Puppy's First Year
The first year in a puppy's life seems to drag and fly by all at once! It is a vital time for your puppy's physical, emotional and social development, and this time makes a huge difference in the dog you will have for the years to come.
The puppies are becoming social at this age. They yip, howl and bark at each other, and anyone they see. Their teeth grow in, and they begin to nibble and bite. They play-fight, taking turns pinning each other down, or tug-o-war with toys. They pounce towards Mama, then settle down to nurse.
Puppies try "solid" food around 4 weeks - kibble soaked and blended into a thin mush. Over the next couple of weeks, less liquid is added, until by 7 weeks, the puppies are eating dry kibble. They still nurse often, but by 7 weeks, Mama has fully weaned them.
Around 6-7 weeks, our pups have their first official veternarian exam. This is usually their first "field trip"! They are microchipped, and recieve their first basic immunizations.
This is a critical development time for the puppies.
They learn manners, boundries, and social norms. Their Mama corrects them as needed, and watches over them to make sure they play nice ... interviening as needed.
A vital lesson they are learning is called "Bite Inhibition". They nip and bite, but learn that if they are too rough or bite too hard, their siblings will yelp, then turn away and refuse to play with them for a few minutes. They learn to bite / mouth without using all the stregnth of their jaw. This is so important to learn before going home to their human families - learning this skill from other dogs is much easier for everyone than having to try to understand the attempts at behavior correction that humans can give!
New experiences are a learning experience for the puppies at this age. The way they are introduced to new stimuli will affect their reactions throughout their life. It is of the utmost importance that new experiences are kept positive. The more positive experiences the puppies have at this age, the more they will approch new situations with confidence and flexibility.
Care also should be made in regards to the puppies' health. They should not be around non-family pets / animals. Great care is taken to keep them away from places that unknown dogs have frequented. Parvo is a serious disease that is often fatal to puppies this age, and prevention is key!
Puppies are now preparing to go home and become a part of their human families! They are increasingly social, and begin to bond with the people and other animals around them.
Puppies also begin one of the "Fear Periods" at this time. If something new causes a negative experience, the puppy can become fearfuland anxious. Positive experiences and interactions are very important at this time. A scary noise, unkind touch, or over-scolding can have lasting impacts.
Just because a pup is fearful of something doesn't mean they will be a fearful or shy dog. It is an opoortunity to counteract those fears with positive associations. Scared of the vacuum? Try turning it on across the room, then sitting with your pup, ignoring the vacuum and giving them treats to create a positive mental state. Make sure to not overwhelm your puppy or push them too much though. Don't force them!
Puppies at 8-12 weeks still sleep a lot, and will nap often. By the end of the third month, puppies should be able to sleep through the night. If they don't, then it is time to start training them to do so!
Puppies enjoy basic obedience games at this age. They can have treats by responding to their name, and when practicing very basic commands for a few minutes a day. Don't worry if your puppy doesn't obey yet, they are learning and will get the hang of it soon!
Around 9 weeks, puppies are ready for their next visit to the veternarian's office for another round of shots. Parvo is still a threat to your puppy, so talk to your veternarian about when it is safe to begin formal puppy training classes. Stay far away from dog parks and pet stores at this age - too many unknown dogs, and Parvo can remain viable in soil or on surfaces for 1-2 years - Yikes!
Potty training is a big issue at this age. Many trainers suggest taking puppies outside every 20-30 minutes to offer them the chance to relieve themselves. Puppies this age WILL have accidents, be patient and calm. Any negative response from you can cause problems due to the fear-period your puppy's development is in.
I tend to think of this time as the transition from a "baby" puppy to a "toddler" puppy. They are still "babies", but learning more, and reacting with their own instinctive behaviors.
Be sure to watch your puppy's activities. Because Berners are a large breed, who grow fast and are suceptable to hip and joint problems, be cautious about strain on those joints! Try to avoid having your puppy go up or down stairs, jumping up or down from couches, beds, roughhousing with larger dogs, or strainous walks. NEVER force them to jog or run at this age! Improper care can actually cause joint and hip problems later, so be careful and cautious!
Puppies are born with their eyes and ears sealed closed. They rely greatly on their Mama & caregivers at this time. They eat every couple hours, and sleep between meals. They crawl around on their bellies to sniff out their Mama and littermates. They snuggle in a pile to sleep so they can keep each other warm (we also put a warming pad under the whelping box to help keep them warm) Mama tends to stay in the whelping box for hours at a time, keeping watch over her pups.
Around 8-14 days, their eyes begin to open. Their eye color is undecernable at this age (until 6-10 weeks). They begin to notice their surroundings, and attempt to move towards the sight of Mama or littermates. Mama starts spending less time in the whelping box.
Around 2 weeks, their ears start to open, and the volume immediately increases in the whelping box as they try out their voices and howl, cry and whine for their Mama's immediate attention.
Mama is in the whelping box for feedings, but hops out once puppies have been fed. Puppies start taking wobbly steps on all four legs, raising their belly off the ground. Over these two weeks, their legs grow stronger, and they start trying to climb up the sides of the whelping box when Mama hops out. They begin to wag their tails, and interact with each other.
Continue to follow up with your veternarian for proper health care of your puppy. Your puppy will grow quickly this month, continue to exercise caution with any jumping, stairs, roughhousing, or strenious walks.
The key word for this month is "SOCIALIZE".
Its a great time to enroll in a puppy-specific training class! Those classes help teach you and your puppy basic commands & training, but they also allow for puppy friendly socialization. Your puppy will experience a different location, new smells and sounds, new people, and new dogs. These are all wonderful for the puppy's social development.
Another option is to find dog-friendly stores, such as Home Depot. They allow leashed dogs to come in with their owners. Bring treats for strangers to give your pup, let your pup see the shopping carts, new people, new smells, and new sounds. Careful on the lumber aisles though - that fresh sawdust smell seems to be a call to nature for many pups, so bring some paper towels and doggy bags!
Be aware that not all socialization is created equal. Just as good social experiences make a lifetime of difference at this age, negative social experiences can be very hard for a dog to forget. Keep social experiences light, happy, fun, and always end on a good note!
Avoid dog parks at this age - it is an enviroment that gives you no control over the type of social experiences your puppy will face. You don't know what diseases another dog has left in the grass, what other dogs will be there, and what sort of bad manners other dogs could teach your puppy. There will be time for dog parks later if you so choose, but this is not the time!
Teach manners at home too! This is a great time to teach them, but these lessons will have to be refreshed again throughout the first year!
Don't let naughty "toddler" puppy behavior continue - its much easier to correct now then when they are older. Its not cute or funny, its something that needs to be addressed so that they can learn while they are prime for learning!