Three weeks in and Umma’s puppies are no longer little Hokkatatoes. They’ve become actual tiny dogs.
Over the past week these pups have become quite mobile, moving rapidly from drunken toddling to walking with a purpose (though perhaps still a little drunk). They are processing visual images and reacting to them. They startle when they hear a loud sound and recover almost instantly, which is important since I seem to always be dropping something. They’ve progressed from only making random sounds to sounds directed at someone (littermates, Umma, us) for a purpose.
In fact, I had a conversation with Orange just yesterday. I have no idea what either of us was saying but there was a clear back and forth. It started when he growled at me when I started to pet him in the whelping box (this is completely normal at this age and not any indication of aggression or any other negative association). On a whim, I growled back, trying to match his pitch and tone. He paused, just for a moment, as if to process the fact he said something and received a response. Then he gathered himself and barked at me!
We did this a few times because I wanted to see if what he did was just a coincidence or an actual conscious processing of information followed by a response. Conclusion? Definitely the latter.
Umma has started to really shape their responses as well. We had a bed of hers immediately outside the entrance of the whelping box. At the beginning of the week she could sit there and the pups may or may not respond, but as they began to be able to process visual stimuli they would see her there and start to rush the entrance. If she wasn’t interested in nursing at the time, she sat there with an amused look on her face watching them as they made all kinds of sounds.
By the middle of the week the pups were capable of climbing out of the box, so we moved the bed away to avoid it being peed on (they will sometimes pee immediately upon escaping so we’ve added some disposable pads to that immediate area). Umma quickly figured out her presence would incite the puppies to lose their minds, pushing forward at the entrance with a cacophony of sound. Eventually one pup would get out, then two, and quickly each one figured out they could get out if they wanted.
Umma would just watch them clumsily crawl out. Occasionally she would push a pup back, but she seemed content to sit back and see what would happen. Then we, as humans thinking we need to intervene, would pick up each pup and put them back. Then we’d get frustrated with Umma for taunting the puppies and then walking away rather than going into the box to nurse.
And once again…Umma knows better than we do. It took some education from Umma’s breeder and about 100 repetitions of this before we understood. Over time some of the puppies have learned if they rush the entrance and act crazy, Umma will walk away. When she does this she comes back after a short time – one minute or so at the most – but by that time all the pups have calmed down.
Eventually one pup learned that when Umma shows up, if they sit back and wait, she will eventually come into the box to nurse them. Then another pup figured it out. As of now they all seem to recognize it, but the girls have become polite faster than the boys. All of them have learned the concept, but the boys are a half step behind with the impulse control. I expect that within a few days that gap will disappear.
One of the larger concepts of Puppy Culture is this idea of manding. It’s a word I never heard before watching the videos, but it makes sense as the opposite of demanding. The goal is to get puppies to respond to visitors by calmly waiting to be approached rather than rushing forward to pounce. It’s quite a thing to see a litter of puppies sit in unison when their mother or their humans approach their pen.
I won’t claim we are there yet, but this litter of puppies is much closer to that than I expected they would be at this point and Umma’s approach deserves just about all of the credit. She watched the videos with us (she really did – we were surprised how at interested she was in them), though I’m sure instinct plays a much larger role. Or she knows English and can handle advanced concepts (would not surprise us at all). Us humans have learned to stay out of her way here, limiting ourselves to praising and petting the puppies who calmly wait and pick up the puppies who do escape the box.
And speaking of Puppy Culture, there’s a great checklist in our workbook of things puppies do that represent positive progress in their development. Here’s a fairly complete list of items, large and small, these puppies are now doing:
- Able to climb into a bed with bumpers
- Walking well
- Escaping the whelping box
- Pouncing on toys
- Interested in objects placed in the box
- Running toward and engaging with new objects
- Shaking toys
- Tail wagging (cutest thing ever!)
- Growling (or is this the cutest thing ever?)
- Growling when lifted (also cute)
- Biting and mouthing to explore (they all have teeth!)
- Mouthing siblings (constantly)
- Playing with siblings
- Soliciting human attention
- Excited when humans approach
As far as toys go, we’ve been giving them a different toy of Umma’s each day to play with. However, we learned quick Umma has to approve of our choice. A couple of them we offered the puppies she said no. No, humans, I don’t want the puppies peeing on or destroying that toy, she seems to say with a simple look. As with anything else we’ve learned to listen to and honor her wishes, which keeps the trust level between us high.
These first three weeks have been fascinating. The pups seems to make such large progress in such short time spans – sometimes in a matter of hours. The next challenges to face will be moving them to a larger area and starting to introduce them to food. Should be interesting!