Understanding puppyhood

A one-day-old Rhodesian Ridgeback lies on a paw of his mother. “Dogs are born with their noses open,” WAG Follow My Lead columnist Cristina Losapio writes. “Around 14 days later their eyes open and around 21 days after that, their ears open.”

You would think the first thing you would learn when you take a group puppy class is how dogs are born into this world. But I did not find this out until years after I adopted my first dog. It blew my mind. Dogs are born with their noses open. Around 14 days later their eyes open and around 21 days after that, their ears open. A female dog’s gestation period is around 63 days until the litter is born. From newborn to eight weeks, puppies should be with their mom and litter mates. Eight to nine weeks is this time that the puppies are ready to go to their forever home. 

Between eight and 16 weeks as well as 16 weeks to eight months, your puppy will go through some pretty important imprinting stages. He will study everything we do and don’t do, every reaction and overreaction and overall how we handle ourselves. This is the part where I remind everyone that a puppy is a canine, not a human child and if we are not honoring a puppy as a dog, we can get into some muddy water. 

Within this very important imprinting time, your puppy will have moments he may perceive as scary but are actually not, and it’s up to us to show him the way. If we follow the laws of nature, this is how it would play out. We introduce the dog to everything first using the nose. Meaning we let him smell everyone and everything without layering so much talking and touching. We honor our dog and follow mother nature’s path. Yes, it’s a cute puppy that is so beautiful and little, but we have to honor the dog first by letting him use his nose. When we do pet our puppy, it’s not fast and over the head and for long periods of time. 

And when we talk to our dog, it’s not yelling and speaking in a squeaky, crazy voice making the kissy sound a thousand times. I see this all happening backwards so many times, and it’s just because we do not know. Families bring a puppy home and they are all passing the puppy around — talking fast, petting all over and not realizing that they are putting self before puppy’s needs. Something to think about. 

I would make a list of all new firsts for your puppy to practice using the nose. Think of breaking down every single step out of everything that you do throughout the day. Putting a new garbage bag into the can, opening the washing machine, opening the oven. If nose builds confidence and then eyes create curiosity and ears are not fazed, then you have enabled your dog to embrace that item. You can then add encouragement by saying “check it out” or “good job.” You can give a pet a pat on the side body or under the chin if your puppy finds that desirable. 

The timing of when to use food is when the dog is being curious. If maybe he’s on the cusp of being curious, you can place the food down to help shift him to being curious. If you are using food, it’s best to have it not come from something he can hear or see. So many times a dog is using his nose and then you open a loud bag of treats that interrupts the moment. This type of practice takes patience and discipline, putting a dog’s needs first. As your dog builds confidence, then you add more distractions and go to different places to do more exposure to our world of chaos. Write things down on what you are working on. You may find that opening the dishwasher was a nonevent and then one day your puppy became extra bold and wanted to go into the dishwasher. So now you are working on limits and boundaries but that’s another conversation. Most important is to be present, have fun and sprinkle encouragement along the way.  

Some tips to remember:

When we show a puppy what we want, being clear and using one word while the behavior is happening works best.

Always check in with yourself. Are you rushing through something, do you need more time, do you need help? If we don’t check in with ourselves, we are not being honest and that will not help the situation.

Are we breathing, actually breathing? When my puppy does solicit affection, I like to say one breath in and out. On the breath in, we center ourselves and on the breath out, we can pet down the back of the puppy or under the chest. So the out-breath can be whatever you want but, let’s say in- breath three seconds and out-breath three seconds. Short, relaxed and sweet.

For more, contact Cristina at Trail Dog Inc., 914-755-1153.

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