PDT: Welcome to Pure Dog Talk, the podcast on purebred dogs. I’m today’s host Mary Albee, and we’re excited to have Dr. Gayle Watkins from avidog.com for part 3 of our breeding better dogs’ series. Gayle’s first two episodes are 11 and 14 on puredogtalk.com or iTunes. Dr. Gayle Watkins, welcome back
GW: Hey Mary good to be here today
MA: Great, appreciate you being back, and I believe we’re going to continue today with the transitional period of a puppy?
GW: Sure, that’s a period of a puppy’s life from about day 14 to right around day 21. So it starts when their eyes open, or really start to crack open, and then it ends once they can hear. And this is a really interesting period. We call it the stage where they go from potatoes, which are newborn puppies, to puppies, and by the end of the transition period, they can walk, they can see. They can’t do any of these things particularly well, they’re toddlers, but they’ve really woken up is a way to think about it. So what I’d like to talk about today are the key points of what’s happening to the puppy right now, and then based on that, what should we do as breeders to give that puppy the best start possible. So, if we start with their brain development, where are they in brain development, they are continuing this really rapid transformation of their brain, from what is a pretty unsophisticated organ when they’re born, to what is a pretty sophisticated organ by the time they’re about six or seven weeks old, and that’s when they have an adult brain. They can still learn and we can add things in, but they undergo this transformation and the transition is really key. What’s happening there is their brain and their entire nervous system is going through a process called myelination, and myelin is this thing that is laid down around the nerve cells. I like to think of it is the insulation around electric wires. So, when puppies are born they don’t have much myelin and so their brain and nervous system shorts out, and so it’s very difficult for them to learn and process what’s happening in the world. By 14 days a good portion of their nervous system is myelinated but they still aren’t’ done and that’s really important for us to think about in this two to three-week period, they are still unable to learn in any kind of effective way. I like to call then slow learners but they’re extraordinarily slow learners at this point. The other really interesting thing in their brain right now is they’re fearless, they don’t have the connection between the fear center in their brain and so they can’t respond in a fearful way. That means we have to keep them safe because they don’t have any ability to keep themselves safe, but at the same time it means we can introduce them to all kinds of things in the world and they aren’t gonna be afraid of it. We have lots of issues with fear once we get into the sensitive period, but for now we sort of have free range and we can do all kinds of things with our puppies. While this is going on, we want to make sure that they’re using their body as well as they can be given how limited they are. That’s something I always try and remind people, that we still need to stimulate puppies. They need stimulation, both of all of their senses that are functioning, so that’s gonna be touch, smell, taste from nursing, and then as they go through this period their eyes open and we’re gonna start stimulating their eyes, and as they end this period, their ears and their hearing, and now we need to introduce noises and all kinds of unusual sounds. So, the keys to this period for development, number one always at this point in a puppy’s life is their mom, dams continue to be very important, mothering is key. Dams can even be more vigorous in their cleaning, and scrubbing and manipulation of puppies, and that is stimulating their brain and their nervous system. The sense of touch is really critical to puppy’s development, particularly the stress management system, and so we want to make sure the mom is in there scrubbing away, if they choose to. If you mom doesn’t want to be around her puppy, then you need to start thinking about other ways you can stimulate these senses, in particular proprioception so that’s gonna be the rolling and tumbling that moms do to puppies. That’s early with early neurologic stimulation which we spoke of last time, we’ll do that a few more days. But you can actually just take a towel and rub against the way the hair grows, so if you watch moms, they’re not usually really gently licking the puppies the way the hair grows, they’re stimulating it the other way, which does even more for a puppy’s brain. It sort of lights it on fire, and we can do the same thing with towels, or other objects. Nursing’s also really key right now. One of the things that has been discovered relatively recently is that a dog’s milk changes over a seven-week period. So, the milk that is produced very early on, is different than the milk that’s produced at two weeks, again at four weeks, and all the way until seven weeks. It’s changing in its protein content, its fat content, it’s calcium, other really key minerals and some other nutrients. So we have to ask ourselves, why is that milk changing? Makes a lot of sense that its’s changing in response to the needs of the puppy’s bodies, so keeping puppies on their mother’s milk at this point is important to their growth and development. It also continues to offer some protection against disease, not diseases like distemper and parvo, but the kinds of pathogens that you might find in your house, and that continues to provide probiotics and gives good bacteria to the puppy’s guts. If you watch moms during this period you also begin to see them change how they nurse. So early on, they’d lie down very carefully, hopefully very carefully around their puppies and they don’t move a lot. As they go into the two week, 16 days, 18 days, now moms are sitting up or even standing which makes nursing more difficult for puppies, but that’s really the first problem that puppies are presented with. Just trying to figure out how to get to that nipple does a lot for the puppy’s ability to solve problems, it’s persistence, it’s a confidence, and it’s use of its’ body. Because if you watch those really little babies trying to figure out how to get to one of those high nipples, you knew they are really struggling, they’re developing core strength and coordination. So that’s what moms do. What we need to do is provide the right kind of environment for our puppies and do some stimulation of their senses, the old ones, that gonna be primarily smell and touch, but also the new ones, sight and hearing, and we’ll talk about those at the end. But let’s start with the environment. When we spoke last time, we spoke about traction and traction is equally important now as puppies are getting up on their feet, learning coordination, beginning the process of walking. They can’t do much more of that, sometimes they’ll still be dragging themselves to a certain degree, but that ability to develop strength and coordination is based on what their footing is like. Now we can begin to change that footing during this period, so say we have a sheepskin down, or a dura whelp matt down, this is the time to put in a piece of nonslip tile, and so the puppies will begin to learn to become confident and comfortable in changing footings, just always make sure it has good traction and they’re not going to slip. One of the other keys during this period is hygiene, and its important in the neonatal period as well, we’ll talk about it this time. We want to make sure that as we are keeping our puppies safe and clean, we’re balancing the effectiveness with products with the safety of the products. In the old days, we didn’t have a lot of options available to us, Clorox tended to be the main product that was available to breeders that we knew was antiviral, so it would kill parvo and distemper, and it was antibacterial, microbial, and it would kill bacteria and fungus that might be in the area. So, a lot of the breeders used Clorox and have used it to this day. Kennels tended to use quaternary ammonia products, they were very effective they will kill almost all pathogens, but there’s a problem with both of those products. They are harmful, very clearly stated either on the packaging or products themselves, that they do harm mucus membranes, skin and in dogs scenting ability. So they’re going to have an effect on the puppy’s nose and its scenting ability. In addition, there’s some thought that quaternary ammonia products may contribute to fading puppy syndrome, and fading puppy syndrome remains a real challenge for breeders. We don’t know why these apparently healthy puppies begin to fade away, but these cleaning products could be contributing to them. So what are our options? Number one, pull up the MSDS, or the material safety sheet, those are available online for all of these products, or you can reach out to the manufacturer and ask for them. If you google MSDS and the name of your product, you’ll be able to get a copy of that form, and that is submitted to the FDA in the United States for approval of the product, and you can read what are the hazards, where is it dangerous. Very few of them are carcinogens, but there’s information about whether or not it’s cancer causing so you can go ahead and read about that. We also have available to us today some truly amazing products that are extremely safe, but are as effective as these old-time products. They are a little more expensive, but we all have to balance how we fit that into both the effectiveness of our cleaning products and safety. So, two products that I want to draw your listener’s attention too, are called Pure Green 24, and another product called Accel. Pure Green 24 is FDA approved mersa level hospital cleaner that is so natural you can drink it, it is safe to drink, you can dump it all over your or your puppies skin and there’s no harm that comes from it. Accel is activated hydrogen peroxide product, it’s equally effective, also hospital grade, it can handle all viruses and bacteria, and can be quite effective. It does require drying, it’s not quite as safe as Pure Green 24, but it’s a little bit more economical so that may work for your listeners. So, as we think about hygiene, the other thing I want to remind everyone, and I know if you’re an old-time breeder you know this, but sometimes when you’re a new breeder you forget that you have to read the directions, and follow them. All of these cleaning products have very clear guidance, and usually they have to wait for 10 minutes to be effective. During that 10 minutes, that’s when they are functioning to kill the pathogens. If we put puppies back in or we don’t let them dry, we’ll have less effectiveness. So, we want to make sure we’ve got traction and we want to make sure a clean environment for the puppies. Now let’s talk about providing environmental challenges to them because this is really key. Some of those challenges are going to be sensory in nature, so we’re gonna stimulate their senses in some way. So, we talked last time about early neurologic stimulation and early scent introduction, those are that 30 seconds’ worth of exercises that you do with your neonatal puppies. You’ll continue that until day 16 with your transition puppies, but once they’re 16 days old then you stop, and you’re going to be looking for other things you can do. This is a great time to introduce soft toys into your whelping box, we tend to get the big soft kids toys, puppies aren’t going to chew on them so it doesn’t really matter what’s inside of them, you just want to give the puppy something to smell, to touch, and to see at this point. So, you can do different colors, shapes, different textures, some toys are plush, canvas, rope, anything that will change what the puppy begins to interact with, provide something different for them. We also will take something as simple as rolling up towels and putting them under the matt in the whelping box. A lot of times I’ll hear people say they have a young dog and they’re having to do cavalletti’s or ladders with it because that young dog doesn’t know where it’s rear is. Well puppies are born prepared to know where their rear is, what is it that happens that might make it that they don’t? They’re raised on a flat surface and rather than having to use their rear separately from their front, they just have a rear that goes right along the front, and the brain begins to rid itself of those extra neurons. Now they’ll still be able to control their rear, but they won’t have the finesse they would if they to use it to climb, to crawl over things, under things, during this very, very period. So, you want to think about providing very small, we’re not putting the Alps in their whelping box, we’re just going to do little hills, little changes in the flow of the box so that the puppies have to use their bodies in a different way. Interestingly enough if you put things into the box, say you put a big teddy bear in, you will find puppies will climb up on it to sleep, so they’re using their body not just for the climbing but for the balance, to stay up there to curl up to sleep, to get back off it again. So think about very small things, we’ll give your listeners that you can put in the show notes, of simple things you have around the house. You probably have some dog toys, you certainly have towels if you’re a dog person, and those are great ways to stimulate the puppies.
MA: Are plastic or soft rubber toys ok at this point?
GW: You can certainly put very soft plastic toys in. The thing we just want to be careful of is we don’t want the puppies to be injured by anything, we don’t want them to get stuck in anything, because puppies still can’t back up in this stage. They’re only able to move forward so they can get themselves in all kinds of difficult that their brains can’t process getting them back out of again. But sure, if you want to put a Kong in there, or FitPAWS.
MA: Water bottles?
GW: You can put water bottles in, but you won’t get a lot of engagement typically from them, that will come in the next period. But you could certainly do that as something to bump all over, that will be perfectly fine. And then the last thing I wanted to talk about is this really interesting change that happens to puppies during this period. So, puppies come into the transition period unable to urinate or defecate on their own, they need to be stimulated typically by their mother, or by their breeder if for some reason the mother isn’t doing it. By the time they head out of this period, they are able to urinate and defecate on their own, and this is the time to introduce potty training to them. We’ll talk a lot in the sensitive period about teaching puppies litter box training litters, basically putting a potty box in and having the litter use it. But this is the time to begin to offer the puppy a different surface that will introduce the concept of going somewhere to go to the bathroom. So, we’ll usually have say, sheep skin as your main traction, or your main flooring in your whelping box, and you’re going to put a pee-pad in, your gonna perhaps put a very low potty box in, with typically at this stage a potty pad or pee pad of some sort is the best, safest thing for puppies to start on. We’ll move them pretty quickly into using something else if they are medium, large or giant breed puppy in the next section, but for right now we want something that’s very gentle on them because they’re still dragging themselves around quite a bit. But even as young as 2 1/2 weeks, if you put a potty pad in, you will see puppies moving across your whelping box in order to pee or poop on it, which is a pretty remarkable thing for such a limited creature.
MA: So at this point, we don’t want to put any of the litter in, just the potty pad?
GW: The potty pad at this stage. Maybe towards the end, right around 21 days, you can introduce the pellets, but you’re not going to do it much before just because they’re not coordinated or strong enough to be able to handle it. However, this is great time to start building your potty boxes. If you’re going to use your potty boxes in the sensitive period, in fact this is a great time to really start planning. This is a rest stage in my opinion, usually the puppies are pretty healthy in this stage, you don’t have to be sleeping with them anymore. You’re able to regain your strength and prepare yourself for what’s going to be an exciting road over the next couple months, and so this is the time to say: am I going to move my puppies? where am I going to move them to, what do I want to use for litter training? We’ll give your listeners the plans to build a potty box so they can get prepared during this period and know how they’re going to get everything to set up, so that when you get into sensitive period, they’re ready to launch.
MA: So, prior to the sensitive period, is this a period where we start introducing, where are they in their fear stage? Is this a place to have noise, not have noise, where are we with their fear at this point?
GW: So they have no fear, they are fearless or are incapable of fear at this point. They don’t have the ability to respond to fearful things, hence why we have to keep them safe, but yes, it’s a good time to begin to introduce different sizes, or different shapes that might be frightening. We do a lot of hanging toys, things that dangle, and then towards the end of the period, this is the time to introduce sounds to them, we’ll begin to play sound CD’s. There’s some great ones out there, Legacy Canine makes them, Dean Lake, a Golden Retriever person has some very high quality ones. You can take those and you can download a lot of them off the internet now, and you can begin to play them at a very low volume because those ears are just turning on now. So, we don’t want to be playing heavy rock and roll for these puppies at the beginning.
MA: I can’t Pink Floyd them now?
GW: Playing The Wall at this moment might not be such a great idea, but that can come! Give them a couple weeks!
MA: Ok, ok! I need the rock and roll.
GW: Ya. So, we want to start low, and the other thing and I’ll mention it now because I think it’s such a critical piece, a lot of people use the sound CD’s or use an iPod with sounds on them and they play it every day with their puppies, and they never move it. One of the really interesting things about dogs is they habituate to experiences very quickly, so if they think the thunderstorm always comes from the lower right hand side of the whelping box, because that’s where you plugged your iPod in, then that isn’t going to generalize to the rest of the world. So once of the most important things to us is to move those sounds around the room. High, low, right, left, back, front, and then as they get a little bit older, louder. So, make sure that whatever you use to play those sounds is mobile, even if it’s just a laptop or your iPad, those are all perfectly fine, just make sure they’re in a different place every day, or a couple times a day.
MA: Back on the potty box for a little bit. Is there a particular size, is there a particular place that is goes, how much room is appropriated to the potty box area versus where the puppies are for play?
GW: Puppies are not very mobile at this stage, they are babies. We always have to remember that these are tiny little babies who have only been around 16, 18 days, so they don’t have a lot of warning when they need to go. The brain says, oh my gosh, I think I have to pee, and they might have four steps in them before they have to go. So, we want to make sure that we give them a lot of potty area, and we don’t need to give them that much play area at this stage. They’ll be much better off actually, becoming potty trained than having a huge whelping box or play area, and not learning this important habit early on. So, you want to make sure, we typically will use 1/2 to 2/3 of our box is potty, and then 1/2 to 1/3 is play and sleeping area, and that continues from the end of the transition period, or towards the end of the transition period, well into the sensitive period. I would say typically by seven weeks, we’ll begin to change that ratio.
MA: And is there any change for the nutrition for the dam at this point?
GW: More food. Lots of food, she should be eating a reproductive diet, she should have been eating the same reproductive diet from the time she got pregnant until now. So you don’t need to change anything other than the quantity. As the litter reaches the third week, she is hitting her peak lactation period and so that continues usually week three and week four, at which point we’re usually weening puppies. The analogy that was told to me by a Veterinary nutritionist was that, nursing 10 Golden Retriever puppies is the caloric equivalent of running 40 miles for a dog, which is a massive, massive caloric demand on her. She’s also, at the same time, trying to recover her own body and heal her uterus and things like that, so we want to make sure that we’re giving her lots and lots of nutrition. If your bitch is losing condition at this period, you’re not feeding her enough, or you need to increase the quality of the food, so perhaps you need to increase the fat or protein percentage for her. How do you know if she’s losing condition? Don’t look at her backbone. A lot of times people will say oh my gosh, the bitch is so skinny, her backbone is sticking out. Well the reason her backbone is sticking out is because both the weight of the milk and mammary glands is so great that it’s pulling the skin at the backbone. So, it’s better at this point to constantly be looking at ribs and feeling ribs, checking those floating ribs, running your hands back there, and you should not be feeling a lot of indentation between the ribs. But you shouldn’t need to be concerned if hips or spine are beginning to show some if she’s nursing a large litter, because there’s a lot of weight in those mammary glands right now.
MA: Well I want to say a big thank you to our guest, Dr. Gayle Watkins from Avidog. Gayle, we really want to thank you, acknowledge your work, your contribution to our dog’s health, the success for breeding, and all the research you’ve done on how to raise better puppies. I understand that you have a little gift for our listeners?
GW: We do. We do, we so appreciate the opportunity to join you and meet your listeners in this way, that we’d like to offer a coupon on our upcoming video series. It takes our seminars, we have a two-day seminar on how to prepare your bitch and raise your puppies, and we’re putting that onto an online video series, and we have a coupon for your listeners that will be available on our website, and I think you’re going to be putting that link on your page.
MA: Yes is will be on the show notes.
GW: So folks can go to that page and we’ll have a coupon for the video series and we’ll have a few others. We’ve got a white paper on doing adventure walks with puppies and things like that.
MA: Great. If you have not listened to the first two episodes, I encourage you to listen to those and next week we will be having our fourth episode with Gayle, and going into the sensitive period of the puppies. Dr. Gayle Watkins, thank you very much.
GW: Thank you Mary.
PDT: As always, if have any questions or input, we’d love to hear from you. The show notes and links to resources on today’s topic are available at puredogtalk.com Drop us a note in the comments or email to Laura at puredogtalk.com Remember guys this podcast is for you, so if you want to know something give me a holler, we’ll do a podcast for you. If you wouldn’t mind you could help me out here, take a couple minutes to visit iTunes and give us a review. This will help share the love with others out there in the sport. This has been Pure Dog Talk with your host Laura Reeves. We hope you can join us next time as we continue the journey to success with your purebred dog.