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Weeks 1 & 2

Quick Reference Guide

Goal

Begin building positive associations to the world! Introduce passive sounds, surfaces, novel objects & body handling to begin building pup’s resilience.

Environments

Whelping box or room that the litter is housed. Interactive activities can be done in a separate clean room, or in the den area with an accepting brood.

Volunteer Activities

Puppy massage and passive environmental enrichment can be done by experienced volunteers or staff – make sure your brood is comfortable.

Introduction

During these first weeks of life the pups are introduced to this world that they will share with humans.  Pups enter this world as blank canvases and our job is to provide a den that  is both interesting and challenging.

The pups’ sense of touch and scent are beginning to develop during the first two weeks. A few additions to the den can help create a solid foundation to the start of puppies’ early socialization. A den that provides many scents, textures and movements/vibrations will start to fill in the blank canvas. The pups will start to build up a memory bank of positive experiences and associations around many different things.

  • Pup is accepting of handling without wiggling, yawning or huffing.
  • Pup is accepting of its environment without overreacting.
  • Brood is happy and settled while humans interact with her pups.
  • As they begin to move about more, puppies explore and interact with the items and are comfortable in a changing environment.
  • Monitor both puppies’ and broods’ body language: be prepared to stop, re-assess and build up again if the puppy is uncomfortable.
  • Keep it brief: start slowly and build up: start with one minute. More does not produce better results – quality over quantity.
  • Keep your objective in mind: pups will develop positive associations to body handling, build handler engagement, and experience different textures from materials like the scales, staff scrubs and the whelp mat.
  • Allow the puppy an escape route at all times: At this age pup will communicate by trying to move away. Place the puppy back with its mother for comfort and try again later.
  • As puppies’ eyes and ears open, they will begin to notice their environment. Watch as their motor skills continue to improve and puppies are able to explore and interact with their world.

Problem Solving

Has time been spent with the Brood prior to her Whelping in order to build up positive associations? Pre-whelp is a good time to massage the Brood especially around her side and towards her glands where pups will feed. Relaxation music can be helpful as well as introducing the Brood to the initial sounds her pups will experience once their ears open. Once you know how your brood is likely to react for future litters, spend additional time with her in the pre-whelp stage preparing her for the weeks ahead.

Your brood will need to leave the den briefly to toilet, stretch her legs or eat – use this opportunity to work on some socialization activities or re-arrange the passive environmental enrichment stimuli in the den.

  • Review our massage and body handling protocols.  Make sure you’re not progressing too quickly. Ensure that the massage is no longer than 1 minute. Reduce time then slowly build up again.
  • Are pups touched prior to being lifted off ground for weighing? Petting the pup before handling can help avoid startling the pup.
  • Ensure all staff move pups slowly and each pup is fully supported. Make sure not to move pups quickly through the air.
  • Place another pup next to the pup being massaged for a familiar scent.
  • Use a small piece of whelping mat that has been left under puppies. Familiar scent will be on the massage whelping mat.

During these early weeks, you can encourage mom to come near the puppies. If puppies continue to show stress signs, move puppies closer to their mother and littermates.

If puppies are regularly “getting lost” or “stuck” away from mom and littermates, you may have too many passive environmental enrichment items in the den. Reduce the number of items or the complexity of the environment.

Passive Environmental Enrichment

Our goal is to begin to slowly introduce passive sounds, surfaces, and novel objects. Begin to introduce age-appropriate environmental enrichment and one different environment. We also want to continue to make body handling a positive experience.

Below we have marked each activity with one to three ✓. Although all activities are important, we have highlighted activities that are particularly critical during this period of the puppies’ development. Make sure you still offer the pups a wide variety of activities and do not only focus on those with the most ✓!

Note this video covers multiple age groups. Please see the section from 0:00 – 1:15 for content appropriate for this age group.

Different surfaces can be added to the whelping box for an hour each day as long as the Mom is comfortable with the objects and will still continue to take care of the puppies.

Fabric around the edge of the whelping box will enable passive desensitization. Remove the fabric at night if the den is not supervised.

During the second week, the puppies’ eyes begin to open. As their vision develops, different shapes and patterns are beneficial. Wall decals or wallpaper with different shapes and objects can be applied to a wall in the litter’s room. Many decals are labelled to be easily applied and removed and can be easily rotated to add variety.

In preparation for when the puppies’ ears open up, prepare the brood so she is familiar with different sounds, as well as sounds coming from different directions.

Music- Think variety. Jazz, Classical, Country, Weather, etc. Music can be played quietly on a radio, or computer in the same room as the whelping box for half an hour per day. Safe objects that make noise can also be placed in the whelping box. If Mom is uncomfortable with items or will chew items up, only place them in the den under supervision for a short period of time.

The puppies’ sense of smell is developed from birth in order to find their mother for food. Use these early weeks to introduce new scents, and move the scent box around the den to provide some directional variety.

If your program finds certain scents are a common concern in puppy program or training, these scents or milder versions can be introduced to puppies in the scent box if they are non-toxic.  For example, if the training department reports that bird feathers along their routes are a common concern, down feathers can be placed inside the scent box. Milder versions of scents such as liquid used for candles or soaps can be added to a cotton ball and placed in the scent box. A little goes a long way with scents, only a drop or two of the liquid is needed.

Do not use strong fragrances, instead use light and calming essential oils or similar. Remove at night if the den is not supervised.

If the brood is not able to have a scent box in the whelping box, one can hold the scent box and walk through the room. 

Interactive Activities

The activities below can be done in a clean room or right outside of the whelping box. If done in a separate room, make sure Mom goes along to support the puppies. 

Below we have marked each activity with one to three ✓. Although all activities are important, we have highlighted activities that are particularly critical during this period of the puppies’ development. Make sure you still offer the pups a wide variety of activities and do not only focus on those with the most ✓!

Acceptance of body handling is a skill that is introduced during the first week. The pup needs to build positive associations around handling all parts of its body. To achieve this we use massage. Age appropriate massage will only last 1 minute for the first 7 days.

Body massage Protocol

  1. Pup is placed on its stomach on a soft towel in your lap. Take two fingers and start massaging in a very small circle. Massage both body and appendages. Remember not to massage pups ears yet as they are not opened – leave ear massage until 2 weeks of age.Tip: If the puppy is calm, use clockwise circles. If a puppy is finding it difficult, use counterclockwise circles.
  2. Slowly turn the puppy onto its side and continue massaging. This stage is only initiated if the puppy is accepting this change in position. STOP here if the puppy is communicating signs of distress such as a large yawn, whimpering or excessive wiggling.Note: If the puppy is not showing signs of distress, slowly turn the puppy onto the other side and continue the small circle massage.
  3. Slowly return the pup so it is on its stomach and continue the small circle massage.
  4. Finish off with long smooth movements across the body.


As puppies grow, it is important to introduce them to positive body handling. One way to accomplish this is with massage.  Below is the age- appropriate amount of time per puppy. 

Age of PuppyTime
0-7 days1 minute
8-14 days5 minutes
15 days and older10 minutes
  1. Find a slightly different environment – e.g. a nearby room.
  2. Place a blanket or other non-slip material on the floor where the puppies will be to help with their traction as they explore the objects.
  3. Pick one activity to work on at a time – e.g. introducing new surfaces or new novel objects.
  4. Place items on the sheet and allow puppies to explore the items without your interference. Mom should be nearby for support. Mom can interact with the items.
  5. Make sure to keep the activity short, no more than 15 minutes. Monitor the puppies’ reactions and stress signals and respond accordingly (for example, by encouraging mom over to provide support).

Here are some photo examples of a “room” set up:

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