Raising puppies the right way helps to ensure that they will grow up to be happy and well-adjusted companions for life.
There is a lot involved in properly raising a litter of puppies. Creating a “dream doggie” who looks like and acts like his or her breed should involves both genetics and nurture.
Breeder Pat Hastings recommends that puppies receive brief daily neurological stimulation during the first three to 16 days of life. To provide this, pick each puppy up gently, and then hold him perpendicular to the ground and upside down. Place him on his back in the palms of your hands. Tickle the puppy between his toes with a Q-tip.
While you don’t want to overstress your puppies, you want them to become comfortable with being handled and learn to cope with new situations. Unless there is a health issue or a physical danger, try to let even a young puppy find his own way to the milk bar or around obstacles to foster confidence. Once the puppies can hear, expose them to a variety of sounds, from rattling dishes to the vacuum cleaner. You can use CDs to desensitize them to thunderstorms, dog show noises, and so on.
As they grow, puppies should meet a variety of people. They should play with many kinds of toys in different parts of the house, eat out of a variety of dishes in various locations, and learn to navigate steps, tunnels, and platforms.
For many breeds, grooming will be an important part of life. At about 3 weeks, begin to accustom a puppy to having his nails cut, the hair between the pads of his feet and around the tail trimmed, his body brushed, and his facial hair cleaned.
Encourage him to lie on each side for a few seconds, using a soothing voice, soft hands, and even some belly-tickling to get him used to being in what is a very vulnerable position for a dog. Stack the puppy briefly on the floor and on the table several times a day, and get him used to having full baths and to the sound and feel of the blow dryer.
Don’t make grooming a “battle of the wills.” If the experience is a happy one, it becomes therapeutic for you both—and for the puppy’s new owners, and any veterinarian who might have to examine him down the road.
It helps to let new owners visit and interact with their puppy so that they will be “known quantities” when he goes to his new home. Observing the interaction assures you that there is a “good fit” between owner and puppy. It also gives new owners an opportunity to ask questions and gain experience.
Be sure buyers know what they will need to have on hand before bringing their puppy home, usually at 12 weeks. By that time, the puppy should be well started on housebreaking and lead training and have learned to view a crate (complete with a bed and some toys and goodies) as a secure and safe extension of his territory.
If you do everything right, your puppies will adjust instantly to their new homes—and give their owners a lifetime of pleasure. They will also serve as walking advertisements for the benefits of buying a purebred dog from a responsible breeder!
—Jo Ann White, American Shih Tzu Club