What is involved in raising a litter of puppies? This is a question I am asked quite often. It is certainly a task that should not be taken lightly. That cuddly little puppy is going to be a full grown dog someday soon, and will have an impact on many peoples lives and you want that impact to be a positive one.
I think the first thing you must look at when you began thinking about having a litter of puppies is the sire and dams genetic qualities. You want to be sure you are passing on healthy genetic make-up. To do so you must be certain both parents are free of any genetic faults which may afflict your particular breed. In addition both parents should exhibit very stable temperaments.
Once you have determined that both parents are healthy, and your puppies have arrived successfully,the real task of raising the puppies begins. It will require a level of devotion not unlike a mother’s to her newborn child.
For the first few weeks of a puppies life the dam does much of the work. Most dams will instinctively keep the puppies clean and fed. However, it is up to you to make sure the dam and puppies have a quiet place of their own with an adequate whelping box.
The bedding in the whelping box must be kept clean and sanitary. The temperature in the whelping area must be monitored and maintained so the puppies and the dam are comfortable.Probably the most important thing of all at this time is making sure your dam has proper nutrition so she can produce an adequate supply of milk.
Only the breeder should handle the puppies in these first two to three weeks of life. But, they should be handled as this establishes an early trust in people.
Puppies eyes began to open at two to three weeks of age and they began to stand on their own. This is when the real work and expense of rearing a litter begins. As the puppies began to display individual character traits their emotional and physical development begins to rely more and more on the breeder and less on their dam.
It is at this point that puppies must be handled daily, and handled in a positive manner,so there is never a barrier of distrust created. Puppies are never objects, no matter how many you have in a litter. Each has unique character traits and puppy conditioning by the breeder is equally as important as any other aspect of puppy rearing.
At three to four weeks you will begin the weaning phase. In most cases the dam, shortly after the puppies teeth begin to emerge, will begin to spend less and less time with the puppies. It is at this point that you will begin to supplement your puppies diet.
I start off with a mush made from a high quality puppy food which has been softened with a prepared puppy milk replacer. Gradually you will decrease the amount of milk replacer until the puppies are eating their kibble dry. You must always have fresh drinking water available.
Once the puppies are eating on their own on a regular basis the dam will become less vigilant about cleaning up after the puppies and it will now fall to you to see that the puppy area is maintained in a sanitary manner. You have probably moved them out of the whelping box and into a larger area at this point. Make sure this is in a location that makes cleanup relatively simple. You must,at the least,mop several times daily.
You may use a diluted bleach solution, but I prefer to use a one-step solution which is a germicide,fungicide, detergent, and deodorant. You can find this at your local animal health store or your vet may be able to help you find it.
Also at weaning time is when most veterinarians recommend beginning your puppies on a routine vaccination and deworming schedule. This is extremely important in maintaining good health in your puppies and will help to guard them against infectious diseases. I recommend consulting your vet for an appropriate schedule.
Now for evaluating and placing your litter. You have probably been unconsciously “grading” your puppies from the day they were born. An experienced breeder is able to see beyond color and markings, looking at things such as bone, head shape, angulation, and other criteria that vary with each breed.
But keep in mind that most puppies change dramatically as they develop. Some puppies may show early potential for show or future breeding stock, but some will almost certainly be of pet quality. It is very important for you to be able to recognize this in order to properly place each puppy. Personality is also important when placing your puppies. The quieter puppy will not do as well in the show ring as the puppy whose exuberant personality says”Look at me!!”
As well as grading your puppies, you must be able to “grade” prospective owners. I care about each dog I bring into this world and treat it as part of my extended family when I place it in its new home.
Some of the things you may want to ask a prospective owner are whether or not they have had pets previously, if so, do they still have the pet and if not what happened to it. This lets you know what type of other pets the puppy will be around and how responsible the owner was with their previous pet. You will need to know what they intend to do with the puppy.
Show, housepet, agility candidate? Will someone be home with the puppy and if not will someone at least be able to come home at lunchtime to check in on the puppy? Will the puppy stay in the house or outside in a pen. What kind of space do they live in? A small apartment or a house with a fenced yard. Some breeds are well suited to apartment living while others require more space in which to exercise.
Does the new owner fully understand the time and financial commitment they are making. Give them an average of annual costs, including, vet visits, grooming, food, and supplies. Also let them know, that while we never want it to happen, sometimes things occur which require emergency vet care and this can be quite costly. If the future owner is young ask what their plans are for the future, while it may be awkward, you want to know that your puppy is going to a stable home.
Last, but certainly not least, is having a well thoguht out contract for everyone to sign. Include things such as any health guarantee you are prepared to offer and, if the puppy is being sold as a pet, require proof of spay/neuter by four months of age. Require appropriate vet care throughout the life of the dog.
Another thing a conscientious breeder will include in a contract is a clause which states the breeder be afforded first opportunity to acquire the puppy back if the owner is unable to keep the dog for ANY reason. If it is not feasible for the breeder to take the dog back they will be willing to help find a new home for the puppy.
These are just a few of the things you may want to consider putting in a contract. But always insist upon a written agreement, even if the new owner is a friend or family member. It just avoids confusion and misunderstandings resulting in bad feelings later on.
Letting your puppies go to their new homes is difficult for any caring breeder. You have invested a lot of yourself in each and every one of them. But, when you have taken the time to establish a relationship of trust with the new owners, it can be a very rewarding experience. I receive pictures on a daily basis from satisfied owners who have acquired a puppy from me and it is very heartwarming when you know you have been able to provide that puppy and that family a happy life together.