Good Bye Baby: Preparing Puppy for Transition

Visit any Facebook group on dog care or training and you’ll find lots of questions from new puppy families.  Many of these questions and concerns stem from, or are caused by, transition stress.

Stress is often defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. In our case, the stress is the transition from the breeder’s home to the home of the new family. Coping with this transition should always fall under  “demanding” and never “adverse” experiences, as our puppies are moving into loving and attentive homes that are carefully chosen to be just the right match for our puppy and the family.

It’s important to note that stress is beneficial for our puppy.  All dogs will experience multiple stress inducing events throughout life.  Indeed many dogs, such as show, sport, or working dogs, will be exposed regularly to stress and their body and mind must learn to cope and function optimally under it’s effects.  In short, stress builds stronger and more resilient dogs.

Learning to cope with, and work through, stress associated with changes stems from a puppy feeling competent and confident during transitions and is an important part of the socialization experience for every dog.

Our work starts long before this day!

By thinking about the imminent departure of our puppy and preparing the puppy for this experience, we can help our puppy adapt as easily as possible during this transition.   We can also teach our family how to help their dog master transitions, something that sets both puppy and family up for long term success.

I’ve compiled a list of 10 easy to implement exercises we use to  help puppies transition smoothly to their new homes.  These are based heavily on the Puppy Culture protocols we are already using.

Goals:

1. Puppy will learn to anticipate transitions as positive experiences that lead to good things.

2. Family will learn how to teach their puppy that transitions are positive experiences using primary reinforcements such as: Social Interaction, Food, Play. 

3. Family will learn to make the most of management and choice funnels to set their puppy up for success and growing confidence in choice. 

 

Individual cuddle and attention starts early.

1. Individual Handling = Attention, Treats, Fun.

As per the Puppy Culture protocol we follow, as soon as your dam will tolerate it, remove each puppy from the dam and litter for individual attention.   Make some time for this each day if possible.    Early on, this will be exclusively cuddling, brushing, and other form of petting, but as the puppy matures and becomes socially aware this should expand to include grooming, husbandry, and training, all taught and conditioned with high value food, as well as various types of play.  Create a checklist, or use the Puppy Culture Workbook to ensure you rotate through each type of activity with each puppy.  Try to avoid only removing puppies for things the puppy might experience as unpleasant, such as vaccinations, worming, or other necessary care.   Our goal is our puppy learning to associate removal from it’s litter with positive experiences.

 

 

New room, new bed = Play!

2. Novel Locations = Attention, Treats, Fun.

As part of your Individual Handling, be sure to rotate through different locations.  It’s tempting to simply remove a puppy and work in the living room, but make an effort to use every puppy safe room of your house, and even carrying a puppy outside to a front or back porch.  Older puppies can be taken to your puppy safe yard, or even off property in a puppy stroller.   If you are doing car conditioning, this counts as a novel location and individual attention too.

3. Novel People=Attention, Treats, Fun. 

On a hot summer morning Caleigh learns that interacting with a stranger (her future mom Camille) is both safe and fun.

Even though breeders often wait to introduce novel people until puppies are older, most breeders have a small group of family and close friends who drop by to visit puppies (using all appropriate bio hazard protocols.) These visits should contain some individual handling of puppies (of course, be sure your dam will tolerate this) and use proper management and safety protocols to ensure everyone is comfortable and safe. Once puppies are in the Critical Socialization Period, visits increase. Emphasis should be placed on creating and maintaining a Positive Emotional Response or Positive Conditioned Emotional Response to people and locations.

This puppy has already learned how to offer eye contact as a behavior, so she is delighted to learn that this new person will also click and treat her for offering eye contact. She now feels very confident and has happy associations with being removed from her litter and handed off to a person she does not know.s as well as transitions.   Make abundant use of high value food and chews and all positively taught behaviors the puppies know.

*NOTE!  Always supervise and manage socialization of your puppies. Remember, Single Event Learning is real and any scary or traumatic experience during the CSP can have long lasting effects on the puppy’s behavior.

 

4. Create Security in Schedules.

Portia is enjoying crate resting time after morning exercise and training. She has two pacifiers, and is already conditioned to expect resting during the late morning. This will help her feel more confident when crated in her new home.

Puppies are a schedule intensive creature. By making note of your puppy care schedule, you can help both your new family and the puppy. Make note of your typical feeding/cleaning schedule as well as your training and crate conditioning routines.

Most puppies will have owners who work during the day and  many puppies can expect to be confined at some point during the day, and crated during sleeping hours.

Knowing this, we try to work on crate conditioning with our litters during the day. This is fit in after morning clean up, breakfast, and play time, when the puppies are getting tired and ready for rest. At this point we do crate chews and naps, as the puppies are primed and set up for success – napping and being calm in their crates.

By anticipating what your puppy’s schedule will likely be in the new home, you can prepare your puppy for it’s transition.   Knowing what to expect builds a puppy’s confidence during the stress of transition. Further, knowing this routine can help our family during the transition period, so be sure to send home a copy of your schedule with each puppy.

Surprise Car Crate = Raw Bone!

5. Create Adaptability By Throwing Out The Schedule!

We don’t want our puppy to be so habituated to a particular schedule that changes in routine are distressing.  So while puppies really do require some scheduling of meals and cleanliness for their health and well being, we can also create an happy anticipation of change by pairing random events with very enjoyable activities.

Mix up your elective activities.  We can’t really just “not feed or clean up after” our puppies, that’s a given. Puppies  require regular feeding and a clean environment.  But all  other activities (passive enrichment, active enrichment, crate conditioning, etc.) are elective activities that we can move around. Since our puppies LOVE these elective activities (as they are paired with food, play, and learning) we can also create an happy anticipation of change by creating some randomness in these activities.

This is how I do this!   I assign each activity a number.

1. Passive Enrichment:  Novel item(s), Weaning Pen toy resets.
2.  Active Enrichment:   Clicker training lessons.
3. Puppy Scent Games:  Puppy tracking.
4. Noodling: Yard exploration and play.
5. Crate Conditioning:  Crate chews, in house or car.
6. Nothing Time:  Puppies are left alone in the house.
7. Play: Fetch, flirt, tug games.
8. Nothing Time: We are home, but not interacting.
9. Grooming:  Individual, one-on-one attention.
10. Active Enrichment: Clicker Training (this is twice, because we have lots of training to do!)

Then I download a free Random Number Generator onto my phone (from the App Store or Google Play) and set it from 1-10.

The Random Number Generator then gives me an elective activity, and I do this activity during one of three free times: After Breakfast, After Lunch, or After Dinner.  Since I know I can’t skip feeding or cleaning up after my puppies, this means I need to work variety in between these non elective scheduled tasks. This allows me to condition the puppies to both feel confident their needs will be met. But at the same time, that many fun and unexpected things are going to happen in any day.

Note, I’ve included two types of “alone time” time, one when we leave the house and another when we are home but not interacting with the puppies. Both happen as part of our regular schedule, but I want to ensure that the puppies have lots of experience with us leaving the house, as well as us being home but ignoring the them.  This mirrors real life and what will happen in any type of home situation.

Crates = Comfy Beds!

6. Invest in Crate Conditioning and teach new owners how to continue this work:

One of the greatest gifts you can give your puppy and it’s future family is investing in creating a Positive Conditioned Emotional Response to being both crated and confined in an x pen. Both are tools your puppy family needs to use to manage their puppy’s behavior and safety in the first months of it’s life, and both are a common cause of distress for puppies and owners.

Conversely, if your puppy has had rushed and forced confinement, and thus has a Negative Conditioned Emotional Response to confinement, this may express itself during transition stress as excessive vocalization, panic, refusal to enter the crate, or urinating/defecating when confined.  All these signs of distress can affect outcomes in the new home and even the dog’s behavior going forward.

Be sure to teach your new puppy owners how to continue your crate conditioning work once they bring their puppy home.   Here is our blog post on creating Confident Craters, a Guide for New Puppy Owners

You can find our Crate Conditioning for breeders and fosters here:

Puppies chasing a Kibble Nibble.

7. Teach puppies how to use pacifiers:

Your puppy’s new family will benefit greatly by being able to provide the puppy with a variety of pacifiers, but only if puppies leave the breeder knowing the behaviors needed to enjoy pacifiers this will be much easier.  Again, when presented with a familiar challenge in the new home, a puppy’s feeling of competence during transition increases.

Some of these pacifiers will be instinctively engaging to puppies. Natural chews such as hooves, bones, tracheas, and  bully sticks require no “teaching” and puppies will enjoy them right from the start. Some pacifiers, such as Kibble Nibbles or Wobblers, need practice and puppies need regular exposure to learn to enjoy them.

By starting around weaning age and offering different pacifiers throughout the weeks, the puppies have lots of opportunity to learn how to engage with these items and to enjoy them.

Here is a list of items we find work well for our puppies.

1. Lick mats
2. Snuffle mats (We send a snuffle mat home with each puppy.)
3. Kibble Nibble
4. Kong Quest and Wobbler
5. IQ Ball
6. Stuffed Hooves, Kongs, Trachea, Whimzee
7. Slow Feed Bowls (great for raw or canned foods!)

8. Scent Items and Familiars.

Be sure to send a scented item home with each puppy; this can be a baby blanket, fleece toy, or even the puppy’s own crate. By planning to send scented items home with the puppy, you provide a source of familiarity and comfort during transition.  I love these hand crafted blanket and tug kits from Smiling Dog. Conversely, you can send home a snuffle mat, which doubles as an enrichment item and a familiar.

9. Send home detailed dietary instructions.

This is an easy one, and something most breeders do anyway. By providing detailed dietary instructions, at least a weeks supply of the breeder’s diet, and instructions for training bait and treats, the breeder can help ensure that the transition time isn’t complicated by unnecessary gastric upset. Puppies with GI upset may not sleep through the night, they may soil their crate or themselves, and all these things can push a puppy from transition stress into transition distress.

Set your families up for success by guiding them on the importance of dietary consistency in both meals, enrichment,  and training bait during transition.

This puppy has learned to target her nose to the hand. Her new mom learns how to maintain and use this very functional behavior before taking her home. This helps them have a mutually understood “language” during transition.

10. Install positively conditioned bridges to help your puppy “over” life’s transitions.

I’ve saved the most important for last. Really, this subject warranted it’s own lengthy blog (but don’t worry, I’ll save that for another day!) because it’s really just THAT important.

What do we mean by a bridge behavior?   A bridge is a behavior taught in such a way that a positive emotional response is PART of the behavior.   A bridge doesn’t work if it’s a behavior the puppy learned through avoidance. We want our bridge behaviors to help us reach our goal of a dog who thrives under stress, and who enjoys life’s transitions.

The magic of the bridge is in the communication between the puppy and the new owner. When puppies leave our home they also leave behind all those contextual cues and paths to access reinforcements that help them know what is expected when, and what behavior might work in particular settings.   They feel a bit like “strangers in a strange land” in the new home. The new family often feels the same way, just how do they get the puppy to do the things they need? Our bridge behaviors give the puppy a way to communicate to the owner, and the owner to the puppy. There is empowerment, confidence, and mutual bonding in this shared language.

We encourage our new families to start the day they bring their puppy home with the Puppy Culture Communication Trinity, and to run through these lessons in order.  Running through these familiar lessons helps the puppy feel confident and competent in the new home.

Our bridge behaviors MUST include a positive emotional response. Since we are Puppy Culture breeders and clicker trainers, this is easy for us, as all our Puppy Culture Active Enrichment Behaviors and our other clicker trained behaviors fit this requirement.

Here are the bridge behaviors our puppies are taught before they go home.

1. Sit (Mand) for things you want.
2. Attention (eye contact.)
3. Follow Leash Pressure.
4. Hand Target (touch your nose to my hand.)
5. Crate Up (enter your crate.)
6. Find It (find food I’ve tossed.)
7. Come when called.

With this small set of baby behaviors our puppy can, when unsure what to do, be quickly prompted for behaviors they are confident in and have a positive emotional response to.

Attention is a powerful bridge behavior and easy to recognize reinforced throughout the day.

Of course, we also need to teach our new families the basics clicker training, and most importantly when and how to use the bridge behaviors.

Here are some examples of using bridge behaviors during transition week.

First Day:

Puppy can Mand to leave crate.
Puppy can Mand for meals.
Puppy can have the clicker powered up.
Puppy can Mand for toy toss.
Puppy can give Attention for tugging.
Puppy can Mand for petting.
Puppy can run outside the door to “find it”.
Puppy can Come for meals, attention, and play.

Second Day:

Puppy can Mand to leave Crate.
Puppy can Mand for meals.
Puppy can play The Box Game.
Puppy can practice Leash Walking.
Puppy can Mand for petting.
Puppy can give Attention for toy toss.

At Vet:
Puppy can Mand for social interaction.
Puppy can play Attention while vet listens to heart.
Puppy can follow a Hand Target onto scale.

Because we have already conditioned these bridge behaviors, AND taught the puppy owner how to teach, use, and reinforce them, the puppy can experience these situations (all of which are transitions) as fun and reinforcing events because the puppy “knows” how to earn reinforcement in the form of praise, food, and play.   What a great confidence booster!

Puppies Manding at their first vet visit.

This helps our puppy learn from the very start that it has control over what happens to it, that good things are plentiful and easy to access, and that change predicts these wonderful things.

Will our puppy still experience stress during it’s transition?

Of course our puppy is still going to experience transition stress, and this stress is beneficial.  But by planning ahead we can create a confident puppy who transitions easily, one who welcomes change, variety, and thinks clearly under stress.

We also provide our new puppy families with the knowledge and skills they need to have the smoothest transition possible.  After all, puppies are TONS of hard work, as breeders we can lighten this workload on our new families tremendously, just through planning and execution of some good common sense protocols.

Modern dogs face many challenges and stressors that our breed’s foundation dogs and our breed architects couldn’t imagine.  Modern breeders are not only producing dogs who can adapt to modern environments, but we are also doing our best to give puppies the tools they need to succeed, from the couch to the podium, right from the start.

Kong Stuffing: Quick and Easy!

Sometimes I just want a quick and low prep way to stuff a Kong or Squirrel Dude.

Maybe because company’s come over and I would like to give my dog a pacifier to occupy her (kinda like giving a child a coloring book) so she can hang with us without pestering my guests.

Or maybe I’m offering a Kong every day, and I want variety, and some no cook options!

So, here ya go, three super easy, and two super quick stuffing hacks.

1. Kibble Kongs: 

What could be easier than a Kong stuffed with Kibble?   Now, even easier than this method is that the Squirrel Dudes come equipped with small fingers around the opening, this allows you to put dry kibble right in the Squirrel Dude and the kibble will fall out slowely.   Super easy.

However, if you are using a Kong or other type of dispenser with just a plain opening the dry kibble would just fall out, not much fun, and not much enrichment value.

But never fear, you can use something as simple as your dogs dry food kibble and some water to make a kong.

I make about 12 Kongs at once with this method, because I can fit that many in my sink, but you can make a single Kong by dropping the kong into a cup that is slightly larger and deeper than the Kong.

But I use my sink either with, or without, a dish drying rack.

Put your empty Kongs (OK, I refer to all these things as Kongs, but these purple ones are actually Squirrel Dudes) into your cup or, in this case, my sink.   This is a really fast way to make multiple Kongs, because you can NEVER have too many!

If you want to monitor how much kibble you are using here, so you can subtract it from your dogs daily ration, measure how much your toy holds.

I use a funnel made from a 12 oz bottle of soda, this really helps speed this process up!   Worth the $1.50 for a Coke!

Take your homemade funnel and insert the narrow end into the opening of your Kong (or SD) and slowly pour your kibble into the Kong.   If you pour too fast it may clog up, just use a knife or chopstick to dislodge the clog.   Kongs don’t have the projections around the opening, so kibble flows into them easily, but it can take lots of poking to get the kibble into your Squirrel Dude.


Once all your Kongs are full of kibble, and any treats you might want to drop in, fill your cup/sink, with hot water.

Optional: Use low/no sodium broth or bone broth instead of water.

The kibble will soak up the hot water and expand!  When it’s fully expanded (usually takes 30 minutes to an hour) take the kong out of the water, or if you are using a sink like I am, open the drain.  The water will drain away and your Kongs can drain a few minutes before either feeding fresh, or freezeing for use later.

If your dog is a hard core extractor, freeze these, if your dog is a beginner or easily discouraged, feed them fresh. If you feed them fresh let them drain longer, and be aware the stuffing will be moist.

If you like to put a hole through your kong stuffing, to prevent suction, now is the time to run a skewer or chopstick up from the small hole at the top and through the large opening.   Pull out the skewer and the hole should remain, then freeze.

This is super fast, takes me less than 5 minutes to fill 12 toys!

Here is the same thing with all Kongs. The Kongs stand up better if there is a rack to support them.  This is a regular sink sized dish drying rack.

I make kibble Kongs every day because we feed part of our dog’s daily meals from these toys, making kibble kongs is a fast and easy way to keep stuffed toys in your freezer for use whenever needed or wanted.

Tip:  You can drop bit of different things into these kongs when you are filling them, I often use:

Cheese shreds or cubes.
Small dog treats
Ham cubes or other bits of meat.
A few kibbles of dry cat food
A bit of novel kibble.

But honestly, my dogs love these no matter what!

2. Sandwich Kongs.  

These are a super fast and easy way to stuff toys!

You will need:

1. Whatever toy you are stuffing (Kong, Squirrel Dude, Tux)
2. Healthy whole grain bread (read ingredients, avoid artificial sweeteners, raisins, onions, or anything else not safe for dogs to eat).
3. A spread (I use: canned Pate style dog/cat food, peanut butter, cottage cheese, baby food First Meats).

I’m using canned Fromm Gold and peanut butter to stuff these items.

1. Spread your filling on slices of bread just like making a sandwich.
2. Cut the bread into strips.
3. Stuff into your toy or bone!

If I’m stuffing the sandwich slices into something like these Squirrel Dudes, I put a bit of kibble in first, this makes it easier to clean out later.  You can use up to half kibble if you wanted.  I also put a cheese cube in, just for fun.

If you are stuffing the sandwich into a shank bone, stuff one end and then put some kibble in the middle, the middle is hard for most dogs to get to and it’s hard to clean out, the kibble in the middle means the dog can unstuff the end, find the kibble and then unstuff the other end.   Easier to clean and more fun for the dog.

All finished and ready for feeding or freezing.

I also like to stuff this mixture into my West Paws Tux.

This toy is surprisingly difficult to unstuff!

Seriously, sandwich stuffing is super fast and easy to make with items you likely have on hand.   These can be fed fresh or frozen.

3. Canned Kongs!

As long as we are talking about canned dog food, one of the easiest stuffing hacks is just stuffing your bone or Kong with canned dog food.  I’ve stuffed these hooves and bones with canned dog food right from the can.   You can mix the canned food with some kibble too.  Just stuff it in your item, and freeze, I find the canned food too messy for feeding fresh.  Fast, easy!

This is easy for dogs to get out, perfect for puppies or dogs who are new to working for their food this way.

Hooves and Shank bones stuffed with canned dog food.

Now, with these ideas you are ready!   Now, get to stuffing and enrich your dogs life!

Finally, remember, monitor your dog, don’t feed your things it can’t tolerate or is allergic to, don’t feed your dog things that are not safe, like raisins, grapes, or some artificial sweeteners.   Basically, use your due diligence.  These are all foods my dogs tolerate, my dogs have  robust and health gut and so these things never cause them problems.  If you are unsure about your dog, start with a small amount and see.

Kong of the Month: Thanksgiving Leftovers!

I always make kong stuffing out of my Thanksgiving leftovers.   I use whatever safe and appropriate items we have and the dogs get to celebrate along with us.

1. The Turkey carcass.  I strip off all the meat and connective tissue and boil the carcass (I use an 8 quart stockpot) in enough water to cover plus fresh apple cider vinegar (I used 1/4 cup to 10 cups water).  Boil as long as suits you, the vinegar will help release minerals from the bones, these minerals are very healthy for your dog, so the longer you boil the healthier the broth.

Chop any meat you are not going to save for yourself.   The greater the proportion of meat to oatmeal the richer your finished product, so keep your dogs preferences in mind.  If your dog has trouble with digestion, leave the skin out, I’ve used all the skin because my dogs have amazing digestion and I know they won’t have any trouble digesting the fat.

I made extra veggies, I have both cooked green beans and Brussels sprouts.  The sprouts I’ve well cooked, otherwise they are difficult for dogs to digest.  Since my veggies are cooked, I do not boil them with the carcass You can use whatever veggie you want, don’t have any, try mixing in a bag of fresh leafy greens when the end product is hot but done cooking.

Green Beans!  Lightly cooked.


Well cooked Brussels sprouts.

Remove the turkey bones by running your stock through a strainer, be sure to get all tiny bones too!  Then add the chopped meat and veg back to the simmer stock.  Turn off heat!  The rest is done without any heat.

Tip: be sure to finely chop the meat and veg, otherwise it’s hard to get into the kong and hard for your dog to get out.

I’m using Old Fashioned oatmeal, just keep adding until your mixture gets thick.

I also had some stale Cheerios, so those go in too.

Keep adding oats until your mixture is thick and pastey.  Let this mixture cool until you can easily handle it.

Then start stuffing!

This makes a thick and sticky mixture that is HARD for dogs to remove, excellent for expert level de-stuffers!  If your dog isn’t yet level expert at de-stuffing, try stuffing cows hooves (puppies and beginners), hollow shank bones (intermediate), Kongs (intermediate), West Paws Tux (advanced) and Squirrel Dudes (advanced).  This mixture is also suitable for lick mats, and slow feeder bowls.  Offered fresh is easier than if you stuff and offer the item frozen.

Tip: If you are worried about suction forming in the toy when the dog is licking it, at this stage and before freezing, run the stuffing through with a skewer, chop stick, or straw, the hole should run through the toy, and will remain after you remove the skewer.

 

 

Stuffing of the Month: October, Pumpkin Spice

Zahara sneaking a bone, in the totally obvious way that GSs are known for.

As October approaches the world starts craving all things Pumpkin Spice!

Each October I make a batch of Pumpkin Spice stuffing mixture, but pumpkin is so healthy for dogs that you can add it to any stuffing recipe.

As with all my stuffing recipes, please note, I make huge quantities and stuff every Kong, Squirrel Dude, bone, hoof, and West Paw Zogoflex Tux that I have in the house and I just judge everything by eye, so please adjust amounts to suit your preferences.

This is an oatmeal based recipe and as such it’s sticky, sticky stuffing are more DIFFICULT for your dog to extract, taking more time and effort.  If your dog is new to enrichment see the bottom of the recipe for ways to make this activity easier or more difficult based on your dogs skill and drive level.

Stuffing:

Oatmeal, either Old Fashioned, Steel Cut, or Instant, UNFLAVORED without sugar, or flavor added.   I’m using Quaker Instant Oatmeal because I found it on sale, I usually use Old Fashioned Oats.

Canned Pumpkin, or any cooked and mashed squash.

Eggs: The entire egg, shell and all.

Coconut Oil or Olive Oil (optional) some dogs cannot tolerate supplemental oil, others can.  Know your dog.

Spice:  Granulated Garlic and Ground Cinnamon.

Veg:  Whatever you have!  I used apple and rainbow kale, coarsly chopped.

Optional but Awesome:

I ALWAYS save the fine dust that is left over in treat packages, biscuit boxes, or when I chop up rolled dog treats (Natural Balance and Redbarn Rolls leave TONS of crumbs!) and instead of throwing these yummy bits away I save them in a plastic tub in the fridge.   When I made this recipe I happened to have crumbs from chopping up Natural Balance Rolls into treats and so I poured that in this recipe.

Quantities:  I make a huge batch and here is the recipe for that, followed by a smaller recipe for a single GS sized dog with 7 stuffable dispensers (Kongs, Squirrel Dudes etc).

Combine in a 8 quart stock pot or larger:

1 large tube of  Oats (42 oz)

1 dozen eggs, shell and all.

1/4 Cup Granulated Garlic (NOT Garlic Salt)

1 TBS Ground Cinnamon (No more!)

2 Cans Pumpkin Purée or 3 Cups Mashed Squash

4 Cups Vegetable (I used Rainbow Kale and Apple) coarsely chopped.  Only use dog safe fruits and veggies!

Optional:  Treat dust (I had 1 Cups worth, oil, I used 1/4 Cup Coconut Oil).

Small Batch:

1 Small Tube of Oatmeal
4 Eggs
1 TBS Granulated Garlic
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon (no more)
1 can Pumpkin Purée or 1.5 Cups Mashed Squash
2 Cups Veggie/Fruit.
Optional: Treat Dust or 1 tsp oil.

Make it!

I seriously eye ball this recipe because I’m going for a particular texture (sticky and clumpy) and not regular people eating oatmeal texture!

In your 8 quart stockpot over medium heat, add the amount of water recommended on the Oatmeal package (I start with 2 cups water per 1 cup uncooked oats, adding more water if needed).

Bring the water to a simmer and add all your veggies and fruit, cook lightly (dogs can’t digest plant matter unless it’s lightly cooked or puréed).

To simmering water/veggie mixture add eggs and stir to break eggs up as much/little as desired.  Cook until just set, about 2 minutes.

Add canned Pumpkin or mashed squash, stir to combine and heat through and return to a low boil.

Add Oil (optional), treat dust (optional), spices (also optional really), and Oatmeal.

Reduce heat to medium/low, you want the mixture to just barely boil, enough to cook the oatmeal.

Quickly stir to mix all ingredients, the mixture should thicken up rather quickly, so combine while you can.

Once well combined, and the oats cooked, remove from heat and allow to stand until cool enough to handle with your hands.  Mixture should thicken considerably upon cooling.

Once the mixture is cool enough to handle it should be really thick and gummy, almost like cookie dough consistency.   It sticks to EVERYTHING!   This makes it really challenging to get out of a Kong.

Stuff, Stuff, Stuff!  I stuff this into Kongs, Squirrel Dudes, cows hooves (for puppies/seniors only), Tux, and short shank bones.   You could also stuff this into a lick mat or slow feeder bowl.

Above: West Paws Tux
Below: Short Shank Bone.

Tux, Kongs, and Squirrel Dudes.

Save the extra!  This mixture is sticky enough that I also save some back and use this like a Pill Pocket, to wrap around pills so the dogs will eat them.

I also use it like canned food, to mix in with dry food at meal times.

It freezes well too, and can be used as a stuffing after being thawed.

The large recipe stuffs about 30 different items.  The small recipe will stuff about 10, depending of course on the volume of the item being stuffed.  

Remember, you can adjust the recipe to suit your needs!

Dogs benefit greatly from relaxing activities such as food dispensers, you can use this Relaxing Activity to balance Arousing activities such as fetch, tug, agility, or obedience to help your dog relax.

Tip:  Making it easier.   This stuffing, like all oatmeal based stuffings, is very sticky and difficult to extract.  This is perfect if you have a Kong Level Expert dog, you know, the kind who can clean out a Kong in under 30 minutes.   But this filling might be discouraging to a beginner dog or a lower drive dog.  To make this stuffing easier to extract from the toy you can:

1.  Fill the Kong half way full with kibble before stuffing.
2.  Coat the inside of the Kong with butter, coconut, or olive oil.
3.  Fill a slow feed bowl, or lick mat instead of a Kong or Squirrel Dude.
4. Feed it fresh instead of frozen.

Happy Enriching!

Tip Tuesday: Basic Kong Stuffing

Momma’s dogs need new bones! This blog contains affiliate links, so we can earn a small amount of money while you pay nothing extra!

 

We know so much more now about what dogs need to live fully involved lives. One of the most exciting areas to reach popularity recently among dog owners is what’s called environmental enrichment.

You might think of environmental enrichment when you’re at zoos. As you walk around any modern zoo, you will see all kinds of items placed in and around the habitats to give the animals a chance to use their natural, species specific behaviors.  If you’ve not noticed this, try pausing a few moments longer at each exhibit and scan the enclosure carefully.  I once noticed a carrot placed every few feet along a very high fence in our local zoo’s elephant enclosure, another time some boxes placed around a parrot aviary.

Searching for and finding food is a very basic form of enriching an animal’s environment – and dogs now benefiting from this knowledge. While there are many ways to give dogs an opportunity to search out their food, one of the most basic is stuffing specially made toys with meals. I use a variety of toys for this purpose! Kongs, Petsafe Squirrel Dudes, and Nylabone Busy Times.

This is our “basic” stuffing for this type of toy, but don’t stop with this recipe, try your own or explore the HUGE variety of recipes and ideas to be found on the internet.

What you’ll need:

  • Kong, Squirrel Dude, or Busy Time
  • Dry Kibble (your dogs regular food)
  • Dry Kibble (NOT your dogs regular food, I’m using some Royal Canin I found on sale) for excitement value, optional
  • Blender
  • Funnel (I make one from a small bottle of soda)
  • Small amount of cream cheese or peanut butter
  • Cooked meat or egg (for excitement value)

You can manipulate the ratio to your dog’s liking.  My dogs love their kibble and would enjoy this filling even if it was just their regular kibble.  But I usually mix about half of that with something special,  often this is some kibble from a different company for novelty.   You can also use meat, either cooked meat like beef, chicken, or pork, or canned fish. I also often use a hard boiled egg or two.  Of course you could also purée some veggies into this mixture. Puréed veggies do not need to be cooked for this recipe.

Directions:

Plug the small hole on the bottom of the toy with cream cheese or peanut butter. Fill the bottom half of the toy with DRY kibble, this will make the toy MUCH easier to clean later!

Place your funnel into the large hole on the top of the toy.

Place your toy in a heavy cup to hold it upright for stuffing.

Purée your ingredients in your chosen ratio in the blender with warm water, until it’s a rather thin pour-able consistency. The kibble will firm up FAST, so be ready to pour into all your toys as soon as you are done blending. If the mixture does firm up, just add more water.


Pour until just full!

If you want, you can now stuff a few treats or meat in the top to encourage your dogs interest.  Mine are experts and don’t need any help!

Stuff a bunch at once, freeze them, and then offer your dog part of it’s meals this way.   Your dog will get better and better at unstuffing them, and you will find your dogs behavior improved too!

I use stuffed toys as pacifiers!  Here are my favorite times to pacify my dogs.

1. When company arrives.
2. At training class or in the car.
3. On rainy, hot, or snowy days.
4. When I’ve work to do!
5. Any time as part of any meal.  My dogs LOVE them!

I hope you will provide your dog with a wide variety of pacifiers and teach him or her to make good use of them. Most dogs don’t lead the most exciting lives, but we can make their lives much more satisfying with just a little effort.

Here are affiliate links to my favorites items for this.

Fate Favors The Prepared: Training Bags

Momma’s dogs need new bones! This blog contains affiliate links, so we can earn a small amount of money while you pay nothing extra!

You don’t have to spend much time at dog training clubs to notice that every trainer sports at least 1 equipment tote. Trainers set themselves and their dogs up for success by being prepared.  You can tell they take their training very seriously! Raising any puppy is serious business, there are long term ramifications of NOT being prepared and NOT taking your puppy’s socialization seriously.

We send every puppy home with a tote bag. The reason isn’t just to hold all your supplies! We hope you will use this bag to set yourself (and your puppy) up for success!

Here’s my present boobler puppy, Funneigh, and her tote bag.   I thought you might like to see what we take along EVERY time we take our puppy out for training and socialization.

Funneigh von der burg Austerlitz

First, we need her tote bag.  No worries, we have this amazing Puppy Culture tote bag.

We have two of these totes, a gray one and a blue one, love the quality and functionality of them.

I love my Puppy Culture tote bag.  It holds tons without ever feeling bulky, it’s easy to get things in and out of, and it’s made from durable materials so it will hold up to lots of toting! It’s got six side pockets and two mesh side pockets. Wowza!

What do I bring when I take my puppy out and about for a basic socialization exposure?

Buckle collar with ID. We don’t hook the leash to the collar with the ID.

An emergency slip lead.

My leash, harness and collar, all ready for Funneigh.

Bait: I NEVER leave the house without bait. This great Bento box holds three different values: Highest is salmon cubes, then meatball, then a trail mix of different treats. The top has a cold pack! Super handy.

Bento box all closed up and ready for travel. I like this because i can grab just this if I’m really in a hurry.

Clean up supplies: papertowels, puppy pads, and waste bags.

of COURSE, a clicker or two.

Water from home, plus a small water bowl.

Optionals: For classes I take a chew for “down time” , a food tube, and an extra cold pack.

Bait bag: I often use my pockets, but if you prefer not to do that, bring a bait bag.

Optionals: Long line. If I’m going to a wide open park to walk or train, I always bring a long line. These are all 15 feet nylon.

Want to really do it right? Include a notebook (a small notebook was sent home in your puppy pack!) with your training and socialization goals for that day.

All packed up and ready!

 

Without being prepared, I would have missed being able to click/treat this voluntary attention Funneigh offered. And don’t kid yourself, puppies only become attentive adolescents if we reinforce attention consistently.

So, I hope this helps you “pack like a pro trainer”!   Fate does favor the prepared, and mannerly, well trained dogs are NOT born, they are made through consistent reinforcment of the behaviors YOU value.

Treat every outing as a training class, practice all your puppies learned skills!  Make yourself the most interesting thing in her environment!   Always be prepared!

Here’s a list of affiliate links to the items we recommend for your tote bags! I hope they work as well for you as they do for me!

Note:  Not pictured, and the subject for a future post, a travel first aid kit for dogs.

Junco “checking in” on a walk around the lake. If I wasn’t prepared with my clicker, bait bag, and a high value treat, I would not have been able to catch and reinforce Junco for checking in with me. Given how interesting the environment is (lake!) I would likely see less attention to me, instead of of more. If you want an attentive adult dog, be sure to build a reinforcment history for attentive behavior from day 1!

 

Tip Tuesday: Pupcicles

“How can my dog be bored when I spend half my paycheck on dog toys?”

I know we, and most of you, likely feel like we are breaking the bank when it comes to providing for our dogs – and consumer spending data backs this up. Dog owners love their dogs and love spending money on them!

So..HOW can so many dogs be bored?

I’m so bored!

First, I think that we often forget that a bored dog is simply a dog whose species specific needs are not being met. This is usually because we don’t understand how novelty and food acquisition are inherit needs in the domestic dog.

Arguably, the scavenger dogs of the past had plenty of novelty in their lives – we didn’t have fences to keep them safe, there were lots of predators to try to eat them that they needed to avoid, and lots of prey animals and garbage for them to track down and eat. We really shouldn’t give our dogs garbage and mice to play with… but we CAN provide our dogs with novelty and a chance to “scavenge” for their meals.

Boredom is worth avoiding. Not only is it an unpleasant and mind numbing state to be in, but it can lead to a myriad of undesired behavior as our dogs seek enrichment.

I just got a great idea from a member of our Puppy Culture Discussion Group for making a homemade teether for puppies, but I think this is an outstanding idea for a dog of any age. These pupcicles can be given as part of a meal, hidden around the yard for a dog to seek out and find, or used during crate time.

Here is our first batch!

Supplies:

  1. Muffin Tin
  2. Kibble (dry dog food, but canned would work too)
  3. If using dry food, a blender.
  4. Small meat scraps (here I’m using chicken leftovers)

Spray your muffin tin with no stick spray (optional)

 

I’m using plain vegetable oil spray.

Drop some meat scraps in the bottom of the muffin tin. These are chicken.

Purée dry food with water to a milkshake consistency (I added more chicken to the blender but that’s optional) fill cups.

Fill nearly to the top with your kibble mixture.

Top with novel kibble (so not your regular kibble), treats, veggies, or other healthy foods (cheerios would be great!). Freeze until fully frozen.

Once your Pupciclies are fully frozen, pop them out, store in a storage bag in the freezer, and use whenever your puppy needs some quiet time!

Babsy really enjoyed her pupcicle, it lasted about 2 minutes.

PuppyCam

 

One of our clients sent me this picture of Puppy Cam on their TV, staring Nanny Andeigh playing with the F Litter.

We, and our clients, love the puppy cam.  The puppy cam allows you to observe the litter in real time.

We turn the camera on around day 7, this marks the day the puppies can regulate their own temperature, so we can remove the sheet that covers the whelping box (which holds in the dams body heat).

We turn off the camera around Week 9, usually around the time the first puppies start going home.

The puppy cam is on 24/7, so you can and will often see the reality of raising puppies, including poo, puppy naughtiness, us in our jammies late at night tending them, and of course the entry and exit of the dam, and all the nannies and nannos approved to help teach the puppies.

The puppies may not always be on view, the camera doesn’t cover the entire space, they might be outside on their patio, or out in the house with us.

Sometimes, if there is a poosplosion, or if I’m particularly “unpresentable” I turn the puppy cam off for a bit, just check back later, it will be up again.

This year I am trying out a new way to have a “PuppyCam” with this litter.

The link to the the PuppyCam with this new hosting site is here. (This will open a new browser tab/window, so you won’t leave our site.)

Please try this out and let me know how it works. We are in a 5 day trial period with this hosting company, so there are a few limitations on streaming:

  1. I believe there is a time limit on how long you can connect and look, without reloading the page (but I am not sure how long that is).
  2. You have to visit the hosting site directly to view the PuppyCam.
  3. You cannot link the video into a web page.
  4. And it is hard (impossible?) to “brand” the camera.

If this works out and we like this host, I can upgrade the account with the company and get these issues addressed, and a few other extras to make it an overall better viewing experience.

A few other things on the video: the color (or lack of it) is due to our lighting (or lack thereof) where we have the whelping box. The camera is in color, but we don’t have enough artificial or ambient light to kick the camera into displaying color (unfortunately). The webcam is on 24×7, and has good night “vision” so you can see the puppies at all hours (I think it has infrared lighting built in). Also, I have the sound turned off, so don’t expect to hear anything…

So, please drop me an email and let me know how this looks and works.

Thanks!

Crate Conditioning for Puppies: An incremental approach.

What I remember most about bringing home my second GSD puppy, Indeigh, at 8 weeks was the screaming.   Even though it’s been nearly twenty five years, I can still hear it…..

She screamed in her crate the entire 5 hour drive home from the breeder.

She screamed in her crate for four or five hours EVERY night, and while I was away at work for the first month.   She would grab the bars, pull, and scream.  She bloodied her mouth, she tore her nails.   I lived in a duplex at the time and my neighbors daily notes about the noise made me feel terrible, so I started crating Indeigh inside my walk in closet in an attempt to muffle the sound.  I got zero sleep.

It took Indeigh months to stop urinating in her crate.

It took her weeks to give up screaming.

She grew into an amazing and accomplished dog, but she forever struggled with trusting me, and adapting to change.  I have always wondered if those first few weeks of struggle taught her that change was scary and that I was not really that helpful during those time.

I didn’t know what to do!   Nobody did, everyone I asked gave me well meant advice, but nothing worked. I felt helpless, I was a bad owner, she was a bad puppy, very dominate, no impulse control,  was trying to control me, just ignore her, spray her, shake her crate, and above all, never let her out unless she was quiet.  I did all the things, nothing helped.

Now, I can think about how much easier and enjoyable our first weeks together would have been if Indeigh had been conditioned to love her crate before I even brought her home.

Now, at this point, I have to warn you.  I have broken every rule of writing in this day and age.  There are lots of words here, some of you may be scared by the endless stream of paragraphs, some may think this will be boring (and it might) so flee if you must, I understand, but if you hang in there and follow the plan, you can make a different world for your puppies!

I want to give breeders the tools needed to create a +CER (Positive Conditioned Emotional Response) to the crate so no puppy needs to suffer as Indeigh did, and so no owner needs to struggle as I did, unable to help.   Before the puppy ever leaves the litter it’s in a period of exceptionally quick and easy response to forming such emotional connections and we breeder’s have a unique opportunity, and a limited window, in which to meet this goal.   The Critical Socialization Period (that period from 3 to 12/16 weeks when puppies are designed by nature to form rapid emotional responses, both positive and negative, with few exposures) it’s the perfect time to condition a puppy to LOVE the crate.

Why have I become to dedicated to early crate conditioning?

1. For Indeigh, to honor her memory.

2. Because puppies (and their caregivers) don’t need the added stress of crate training AND transition stress during their first weeks in a new home.

Above:  Eli (formerly Snapdragon) totally relaxed for the car ride home with his new family.   This is a good start!

Above:  Rook (formerly Cosmo) relaxed and napping within days of arriving in his new home.   Totally different from what my Indeigh experienced her first few days in my home all those years ago.  THIS is why!

Above:  Elizabeth aka Violet calmly napping on her drive home with her new family.   THIS!

3. Because it’s just so easy and offers lifelong benefits to the dog and owner.

If it seems like there are lots of tiny steps, that is by design, and it’s the reason this plan is so effective.

Goals: Please note, these are not hard target goals like “puppy will be quiet for twenty minutes”  Because puppies mature at different rates it’s important to have more subtle but much more important goals.  This is NOT a “crate training” plan, but instead a “crate conditioning” plan that focuses on goals associated with positive emotions.   

1. Puppy will choose to spend time in the crate as a preferred location and will experience positive emotions associated with all crate times and activities.
2. Puppy will not experience  negative emotions associated with the crate.   No screaming, crying, or attempts to break out.

So, here is a quick and easy week by week guide to creating a +CER (Positive Conditioned Emotional Response) to crates and confinement during the Critical Socialization Period.

Our plan starts at 4 weeks, when as per Puppy Culture we move the puppies from the whelping box to the weaning pen.

Week 4/5:   In the weaning pen we have a toilet for the puppies on one wall, and on the opposite wall I install a row of small crates with the doors removed so the puppies can easily enter/leave at will.   In each crate is a comfy bed, the only comfy bed in their weaning pen.   Already, their first exposure to the crate is a happy one, a nice comfy bed!

Week 4/5 weaning pen. Crates (L), play area (center) and toilet (R).

First crates: doors removed

 

First crates, doors removed.

 

 

In the Week 4 stage we deliberately use at least two wire crates and the crates are positioned with the back of the crate into the room.  This means that the puppies can see and touch noses with our Nannies and Nannos (older dogs experienced with raising baby puppies) through the back wall of the crate.   We can also give the puppies treats through the back of the crate.

This serves two purposes.

1. Gives the puppies two really good reasons to enter their crate, visiting a nanny or visiting with us.   Entering the crate  and napping in the crate voluntarily are goal 1.

2. Gives us lots of opportunities to observe puppies entering the crate, so we can click/treat, or at this age equally powerful,  use social reinforcement in the form of cheerleading to reinforce the puppies for entering or spending time in their crates.

Important!   It’s very UNDESIRED for the puppy to enter the crate and then cry or fuss at the back of the crate because they can’t reach us or a nanny.   This is the opposite of what we want!   So please note in the pictures above the presence of sheets or blankets as a visual block.   When we cannot attend the puppies we block their view out the back of the crate, to prevent frustration at the barrier presented by the back of the crate.   GSDs are very sensitive to developing barrier frustration, it’s imperative that we don’t allow them to learn this during the CSP.   When we cannot work with the puppies, we block their view!

Boom! Goal achieved, puppie are choosing to nap in their crates.

The puppies immediately start napping in their crates!  Yay!

Week 5:   During Week 5 we start feeding the puppies, in groups of two usually, inside their crates (doors are still off at this point, usually).   We remove the bed at mealtime and feed the puppies with the bowl at the back of the crate.

1. I put the puppies outside of the pen, remove the beds from the crates and place the food bowls in the back of the crates.

2. I  lift two puppies (I always choose two who are manding) into the pen and allow the puppy(s) to run into the crate for the food, I use a box to block off the crates I don’t want these puppies to enter since at this point the crates usually don’t have doors, if the crates do have doors I close them to guide the puppies into the crate I want them to enter.  I may also close the doors while they are eating.

3. I repeat with each group of puppies, ensuring one or two puppies per crate.   A helper is nice but not required.

4. After I take up the bowls I wipe down the crate if needed and put the beds back inside.

Bonus:  Towards the end of this week, I put the doors on the crates, at that time I wait to let the puppy enter the crate until it Mands for me.   Later I will use this association between the crate door and Manding to teach my puppies to Mand to ask out of a crate also.

In this photo I am feeding puppies in small groups inside the crate, I have just added doors, so this is the first meal inside the crate with the door closed.  We open the door the MOMENT the first puppy is done eating.   We do NOT lock them in during week 4 or week 5.

Week 6/7:   We know we are ready for Week 6 work when the puppies enter their crates frequently and happily for naps and meals.  Once we have met those goals we are ready to build duration inside the crate and teach the puppy how to ask out.

Goals for Week 6.

1. Build voluntary duration inside the crate.
2. Teach the puppy how to “ask out” by Manding (instead of fretting, whining, or crying).

To build voluntary duration we needed an activity the puppy would prefer to participate in INSIDE the crate.   The obvious choice was chewing, at this age puppies have a strong instinct to chew and also a desire to chew without sharing with littermates.   We capitalize on both.

During this phase, if the puppy exits the crate it’s chew must remain inside the crate.   If the puppy drops the chew to exit that’s great, if not we trade a high value treat for the chew.  In either case, leaving the crate = leaving the chew.

We also need to teach the puppy that while we are closing the door to the crate, the puppy can “ask out” by Manding (from Puppy Culture, and taught at week 5 separate from crate conditioning.  See Puppy Culture for how to teach puppies to communicate through Manding).   It’s vital to me that the puppy does not feel trapped, or regret being inside the crate.   To prevent this the puppy deserves a way to ask out of the crate!   Puppies who cannot express needs become frantic and frustrated, this is contrary to our goals.

Wren Manding to ask out of her crate. Notice how calm and confident she is. No sign of distress or panic that she can’t get out.

In week 6 and 7 we allow the puppy to learn that sometimes they might WANT to stay in their crate AND that they can ask out at any time and we will remove them from the crate.  These two lessons are learned together.

1. At this stage each puppy is fed individually in a crate.
2. After each meal we remove the bowl and at the same moment, give the puppy a HIGH value chew.   Something the puppy thinks is AMAZING!
3. Wait patiently nearby while the puppies chew away.
4. If a puppy drops it’s chew and moves to the door, open the door and remove the puppy (leaving the bone in the crate to be put away later), offer it a toilet break, and then return it to the crate.  Often if a puppy asks out, we find they will return to the crate to chew after a chance to void.
5. As the week progresses wait a bit longer to open the door, and see if the puppy Mands (if you have been doing lots of Manding in the weeks previous, it’s really likely the puppy will Mand if you just pause there).   The moment the puppy Mands, open the door and remove the puppy from the crate.
6. Give the puppy an opportunity to Mand to ask out each time, but I never “get in a battle” over this, if the puppy really wants out and is upset or fretting I let it out, this is not the age to expect adult behavior.   More important is that the puppy learn to trust that it can ask out and be let out, of the crate on demand.   Otherwise we risk creating a negative association with confinement.

Now, before you say that you “don’t have time” for this set up at every meal.  Don’t despair, I don’t do this at EVERY meal becuase like you, sometimes I don’t have time!   At the least I try to do this at one meal per day, some days I make it at two meals!

While the puppies are chewing, I clean up the weaning pen, tidy the toys, refill my success stations, and clean bowls.   I just stay nearby.

Win! After meal time, some choosing to nap, some choosing to chew, none asking out (yet).

  • Expectations:  During week 6 I expect the puppy to stay engaged with the chew around 5 minutes, some less, some more.   Please don’t expect your puppy to sit and chew for an hour!
  • Bonus:
  • 1. Sometimes, if the puppy wants out I ask the puppy if it would be interested in staying in the crate for a different chew.   So the puppy Mands to ask out, and I open the door and show the puppy a different chew, if the puppy takes the chew and lays down and starts chewing I close the door.   If the puppy wants out, it’s removed from the crate. This is most often how I build duration beyond five minutes or so.   But as always, the puppy chews as long as it likes, and it’s let out when it likes. If a puppy falls asleep in the crate we leave them to nap if someone will be there to let them out when they wake up.
  • 2. What is a high value chew?  These are listed in average order of highest to lowest.  I generally start with hooves and patella saving highest value chews for use in the Puppy Culture Resource Guarding Prevention protocols and for Bed Time Chews.Raw Bones (whatever type I have around)
    Bully Stick
    Patella
    Cows hoof (I stuff the cavity with canned food and freeze)
    RawhideNote:  the ONLY time my puppies get high value chews is during crate conditioning sessions.
  • 3. Take it on the road!   During Week 6 and 7 we do at least one “chew session” in the crate inside the car (ideally running) and if possible we take a short drive.  But car conditioning is a subject we will deal with later.Week 8 and up:

    If you wanted, you could just continue using The Week 6/7 protocol until you send your puppies home at 9 to 16 weeks weeks.   JUST doing that would be a great benefit to your puppies, creating a positive emotional response to being crated and confined, and teaching them they can ask out instead of screaming.

    A typical example, a few puppies have chosen to remain in their crates, a few crates are empty because those puppies have asked out.

    But if you want MORE, here it is!

    Goals Week 8 through Send Off Day:

    1. Puppy will sleep through the night in the crate with minimal to no fussing.
    2. Puppy can remain crated up to 10 minutes during the day, with chews.
    3. Puppy will Mand to ask out of crate.
    4. Puppy will enter crate when asked.

    Some of these goals will have been met during the previous week or two.   If so we continue to practice them!  Rotating Chews to encourage longer chew times.

    Crate Nights:   One of our primary goals with this program (remember Indeigh) is that puppies are conditioned to sleeping through the night in their crate before they leave for their new family.   While this certainly doesn’t guarantee no sleepless nights in the new home, it does reduce the odds a puppy will panic in the crate or form negative associations with the crate or worse, the new environment or family.

    I really struggled with how to do this, because I could not imagine how this would work with baby puppies.   What if a puppy needed to potty in the night?   I KNEW if a puppy woke up and needed to potty that all HELL would break loose in the puppy room when I went to let that puppy out.   I KNEW I would end up with a room full of puppies all frustrated and crying for their release, then crying and frustrated at being crated again.  Not to mention spending an hour in the middle of the night getting them all out, then in again.   NOT good learning, NOT good for my sanity, NOT good for my marriage!   But if I didn’t get up to let a puppy relieve itself it might have an accident in the crate, also NOT good.

    I never solved this problem, but happily for me another breeder (the Amazing Paula Zaro) posted a picture of her crate training and what did I see but a LITTERBOX in the back of each crate.   How CLEVER, no, GENIUS!   My problem was solved.  If a puppy had to void in the night, it would have a small litterbox in the crate with it.   No need to wake up all the other puppies, no need to spend an hour pottying puppies at 2:00 am, no need to be sleep deprived!  And, SQUEEEEEE, No poop covered crate or poop covered puppy!   And at that moment the last phase of my crate conditioning program was born.

    Starting 7 days before our Send Off Date (which is timed between 9 and 10 weeks) we plan for Crate Nights!

    Now, I am going to admit something.   By week 8 the litterbox gets really dirty during the night and AM clean up can be messy.  So I really look forward to starting the puppies to sleep through the night in crates.  REALLY.

    The Plan and the Set Up!

    Above:  Crate (22 x 36) with cat litterbox in the back.

Above:  Same crate, litterbox in the back and bed in the front.

What works for us:  My husband goes to bed much later than I do.   I set up the crates for bedtime and he gives the puppies one last potty break outside and then crates them around 1:00 am.

Bedtime set up:

1. Place litterbox (with litter pellets of choice, I use hay pellets) in the back of the crate.
2. Place a small bed in the front half of the crate, spray with DAP.
3. Place two HIGH VALUE chews (I use a Frozen raw bone and a bully stick) on the puppy’s bed and CLOSE the crate door.   By placing the chews in the crate early the puppies get really excited to ENTER the crate later, when Larry puts them to bed.   Baiting the crates is super helpful!

Above: Crates all set up for Bedtime!

Right before bedtime:

1. Puppies get last outdoor potty break.
2. Puppies are placed into crates, soothing music such as Through A Dogs Ear is played.
3. Lights off.
4. Everyone to bed, household is quiet now, lest we wake the puppies.

Note:  Tired puppies sleep through the night better!

Morning:

1. First thing I get up and remove puppies from crates and take them to their Puppy Patio to void.   I toss treats out the door to ensure the puppies all run out quickly before they are tempted to use the indoor litterbox.
2. I remove crate litterboxes and clean any that have been used.
3. Remove chews.
4. Set up crates for daytime use (bed but no litterbox) being sure to sanitize if needed.

Repeat every night for seven nights before the puppies go home.

Notes:

During Week 8/9/10 we are also doing the Puppy Culture Resource Guarding Prevention Protocols, I use the puppies crate time around meals for this and we do some RGP at almost every meal time.   Please see Puppy Culture for information on that.

During week 8-10 we don’t offer Chew Times after meals, instead we reserve Chew Time for Bed Time, and offer chews primarily at bedtime to make the puppies more excited about going to bed.

The exception is the car, we give chews in the car every time.

And we use various chews/toys/bowls for the Resource Guarding Prevention.

Some breeders double up the puppies, I have no problem with that, we don’t have crates large enough for this, and if we did I don’t think they would fit in our space.   So single puppies in 22 x 36 inch crates works for us, but don’t feel like it MUST be just as we do it.  Do what works for you.

Some breeders do some crating of puppies AWAY from the litter, I’ve come to believe this is a really sound idea and something we will be adding on our next litter.   I think this will be super beneficial for puppies who are going into “only dog” homes.

Above:  Argent (formerly Clover) and Scout (formerly Parsley) preparing for a 12 hour road trip to their new families.   Because they were well crate conditioned, and used to the crate litterbox, they were able to be calm and confident for the drive to their new families.

Need Help?  We’re happy to help you implement this plan, or design a custom crate conditioning protocol based on your breed and needs.   Contact us and ask about distance consulting!

Frequently Asked Questions:

The single most FAQ is “doesn’t having a litterbox in the crate teach the puppies to potty in their crate?”   I admit I had this same concern, after all a dog who is dirty in the crate is a HUGE problem.   My own Indeigh struggled with being clean in the crate and I remember that she was nearly a year old before I could expect to come home from work and NOT find a urine soaked dog and crate.

I can say that we have done this protocol now for 5 litters, the oldest of which is nearly three years, and we have had ZERO reports of puppies who are dirty in the crate.

In fact, the puppies we start this way have far FEWER accident in the crate in their new homes, and most families actually report to me that the puppies NEVER have accidents, or only have accidents with extenuating circumstances (like someone delayed getting home from work, or the puppy had developed a UTI).

My guess is this is because of the litterbox.   Young puppies may need to void more frequently than we think, by offering them a litterbox we just give them a place to void if needed, but as they mature and can physically go longer between voids, they don’t need the box.   Once removed, the puppy doesn’t “go” because the toilet isn’t there AND because they don’t need to.  Because they are conditioned to love their crate they are also NOT having frequent urination due to stress/distress (which is why I think poor old Indeigh struggled so with accidents, she had such a -CER to the crate and confinement).

So, while your experience may be different, we have had only beneficial results with using an in crate toilet for the first couple weeks.

2. When do you remove the box from the crate?   On my keeper puppies I remove the litterbox from the nighttime crate at 10 weeks.  We don’t instruct the new families to use crate litterboxes at all, some do, most don’t.

3. How long will you let a puppy cry in the crate?   During the daytime, never.   During Bedtime Week, we rarely have any fussing by that age, but I remove a puppy who is really freaked out, I do not remove a puppy who is just restless and whining a little bit.   I try again the next night if I remove a puppy from the crate at night.

4. Is it a lot of extra work?   Not really, once I gathered all the supplies and had a schedule it really didn’t add much to the time we had already budgeted to raise the puppies.  Keep in mind that we already plan to devote a TON of time to raising our puppies!   I just want to use our time effectively and for the long term benefit of the puppies, this protocol is not designed to allow me to neglect spending time raising my puppies but instead to invest my time in those things with long term benefits.

5. Won’t letting the puppies out when they ask “spoil” the puppy, teaching it that it controls the human, or that crying “works” to get out of the crate?    To answer this I have to explain that I don’t believe baby puppies cry in crates for any reason other than distress, it’s natural for a puppy to panic and cry when it’s unsure about what’s happening, it’s also normal for any animal (human or canine) to panic when it feels trapped and unable to control being able to leave.  I don’t think puppies cry in crates to dominate or control humans, puppies cry in crates because they are distressed and their ability to handle that distress is limited by their immaturity.   When we consider the puppy’s emotional response and why it’s vocalizing, our path becomes more clear.   Behavior is very fluid and it IS easy to teach a puppy that crying will bring relief from distress, that’s not really a bad lesson, we don’t want our dogs to silently tolerate being distressed anyway, but it does mean we have missed something in our plan.  Our puppy should not feel distressed period.   A bit of stress (fussing for example) is OK, but distress (screaming, biting bars as examples) means we have messed up, it’s not the puppy’s fault and the puppy should not be punished.   We need to reevaluate our plan, and go back to conditioning again.    In fact, what we’ve observed is that by teaching puppies a polite way to ask out of the crate, we actually create more positive emotion, the puppy feels (and IS) in control of it’s outcome.   Dogs are happier, more secure, and confident when they know how to control their outcomes and consequences.    By allowing the puppy to ask out, we actually create a puppy who doesn’t want to!

Lastly, a breeder asked me why I do this, this extra conditioning, clients don’t expect it (I might argue that point with her, clients SHOULD expect it!), why bother?

I sent her this picture. A picture of Scout in her new crate, in her new home, happy and relaxed.   I tell her about happy puppies, sleeping beside their new person, in a crate by the bed.  About puppies adapting quickly and without trauma, about puppies and their caregivers able to really enjoy each other from the start, without screams, fights, and fear.   I told her, I do this for Indeigh, even though her behavior wasn’t typical, my ignorance failed her, I wasn’t trustworthy, I allowed her to struggle, to be scared, to panic.   Now I can do better, and I do better in her name and to honor her.

I love you Indeigh, I’m sorry I failed you,  and I’m going to honor your memory by doing better and by helping others do better too.

You’re a good girl, thank you for teaching me.

The Good, The Bad, and The Poopy.

If anyone had told me I could raise a litter of German Shepherd puppies from birth through 10 weeks in my home without going stark raving mad,  I would never have believed them!

Too big!

Too many!

Too much poop!

Prior to Puppy Culture, we raised puppies inside our home for the first six weeks. Then, when the poop got too much, we moved them outside to a large indoor/outdoor puppy pen and yard. Good enough, right? We thought so, and indeed this worked okay for many years.

But times, and paradigms, change. Along came Puppy Culture and it’s community of breeders dedicated to doing the best they can for their puppies, to challenge us to do better.

While our older model worked well, we (well, actually our puppies) missed out on a lot. There was so much more we could accomplish if the puppies were inside the house. we could spend our time on more than just poop patrol! We had been doing good, but Puppy Culture showed us how much better we could do.

I became dedicated to figuring out and perfecting how to teaching my puppies what they needed to know to live inside with us the full nine to ten weeks.  With less time spent cleaning messes, I would have the time to really work through the Puppy Culture protocols. If I was going to keep a bunch of little poop machines in my house for weeks on end, I decided they would have to be litter box trained.  Litter box training is covered in Puppy Culture, but what worked for me is just a little bit different. As an unexpected bonus, our puppies were significantly easier for their new families to house train.  Talk about a win-win!

Here’s what I learned in a week by week guide.

First toilet! I want to leave room for the dam, so it’s just one pad/holder and a small bed.

2-3 Weeks:  I put  a small potty pad on the west wall of the whelping box.  I have found it’s really important to keep the litter box in the same place. When I’ve done it this way, as I make the puppies area larger, they can always find the litter box and I have fewer misses.     On the other side I place a small bed.   So, sleep area and toilet area, baby version.   The puppies hit the toilet about 10% to 20% of the time.

What I used:

  • 1 Durawhelp to line the whelping box.
  • 1 potty pad frame with potty pads. Affiliate Link.

 

 

4-6 Weeks:   As per Puppy Culture, we move puppies to the weaning pen around week 4.   I remove the whelping box and put the larger toddler toilet where the whelping box was (along the western wall of our dog room.)  In front of the new toilet is a slightly larger play area. On the eastern side of the pen I put in a row of small puppy beds (during week 4) and small crates (week 5).  Before I add the crates I want to be sure the puppies are NOT urinating on their bed area. They don’t have to make it all the way to the litter box, but are at least moving off their bed area.  Once the puppies are moving off their bed area to urinate I add the crates.   By now the puppies poop in the toilet most of the time, but they still miss as much as they hit with pee.

F Litter, first weaning pen toilet. Pads with holder on L and R, and new this week a 24 x 24 inch rabbit hutch pan with litter pellets.

It’s important to have realistic expectations.  During week 4 the puppies rarely make it all the way to the toilet to urinate, they are just not mature enough. What I’m looking for is that the pee spots on the brown pads are moving CLOSER to the toilet. This tells me the puppies are learning to move away from their bed and play area to potty, which is an important skill.

From the moment we move the puppies to the weaning pen, we start to carry each puppy to the litter box immediately after eating.   Someone watches them to make sure they actually hit the toilet when they void. Doing this religiously really helps the puppies understand to “go to” the litter box when they need to void. During week 4 we are often placing the puppies in the toilet when we know they need to poop. SOME of the puppies will start going to the toilet to poop during this week and by the end of week 5 we hope that most of the poop will be in the toilet.

Please don’t expect your puppies to be perfectly litter box trained. They are not adults, we are just looking for an effort to reach the toilet to tell us the puppies are learning and trying.

Next step, I’ve removed the pads and holders, and replaced with three pans and pellets.

On the F Litters 5 week birthday I expanded the weaning pen and added 4 crates. Toilet is the same size and same location.

Crates for 4, all bedding is moved into the crates. The doors open facing the toilet.

Puppy eye view, week 4, baby toilet and bed directly across. Once these beds stay dry crates are introduced, usually week 5.

What I used.

  • Toilet:  3 plastic rabbit hutch trays from Tractor Supply Company 24″ x 24″
  • Litter:  Alfalfa Pellets 40# also from TSC.
  • Footing:  EZ Whelp Pads. Affiliate Link.
  • Pen: Midwest Metal 36 Inch X Pen (2 units to start, but I use about four by the end.) Affiliate Link.
  • Crates:  1 200 Vari Kennel,  3 24 x 17 inch wire crates (all crates have doors removed) Affiliate Link for wire crate. Affiliate Link for Vari Kennel.

TIP!   I have learned that keeping the toilet in the same place speeds toilet training.   Now, I always have the toilet on the west wall of their pen, even starting as early as the whelping pen pad, and THAT was really helpful.  On previous litters I experimented and moved the toilet around often, that really made it harder for my puppies to find.   My suggestion is you decide before the litter is born how you will build out from the whelping box, to the weaning pen, to the toddler pen.  Plan in advance, so your litter box will stay in the same area the entire time.

The now expanded weaning pen, the litter box is in the same position, the play area is larger to meet the needs of our growing puppies.

Week 6-7.  At the end of week 5 we enlarge the weaning pen.  The puppies are now using the toilet most (but not all) of the time and their pen is enlarged to make room for more exercise and passive enrichment.   At this point you can also see the door is available (left) to their puppy patio outside.  The crates are still on the wall opposite of the toilet, and our crate conditioning plan is in full force.  The pen opens into the kitchen and living room (right), and outdoors (left).   We are still using the three pan toilet for these two weeks.   Please note, there are still plenty of pees outside the toilet, but most of the poop is inside the toilet.

We continue to ensure the puppies either run to, or are carried to, their litter box after each meal.  By this age we are feeding the puppies in their crates, so after each meal the crates are opened and the puppies encourage to their toilet area to void.

What I added:

  • Toddler Slide – 2Step Sports-tastic Activity Center Playset. Affiliate Link.
  • Larger (24 x 36 inch) crates not visible here.

Week 8-10: For the last two or three weeks the puppies are with us we expand the weaning pen until it takes up the entire dog room. I found my puppies do not like to touch poop, and will choose to poop outside of the box if they must touch poop to void inside the box.  Not a problem during the day when we pick up constantly, but at night the box can get poopy.  Once that starts I enlarge the toilet again, adding two larger trays. During the day, we leave the larger two pans in place (against the western wall) and at night we add the three smaller boxes.  The photo below shows the boxes reversed!  They are usually the other way. This largest toilet helps the puppies succeed in getting fully into the box to void, even if there are some poops in it.   Puppies are now taken outside for potty breaks as often as possible, through their exterior door and onto their puppy patio outside.   They still need and use their litter box however, and there is the occasional accident on the EZ whelp pads.

Our largest litter box area, we use this at night for large litters in weeks 7 and 8.

During the day we keep down the larger boxes. At night, we enlarge with the three smaller boxes.   This worked really well keeping the area clean at night, but still allows play room during the day.

Of course by now we are encouraging the puppies to void outside. They have a doggie door that leads to their puppy patio, so they can go outside often.

One week before the puppies are scheduled to depart for their new homes we begin crating them at night, you can find information on that protocol in our Crate Conditioning blog.

 

What I add this week:

  • 2 Rabbit Hutch Trays (24 x 36) TSC

Puppies at 9 weeks, we are well into our crate conditioning protocol by this age, after each meal puppies are taken either outside, or to the litter box to potty.

The largest play area, litter box on the west wall, and resting (crate area) on the east wall.

A few extras that help with efficiency. 

Clean up station, paper towels are held in place with a bungee.

Puppies this age have water from this Neater Feeder which works great to contain spills.   One of my favorite things!  No more water soaked pads! Affiliate link.

Outside puppy patio.  To keep puppies clean during rainy seasons we put in this patio, made from stall mats with a fence surrounding.

At 8 weeks puppies get cup chairs to rest in.  They use the steps to climb in.

Crates, cup chairs, and part of play area.  Exterior door on the right, and kitchen on the left.

I hope this guide helps you litter box train your own puppies. We found by starting early, creating an environment designed for success, and not expecting perfection we have been able to enjoy having our puppies in the house with us with far LESS work than ever imagined. This has freed up even more time to implement Puppy Cultures core protocols, active enrichment, training, socialization and teaching puppies to be enrichment seekers.

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