Breeding & raising puppies

Raising Puppies The Alfoxton Way

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I am very lucky that I don't have to always rely on various studies to tell me how dogs learn or how to raise pups. At Alfoxton over the years I have been using the experience and knowledge gained from many sources that have built a system for our babies.

Nowdays there are friends who have become involved and embrace the concept of an open mind with each litter so we don’t lock ourselves in to any published Puppy Development Calendar as we feel it limits our potential to develop new concepts. But perhaps it is partly to the fact that I don't like being told by others what is best, instead I love to find out for myself....

My Introduction:

When I started out I was lucky enough to become a great mate with the late Margo Haines from Ashlon Kennels. She not only gave me my first German Shepherd bitch but also helped me learn what was required for breeding and understanding bloodlines. We spent many hours drinking coffee at her table with pups at our feet or visiting other breeders to view their babies. She was there to hold my hand when my first litter of German Shepherds hit the whelping box in 1982.

Now 30+ years on and 20 litters later I find that I have discovered more ideas with every litter. The lesson learnt thru this, have meant that now we start the social program with our newborn pups much earlier than most breeders or studies seem prepared to recommend.

Here we are happy to share this practical information with others dog enthusiasts who might be interested. The following is the Alfoxton Way, but remember as stated previously, this is an ongoing internal study and there will no doubt be further additional discoveries in the future.

Get Ready, Get Set, Go.....!

When we built our home we had always planned to have dogs living amongst us, so our house is an open plan layout with slate floors that are very dog friendly (easy to clean and not too slippery). The open plan means that the mum bitch never needs to feel locked away from our family as she is right in the heart of the action.

Bitch is mated and the due date (60 days from first mating) is marked on the calendar – the heated whelping box is set up 3-4 days before due date and my schedule is kept flexible for that week. Pups are born, often by surprise, we then throw a big quilt over the table to create a snug cave for the litter and we keep things quiet for 3 or 4 days. Once mum and pups are settled then if needed a vet inspection is held and any pups not developing will be put to sleep – as in the wild we do not expect all to survive. 

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Start the Socialising:

All of our dogs, cats and humans have access to the whelping area, however it is up to the mother to determine when the dogs and cats are allowed in to the whelping area. The mother dogs have always allowed known humans to handle pups from birth and will accept most introduced humans under guidance. We hold/cuddle pups for 10-15 minutes each pup at least 3 times a day - snuggle them into our neck where our scent is easy for them to smell along with the vibration from our voice box to imprint the human to the puppy (after all these dogs are going to be human companions). Pups always seem to relax very quickly against our warm skin.

By the start of second week the mum allows the other house bitches to come over to visit and by the end of the second week these bitches are cleaning the puppies. Around the 11 days point some pups start lifting themselves up on their legs but just stagger like little drunks. Pups are now responding quickly to our human smell even prior to eyes and ears opening at around the 12-14 days.

Around 16 days they start to play box and mouth us the same as they do with their litter mates, at this stage they look like baby hippos at play yawning and staggering. Now is the time that outside known dogs will become very curious about what is in that box and come in and smell the pups, usually under mums supervision.

Around 19 days pups are starting to react to us when we make noises in the room - some even start to look up waiting for the movement. At this point we bring pups out of the whelping box and place them on mats spread around the lounge to investigate new smells. Now is the time that we start to introduce a bit of food, usually raw kangaroo mince smeared on our fingers, just so they get the taste.

At 21 days pups have started feeding from group bowls as well as having short outings outside to the garden to explore. The adult male dogs are not taking much interest prior to this point but now will wash puppies and help toilet, however they move away when pups want to climb onto them, yet the other bitches will actively encourage this play behaviour with minimal fuss. We also start outside socialising, so with a few into a crate they get their first car ride and visit down to friends houses where they get used to new experiences such as new dogs and different floor surfaces.

Four Weeks and Now the Work Really Starts!

Pups are now getting really active - their senses really start to kick in and are now very open to loads of variety in their life. We still try to work them in small groups when we go anywhere different however after having our J litter with only one pup, we discovered that pups are more resilient than we initially thought. Jabbah coped just as well going out on his own and in fact perhaps he became more independant thru need.

Between 4 & 5 weeks pups are eating four solid meals a day - meat, a muesli mix, egg, yoghurt and have about 3 or 4 quick drinks from mum which keeps their immune system strong. By six weeks they have had leftovers added to their diet, even some pizza crusts, a bit of rice or pasta. We also add small strong bones to strengthen their ear carriage and clean their teeth. At this point the male dogs really seem to get involved teaching the pups by offering gentle play techniques and showing the pups how to dig in the sandpit – all the adults start to share sticks and toys, often chewing an object and push to puppy to encourage the same response. The adults also start to offer some light discipline to the pups at about 5 weeks.

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Puppy School:

We are lucky to have our own puppy classes running at our farm, this allows us to explore an early social package more than most breeders would, hence we bring our pups down from about 4 weeks into the class. 3 or 4 pups at a time and we take one of the carry baskets so they can retreat into their own cave when they wish.

The first week they are reserved to begin but then they will sit eagerly at the crate door and watch and lick the dogs that poke their head in, sometimes they venture out to have a little play if the energy level of the dogs is low.

At their second class they are much more outgoing sometimes even getting stood on before they rush to the feet of a human and then venture out again. But by the 6-8 week stage pups are more than happy to meet the new dogs and often show themselves as more experienced and outgoing than pups that are 12-14 weeks old.

By the time Alfoxton Pups go home to their new families they have got a head start. Ready for new challenges.

Notes: In our experience small litters of 4 or less seem to be even quicker to have eyes and ears activated often at 11 days. But perhaps that is because they get more stimulation than my current litter of 9 pups. Our litters are medium sized dog so it is likely that there are variations in development of the different size dogs or even different breeds. Very large breeds for example, may take much longer to get on their feet so social development would not occur until later in their puppyhood.

But either way the lessons I would like to impart is to read the studies but also trust your own gut feeling. Remember that perhaps the litters being studied are being raised by over protective humans or perhaps in a sterile clinical environment without the stimulus we provide here at Alfoxton?