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Basset Hound puppy sitting in the grass on lead.
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Marie Eguro has been breeding Shetland Sheepdogs occasionally over the last 10 years.  She has trained, bred, and raised numerous Obedience trial champions, as well as numerous Best in Specialty Show winners, and Herding Group placers.  She is proud to be an AKC Breeder of Merit. Eguro talks about how going beyond the basics of nutrition, nurture, and socialization can develop your puppies’ problem-solving abilities and prepare them for multiple careers. 

Early Puppy Development

The second or third day of life is when early puppy development begins. Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) exercises done at the same time as early scent introduction exercises should be done starting on day 2-3 and ending day 16. Most people know the ENS exercises, but there are several resources for Early Scent Introduction available online. The scent introduction is for dogs preparing for AKC Utility Obedience and beyond, Tracking and Scent Work.

I also like to do early problem solving with 1-week old babies.  First, I use a lightweight cardboard tube that moves if the puppy touches it. As they get older, problem-solving gets more and more difficult. After this cardboard tube, I use a very thin heavier tube that will not move. Then I use rubber backing (the kind that goes under rugs to hold them in place) and make an 8-inch-wide surface with it.  They learn quickly.

Then, I use these wire grids on the floor, which I use to teach the broad jump. Next, shoebox tops. Then bubble wrap, etc.  You can be creative!  These are not exercises meant to stress the puppies. They are enrichment exercises to help encourage them to think and experience. Enrichment offers a much wider range of experiences than sitting in a whelping box doing nothing other than eating and sleeping. I am always raising a litter with the hopes there will be an outstanding OTCH dog in there. 

Future MBISS. GRCH. Aratone Westar Dating A Royal UD. PT. VCX. ROM (ASSA Top 20, ASSA AOM) “Gracie Lou”, doing a wood plank obstacle to get to her mother for nursing.

Surfaces, Sounds, And Toys

At three weeks old, many problem-solving exercises become too easy for the puppies.  They start having experiences more and more outside the whelping box. I started putting them on different surfaces in different areas of my property, out in the sunshine, out in the cement dog run, etc. Take each puppy out one at a time, and put them on different surfaces for several seconds, so they can get used to them. I also like using the top of the dryer or washing machine while it is turned on, for the puppy to feel the vibrations under their bodies.   

They also start listening to CDs of thousands of noises, including movie sound effects, fireworks, and thunderstorms. I just choose one CD per day and they listen to it, normally while nursing or when they are older, eating their food.  Once the puppies hit 5-6 weeks old, they can go out for stroller rides together as a litter, weather permitting.   

At 6-7 weeks old, I start taking them out of the house, walking on leash individually for very short periods.  And I start teaching sit, down, recall, and going into the crate on command. By 8-9 weeks old, more serious training starts.  They learn to potty on command, retrieve toys, and tug on the plastic competition dumbbell. Then, they start to learn utility signal work in the puppy signal box.  By 13 weeks old and beyond, we see the positive effects of ENS, early scent work, socialization, and problem-solving coming together. This video shows an example of a 3-month old Sheltie training on scent articles for Utility obedience.

This tiny Sheltie pup is learning what unfamiliar surfaces, like tinfoil, feel like under its paws.

Fulfilling Early Puppy Development Potential

Ultimately, none of the things a breeder does will do more than good genetics.  Certain traits must be there genetically and can only be enhanced with training.  They cannot be instilled with any amount of shaping or training. Anyone who has grown out multiple performance puppy prospects will tell you true drive and work ethic is not something a person can put into a dog. These are things a dog is born with and a human merely encourages.

Good structure, good hips and elbows, good teeth (for holding plastic dumbbells and scent articles) are just a few of the necessary physical traits for great performance and conformation dogs.  Thesare things that only genetics can provide, but that is where breeding decisions come into play. So, choose your stud dogs and breeding bitches wisely. Then, make sure to provide the early puppy development to help your dogs reach their fullest potential.
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