Four Weeks Old
Give pups more space so they can romp.
Keep introducing new things every day.
Add challenges so pups learn to overcome frustration.
FOUR WEEKS OLD
This is such a fun week, as the pups' sight and hearing improves and they truly begin to interact with all that's around them. Keep up the key enrichment activities suggested for the three-week-old pups. Plus . . .
Try to give the pups more room at this stage -- perhaps a space that’s 6’ x 8’ if you can. Why is that so helpful? Because:
Puppies need to build their muscles (and their brains) through exercise. They need room to run and jump and pounce, growing fit and strong in the process.
Being in too-close quarters can build friction between pups, teaching them to resort to violence when, given enough space, they could choose avoidance. That’s a lifetime lesson! Give them the space to make the choice we want them to learn to prefer. (With a really big litter, having a second pen and rotating pups in smaller groups can help with this.)
Keep introducing new things every single day! The goal is to teach the pups to embrace the “new” as “good” so that later in life -- when biology would otherwise be telling them to be skeptical of anything they haven’t seen before -- they have a competing impulse telling them new stuff is great.
The pups are ready to develop their problem-solving skills now. Teach the pups to work through frustration in this critical period, and it will reduce the chance they’ll resort to aggression as adults. How do you teach this? By presenting them with formal challenges. (I hope you'll be able to watch Puppy Culture, which shows exactly how this works.):
Now that they’re eating solids, start feeding the pups outside the pen, so they have to climb out for meals. (Assuming there is maybe a four-inch-tall barrier there. If not, add one.) If there’s a pup who hesitates, don’t help! If instead you just keep him company, and wait for him to do it himself, the giant imprint on his psyche will be that he can solve his own problems and doesn’t need to panic.
Once they’re happily popping out of the den for their meal, add a new challenge: a speed bump (perhaps a rolled up towel) they need to climb over on the way to the bowl.
After they’ve solved that one, add a barrier challenge: put the bowl just behind a wire pen. The pups just need to go a few steps to the side to get to the food, but it can take them a while to figure that out. Again, don’t do it for them. Keep them company and wait. You’re teaching them confidence in their ability to solve their own problems.
Now’s a wonderful time to introduce any other calm, trustworthy animals in the home to the pups.
PHOTOS: Visits by potential adopters can do double duty, allowing people to pick the pup their drawn to but also helping all the pups become comfortable with the idea of strangers. At 4 weeks, our pen had lots of different floorings for the pups to experience: gym mat, vinyl tile, towels, blankets, pee pads and litter! I often changed out the brightly colored towels on the sides of the pen so the pups got used to a changing world view. Sweet pup Scotti the first to be able to meet our most excellent cat Mr. Bojangles, who is always happy to help civilize a pup.