Three Weeks Old
Give mama a way to come and go at will
from the den.
Add a new toy each day.
Drop a book,
or slam a door,
every now and then.
Introduce new people.
Offer different textures: towel, yoga mat, cookie sheet, carpet.
Three Weeks Old
This is it! Weeks 3-12 are magical. At this age pups are wide open to learning, and it can take just a single exposure to make a lesson stick. This is the one time when tiny effort on your part results in a giant response from the puppy.
Start with mama: give her freedom. The quality of early communications between the pups and their mom will affect the pups for the rest of their lives. Help the mama dog to have only positive interactions with her pups by giving her a way to come and go at will from the den. Studies show that if the mama dog is stuck with the pups, and forced to growl the always-wanting-to-nurse pups off of her, those pups learn to copy that behavior, and turn to violence instead of the preferred avoidance.
Also, clip puppies’ nails regularly so that mama doesn’t have to dread nursing them.
Enrich the pups. Exercise, enrichment and stimulation at this age results in more emotionally stable and less fearful adults who have better learning and higher retention, and are better able to cope with and recover from stressful things. Here’s what you can do to maximize what Jane Lindquist from Puppy Culture calls the “enrichment effect.”
Trigger the “startle/recovery” response by intentionally, every now and then, dropping a book or slamming a door. Experiment with the vacuum, at first just turning it on and right off. When pups experience slight stress, with immediate recovery, it builds resilience, teaching them to bounce back when they encounter new/surprising things in the future. That, in turn, cuts down on fear-based aggression in adults.
Begin to pull pups out individually, away from the litter, just for a moment. This promotes the puppy’s bonds with people, and lays the foundation for avoiding separation anxiety later. Like the noise-based “startle/recovery” exercise above, this provides a small moment of stress that is quickly relieved, building resilience.
Start to invite new people -- young and old, various races, those wearing hats and glasses, etc. -- over to play with the puppies. NOTE: Minimizing the risk of disease transmission is key, throughout this process! Have people always take shoes off, and wash their hands. If they’ve been someplace with lots of dogs (vet, dog park, shelter) have them even change clothes.
Add a new/different toy each day, and change a visual stimulus in their area (i.e. things hanging from the sides of the pen). This desensitizes pups to novel items, and builds confidence. Don’t force the pups to interact with anything new -- just make it available/in sight.
Place different textures in the pen for them to crawl on and experience.
Always keeping volume at a comfortable level that does not bother mama, offer different kinds of sounds: classical music, a calm radio talk show, etc. Kids' TV shows, starting at a low volume can help pups can get used to those high-pitched, excited voices.
Throughout all of the enrichment activities, keep an eye on the puppies’ responses. A startle followed by a recovery is fine. But if a pup intentionally avoids something, then stop and try again another day.
PHOTOS: We added all sorts of different textures to the pen for the pups to experience, but their favorite (and my favorite to photograph!) was this furry bed. Mama Cookie loved to sleep on our adjacent couch, so she could supervise the pups without being used as a jungle gym. This arrangement let her pop in and out whenever she wanted.