how to interact with puppies.
PHOTOS: We ended up creating a second pen area in our dining room at the six-week mark. (Who eats there, anyway?) We split the group in half sometimes, and changed around who went where -- lots of "new" experiences there that made these pups more accepting of changes. Both pens featured a large open crate with super cozy beds designed to create a positive association. They loved sleeping in there!