Making the Golden Years the Greatest Years. 10 tips for caring for your senior dog.
Nick, enjoying his ball!
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This was one of our most popular notes on the Austerlitz German Shepherds FB page, so I’ve updated it and posted it here.
We have reached the point in our journey as breeders and owners of German Shepherd Dogs that we have now raised several generations of dogs from birth, through their lives, and finally to the end of their lives. We have learned so much from our dogs, including how to care for the special needs of senior dogs. We get lots of requests for information on how we care for our older dogs, from our clients with older dogs but also from people who get to meet our older dogs and see how healthy and active they are even at an advanced age.
10 Easy Senior Dog Care Tips
- Physical Condition. Thin is IT! Keeping your dog in a lean body condition is the single most protective thing you can do to ensure your dog lives the longest and healthiest life possible. Researchers have proven that lean dogs live longer, and develop age related illnesses such as arthritis and cancer later than their litter mates who are maintained in “Ideal” body condition. Keeping a dog lean for it’s entire life is best, but as senior dogs age it can be harder to keep them lean because they burn fewer calories. Your senior dog may need fewer calories and so less food as they age. Use this tool to determine your dogs body condition. Senior dogs should be maintained in an Ideal body condition, while younger dogs should be maintained in a lean body condition.
At 9 years CH Pokatalica Toujours L’Audace is an example of a senior in perfect physical condition.
2. Targeted Nutrition. We generally do not use senior diets, instead we keep our seniors on either Pro Plan Sport 30/20 (if they are quite active) or Purina ONE Sensitive Systems (if tummy troubles occur, or they need fewer calories) but there are two specialized diets that are outstanding and worth considering.
Purina Bright Mind: This is the OTC version of Purina’s NeuroCare. BOTH products have been extensively tested and proved to benefit cognitive function in senior dogs. So dogs who seem mentally “dim” or “detached” from family activities, those who are Sundowning or are diagnosed with canine cognitive disfunction will all benefit. We have used Purina Bright Mind with outstanding results in our seniors.
Hills Healthy Mobility and Science Diet JD: If your senior dog has any type of joint disease or old injury (such as ACL strains, tears, or repairs) these two products are worth considering. Both have been extensively studied and proven to have therapeutic value, we have used both ourselves and seen nothing short of amazing results. Any senior dog who is experiencing stiffness can benefit.
Senior dog Baby enjoying a walk
3. Exercise – Physical. Dogs of all ages need more exercise than we think. Senior dogs may not be able to participate in the same activities and at the same level of intensity they did when they were young but they still require plenty of exercise to keep them healthy and mobile. As your sport dog ages consider lower impact sports so your dog can continue to enjoy training and attending trials. Senior dogs can take walks, maybe shorter in duration and more often and by all means, let your senior dog sniff! If your vet approves even fetch and tug games are okay. The most important thing is regularity, old dogs can’t bounce back from “weekend warrior syndrome” like young dogs. Always make adjustments and visit with your dog’s vet if your dog is stiff or uncomfortable after exercise. Remember, by the time you notice discomfort your dog has likely been in pain for a while. Older dogs may not be able to play with rough younger dogs, but they can enjoy socializing with very polite dogs under proper supervision, so continue to cultivate dog friendships for your senior dog.
An assortment of kibble dispensers
4. Exercise: Mental. Older dogs really need to stay mentally engaged in life in order to be happy. With their propensity to sleeping more it is easy to forget how important it is to keep older dogs mentally engaged. Dogs who continue learning new skills, solving puzzles, and visiting new environments have better mental health than older dogs who are allowed to spend too many hours laying around detached from their lives and people. While you might not be able to do all the high intensity sports and training you once did with your senior this is no reason to forget how much your friend enjoyed working with you! We find older dogs love playing the popular clicker game 100 Things To Do With A Box, targeting games (both foot and nose), Nose Games (such as tracking, and Scent Work) and Match to Type games (where dogs match items by type, fabric, shape, etc). You will find your dog will enjoy life so much more if you engage them in fun mental exercise games every day. This might be as simple as throwing that food bowl away and feeding your senior their kibble in a puzzle toy (we like Nina Ossmen, try rotating types for variety), treat mazes, kibble dispensers (we like Kibble Nibble), or even scattering it around the house or yard. Make a point of ensuring your senior dog has interesting experiences, and opportunities to learn new things every day.
At 13 years old Raine is still bright and engaged
5. Targeted Supplementation. Older dogs can benefit from a well rounded joint supplement. Since dogs are living longer healthier lives than ever, protecting those joints is even more important since they have to last longer than they used to. We use and recommend three products backed by research and manufactured under high standards by trustworthy companies. For potent Omega 3 benefits the product Bayer Free Form is the best we have ever found. For potent all around joint support Bayer Synovi G4 (a palatable chewable) or VetriScience Glycoflex 3 (flavored tablet and chewable) are both excellent options. It’s always best to start supporting your dogs joint long before age related degradation starts, we generally recommend starting at age 6.
Brego having a senior pet wellness check
6. Regular Veterinary Care. Healthy older dogs really do need to visit their vet once, or even better, twice per year. A good vet will keep on top of age related illnesses before they are advanced, check your dogs teeth, joints, and heart for optimal function as well as do some blood work. Be sure to talk to your vet about canine cognitive disfunction if your senior dog’s behavior seems “off” and review this list of Q&A as talking points with your dog’s vet. Your vet is your dog’s front line of defense, so trust them, and don’t begrudge your senior the health screenings needed to detect illnesses early. After a lifetimes of taking care of you and your family, your dog has earned some special care!
At 12 years old Arin’s coat reflects excellent care and attention from her owner.
7. Regular Grooming. There is nothing as pitiful as seeing a senior dog with long nails and “old dog hair” sticking out everywhere! Senior Dog grooming is important! Regular brushing, nail trims, occasional baths, and proper diet will keep your senior looking like they should, soft and shiny! Good grooming keeps dogs comfortable, gives you a chance to check for lumps and bumps (do NOT forget to check for lumps in your dogs breast area every time you brush and for intact males the testicles as well!) sores, parasites, and other “stuff”. Older dogs may not wear their nails down as quickly as they once did, so trim or Dremel those nails regularly. Long nails put pressure on the joints of the foot, wrist, and shoulder which may aggravate arthritis and decrease your dogs mobility! Consider teaching your dog to use a scratch board to trim it’s own nails, this counts as both grooming and mental enrichment. If your senior has dry, course, rough hair that does not shed as needed consider adding Bayer Free Form to grow healthier coat.
8. Pain Management. If your senior dog does suffer from the aches and pains of old age, don’t force them to live with pain. There are many pain control options for dogs that you can discuss with your vet. Dogs who worked hard and lived active lives or participated in high intensity sports may have had a variety of injuries. They may have some Degenerative Joint Disease, or other problems that may affect their enjoyment of their senior years. Medications are not the only options for pain control however. Many dogs benefit greatly physical therapies from acupuncture, chiropractic care, and laser therapy. Remember, observe your dog for subtle signs of pain, because by the time we notice our dogs limping, having trouble getting up, or getting snarky about being touched they have likely been in pain for a long time. Be sure to talk to your vet often and to observe your dog for signs of pain or discomfort.
Senior dog Baby
9. A soft bed, secure footing, and help with stairs. An older dog may need a supportive bed to sleep on. Older dogs may not be able to climb up on the bed or sofa any longer and need a bed on the floor. Look for a bed without sides if your dog is prone to tripping. High density foam work great for older dogs, make sure it is thick enough that the weight of your dog does not crush it. Older dogs may fall down or trip, so if you have stairs or steps your dog must negotiate to get in or out or around your house install grippy rugs, mats, runners, or ramps to help your senior get around without fear of falling down. Decreased range of motion, vision, or hearing may make these every day things a challenge for your senior so watch your dog for signs of hesitation or confusion, it may be that a few small adjustments are all that are needed! Older dog may not hear as well as they once did, please don’t assume your older dog is being stubborn, she may not hear your request! If your dogs hearing is suspect teach her visual cues such as a flashlight flash to come inside. Don’t forget to teach her a hand signal for “good girl” (she surely misses hearing it!).
10. Individual attention. The most important thing your older dog needs is your continued involvement in her life! She may not be as exciting as she was when younger, she may not be competing and you may even have a fun new young dog to train, but she still loves you just as much as she always did! As she nears the end of her time with you make extra special effort to provide her with the very best care you can afford, the most attention, all the patience you can muster, and some special care. Do your very best to make her final years the very best years!
At 16 Sage is living his best senior years.
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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!
Crates are a great management tool for new families, keeping puppy safe and out of trouble, but the new family can’t take advantage of crates and x pens if the puppy panics when placed inside.
Rook lounging in his crate, with attached x pen, during his transition week. Because Rook associated confinement with good things, he was easily able to relax when confined in his new home, right from the start.
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 in the first hours, days, weeks, and months of it’s life. By taking some time to create a positive association with the crate, the puppy will be better able to self soothe and self calm when confined in a strange environment, because it views the crate as a source of comfort.
8 week old puppies relaxing during daily crate time, some napping, some chewing, all content.
Conversely, if your puppy has had rushed and forced confinement and so has formed at 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. While stress is a necessary part of any transition, distress is not, and can lead to panic and a less than ideal outcome.
If you want to learn about how we use choice and chews to condition puppies to love confinement read about it here!
Throw us a bone! This blog contains a few affiliate links. You pay the same, we get a little bit to fund our dog’s Kong hoard. Thanks!
Easy transitions can be as simple as clear instructions, a familiar item, and recommending the right toys. All of this can be achieved by having a few things in your send home packet, to help both your new puppy owners and your puppies. Here’s an outline of what we include in our puppy packs – this has evolved over the years with some hits and misses.
This is easy and something most breeders do anyway. By providing detailed dietary instructions, at least a week’s worth of the breeder’s diet, and instructions for well tolerated training bait and treats, the breeder can help ensure that the transition time isn’t complicated by unnecessary gastric upset.
Puppies experiencing GI upset may not be able to sleep through the night, may soil their crate, or have accidents in the house. Set your families up for success by guiding them on the importance of dietary consistency in both meals, enrichment, and training bait during transition.
2. Scented Items
Be sure to send a scented item home with each puppy; this can be a blanket, fleece toy, or even the puppy’s own crate/bed. By sending scented items home with the puppy, you provide a source of familiarity and comfort during transition.
We send home a toy and blanket that has been in with the litter for several days before departure. We also send a bandana that the mother wore.
Conversely, one breeder I know asks for a t-shirt, slept in one night by each member of the family, be sent a week before the puppy goes home. This family scented item is placed in the puppy area, or crate, for that week. This t-shirt is then sent home along with the puppy. What a great idea!
Fleece blankets and toys are great familiars to send home, but something as easy as this rubber back bathroom rug/crate pad work great. A blanket, pad, or rug can be placed right in the car when the puppy goes home.
We send home an assortment of pacifiers home with our puppies for several reasons. First, it makes the ride home much easier – the puppies have had some practice chewing in crates, as discussed in our Crate Conditioning blog, and it’s just simpler to send some home rather then expecting new owners to bring them along. Second, it gives the new owners some examples of pacifiers to use for their puppies, and a chance for the new owners to see the value in using them. Third, it makes managing the puppies much easier for the new owners, ensuring both the puppies and new owners have stress relief.
Even if you aren’t doing our crate conditioning protocol, you can often give very exciting chews to puppies who haven’t had this benefit and expect a slightly less distressing car or plane ride home. Instinctively enticing chews like raw bones, smoked bones, bully sticks, and edible dental-type chews may give some comfort to your puppies without the learning curve of food puzzles, food-stuffed toys, or snuffle mats. However, please review our blog on teaching puppies how to use pacifiers for your future litters.
Give your new family a bully stick, and you amuse their puppy for an hour. Teach them to stuff a Kong, and they can amuse their dog forever.
This puppy doesn’t need to learn to chew this patella, this is a naturally stress busting activity.
4. Ongoing Resources
Providing new puppy owners with troubleshooting is always hit or miss. Any information or support you give your new owners (both at pick-up and after) is like tech support. Sometimes this is pretty straightforward, but other times you can spend the first week after send home day answering the same big questions new (and often worried) pet owners will ask. Always treat this as a learning experience to plan what you need to educate owners on for your next litter – and better even is examining if you can do certain training or conditioning to better prepare your puppies. However there’s always going to be the same few issues new puppy owners face – no matter the work you do.
These big issues are house training, crate training, and biting/mouthing on people. There will be certain breed differences and breed specific issues, and you’ll have to either know these from experiences or learn from your puppy buyers. Your budget will be the limiting factor in what you include, but there’s no reason to fret that you can’t include a DVD set and a small library! Just one or two small books, or even just a collection of hand outs can make a huge difference. We’ve found that you can easily overface new owners with too much information.
Ongoing contact with your puppy owners is also a hugely important resource. We will (within reason) keep contact with clients to answer questions and give advice. It’s important to have boundaries with clients – if things aren’t an emergency, maybe a text or email could be useful instead of trying to schedule a phone consult. If things are getting complex, we will often refer clients to trainers – or let them pick on their own, of course.
Our puppy packs include the Puppy Culture film, When Pigs Fly, Puppy Start Right, and a binder with the puppy’s heath records and a few hand outs on diet and ongoing training/socialization. We also enroll our new owners in Poop School: House Training Basics.
Remember, the idea of puppy packs is to cut down on your work AND make the transition as smooth as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask clients what they found helpful, what they didn’t find helpful, and what issues they had in general with the transition.
Here’s a few affiliate links to the products we’ve found helpful!
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.
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:
- 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).
- You have to visit the hosting site directly to view the PuppyCam.
- You cannot link the video into a web page.
- 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.