Four to Five Weeks Old - Puppy Call & Barrier Challenges - Important and Fun Tools in Puppy Training
Once the puppies have gotten steady on their feet and mastered eating puppy mush we begin working on two very important protocols - The Puppy Call and Barrier Challenges. These activities can be combined or done separately.
The Puppy Call
One of the most important things a breeder can teach their pups is the Puppy Call, and it's very easy to do. We simply start feeding the puppies in an area away from where they are sleeping or playing so they have to come to the new area to get their food. Then every time we put the food down we call the puppies to us with a distinctive and ridiculous sounding "puppy, puppy puppy", over and over and over, until all the puppies have arrived. It doesn't take long before the puppies associate the call with food, and they stop everything they are doing and come running. After we have introduced treats and clicker training to the puppies we can also use the call and reward them with treats other than puppy food. We like to use high value treats such as meat balls or baked chicken. The important thing is that it should be VERY rewarding for the puppies to answer that call!
The Puppy Call is the first step to teaching the puppies recall, which everyone seems to struggle with teaching their Maremmas. If the new owner continues to practice the Puppy Call at home they will retain it. It can be a very valuable safety tool if the puppy gets loose. And by gradually adding in their name the "puppy" can be phased out and you have now taught your dog to come when called. That's not to say your older Maremma will always immediately come if they think something else is more interesting, but like everything else, it's easier to teach a puppy this fun game during their critical socialization period than when they are older.
Another important tool we use is Barrier Challenges. We use a variety of "obstacles" that the puppies must navigate to get from point A to point B. Things like pool noodles, different surfaces to walk on, steps up and down into the dog door and the Puppy Parlor door and x-pens make great barrier challenges. Sometimes they simply navigate them of their own accord to get where they want to go and sometimes we use them in conjunction with feeding or treat time to give them extra motivation. Barrier Challenges teach puppies problem solving as well as how to deal with frustration. And a dog that's not easily frustrated is less likely to behave aggressively with people, other dogs or stock.
Four and a half weeks old and they are pros at coming when called for dinner! And yes, my two bottle raised rescue kittens know the puppy call, too! We are training the kittens right along with the puppies.
Here are the pups, coming into the Puppy Parlor from outside, where they are rewarded with meatballs. We also added a barrier challenge in the form of an x-pen fence around the step. You can see that the last couple of puppies got a little frustrated but they kept trying and eventually got around it and got their reward.
This was a very big challenge for the puppies. I had them in the kennel by the Puppy Parlor while my farm employee, Ethan, was raking the pasture. When he was done he released them while I stood by the gate and called them. My son Noah helped me film and feed the puppies when they arrived. (I should have brought a bigger dish of meatballs, or maybe their dinner. It's hard to feed and film and call puppies all at once.) They had only been in this part of the puppy pasture for a few days and this was a lot for them to navigate and figure out. Where was I? Which way should they go? Plus the last couple of puppies were very distracted by Ethan and thought they should stay and play with him. (Usually I'm by myself when I do the Puppy Call and there are no interesting people around.) If I had thought it through I might have done things differently but as it turned out it was a very good challenge for them and they all eventually made it to the gate and the meatballs! Great job, puppies!
The Transitional Period begins when the eyes start to open and end when the puppies startle at sudden sights our sounds. On "average" this period is from 2-3 weeks, but this varies by breed and by puppy. We have found Maremmas to be a precocious breed with some puppies' eyes beginning to open as early as 7 or 8 days old. Therefore we find that our puppies enter and exit the Transitional Period well before they ever hit 3 weeks old. So basically don't blink or you will miss it!
Maremma puppies also begin walking around a week or so old. True to their breed they are practically born barking. ☺️
Twelve day old "toddlers" learning to walk. It's vitally important that puppies have soft bedding in the whelping box. This serves to keep them warm and dry, as well as to give them "traction" when they start walking. Puppies raised on improper footing can develop joint problems.
As soon as puppies enter the Transitional Period we discontinue ENS and ESI and begin Enrichment. The puppies are introduced to at least one new item or experience each day. This includes tactile items like toys and different kinds of footing. (Rugs, rubber mats, fleece, etc.) and interesting household items they can look at and explore.
The Neonatal Period lasts for approximately the first 2 weeks. During this time the puppies eyes and ears are closed. We weigh the puppies daily, charting their progress on their individual record forms. Any pups that don't gain are supplemented with a little bit of either homemade or commercial goat milk formula. (We prefer homemade if we have goats in milk, or frozen milk previously stored from our goats.)
(I call the puppies "baked potatoes" during this time because that's what they look like!)
We have everything we need for our daily puppy care routine at out fingertips in our Puppy Parlor: baby scale and kitchen scale for weighing puppies, individual record sheets, ENS/ESI supplies, sheep paint for marking pups, bottles and formula for supplementing as needed and all the charts for puppy enrichment laminated and at eye level on the cabinets.
A mixing bowl and a food scale is perfect for weighing puppies - for about a week! After that we move to an infant scale. Then by about a month or so we move to a dog scale. These pups grow so fast! But getting regular weights is important, both for ensuring the puppies are gaining as well as for properly dosing regular parasite prevention. To see our parasite and vaccine protocol and products we use go here.
ENS & ESI
During the Neonatal Period we do Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) and Early Scent Introduction (ESI) with the puppies. ENS and ESI are discontinued once the puppies' eyes begin to open, which is actually closer to 1-1.5 weeks for Maremma puppies.
Benefits of Early Neurological Stimulation
With Early Scent Introduction we focus mostly on introducing "farm scents" like goat hair, poultry feathers, hay and other scents to our puppies, mixing in a few household scents for variety. Interestingly enough every single one of Marcella's puppies showed a distinct interest in the goat hair scent, sticking their noses deep into the canister to sniff it.
Notes on Early Neurological Stimulation
Early Neurological Stimulation is not the same as socialization. It’s not giving the puppies toys or enrichment items. It’s not exposure to livestock. It is a very specific set of exercises designed to stress the puppies very slightly, and can only be performed in the first 2 weeks.
It's important to keep the puppies' nails trimmed regularly so that they don't scratch their dams, which could lead to infected teats or mastitis. Keeping the nails trimmed also ensures the puppies are able to gain good footing as the begin walking, which, with Maremma puppies, is as soon as one week old! Cat nail trimmers are perfect for trimming puppy nails.
All new moms deserve a little pampering and dogs are no different. Marcella enjoys a little break from the puppies every now and then. Mama dogs should always have a way to get away from the puppies, especially as they grow and get more demanding with their sharp little teeth and nails. Moms that don't have a way to get a break can become aggressive towards their puppies, which in turn can cause the puppies themselves to become either fearful, aggressive or both. An aggressive LGD is unsafe with stock, humans and other dogs and a fearful LGD is harder to manage than a happy, well-adjusted one.
I prefer to give my moms a "maternity clip" before they whelp. This helps keep everything clean and dry, helps the pups find the teats more easily and makes inspecting for mastitis and other issues easier. It's especially helpful since LGD moms go outside with the stock and bring so much of the outdoors back in with them. It helps keep the whelping box and the puppies a little bit cleaner without all that excess hair for dirt and debris to stick to.
There will be some discharge for a while after whelping so regular "butt baths" keep Marcella clean, dry and comfortable. We also check her for signs of mastitis or scratches or bites from the puppies, which could lead to a painful infection.
We use Arlo and Ring cameras to keep an eye on Marcella and the puppies no matter where we are. Whelping pads are changed daily to keep everyone clean, dry and comfortable.
Moms tend to have looser stool for a while after giving birth. This is largely because of them eating the placentas and eating the puppy poop, which they do for several weeks. We add Doc Roy's GI Symbiotics and Pumpkin Powder to their food, as well as Kaolin Pectin, to help firm things up. We also add calcium citrate powder twice a day. Calcium deficiency can cause moms to be neurotic or aggressive with their puppies. Extra calcium usually keeps them calm and happy, and protects their own bodies from being robbed of calcium to feed the puppies. We mix all this into either raw goat milk from our goats or a little canned dog food.
Due to their Critical Learning Periods, puppies learn and retain more in the first 12 weeks than they ever will for the rest of their lives. Raising puppies in an enriched environment has proven to result in the following intellectual and emotional benefits:
•Improved ability to learn and remember
•More emotional stability
•Better resiliency to stress
In addition to socializing our puppies to livestock from an early age, we also utilize a well laid out "Puppy Curriculum" to help them reach their full potential. We utilize Puppy Culture, Badass Breeder Curriculum, Avidog, Karen Pryor Puppy Start Right and other resources. Rather than trying to "wing it" and remember what to do with the puppies as they grow we have these great resources to help keep us on track. Puppies are individuals, therefore each puppy is allowed to go at their own pace and comfort level with the activities, but having these great resources the refer to keeps us on track!
We laminated the BAB and Puppy Culture activity sheets and posted them on the Puppy Parlor cabinets so we can easily refer to them.
On October 4th, 2022, Marcella of MoonAcre Maremmas whelped a beautiful litter Of Maremma Sheepdog puppies sired by Unfinished Acres Sevro. There are ten adorable pups, 6 boys and 4 girls. I am going to document the progress and training of the puppies in a series of blog posts with the category of "Follow Marcella's 2022 Litter". Stay tuned for more updates as these pups grow and mature into amazing Livestock Guardian Dogs!
Proud parents Sevro and Marcella, with their Mini Nubian goats. They are both excellent Livestock Guardian Dogs as well as loving, affectionate dogs. To see their individual pages with their pedigrees, PennHip scores and DNA results click on their names.
All the supplies are ready for the delivery, including the Puppy Warmer Incubator and Oxygen Concentrator, which can (and has) saved the lives of struggling pups. We use a 54" x 54"Lakeside Products Magnabox Whelping Box, lined with whelping pads and washable bed pads which we change or add to as the pups are born. Whelping puppies is very messy and wet business so I do my best to keep Marcella and the pups dry and comfortable without being too intrusive. Marcella gets fast acting Breeder's Edge calcium gel, starting after the first puppy is delivered and continued in between each pup to keep the labor progressing and to prevent what I call the "post partum crazies".
Our newly installed cabinets and countertop came in very handy for recording each puppy and doing everything we needed to in order to ensure the pups got a good start in the world. I quickly discovered another upgrade I need to make, though. I like to keep the overhead lights off so the moms (and I) can rest between pups, but then it's too dark to see at the counter. So I am going to have my electrician install some under cabinet lights for when I just need lights for working but don't want the bright room lights on.
Since my dogs seem to prefer to deliver late at night I always spend the night in the Puppy Parlor with them. The air mattress isn't very comfortable but it beats sleeping on the floor, or in the barn like I used to do! The first puppy arrived around 12:30 AM and the last around 10 AM so it was a long but good night!
The first puppy arrives!
After a long night Marcella is the proud mom of ten beautiful pups! Great job! I did a quick whelping pad change after all the pups were born and then both of us took a long nap!
Hi I'm Kim. I have been an avid animal lover all my life but goats and dogs are my favorites so I built a business around them, breeding registered Mini Nubian & Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats and MSCA registered Maremma Sheepdogs. I love sharing my passion and knowledge of these amazing creatures with others.