Mom is a much-loved member of our household and lives very much underfoot. Where I am, she is; if I’m on the couch, so is she, snoozing right next to me. If I’m on the computer, she’s lying at my feet. So of course, her puppies are very much part of our daily lives as well.
Pups are born in the master bedroom and are raised in the main living areas of the home. They are whelped (born) in a whelping box in my bedroom and stay there until they are 3-4 weeks old. This is so that I can always be near, keeping an eye on them, and most importantly, so mom has a quiet, private place away from the general hub-bub of the household to take care of her new pups. At 3-4 weeks old, they are moved into our dining room (which is not set up as a dining room but is in the middle of all the goings-on in the house. There they have a big area which is comprised of a sleeping area, a play area, and a potty area (see below for a photo). Weather permitting, they play outdoors as well. They have many different toys and set ups that help to begin the confidence building so important in a stable dog. By the time you get your pup, he will have been exposed to multiple floor surfaces, things moving and swinging, loud sounds, etc. The goal is to have him learn that there’s nothing to worry about and grow to be an unafraid adult. Pups stay in our home, living underfoot, until the day you pick them up. They’ve learned all the normal household noises, sights, sounds, and smells. Puppies are never kenneled or kept in crates/cages outside the home or away from our living area.
Birth to 16 days: Socialization & the Biosensor routine
Socialization and handling starts from birth and continues many times daily until you pick him/her up. I use the Biosensor (or “Super Dog”) routine on days 3-16. The Biosensor routine or system uses early neurological stimulation exercises to influence rapid neurological growth and development. It does not hurt at all – it mainly involves holding the pup in specific positions for 3-5 seconds. Essentially, it’s believed that this very early stimulation improves a dog’s performance as an adult, strengthens the immune system, and enables them to better handle stressful situations. (Read about it here.)
The biosensor routine has gathered some controversy about whether it really is effective or not. Honestly, I don’t know – but it is not at all harmful in any way so I’d rather do it than not. Additionally, as a trainer, it makes a lot of sense to me to be handling the puppies (safely and gently) in all different ways so they get used to everything. Highly unlikely to get a pup from me who won’t allow you to do what you need to (like, let’s say, remove something from his mouth that he’s chewing on.)
Birth to 4 weeks
Until about 4 weeks old, the pups are in the whelping box with their mom (in the master bedroom) and are being continually socialized and have constant contact with all of us (“us” includes adults, an older grandfather, and a young son), their mom, as well as the other dogs in the house including a very small toy poodle once mama dog allows them near the babies. If during the first 3-6ish weeks we don’t have a natural thunderstorm, I play tapes of one during mealtimes to get them used to the noise and connect it to something good (food). Ditto things like crying babies, trucks, fireworks, etc. I handle the pups a lot. Not just the normal daily weighing and checks but much holding, cuddling, petting. I handle them enough so that they are, very early, getting used to being handled by humans and hopefully learning to enjoy it, but I do not over-handle so as to stress them or their mom. Potty training (as in, use a specific spot, not just where you feel like it) is started in week 3.
4 weeks to 8-10 weeks
After they have started on solid foods (about 4 weeks old), they are moved from the whelping box to a bigger area (about 12′ by 8′) in the main area of the house where they continue to learn housebreaking and start building their confidence (as above). Weather permitting, I also start to take them outside for potty breaks so they learn to toilet outdoors. They learn the joys of playing outdoors and they get used to the sounds that accompany it: wind, birds, airplanes, the occasional siren, etc. Whether playing inside or out, there are various things to play on and with that are meant to build confidence and produce a puppy who isn’t easily frightened of new and different things. Their space inside is set up to use their natural instincts to housebreak. Sleep, play, and potty areas are all in separate areas. They learn very quickly to go away from where they eat, sleep, and play to do their business. This helps you tremendously with housebreaking. As to potty area, they are first given real, live grass so that they learn, first, to potty on the surface that the huge majority of people will expect their pups to go on. Later, I switch them to pine pellets so they learn an additional surface to potty on.
When the pups move into the big pen around 4 weeks, they are given an “adventure box” to play with when supervised. An adventure box is made from PVC pipe and has various safe things hanging from all four sides. As the pups play in, around, and through it, it builds confidence by getting them used to swinging things; noisy, clanging things; and general chaos around them in a fun way. Coming soon: At the bottom of this page, you can see videos of them playing with their adventure box.
Bathing and brushing are also started around 4 weeks. Poodles will need to be groomed every 4-6 weeks for the rest of their lives, so it’s super important that they begin getting used to it as pups. Each time they are washed up, the blow dryer is used so they begin to accept it. Their nails are trimmed twice weekly (more if they need it) from the very first week of life. Your puppy will be well used to a dremel to trim her nails by the time you bring her home; makes it super easy if you want to continue that superior way to trim nails!
Obedience training happens informally in the course of living with the pups. Remember, I’ve been a trainer for a long time, so it’s just sort of natural to be teaching obedience and manners to the dogs I’m living with. Manners are paramount: mouthing and jumping on people is discouraged, but good behavior like sit for your food bowl and early basic obedience are all absolutely encouraged and you should find that your pup already has a decent handle on some of those when you pick him or her up.
By the time your pup is ready to go home with you, he/she has been exposed to – and is used to – all the sounds of a house, going away from sleep/play/eating area to a potty spot, and toileting outside on leash and playing for a time each day outside in the sun (both weather permitting). Plus, he or she has been handled and loved far more than words can say. Between the superior genetics for health and temperament that your pup carries and the upbringing he/she receives from me and everyone in my household, you have the makings of an amazingly stable, confident, happy pup. The first 16 weeks of a pup’s life are the most important for brain development and learning to live well and confidently in the world. I will have done all I can for the first half of that. The second half is up to you! 🙂