Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. I’m your host Mary Albee and we are excited to have Dr. Gayle Watkins back for her fourth and final episode in this series. The first three episodes are a must, if you haven’t listened to them yet they are #11, 14, and 17. Dr. Gayle Watkins, welcome back.
GW: Hey Mary how are you today?
MA: Great, and I am very excited, I believe today we’re going to finish up with on our puppy develop with the sensitive period. Can you tell us about that?
GW: Ah, the sensitive period, the most important period in a dog’s life, bar all of the other great periods we spend with them, this one is really key, cuz this set the stage for a dog’s health and temperament for a lifetime. Lots and lots of things are happening in puppies during this period, and if you think about it, if you’ve been around young puppies, you know there’s a really big difference between three-week-old puppies and 16-week-old puppies. There’s clearly massive body and brain development that goes on. One of the things we talked about last time in the transition period, is that the brain and nervous system is continuing to myelinate, so this is the sheath that goes around the nerve cells that is similar to what we would see on the insulation on electrical wires. That makes those nerves connect for easily, more quickly, I think the number is that it speeds the connection or transmission along the nerve cell by 3,000%. So, you can see the difference in neonate puppies that struggles to do much of anything, and suddenly at six weeks, they’re running, and jumping and chasing, and they’re now little dogs and that happens because of myelination. Myelination isn’t complete until between five and six weeks of age, so when we look at our three, four, and five-week-old puppies, a lot of time people will call me and say, oh I have a really slow puppy. They’re all actually really slow during that period, we call them the “slow learners” because their brains are not fully developed. So, knowing these things about puppies early on, you don’t want to worry about it if there’s one guy that can’t figure out how to get out of the whelping box, or you don’t want to necessarily think the one that does get out of the whelping box is going to be a superstar. It’s a “she” likely and she’s probably more myelinated than her litter mates. So, we have this myelination going on, and then we have this amazing progression that happens in all canids, wolves, foxes, dogs, of the fear concept or fear emotion. So, what we see is at four weeks, they develop what’s knowns as the “startle response,” and this is just a physical response to a surprise. All of us would have it if somebody says “boo,” you jump a little, you gasp, you catch your breath and you might bolt a little and take a few steps. But that’s just a physical reaction, there’s not much going on in the brain, except I need to step or move away from this. Puppies start that at about four weeks, but it is not connected to the fear response then. There’s some people who think we should be overstimulating or really stimulating that startle response in puppies, but we’ve read the research and we think you need to be very cautious doing that. It’s fine if a food bowl dish drops and your puppy’s startle, or if you clap your hands in excitement and they startle, that’s perfectly fine, you’re not going to hurt your puppy any way if that happens. But you don’t want to go out of your way doing it over and over again during this four-week period. Then, by six weeks’ puppies develop wariness, and interestingly enough, German Shepherds do this earlier than other breeds, typically closer to five weeks. Wariness is this natural caution around situations that might hurt or injure you, so we’re wary and that’s what keeps us alive. We don’t step off of cliffs, we don’t run into burning buildings, we tend to be cautious about those things because we know they can hurt us. Puppies begin to develop this understanding of the world around six weeks of age, and wariness keeps them alive, it’s a good thing for puppies. It’s not an emotion, it’s just a thought process, hmm, maybe I should take a look at this situation. But, as they get closer to eight weeks, now they develop fear, and fear is an emotion and its related to wariness. It’s this emotionally response, a negative emotion that is tied to a belief that something is going to hurt or injure them, and the problem is that this belief may or not be true. If you’ve met a lot of fearful dogs in your life you know that most of the time it isn’t true, it’s a really nice person that wants to meet them, but they’re convinced that that person is scary, and they should be afraid. And then between eight and ten weeks, eight and 12 weeks, puppies go through what’s called a fear imprint period. So, there is no fear period, people will talk about it but fear is just this normal development that puppies undergo. The fear imprint period is a limited period, it’s called “phase sensitive learning,” so it happens during a specific phase in an animal’s life. When does it happens in dogs? Eight to 10 weeks is the most common first fear imprint period, and then it raises its ugly head again typically around six months, and then again around a year. And those are very normal and natural progressions in dogs, that’s just a reminder to everybody. When you’ve socialized your wonderful puppy and they’re doing really, really well, and suddenly at 12 months of age they decide that the trash can they’ve walked by 100 times is now a fearful creature, you just have to tell yourself this is normal, I’m not going to get upset about it, it’s all going to be ok. But that is exactly what happens in a dog’s brain. So that fear imprint period, what makes it different is a negative experience that happens to a puppy during that eight to 10-week period, can imprint on them long-term or a life-time. So, we need to really be thinking about what’s happening to a puppy during that period. The things that I see that are the most common imprinting that happens on pups, is being injured by a person, typically being stepped on or dropped. Those are the two experiences that puppies that age have, or being rolled by, or corrected by an adult dog harshly. They can certainly by corrected by adult dogs, and they may imprint in a positive way, as in I really shouldn’t grab the ear of a dog that I don’t know, that probably isn’t going to end well for me. But we want to be careful that it’s a family dog, or a dog that we don’t want puppies to imprint on, and honestly, we don’t want them imprinting on many people or other dogs. So those tend to be experiences that we can control to a certain degree, that will have this lifetime impact on a puppy. Those are usually short and obvious, and should I do my fear imprint cry Mary, do you remember that from the seminar?
MA: I don’t think I remember that one
GW: Ohhh. So, we know we can tell when puppies are imprinting because they give a very specific vocalization. I’ll step a little bit away from the microphone and do it for you so that your listeners will remember it. I’m not a puppy, but I’m not bad at this one because I’ve heard it enough. It’s a repeated cry, it’s very specific and can go on for many, many minutes and this is what it sounds like: (vocalization) It’s that same vocalization that’s repeated over and over, typically at the tops of their lungs. When you hear it, you’re convinced that your puppy has a broken leg, that’s it’s been eviscerated, that it’s going to die and typically is perfectly fine, it’s just really frightened and it is imprinting. If we do nothing and we leave the puppy on its own, it will imprint on whatever frightened them. If we don’t want to imprint we need to pick it up, cuddle it, hold it and reassure it until it stops that vocalization. Now remember way, way back it feels like weeks ago, when we talked about the early development in dogs and we had this tension between socializing them so that they are not afraid of the world, that we make sure that these things aren’t frightening them because they’ve seen it a million times, and are concerned about diseases like distemper and parvo. So, we talked about the nomograph, and I want to bring that back up right now. If we run a vaccine titer nomograph on our dams, we know when during the sensitive period, the puppies are at risk for distemper and parvo, or protected from distemper and parvo by their moms’ antibodies. And so, if they are protected, we can have them out and about during this period, and we can help them through all of this progression of fear by getting them out in to the world and socializing them. And if they are at risk, if we’ve run the nomograph and we know, oh gosh at eight weeks they’re at risk so we need to be careful, then we’re going to do a different type of socialization with them. We aren’t going to take them out into the world, we’re going to try and bring the world into them. I say we aren’t going to take them out but we’ve actually found some really great places to socialize puppies, that still allow them to interact with people. And the number one, I’m probably going to have bankers across the world hating me for this, but most banks love to have puppies come and visit, don’t have any problem with them coming in, and there are no other dogs in banks. It’s a very, very safe place for puppies, make sure you carry them in, don’t be letting them potty on the floor, but it’s a wonderful to let them get socialized during this period.
MA: So Gayle, at what point am I taking the puppies out?
GW: We can start taking puppies out as early as four weeks, taking them outside. At four weeks, we’ll take them places like our back yard, our deck, perhaps the front yard. Depending on how their nomagraph turned out, we will maybe take them into another dog run, say you have a separate area for your dogs, you would be safe to take them into another run but otherwise keep them in their own area if they are at risk.
MA: And do I take the puppies together or do I take them one at a time? And is there a maximum period of time they should actually be from mom?
GW: Well they don’t need to be away from mom when we first take them outside. In fact, having mom there, assuming she’s stable and confident, is a wonderful way to teach puppies that the world is safe. So, on these very first early outings, four, five, and six weeks, and obviously, this is weather and breed dependent, don’t be taking your Chihuahuas out in 30-degree weather at four weeks, they aren’t prepared for that. But if you have Newfoundland’s, Golden’s, Shepherds, Elkhounds, they can certainly be outside in reasonably dry weather. Take them together and take them with their mother. In the four and five-week period just let them hang out, they will sniff, the most amazing thing is the first thing they do is buying their nose in the ground. Because if you think about what dirt it, it must be amazing for dogs for dogs to smell it, and this is typically the first-time puppies have smelled dirt, or grass, sand and things like that. We have what we call picnics, so we’ll take them out with their mom for a nursing session. So, she’ll be out there with them, they’ll go outside, we will have tied the pleasure of nursing to being in a new environment, and puppies will typically last maybe 15 minutes in these very early weeks. Then they just go to sleep, that’s it, they’re done. The great thing about puppies is, a lot of times people will call me and say I’m afraid I’m going to be doing too much with my puppies. As long as your puppies are awake you’re not doing too much, and once they’re asleep just take them in and put them asleep, you don’t try and wake them back up again. Puppies at this age, once they’re done their brains shut off, they go to sleep and usually there’s very little we can do about it, and there’s very little we should do about it. We should just put them away, they’ve had their experience and it will be a very short one to start with. At about five to five and 1/2 weeks you’ll see puppies really beginning to explore at this point. As long as you have a reasonably sized yard or fence, you don’t have to worry, puppies aren’t going to run away early on. Prior to seven or eight weeks they’re not leaving, but they may get themselves lost simply because they don’t know how to come, they’ve lost their mother or something, but that can be 20 feet, they’re not going very far. So, take them outside, let them explore, and about five weeks you’ll see that they really start to head off, maybe 20 or 30 feet. At five and 1/2 weeks, they really start to follow, so there’s no following at five weeks, there’s following at five and 1/2 weeks. Following is this really interesting instinct that happens in puppies that enables them to follow their mother, and their natural tendency is to follow their mother and we can make that into following us. We simply put their mother on a leash, we walk with her, or her with us and the puppies follow her and now they begin to follow us. Between five and 1/2 and six weeks, following turns on and it’s very difficult to lose puppies at this point. Now, I know that some of your listeners are sitting there saying: But I have…. (and fill in the blank) I have Siberian’s, I have Basset Hound’s, I have Dachshund’s, they won’t follow. They will follow, all of them. We have done Bulldogs, Siberian’s, Newfoundland’s to Chihuahua’s, to Chins, I mean this huge array of breads, they all follow during this period. They stop following typically at 16 weeks, some breeds earlier at 13 weeks, but they will follow during this period and we can teach them to take responsibility for themselves, rather than us having to take responsibility for them. So, I always say, most people go for a walk in the woods or a field with their dogs, and the whole time the person is thinking oh my gosh, this dog is so erratic. If I don’t keep my eye him I have no idea where he’s gonna go, this is really scary. And instead what we want to do is turn the tables, so that the dog thinks, oh my gosh, these people are so unpredictable, if you don’t keep your eye on them you’re going to lose them so you really have to pay attention. And you have this really limited period to do this, you can only do this up until 16 weeks of age. Almost like a light switch on their 16th birthday this instinct disappears, never to show back up again unless you have taught it to them prior to this. And so, I encourage anyone who can get their puppies out into safe places, and who has a nomagraph showing that their puppies are protected, do woods walks, do adventure walks with the puppies and their mom, and you will have puppies for a lifetime, and follow their owners for a lifetime.
MA: So that’s actually something that the puppy buyers can actually continue if you instruct them with it.
GW: Absolutely. And the white paper that will be on our website for your listeners will be for breeders to give to their buyers on how to teach them this. So, it’s a really effective technique, I happened to learn it almost 40 years ago when I got my very first puppy, and I did my adventure walks with her on Carmel Beach in California, and for the rest of her life I could not lose her. It was really amazing, and we’ve done it now with probably thousands of puppies very successfully. Mary, I wanted to mention one more thing about the nomographs that I think is so terrific about using this test. If we have a nomograph, not only do we know when our puppies need to be protected and kept closer to home, but it also makes it so that we don’t have to give as many vaccines to our puppies. So, well time, you could get away with one or possibly two vaccine timed according to the nomograph. I have a 14 1/2yr old at my feet right now and she received one distemper parvo vaccine at nine weeks of age, based on this nomograph, I don’t say to just do it at nine weeks, but to do it in accordance with the nomograph, and even today, 14 1/2yrs later, her titer is still protected. Protected for both parvo and distemper.
MA: So just to be clear, so you gave the vaccine, but then you tittered to make sure the vaccine was working?
GW: Exactly. And I encourage anyone, no matter who they are, to always titer after what they think is their last puppy vaccine, to make sure that their puppy reacted to the vaccines, and is individually protected. So is no longer dependent upon maternal protection, and now has developed its own immunity. Why do I think that’s so important? Well unfortunately I hear of so many of cases that were “fully vaccinated” who ended up coming down with parvo, typically is parvo, not distemper. Parvo because they actually got their vaccines before they were physically able to respond to them, and that could be as late as 15,16,17wks. And second, there are still small numbers of genetic, non-responders, and non-responders are dogs whose bodies can’t see the vaccine, it can’t respond to the vaccine. Non-responders were very prevalent in Rottweilers and Dobermans prior to the parvo epidemic, and that’s why those two breeds were decimated more than other breeds, because those non-responders got those early vaccines and they simply couldn’t respond. You want to know if you have a non-responder. They’re rare, they’re not common these days but you want to know if your dog is one of them.
MA: So just to be clear. If a nomograph suggest that we give the first vaccine at nine weeks, how many weeks, or what’s the time period to we let pass before we do the titer?
GW: Ideally you do the titer two to three weeks after the vaccine. That gives the puppy’s body time to respond to the vaccine and you’ll get the full picture of what their antibody levels are. You can do it sooner, but most likely they’re going to continue to rise for another few weeks.
MA: Taking into consideration the period that puppies are at risk for parvo, are their other ways or environments for socialization?
GW: You want to think during this period, particularly once they’re mobile and active, say from six weeks to 16wks, you want to introduce those puppies to everything it’s going to experience in its lifetime if possible. Let’s say it’s a show dog, you want to, working around the nomograph, working around it’s maternal protection, you want to get it to a show, you want to do long drives in the car. One note on car sickness and driving in the car, puppies that have their first car ride prior to six weeks of age, have a far less likelihood of developing car sickness over a lifetime. I don’t know why, I don’t know if it’s something in their brain development, but it reduces car sickness dramatically. It also helps if you cover their crate. We’ve taken videos of what it looks like out the side of the car when their driving, and all of us would be car sick if that’s what we’re looking at, so that’s just a hint. Long car rides, crates, elevators, big buildings, if you do field or hunting with your dog you want to get them around birds, or racoons or rabbits, whatever the prey is. The sounds, guns, boats, quaking, duck calls, whistles, all of those things that will be part of their lives need to be incorporated into their lives during these first 16 weeks. The really cool thing about this sensitive period is you don’t have to do these 20 times. Remember, sensitive period means very small experiences have long term or life time effects on a dog. So, if you could get them out to one field event or one show, or take them to a handling class, make it fun, positive, hold them and carry them if they’re concerned, but let them experience it. If you have an agility dog, get them onto the equipment, put them onto the A-frame, put them onto the dog walk. I’m trying to think of all the other myriad of things we do with our dogs, we want them to experience it prior to 16wks. Most of our students and puppy buyers have 16 week parties where they are celebrating surviving until 16 weeks, because they have just jammed everything they can think of into this early period. I think this can be challenging for breeders often, because if you have a large litter, by the time you send them all home at nine or 10 weeks of age, you’re exhausted. And who’s sitting there looking at you waiting for some development? You’re puppy, right? And you’re like oh baby I’m so tired, but you have to reach down and do what you need to do to get the puppy socialized. You can collapse at 16wks and then you can take a little time off, but during this sensitive period, three weeks to 16 weeks, and really from six weeks to 16 weeks, it’s almost impossible to do too much introduction to puppies. So, introducing them to your world, think about the things your dogs do, and how could you put that together into a puppy development plan? Grooming, huge, huge, huge for many and particularly show dogs. The blow dryers, the time on the table, the scissoring, the clipping, all those things need to be introduced positively, the bathing, the dreaded bathtub, all of that needs to be part of their lives during that first 16 weeks.
MA: Then there’s also some passive development I believe you spoke about in the seminar. I mean I’ve seen the videos of the plastic swimming pools filled with the water bottles, the fabulous soft agility courses that you let the puppies play in. Can you talk a little about that?
GW: Passive development is so important to our puppies, especially during the sensitive period, and most critical maybe between four weeks and 10 weeks. After 10 weeks, we have to be careful with passive development because puppies eat everything that we give to them at that point, so we may have to control them a little bit more. I always say puppies are being developed 24/7, they’re being developed every waking moment, and often, some of us actually have to work for a living so we can buy dog food, and so we aren’t there 24/7 and maybe we don’t want to be with our puppy 24/7. So, passive development enables us to set up an environment that presents problem solving, scent stimulation, and physical stimulation to a puppy, so they can continue to develop when we’re off doing other things. You mentioned the swimming pool filled with bottles, it’s called the bottle pool and I think it’s probably the least expensive, best possible scent stimulation, so as in touch, sight and sound, that you can possibly do for a puppy. I typically use a kid’s sandbox because they’re a little sturdier than a pool, but you can use a kid’s pool. You’re just going to fill it with empty water bottles, yes take the labels off, take the tops off, I just have people when they come to visit puppies, clear of the water bottles so that they do a little work while they’re there. Put the bottles in, and when you first introduce puppies to it, just put a few bottles in and toss in some food. Presumably you’ve already started weening them at this point so you’re just going to do a couple kibbles, or a few pieces of cheese to get them comfortable going in and out, and then in the end you can have the entire thing full of empty water bottles. I love the empty water bottles more than the very cute plastic balls that you can buy at Walmart and stuff or children. The balls are very cute and pretty but they don’t offer the same degree of stimulation and stress that the water bottles do. Water bottles are very noisy when the puppies are engaging with them, they have different edges, so they have a rounded edge, then they have a sharper or flatter edge, and so the puppy’s getting hit by the different parts of the bottles while they’re playing in there. Then the bottles pop out, the puppy will go flying in and jump in, and the bottles are flying everywhere so the puppy is getting this wonderful combination of slightly stressful, but still fun stimulation. In addition to the bottle pool, you may have seen some videos, we created the adventure box, and we created that in order to do this combination stimulation of puppies, the senses. The adventure box is just a PVC frame and from it hangs all kinds of things, we have some pretty specific things on ours. We have chains, paint brushes, PVC pipes, plastic cups, cut rubber hoses. If you buy one from us that’s what you get, but you can also go on our website and download the plans and make your own. The only thing I would recommend is don’t just hang stuffed animals and tennis balls on it, which we see a lot. Those make for very cute photo-ops as the puppies play with them, but they don’t provide stressors for the puppies, and the whole goal of the adventure box is actually that’s its stressful for the puppies. That things hit them, and they make noise, and those cups make a lot of noises, they slam into them or their buddy grabs a paint brush and when he does so, he knocks the chain into the puppy, and so we’re trying to make it unexpected. Remember we talked about startles, so we want it to be somewhat startling, we want it to have different textures and weights of things, and we want it to be unpredictable for puppies. The last thing, if you’re going to make your own adventure box, please, please, please keep safety in mind. My saying is that puppies have 24/7 to try and figure out how to kill themselves, so we’ve made the adventure box so safe that thousands and thousands of puppies have played safely in it. Don’t hang things that they can get their head through, a foot through, or their jaw, really think about the safety of it, and if you’re not sure send us a picture and we’re happy to give you feedback on it because we really don’t ever want a puppy injured by an adventure box. Obviously, toys, climbing objects, there’s a lot of things you can buy on the market now but you can also just go to Home Depot, Lowes, your local kitchen or hardware store. Or, go to the kids swap stores where you can swap children’s toys, those are fabulous because they’re usually very safe, and you can collect all kinds of things, slides, buckets, and steps stools for puppies to climb on and learn about stairs. Always make sure that you have, we switch from sheepskin to a rubber matting, you can buy children’s rubber matting at Home Depot or Lowes, and they make for safe landings for puppies, so if you’re going to have any kind of elevation you want to make sure they’re going to land on something very soft so they don’t get injured.
MA: Well that sounds like a lovely playground! I’m envisioning my yard right now; my bitch is pregnant.
GW: Oh do I have ideas for you!
MA: I really appreciate these four episodes that you’ve done with us. Again, if you have not heard the first three episodes, please do. Thank you to our sponsor, genefloraforpets.com Gayle has repeatedly stressed the importance for a good probiotic not only for our dams, but for the health of all of our dogs, and Geneflora for pets its offering 15% off with the coupon code “puredog” If would like to hear more great research and health information from Gayle, please let us know and we’ll work on getting her back. I believe, Gayle, that you have something for our listeners?
GW: We do Mary and this has just been fabulous, thank you so much for inviting me. What we would like to offer to your listeners, is a coupon for our upcoming video series that will be released shortly and it covers from just prior to conception cuz we talk a lot about epigenetics, all the way through the sensitive period, on how do you raise puppies focused on health and mental stability. So, it really doesn’t matter what puppies are going to do in their lives, all of us want physically healthy, long lived, mentally stable dogs, they’re are going to do better in their lives if they come in with those three traits, so that’s what the video series is all about, and we have a coupon for your listeners. In addition, we have a free white paper that will cover how to do adventure walks with your puppies, how to teach them to follow, how to use this instinct that’s so important in keeping safe and responsible for themselves, and paying attention to us over their life time.
MA: Thank you very much, and I would encourage everybody to look at the show notes on puredogtalk.com We will be putting up video, white papers, all sorts of resources from Gayle, where you can get in contact with her. Not only that, I met Gayle by going to the 2-day seminar that she presented and was put on by the Golden Retriever Club of Greater Los Angeles, and it was a fabulous, fabulous seminar, and I believe Gayle you have a calendar of your seminars on avidog.com. Also, if you are a member of a parent breed club or regional breed club, do think about having Gayle come out and present to your club because it’s very, very worthwhile knowledge, and Gayle, thank you so much.
GW: Thanks Mary, great talking to you.
MA: As a footnote to our listeners, after recording this episode I submitted the nomograph to Dr. Schultz’s lab on my pregnant Norwegian Elkhound bitch Casey. Turns out she is a perfect example of the importance of testing. Casey had an unusually high parvo titer, and the first recommended vaccination is not until 14 weeks, with the second at 17 weeks. Lab report and summary are all on our Facebook page, or will also be in our weekly newsletter, sign up at puredogtalk.com We send the email every Monday and it includes all the resources, all the upcoming episodes, coupons and anything else we can think about giving you. Thanks for listening.
As always if you 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 can 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 on the journey to success with your pure bred dog.