Raising Sagebrush Puppies
Puppies take an enormous amount of
time! Our puppies are always raised in the house. We raise
our litters as if each puppy was a future show champion and performance
competitor. Early socialization is essential for puppies of all
breeds, but especially critical in Shelties, whose breed standard
specifies that they may be reserved toward strangers.
Our whelping crates are set up
in either a spare bedroom or in the family room, depending on
the needs of the dam. The dam can leave the crate into a
surrounding exercise pen when she wishes. If the pups will
need artificial heat, I use a heat lamp with a dimmer switch to
avoid overheating mother and pups. For the first three
weeks, each puppy is weighed on a daily basis. I also trim
the tiny claws weekly, because they start to scratch their
mother while nursing. From the third through the sixteenth
day of life, each puppy is gently handled through the
Bio-Sensor or Super Puppy positions. Some studies have
indicated that the very mild stress of this handling makes the
puppies better able to handle stresses later in their life.
By age three weeks, all
whelping crates are located in an exercise pen in the family
room, where they can see and hear the coming and going of the
people and other dogs in the family. They can hear the
stereo and the television. When they start to routinely
escape from their whelping crate, the crate is removed, and the
pups are free to explore the whole pen.
Somewhere between three and four
weeks, the puppies start to eat solid food. Initially, I pulverize
the dry puppy kibble in a blender and mix it with water to a cereal
consistency. After a couple a weeks, I stop running it through the
blender. Gradually, I cut back on the water until the puppies will
readily eat dry food by age 7 or 8 weeks. Since mine is a quiet
house, I play one of several desensitizing sound tapes when I feed the
puppies. I have a tape of agility noises, that includes a slamming
teeter totter, and two tapes of dog show noises. Within a few
days, the puppies associate the tape playing with an upcoming feeding.
After three weeks, the puppies are
weighed weekly, and I measure each puppy's shoulder height weekly
starting at six weeks. I try to trim their little nails every
couple of weeks, and by the time they are ready to leave, they have had
at least one bath and have been brushed out several times.
At between three and
four weeks, the puppies start to notice each other and
make the first play gestures at the other puppies.
When this happens, I begin to introduce play items into
their pen. Six inch PVC elbows and tees make puppy
tunnels. A stool with a wooden ramp at either end
makes something to climb over and under. A wobble
board gets them used to surfaces that shift under their
feet. A variety of toys expose them to many
different shapes and textures–although
their favorite playthings may not be authorized puppy
By four weeks of age, the dam
is spending much less time with the puppies, going in only to
nurse, or to clean everyone up after a feeding. By five
weeks, I no longer leave her with them routinely during the day
when I am gone, although she nurses them at least twice a day.
I allow my mother dogs to decide when to stop nursing the pups,
which is usually between six and nine weeks. At somewhere
between five and six weeks, depending on the maturity of the
litter, I divide the puppies into random pairs and bed them down
in crates for the night. If they are not fed right before
bedtime, they will be clean overnight in just a few days.
As soon as the puppies are
walking around they are introduced to other members of the
cat and puppy-friendly older dogs. By five weeks, they are
going outside to play, and are learning the sights and sound of
the backyard. They have a variety of outdoor toys–agility
tunnels, jump bars laid on the ground, the big plastic pots that
shrubs come in, and all the usual sticks and stones of the great
outdoors. In our present location, small aircraft fly
overhead every afternoon, so the puppies grow up completely
unconcerned by that kind of noise.
Inside the house, they learn to
negotiate the three steps between the family room and the dining
room. They learn about carpet, wood and vinyl floors–and
about ice cubes!
The puppies are exposed to outside
people from about three weeks of age on. My nieces and nephews
come over for "Puppy Patrol" and cheerfully teach the puppies the joys
of chase games, tug-o-war and cuddling. Friends, fellow Sheltie
breeders and potential puppy buyers are all welcome to come and play
We follow the recommendations of the
Companion Animal Parasite Council and deworm the puppies (and their
mother!) every two weeks from two to ten weeks of age. An ova and
parasite fecal exam is done at about seven weeks. They are
vaccinated with a Distemper-Adenovirus2-Parvovirus vaccine every three
weeks starting at six weeks. All puppies have their eyes examined
by a veterinary ophthalmalogist between eight and nine weeks of age.
Puppies are ready to go to
their permanent homes at about nine weeks. At that age, I
can begin to sort out the puppies, to decide which ones to grow
out, and which ones to place. I can begin to see
differences in size, body structure and temperament that will
help me decide what kind of home is ideal for each pup.