How We Raise Our Puppies
We believe that great puppies start out with good genetics and parents who are healthy and beautiful with good temperaments. Then, good rearing during the first weeks and months of life is imperative in order to shape the temperament that puppies are born with into temperaments most suitable as human companions. We provide the foundation for new puppy owners to build on.
For puppies to achieve their full potential, careful attention must be paid to many details. There are three key areas that we focus on at Summer Brook. The first area that we work on is with regard to cleanliness and preparing our puppies for house training and crate training. The second area of work that we focus on at Summer Brook is in providing an enriching environment and exposing puppies to many sights, sounds, and situations. The third area we focus on with our puppies is providing beneficial human interactions with a goal of producing fantastic companions for families. We make sure that each puppy has positive experiences with a wide variety of people.
Preparing for House and Crate Training
Cleanliness from Day 1 and guiding puppies in where to pee and poop will help to create a puppy that is much easier to house-train than one who has been raised by a typical breeder in a more traditional breeding setting. Puppies, by nature, want to keep their den clean, but if pee and poop remains where they live, they will loose their natural drive to potty away from where they live and will become difficult to house-train.
Many breeders work outside the home and puppy pens are only cleaned in the mornings and evenings. When we have puppies at Summer Brook, someone is here over 95% of the time and our pens are kept clean throughout the day. Summer Brook puppies begin their lives in a clean dry environment and we keep it that way until they leave our home. We change the bedding often in our newborn whelping boxes. We begin training puppies to pee and poop in a 3-foot by 3-foot pan of pine pellets at 3 1/2 weeks of age. And then finally, we train puppies to use a doggy door and begin the process of training them to potty outside at about six to seven weeks of age.
Crates are very helpful tools while house-training, so we take the time to give a preliminary introduction to crates while puppies are with us. Our puppies are introduced to both plastic and wire crates. Starting at 4 1/2 weeks, puppies have access to plastic crates with the doors removed. They often sleep two or three to a crate by their choice at this age. At 5 weeks, we add small wire crates to their area leaving them penned open so that they can go in as they please. We also feed them in crates during the last week or two that they are here. We believe that crate training works best when the initial time spent in a crate is all positive and that it is best to introduce forced confinement to a crate after a puppy is 10-11 weeks of age when possible.
7 ½-week old puppies cannot be totally house-trained. All puppies at this age lack sufficient bladder control and need taking out often. But our puppies are much easier to house train than most because of the way we raise them.
Providing an Enriching Environment
Providing an enriching environment with appropriate levels of stress at the correct developmental stages will shape the confidence of a puppy. Studies have shown that puppies that are exposed to a wide variety of situations and experience mildly stressful situations at young ages learn to cope better with their environment and develop more confidence. Our experience in raising and training puppies has taught us the exact days in puppies’ lives that are optimum for learning certain behaviors and being exposed to certain environmental stressors.
Our home environment is certainly not stressful. The environmental stressors that we are referring to are common situations that puppies will be exposed to in life. These mildly stressful situations must be created. We have very detailed plans for the situations that we expose our puppies. Our plans are broken down by our puppies’ ages to the day.
For the entire time puppies are at our home, they are exposed to the common sights and sounds of a very busy home. Vacuum cleaners running, many people coming in and out, music, and TV are every day sounds. In addition, we add mild environmental stressors that are at appropriate levels for their ages as we expose puppies to various situations. Puppies are not taken off our property. There is much environmental exposure that is still needed once puppies leave us, but we give our puppies a good start.
Our work with puppies begins shortly after birth. Early Neurological Stimulation is from 3 days to about 2 weeks of age. This is our puppies’ first exposure to any type of stress. ENS (Early Neurological Stimulation) is a series of exercises that mildly stresses puppies. It includes holding them in various positions, touching their paw pads, and putting them on a cold cloth (for a few seconds). The U.S. military determined that these exercises help puppies to develop more confidence and a willingness to work through more difficult situations. Our early work with puppies also includes weekly nail trimming starting just a day or two after birth. This teaches them to willingly accept nail trimming without fear.
Once puppies’ eyes and ears open, we begin working with their ability to recover from loud unexpected sounds. We intentionally drop metal bowls so that puppies learn startle recovery. We also play sound effect CD’s starting at 3 weeks of age to expose them to sounds such as fireworks, thunder, and gunshots that we don’t always have first-hand access to.
At 3 weeks, a weaning pen is added to the puppy whelping box and a wide variety of toys are introduced. We clean and change out toys daily until puppies are ready for new homes. We have well over a hundred puppy toys that we rotate to our puppies so that they always have something new to play with.
We expose puppies to the outdoors starting shortly after 4 weeks of age. Before leaving our home, puppies will be exposed to many outdoor sights and sounds: the sounds of lawn mowers, weed eaters, leaf blowers, 4-wheel drive vehicles, and even occasionally to the sound of electric saws and drills. 4-week old puppies spend minimal time outside, but this is a good age for an initial introduction.
Starting at 5 weeks, puppies are brought out of their pen both in groups and individually to many different rooms in our home. Each room has a variety of different things that puppies might encounter in life. Puppies are also introduced to a larger area outside. Our outside area has several fenced areas with open gates. Having these divisions teaches puppies to think through situations instead of sitting and crying. It often happens that a puppy is on one side of the fence while we are on the other. They must think through how to get to us and find the opening.
Starting at 6 weeks, puppies are lured with food onto miniature agility equipment. We encourage each puppy with food to go onto a wobble board and a mini-teeter. We lure them through a tunnel. Dogs by nature are uneasy on unstable surfaces and in narrow spaces. These pieces of equipment help to ease these fears.
We also train our puppies to safely navigate the 2 steps into our side yard just before they turn 7 weeks. We’ve heard of other breeders saying that navigating steps is difficult to teach. We think that teaching steps is best before puppies are 7 weeks of age and before they enter their first fear period. Just before puppies leave, we also take them up and down the 3 steps off our front porch. We’ve never raised a puppy to our knowledge that is afraid of steps. Our puppies want to go up the stairs when we go up there. Without gates, they wouldn’t hesitate to follow us up or down. We believe our success with steps is because we teach steps early, with only a few steps instead of on full flights, and with positive methods.
Though our puppies are not overly timid, we’ve seen how the work that we do makes a difference in instilling confidence. If new families will continue the work that we start, even the most timid of our puppies will grow up to be confident dogs.
Providing Positive Human Interaction
Puppies’ initial interactions with humans will affect how well they bond to new families. We start the bonding process with our puppies on day 1. Even though a puppy’s canine mother is the most important figure in the first couple of weeks of puppy life, human contact is important as well. Our newborn puppies are picked up and held often by our family and by people who work with us. They are weighed daily. Collars are adjusted. If the mom doesn’t keep the puppies perfectly clean, we rinse them off as needed with warm water. (Puppies actually think the warm water running over them feels good). Then we carefully dry them before putting them back with their mother. Someone spends the nights with puppies for their first 2 weeks. We are extremely involved with our puppies from start to finish.
At 2 weeks, we will also bottle feed. Larger litters need supplemental nourishment in addition to mother’s milk. Unless puppies in smaller litters are over-weight from their mother’s milk, we will bottle-feed these puppies as well at least once or twice. This enhances the human bonding experience.
At 3 weeks, we feed puppies a goat’s milk mixture in addition to their primary nourishment still coming from their mother’s breast milk. Most breeders start this feeding process in a big group bowl (a puppy saucer) but we feed our puppies individually at this age while we hold them. We continue picking them up often. We cradle them on their backs and touch them all over so that they are used to human contact.
At 4 weeks, a few visitors are allowed with puppies and the time our family and our workers spend with puppies increases. It is at 4 weeks of age that puppies become much more social and aware of their surroundings.
Starting at 5 weeks, we invite a variety of people to visit so that puppies are properly socialized beyond our family and those who work for us. We begin feeding treats from our hands as part of our training and this serves to further bond our puppies to humans.
We continue to increase the number of visitors with puppies at 6 weeks, but the way that our family and employees work with puppies becomes more intentional and purposeful. Six-week old puppies have a good capacity for learning and they are still not quite into their first fear period. It is during the time period from 6 to 7 ½ weeks that we really begin to stretch their abilities. The section above on environmental stressors discusses our work with 6-week old puppies in more detail. As puppies learn to cope with environmental stressors, they also learn to trust us as we help and encourage them to overcome these stressors.
Doggy Door Training
A big part of our training is teaching puppies to go in and out of a doggy door. This training is important to all three of our core areas of work in raising puppies. The use of a doggy door is hugely valuable in house-training. Young puppies have very little bladder control and without a doggy door must be taken out sometimes every 20-30 minutes. A doggy door is a great tool for letting a puppy out automatically every time he needs to potty while his bladder is maturing and he is being conditioned to like a crate. A doggy door is also a stress in the initial teaching phases of teaching it. It teaches puppies to be more comfortable in tight spaces and with things flopping on top of and in front of them. Coming through a doggy door also bonds a puppy to humans. As they come through the mildly stressful door and are rewarded for it, trust and respect for humans grows.
Puppies that are kept with us through 10 weeks become fairly proficient at using the doggy door while we work with them in crates in positive ways. The use of the doggy door gives us an opportunity to instill good potty habits in a puppy without having to crate him when we aren’t able to watch him. We can delay our use of crates in ways that puppies don’t enjoy while we continue to build good feelings in a puppy toward his crate. The doggy door training makes house-training much easier. Our 10-week old puppies are in the habit of heading toward the door when they need to potty. If a new family will take their Summer Brook puppy outside often enough, house-training will be easy. We are told time and time again how easy our puppies are to house-train.
See pictures and videos of where our puppies are raised
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A Few Final Details About How We Raise Our Puppies
Our puppies are wormed at 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and 6 1/2 weeks. They are given a Parvo vaccine and a vet check at around 7 weeks of age.
Every aspect of raising puppies has been thoroughly thought through and we have a very scheduled and meticulous plan from birth to 8 weeks. Nothing is done here haphazardly or without serious consideration. In our early years, our 3 children were heavily involved in the work. Now, for the most part, we depend on hired friends and neighbors. We currently have two homeschooled teenagers who work 12 to 20 hours per week in the mornings and on Saturdays. We have a third teen that works with us every afternoon after school as well as on Saturdays. She’s been with us for almost two years and plans on going to vet school. All of these teens are available to work more during summers. All of our workers are very sharp high school kids and have a lot of flexibility and are extremely good with the dogs and puppies. We also have someone who cleans for us once a week. (You'd be surprised at the amount of dust and hair our dogs can put in our home!) In addition, we have a vet tech that has worked regularly for us in the past that will sometimes come help when we have extremely busy times. We realize that raising puppies can be very unpredictable in terms of numbers of puppies. We have planned for every aspect to make sure we continue to raise our puppies in the manner that has earned us the reputation that we now have.