A Dog's Eye View: Puppy Diaries: The beginning

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Lisa Mason

Dog's Eye View

This weekly column about dog training publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

She arrived the evening of May 6, entering a family of eight. We didn’t know her name or even which one she was. We only knew that on June 30, she’d be coming home with us. “She” is a yellow Labrador puppy.

I previously wrote about caring for my 14 1/2-year-old lab Zoey. Adding a new puppy means I’ve doubled my watch and responsibilities. I‘d like to share some of what I’m learning and experiencing as we go along.

I wanted to be able to witness some of the growth changes occurring with puppies, so proximity played a part in our choice of breeders. But not the only part. I also did independent internet research and talked to and asked questions of previous clients and vets.

Wanting to be somewhat prepared for a fun, challenging ride full of new puppy surprises, I began re-reading some of my favorite “dog” authors, including Dr. Patricia McConnell, Dr. Sophia Yin and Dr. Ian Dunbar, all of whom have highly enjoyable books on puppy raising full of useful, functional information for the new puppy parent.

I read about the various stages of puppy development, beginning with the neonatal period from 0 to 14 days. During this phase, only a puppy’s sense of touch, taste and smell are active, with their eyes and ear canals still closed. Their body temperatures are a good 12 degrees below normal, so when not rooting for food, they seek to snuggle together, overlapping their bodies for warmth in a quilt of heated puppy fur. Simply put, at this stage they are food- and heat-seeking little missiles. My first visit was at the tail end of this period and I marveled at how the puppies crawled and clumped together, struggling to stay as one vibrating mass. I listened when tiny whines arose from the whelping box, as concerns were voiced about any discomfort or minor disturbance. One little guy — physically the largest and perhaps most mature of the group — was particularly vocal, letting you know whenever your touch irritated him. As I knelt down close to them, surrounded by the sweet smell of puppy breath, and as I felt their tiny mouths investigating my face and hair, I realized they had no idea who or what I was.

As the weeks passed, I witnessed what is called the “transition period,” 14 to 21 days, where the puppies began to explore their surroundings at a slow wobble and, with their eyes and ears now open, interact more with their siblings. And then, during the “socialization period,” 21 to 49 days, I noted subtle developments in their sensory and learning abilities as they began to consciously play and test one another and even interact with me, chewing on the toys I’d brought along. I was pleased to hear about all the exposure the puppies were getting during this time to different smells, sounds, other animals (cats) and humans. Puppies need this type of enrichment at an early age to help them adjust to and not be overwhelmed by our rather chaotic human world once we bring them into our homes.

With each visit, leaving became more difficult.

Next week: My journey into the world of chew toys, crates, leashes and other puppy paraphernalia.

Lisa Mason is an experienced dog training instructor with the Total Teamwork Training group. Her specialties include new puppy owner education and management.

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