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Enrichment for our dogs is the hot topic of the day! Blogs, workshops, seminars, and FB groups all devoted to this topic. But what about puppies? Can puppies benefit to?
One of the best benefits of a puppy pacifier, one tuckered out puppy!
As I do more and more with my crate conditioning protocol I have been using more and more pacifiers. Pacifiers are things we give dogs designed to amuse them for long periods of time like chews, lick mats, and Kongs. There’s many, many more then just those types, and I have experimented extensively with all different kinds. I have been really interested to see some really beneficial “side effects” of the use of pacifiers in my puppies.
Puppies who are:
- Calmer, in general and specifically when not ‘doing anything.’
- Getting along better with littermates.
- Learning more quickly and with less frustration.
- Seeming more “thoughtful” with their actions.
This is undoubtedly due to the “Enrichment Effect” discussed at length in the puppy raising protocol Puppy Culture. As breeders, we know that an enriched environment is beneficial for our puppies physical and behavioral health. Puppies raised in enriched environments have bigger brains, learn faster, and have better behavior as adults.
I think the pacifier is a hybrid between Passive Enrichment opportunities (things like tunnels, and adventure cubes) and Active Enrichment (activities that involve learning, like clicker training.) Puppies are DOING something and learning something, but unlike clicker training the activity is completely self driven. Passive Enrichment is great, Active Enrichment is the “gold standard” for puppy raising, and I think pacifiers fall somewhere in the middle. They are just another tool to add to our toolbox as we seek to raise the best puppies possible, and make the most of their inherited traits. But if that wasn’t enough, there are huge benefits to your new puppy families too – but more about that at the end.
Here are my 10 tips for success with pacifiers.
1. Start Easy! Baby puppies learn fast, but there are limits to their motor and cognitive abilities.
2. Ensure Success! Make sure the food is easy to access.
3. Present one skill challenge at a time. Pick one skill: lick food out, sniff food out, push food out, move a thing to find food, tear something open to find food, sniff to find food, roll to find food, or remove food.
4. Use palatable easy to digest foods and mix up flavors.
5. Choose materials carefully. Avoid things that could trap body parts, fracture teeth, abraid skin, or become ingestion risks.
6. Choose materials thoughtfully. Select things that are interesting or are novel to puppies.
7. Observe your puppies for success with any item.
8. Adjust. If you observe your puppies don’t engage or give up on a challenge, next time make it much easier.
9. Adjust. If you observe your puppies have immediate success, next time make it slightly more difficult.
10. Keep Records. Keep track of your puppies favorites and preferences, so you can share what works for a puppy with it’s new family.
Here is my current list of items that work for my puppies. I often use these for crate training, but also when my puppies are getting quarrelsome, frantic, or having trouble calming down. I have both Group and Individual activities. I would love to know what you use for your puppies, please share in the comments!
Toy Pile Scramble: Talk about cheap and easy! On a rainy day I tossed some treats down, and piled all the Nylabones on top, took the puppies 10 minutes to snuffle through and find them all.
Snuffle Mat: I really LOVED the snuffle mat I made. I would work some dry kibble down into the mat and even 5 week old puppies were delighted to snuffle around and find them. This became my “bedtime” activity for litters. After a play in the house, I would put down the mat and put the puppies to bed for the night. After the snuffle they were ready for sleep! Our friend Camille makes amazing snuffle mats (and great toys too!)
Kong Quest Forager: This dude was great! I put small soft treats in the holes and ends, all the puppy needs to do it bump it and the treats roll out easily. NOT durable enough for older puppies.
Left: Licky Mat
Lick Mats: I started with these lick mats around 4 weeks. I put puppy purée, goats milk, and canned food on them. The puppies did OK with these, I think I’ll try to find an easier one next litter. But they still LOVED these, especially with yogurt or goat milk.
I used the lick mats almost entirely in the crates. The puppies LOVED them, and I got better with using different foods to vary how difficult they were.
Lick Mat in a Crate!
I used lick mats with older puppies as well! I graduate to freezing the mat to make it more challenging for older puppies. I do phase out the use of the lick mats once they show interest in chewing them up, or clean them up too quickly.
Single Puppy (Crate) Pacifiers
From L to R. Cow hoof, Trachea, Shank Bone, Alligator Whimzee.
Bones, Hooves, Trachea, Whimzees, and more! These are stuffed with dry puppy food puréed with veggie broth and a cooked egg. We feed fresh the first week and frozen from then on. Some of these are completely edible (the Whimzees, tracheas) and some are not and can be reused (the bones.)
An assortment of chews I have tried, some of these were a bomb and some a hit. Clockwise from ring. Puppy Teething Ring (Bomb) Pork Cheek (Hit) Pig Ear Slices (Hit) Bully Stick (Hit from week 6 up) Patella (Hit from week 5 up) Dentastix (Bomb)
Chews: These are edible treats that take a long time to consume, or only parts are consumed. I’ve use smoked patella bones, dental chews, small bully sticks, pork cheeks, and raw hides. You’ll have to experiment to see what works for your puppies!
Kibble Nibble: These are fairly hard for young puppies and it helps if you have a nanny dog who can teach the puppies how to shove it around. But once they get the hang of it, they are great! I will often put a Kibble Nibble in at night from week 7 to 8, because the puppies can get hungry in the night and I never leave “free” food out, this is a great way to leave a snack option for them, but one that requires a bit of thought to access.
When to use them?
Pacifiers are a GREAT management tool to make your work as a breeder easier and more effective! Here are the most common ways that pacifiers make my work easier.
- To teach puppies it’s great to run back into the weaning pen after an outing. I “seed” the weaning pen with a pacifier (like a snuffle mat) after I take the puppies out. Once they figure out the snuffle mat is always waiting for them, they are happy to run back inside the pen when I open the door.
- To soothe puppies during the “witching hour” when they are bickering and frantic.
- To prevent puppies from learning to scream and bark at movement outside the pen. I plop a pacifier like a few Kong Foragers in when I know I’m going to be moving around outside the pen.
- A snack before bed. During weeks 4-8 I put down a snuffle mat to soothe puppies as we go to bed.
- Rainy, cold, or blistering hot days. When walks and noodles outside are short and puppies get bored.
In the new home!
Falcon in his new home. Because he learned to use a variety of pacifiers when here, he was “primed” and ready to use pacifiers in his new home. This makes raising him much easier on his mom!
I can’t even begin to tell you how introducing your puppies to pacifiers early, while they are in the care of the breeder or foster, will help your new families.
Raising a puppy is hard work! Puppies are chew machines and almost every new owner struggles with the same normal puppy issues: chewing on things, mouthing humans, ‘getting into stuff’, and pestering humans or older dogs. These are all normal behaviors, and pacifiers are amazing effective ways to allow puppies to develop normally, while also fostering habits the owners LOVE. This helps ensure the puppy has GOOD interactions with people and not a bunch of “no puppy” “bad puppy” type interactions, it builds good recreational chewing habits, and it gives puppies a natural outlet for their chewing and foraging needs.
Keep a list, much like this one, of the types of pacifiers you have taught the puppies to use. Provide it to each new puppy family so they can learn the value of pacifiers, how to teach puppies to use them, and when to provide them for the most benefit. And BOOM, your puppy and it’s new owner are now set up for success and a happy life together!
If you’ve been breeding long enough, you have met “That Puppy”. That Puppy is one who, while his littermates are quietly napping or playing, is screaming at the top of his lungs. Maybe he hollers after midnight, or bellows in the morning, or has a midday tirade every day? Such a puppy can drive a breeder to distraction.
Of course when a puppy is vocalizing for no apparent reason we should first consider the puppy’s health. Is That Puppy gassy? A bloated gassy puppy has a very good reason to vocalize! So first run through a list of That Puppy’s basic needs.
1. Pain– Is this puppy in pain or uncomfortable? Is a vet check warranted? Could That Puppy be gassy, or have a stomach ache from weaning, or over eating, or parasites?
2. Hunger– is this puppy “hangry” because it’s been pushed off breakfast by larger puppies? Does it need a snack?
3. Thirst- is clean water available?
4. Warmth/cool- is the climate of the weaning pen comfortable? We readily think of puppy’s being chilled, no breeder wants that, but some breeds *cough Malamute cough* appreciate being able to get cool.
5. Rest- is there a place for this puppy to rest? Some puppies rest better in a “single size” bed, some really want to snuggle with other puppies. Further, can the puppy rest without being constantly awoken by playful siblings, household noises, nannies or over tending mothers?
If any of the Basic Needs are lacking, addressing those is our starting point.
But what if we’ve met all those basic needs? Indeed for skilled and responsible breeders these basic needs are second nature, attended to with great skill, and never lacking. But still…..That Puppy bellows!
One can never imagine the volume this wee mite can muster!
This is when the train can fly off the tracks. Faced with That Puppy, that loud, loud puppy, breeders try to figure out why. Why just *That Puppy*?
At this point, faced with this difficult puppy we often get distracted and off track because we, even though we know more about puppies than anyone, start to assume that a baby puppy is like a tiny adult dog.
We don’t let adult dogs out of crates when they fuss now do we? (Let me add, I’m not advocating leaving any dog to scream it out, but that’s a subject for later). So great is the fear we will “teach” a dog to vocalize to control us that we forget that puppies are not tiny adult dogs. So entrenched is this advice to ignore, that we never question it.
We then start to throw out labels, now That Puppy is: Bossy, High Strung, Demanding, Manipulative, Dominate.
That Puppy is trying to CONTROL us, the human, heaven help us! But is it really?
First, remember that if we decide to frame a dog’s behavior (of any age) with a negative label we then tend to put ourselves in a dead end. After all, if a puppy is having a temper tantrum, being manipulative, demanding, bossy or whatever now we have suddenly made this “the puppy’s fault” or a problem with the puppy itself, we are now in a battle of wills with this puppy. We must win, right?
Labels are so limiting and they can close off how we think about behavior into one narrow road with few solutions.
The Puppy screams because he’s difficult, and he’s difficult because he screams. This offers us no path to resolution.
So if we think a puppy is being in any way “naughty” we start to think along the lines of “teaching the puppy a lesson”, that it can’t control us and that bad behavior won’t “work”. This limits us to basically one common answer, IGNORE the puppy (or much worse, punish the puppy by squirting it, or tossing a penny can, or scruffing it). Otherwise the puppy “wins” and that means we are the looser because the puppy learns to vocalize to demand release.
But, this is at best really limiting, at worse damaging, and may indeed completely miss the mark, the “point” or function of the behavior.
Always remember, puppies exhibit behavior as a response to the environment. How such a young puppy responds is less about high cognitive functioning, learning, and manipulation and more about basic instincts.
Puppies are hard wired to respond to distress vocally, this is basic survival advantage stuff.
Puppies are hard wired to want to “be with” humans and dogs (that order may be switched depending on the breed traits at play). We literally domesticated dogs so they want to be with us, they are driven to be with us.
This instinct combines with breed traits and developmental stages to create a variety of behaviors. Learning plays an increasing role as the puppy matures, but it’s not the primary player in baby puppies.
So instead of asking ourselves how we can punish a puppy (something we are inclined to do if we think of the puppy’s behavior as being deliberately bad) by ignoring it (removing something needed or desired) or punishing it (adding something the puppy would like to avoid) we do better work by the puppy if we look at the puppy acting this way and take the behavior “at it’s word” and think of the puppy as struggling, as an emotionally immature individual struggling with frustration, or perhaps separation distress, or fatigue, discomfort, or over arousal. When we frame our puppy in this light, we can see a variety of potential solutions before us, so many, instead of few.
1. Look for a pattern. Does the fussy behavior occur before meal time? In the evening? In the middle of the night? Jot down in your litter notebook when the fussy behavior happens and always confirm which puppy is vocalizing. This is really helpful in designing an intervention, but sometimes we don’t need at plan at all because the function of the vocalization becomes readily apparent in the pattern. For example, if a puppy eats and then cries for an hour after, our solution may be in the feeding. Puppy is under eating, or over eating, or the food doesn’t agree with the puppy.
The gate to my puppy area, from the busy kitchen, with the visual block closed so my puppies can relax.
2. Take advantage of visual blocks. Barrier frustration is a real deal in certain breeds and it can start young. I use sheets (I like sheets because they are easy to close and open) on the outside of the pen, this one thing has decreased puppy distress by 90% in my home. Use visual blocks strategically “in the moment” to help a puppy lower it’s arousal and distress at being separated from others in the household. If the pen walls are covered already, try uncovering it, or a part of the pen to make a window.
This sheet lowered down the side of the weaning pen allows Heron to rest peacefully.
3. Dramatically increase novelty within the pen. Remove and rotate toys often, increase the cognitive effort a toy takes, use snuffle mats, novel odors, kibble dispensers, small platforms, really make the pen interesting and engaging and time these changes to right before the high risk times. In my own puppies, this is usually where my solution lies. German Shepherds are clever puppies, just tossing a few toys in won’t always be enough. But a snuffle mat? Or a bunch of horse hair stuffed into a toy, or a kibble nibble, yeah! Something that requires some sniffing and figuring out! That can help a puppy self calm and relax.
The toys on this mobile can be changed daily, chews, or scented items can be hung.
4. Spend more time with the puppies in the pen yourself instead of always taking them out. Mix it up a bit. How often do we accidentally teach puppies that being outside the weaning pen is better? Too often all human interactions are outside the weaning pen, all novelty is outside the weaning pen, and meals are outside the weaning pen. NO WONDER puppies long to be out of their pen! Make a real effort to condition puppies that being confined (in a pen at first, and a crate later) is WONDERFUL! Put the puppies OUT of the pen and then have a clicker training session INSIDE the pen, one puppy at a time. Sit inside the pen sometimes for play time and visitor time. Put novel smells and items in the pen for exploration sometimes. Now, I’m NOT saying “don’t take your puppies out of the weaning pen” , that would be insane, but I am saying to make your weaning pen just as much fun as the other parts of your house.
Spend quality time inside the weaning pen with your puppies, so outside isn’t always better!
5. So, on that note, be sure your puppies time outside the pen, counts. Plan sniff walks in a puppy safe yard, or if it’s better, do a sniff walk inside! Collect novel odors (I use chicken feathers, bark from trees, horse hair, and cat hair often) and plant these along with some treats around your room. Start easy, and make each snuffle walk just a tad more difficult. Before you know it your puppies will be experts at using their noses to find the hidden novel smell. This type of “thinking” exercise will help puppies rest better when returned to their pen. Be sure to salt the pen with a snuffle mat, or kibble nibble, so when the puppies return they have an activity to help them calm down.
This puppy’s time outside the pen features a shaping lesson!
6. If you have a safe skilled team of nannies, make sure they have a hop in (a low point in the pen that allows a nanny to enter AND LEAVE the pen at will) so they can interact with the puppies in the pen. I have one nanny who is always first to sooth a frustrated puppy. So I make sure she can! Now, again, do NOT EVER lock any adult dog (even the dam) in with the puppies. There must always be an escape route for any dog to leave the weaning pen. I use a board that my nannies, nannoes, and the dam can jump in/out of the weaning pen at will. If you have a skilled nanny or nanno, this dog can soothe a fussy puppy by modeling quiet behavior, or by just attending to the puppy’s need, but it’s not desirable for a dog to actually punish the upset puppy. Just because an older dog uses an aversive doesn’t make it more desirable than a human! So always use your common sense when supervising nannies. Just like a human trainer, a good nanny can shape and model desirable behavior without risky techniques that can create more serious problems than the one being solved.
This board allows my nannies and nannoes (and the dam) to enter and leave the weaning pen at will. Also note the gate can close and the visual block is pulled up.
When Frankeigh was unable to calm down, he was removed from the pen and given over to Nanny Zahra, who laid down, invited him to join her, and then groomed his head until he fell asleep.
7. Plug in a DAP or spray some. I love DAP for the weaning pen. It’s very soothing for puppies in general. If you use the spray you can spray the area as needed, the diffuser works all the time. I will tell you, if you have a diffuser plugged in, you can spray more when That Puppy starts to fuss.
8. Soothing music is very helpful. Soothing music, or a boring audio book should make up the bulk of the “background” noise for your litter. Sound conditioning and habituation should never be nonstop, our ratio is around 75% soothing sounds, no sound, intermixed with 25% sounds we are either conditioning or habituating to. If I have a fussy puppy, I always make sure I have soothing sounds at the ready!
Dap and soothing sounds can help puppies feel calmer when confined in the pen.
9. Teach Manding pen side. If you reinforce sitting pen side your puppy can take advantage of Manding (a learned behavior) instead of screaming (a natural behavior) at the side of the pen. Create a Success Station near the side of your pen, with written instructions for the humans who pass by, and a small bucket of treats for the puppies. Teach all the humans to pop a treat into the mouth of any puppy who is sitting quietly pen side.
A work in progress, puppies learning to Mand at the side of the weaning pen instead of vocalizing and bickering.
10. This is where things get really crazy! I do the opposite of many, when I have a puppy who frets and yells I don’t ignore That Puppy. Using my Pattern (See 1 Above) I try to remove That Puppy before it gets upset (ideally when calm) because I am aware that learning is happening, and I want to reinforce calm behavior. But if I have a puppy who is screaming in the pen I no longer leave it to freak out. I really don’t want all that stress hormone activity, it’s not worth “teaching it a lesson” to have an immature brain awash in cortisol or other stress hormones. That just primes the puppy’s brain to use more in future (totally anecdotal, I’ve only my own experiences on this). I want less vocalization, NOT more vocalization.
This is the opposite of what I was taught. I was taught to always ignore a fussy puppy, because a fussy puppy is being manipulative and trying to control people. But what I found as a breeder, is that ignoring a distressed puppy really just means I have a puppy who is MORE often distressed and for LONGER in the CSP. But when I started to attend to fussy puppies, almost like magic, they were less often fussy and they stopped being fussy much sooner. What I had been taught wasn’t actually effective, for me, the puppy, or the new owner.
Now, not in the middle of the night, and not every time a puppy peeps a squeak! I use my breeder judgement to tell me when a puppy is complaining, versus when a puppy is distressed.
A mildly complaining puppy just needs a few minutes to settle down, something I can aid with a pacifier. But a puppy who is vocalizing intensely, I might look and see if I have a huge Bull’s Eye pupil for example, a high respiration rate, or pacing, to give me clues about what is best. If a puppy is truly distressed, or has worked itself into a cortisol fueled fit, I’m no going to ignore that. I might win a battle of wills, but I lose the war.
But, happily, I almost never have a fussy puppy since I use this approached based on Dr. Susan Friedman’s Humane Hierarchy . This one thing has convinced me that a fussy puppy is NOT a difficult individual, or a dominate puppy, or even bossy, because not only are those just labels, but those things would not have been resolved by MORE attention and MORE toys and MORE activities. NO, what I have learned is that my labels, and the advice I was given, were flawed in the first place. What I really had was an immature animal using the tool kit nature provided it attempting to get it’s needs met.
Tiny tyrant or misunderstood floof?
When I look beyond the label, a ton of possible solutions are presented: add or remove visual blocks, add or remove enrichment, add or remove nannies, add or remove activity, add DAP, music, chews, food based activities, add or remove the individual puppy or puppies. So many good options!
Lots of options are better than one option (ignore) and allows us to serve our puppy’s needs better with less risk of unexpected negative effects or undesirable learning.
Also, by 6 weeks we are well into our crate conditioning protocol and this really helps to prevent fretting and demanding to get out and provides me with another option!
You can also find help in my littermate interactions article. Much of this works just as well for a single upset puppy as it does for pugnacious behavior within a litter.
Transitions are a part of every dogs life, how can we use a puppy’s transition to it’s new home to teach a puppy to anticipate transitions as positive experiences, and face change with adaptability.
Long before this day, a breeder has been working towards an easy transition to the new home.
Most breeders, and many new puppy owners, have experienced fall out from a rocky transition. Like the proverbial snow ball growing larger as it rolls down snow covered hill, if a puppy becomes distressed during transition a cascade of undesirable effects can accumulate. Sadly, these can result in an overwhelmed family returning the puppy to the breeder, or an overwhelmed puppy experiencing potentially life altering anxieties, fears, illnesses, or traumas.
Many of you know the story of my own dog Indeigh, my second German Shepherd puppy and one of the most cherished dogs of my life. But Indeigh had a rocky start, not knowing how to help this puppy, who was so unprepared for transitioning into my home, had far reaching effects for her. The weeks that snowballed into months, of distress, upset, and frustration we both experienced taught Indeigh to view change and novelty with suspicion and even anxiety. This became a lifelong struggle for this highly acomplished dog. I don’t blame Indeigh, or myself, or her breeder, none of us knew how to prepare or help her. But things have changed in the world of dogs, and animal behavior in general, and as said so famously by Maya Angelou “when you know better, you do better”. Now I know and I want to share what I’ve learned in the nearly 30 years since I brought Indeigh home.
SG1 (JHKL) Indeigh v. Spezialblut Bh AD HIC CGC SchH1 Kkl1 OFA. My heart.
Indeigh, once again, this is for you. I miss you, and I’m doing better.
What can we do to foster resilience in transition? How can we, as breeders, leverage things we already do to help optimize our puppy’s native born temperament? How can we make the most of this first big life transition, using it to create a foundation of adaptability and confidence in our puppy, making the most of each inherited trait.
You might think of this as coddling, puppies need stress you would say, to grow into adaptable dogs. You would be right, stress is vital and important to both mental and physical development and growth, however distress is not. Distress creates room for unintended learning, distress doesn’t foster strength and resilience, distress is to be avoided. We don’t want to protect puppies from stress or stressful events, but instead to give them the skills they need to emerge from those inevitable life events stronger, resilient, adaptable, and confident.
Adaptability and resilience grow from experiencing small, age appropriate, amounts of stress as positive experiences. That’s the experience we want to foster, it’s the growth medium for confidence.
First, our goals:
1. Puppy will learn to anticipate transitions and change as positive experiences that lead to good things. Puppy will feel competent in new experiences.
2. Family will learn how to teach their puppy that transitions are positive experiences using primary reinforcements (social interaction, food, play), and conditioned reinforcers (clickers and other markers) primarily through operant conditioning.
We already have the tools we need, we are already working hard, when we look forward to plan life’s first big transition we increase the chance of a smooth transition week for our puppy and the new family, and orchastrate an environment to guide our puppy along a path to adaptability and competence throughout life.
Using the puppy raising protocols from the film Puppy Culture as our guide, here is a list of 5 tips and techniques I, and other breeders, use to optimize puppy’s transition to it’s new home. I hope you enjoy this list and find it helpful!
Learn more about Puppy Culture here:
1. Create a lover of Novelty.
2. Packing Their Bags
3. Turtle Puppy: I take my home with me.
4. Schedule Choas And Learn To Love The Unexpected.
5. A bridge over changing waters.
Let us know what tips you’ve discovered help build confidence in transitions in your puppies, and how you help your new puppy owners make the best of the transition period!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
1 Small Tube of Oatmeal
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
“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!
- Muffin Tin
- Kibble (dry dog food, but canned would work too)
- If using dry food, a blender.
- 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.
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 – bloodying her mouth and tearing her nails. I lived in a duplex at the time and my neighbors left daily notes about the noise that 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 weeks to give up screaming. It took her months to stop urinating in her crate.
I didn’t know what to do! Nobody did. Everyone I asked gave me well-meaning advice, but nothing worked. I felt helpless – I was a bad owner – and she was a bad puppy. Very dominate and had no impulse control, she was trying to control me! Just ignore her… or spray her, shake her crate, and above all, never let her out unless she was quiet. I did all the things, not one helped.
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.
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 be, 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 going forward!
I want to give breeders the tools and knowledge 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.
Before the puppy ever leaves the litter, it’s in period of development that is primed to developing long-lasting emotional responses. We breeders have a unique opportunity in a limited window of time to use this to our advantage. This is 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, and it’s the perfect time to condition a puppy to LOVE the crate.
Snapdragon totally relaxed for the car ride home with his new family.
Why have I become to dedicated to early crate conditioning?
- For Indeigh, to honor her memory.
- 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.
- 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.
Violet calmly napping on her drive home with her new family.
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.
- 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.
- Puppy will not experience negative emotions associated with the crate. No screaming, crying, or attempts to break out.
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 with the Puppy Culture protocols, we move the puppies from the whelping box to the weaning pen.
Week 4/5 weaning pen. Crates (L), play area (center) and toilet (R).
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!
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 serves two purposes.
- 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.
- 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.
Boom! Goal achieved, puppies are choosing to nap in their crates.
Important! It’s very undesirable 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. 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. GSDs are very sensitive to developing barrier frustration, so it’s imperative that we don’t allow them to learn this during the CSP.
Week 5: During Week 5 we start feeding the puppies in groups of two inside their crates. Doors are still off at this point. We remove the bed at mealtime and feed the puppies with the bowl at the back of the crate.
- Put the puppies outside the pen, and remove any bedding in the crates.
- Lift in 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 gate or X-pen 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.
- Repeat with each group of puppies, ensuring one or two puppies per crate. A helper is nice but not required.
- After removing the bowls, I wipe down the crate if needed and put the beds back inside.
Feeding in crates with doors closed. As soon as the puppies are finishing, I open the door. We are not working on duration in the crate.
Towards the end of this week, I put the doors on the crates. At this point 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.
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 INSIDE the crate. The obvious choice was chewing. At this age puppies have a strong instinct to chew, and an equally strong desire to chew alone, without littermate interference.
Crate chew time with a raw bone.
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 the Puppy Culture Protocol. It’s vital to me that the puppy does not feel trapped, or regret being inside the crate. To prevent this the puppy needs a way to ask out of the crate! Puppies who cannot express needs become frantic and frustrated, this is contrary to our goals.
During this phase, if the puppy wants to exit 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.
Wren Manding to be let out.
- At this stage each puppy is fed individually in a crate. 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! Wait patiently nearby while the puppies chew away.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
This puppy isn’t chewing, but isn’t asking to be let out either. We just let them chill until they’re ready to come 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.
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 because 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).
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!
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.
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.
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. But if you want MORE, here it is!
A typical example, a few puppies have chosen to remain in their crates, a few crates are empty because those puppies have asked out.
Goals Week 8 through Send Home Day:
- Puppy will sleep through the night in the crate with minimal to no fussing.
- Puppy can remain crated up to 10 minutes during the day, with chews.
- Puppy will Mand to ask out of crate.
- Puppy will enter crate when asked.
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 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!
Crate (22 x 36) with cat litterbox in the back.
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:
- Place litterbox (with litter pellets of choice, I use hay pellets) in the back of the crate.
- Place a small bed in the front half of the crate, spray with DAP.
- 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.
Crates all set up for Bedtime!
Right before bedtime:
- Puppies get last outdoor potty break.
- Puppies are placed into crates.
- Lights off, soothing music such as Through A Dogs Ear is played.
- Everyone to bed, household is quiet now, lest we wake the puppies.
- 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.
- I remove crate litterboxes and clean any that have been used and also remove the chews.
- Set up crates for daytime use – beds but no chews or litter boxes.
Repeat every night for seven nights before the puppies go home.
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, as well as chew times. Please see Puppy Culture for information on that.
During week 8-10 we don’t offer chew times after meals, instead we reserve chewing for Bedtime. Offering chews primarily at bedtime makes the puppies more excited about going to bed. The exception is the car, we give chews in the car every time.
Some breeders double up the puppies in crates, 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 dog room. Single puppies in 22 x 36 inch crates works for us, but don’t feel like it MUST be just as we do it.
Clover and Paisley preparing for a 12 hour road trip to their new families. With crate conditioning and overnights, they made this trip with no drama.
Litter box… in a CRATE?
“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 8 litters, the oldest of which is three years old, 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. 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, and 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.
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, but most don’t. I find that the puppies rarely use the litterboxes in crates as they age, and once they are no longer USING the litterbox for several nights in a row I experiment with removing it.
Letting puppies out when they cry in the crate…
“How long will you let a puppy cry in the crate?” During the daytime, I don’t let them cry in the crate – I let them out if they do start, even if they don’t ask ‘politely’ – hopefully I can read the puppies and let them out before they start to NEED to cry. 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.
“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… but that’s not really a bad lesson! We don’t want our dogs to silently tolerate being distresse! Crying in the crate does mean we have missed something in our plan – our puppy should not feel distressed. A bit of stress (fussing for example) is OK, but distress (screaming and biting bars for example) 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. 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 emotions. The puppy knows it’s 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!
“But it’s not the breeder’s job to crate train puppies! No new owner expects this, it’s too much work. Why should I do this?”
I’ll point to the above picture. A picture of baby Paisley – in her new crate, in her new home, happy and relaxed. I’ll tell you more 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 screaming, fighting, and fear.
I personally do this for Indeigh. Even though her behavior wasn’t typical, my ignorance failed her and 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.