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Japanese Chin puppies sleeping side by side.

Raising well-adjusted, confident toy and small breed puppies begins in the whelping box. Breeders have a pivotal role in helping them become small dogs with big personalities during the eight-week countdown from birth until pups go to new homes.

In “Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog,” behavioral scientists John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller attribute 35 percent of a dog’s ultimate behavioral makeup to genetics and 65 percent to the management, training, socialization, nutrition, and health the dog receives as a puppy.

Puppy Stimulation

Carman Battaglia, PhD, describes in his “Breeding Better Dogs” the U.S. military’s “Super Dog” program that uses early neurological stimulation of puppies. “These exercises help to kick in the neurological system earlier than normal,” he says. “This helps to build a strong cardiovascular system with stronger heartbeats, stronger adrenal glands, greater tolerance to stress, and greater resistance to disease. These pups are more active, more exploratory, calmer, and less distracted when working.”

“Super Dog” exercises are done once a day for three to five seconds each when pups are from 3 to 16 days of age. They include:

• Tactile stimulation tickling between the toes with a Q-tip®

• Head held erect stimulation holding a pup in both hands perpendicular to the ground so the head is directly above the tail in an upward position

• Head pointed down stimulation holding a pup in both hands with the head pointed downward toward the ground

• Supine position stimulation holding a pup on its back in the palm of both hands with its muzzle facing the ceiling

• Thermal stimulation placing a pup paws down on a cool, damp towel

Purina puppy behavior expert Annie Valuska, Ph.D., encourages socialization of puppies that is enriched with physical and mental challenges. “The more experiences puppies have during the critical period of socialization, the better prepared they are going to be in their new homes,” she says. “Puppies need things to move, chew, climb, carry, and tug to develop strength, agility, and coordination skills. They should experience different textured surfaces, such as carpet, tile, grass, and concrete, and be desensitized to household sounds, such as a vacuum cleaner, mixer, television, and music.”

The First Eight Weeks of Puppyhood

Developmental Stage Age of Puppies Development (D) & Socialization (S)
Neonatal Period 0 days to 2 weeks D: Born blind and deaf, puppies are totally dependent on the dam for survival. Puppies sleep 90 percent of the time.S: Sensitive handling starting at the neonatal stage helps a puppy’s mind and body develop faster.
Transitional Period 2 to 4 weeks D: Puppies’ eyes open completely around 13 days, with useable vision at 18 to 21 days. Ears open around 3 weeks. Puppies can crawl backward, wag their tails and start to walk. Rapid development of motor skills and imprinting occurs.S: Regular handling, cuddling, and picking up puppies is important. Novel toys or objects should be provided in the whelping box. Starting at week three, puppies can be desensitized to potentially frightening sights and sounds. The more a puppy explores, the more confident and assured he or she will be in the future.
Socialization Period 4 to 8 weeks* D: Weaning takes place and socialization to dogs occurs at 4 to 6 weeks and to people starting at 6 weeks. If these opportunities are missed, the puppy will most likely always be fearful of dogs and/or humans.S: The greater social exposure a puppy receives during this time, more likely he or she is to develop social flexibility, emotional stability and trainability skills. Puppies that stay in a kennel most of this time will generally be fearful and hard to rehabilitate.

*The socialization period in totality is from 4 to 12 weeks

Source: “Genetics and the Social Behavior of Dogs,” with socialization information from Purina veterinarian Dr. Callie Harris and Purina puppy behavior expert Dr. Annie Valuska

Puppy Nutrition

As to nutritional considerations, toy and small breed dogs that weigh around 20 pounds as adults grow and develop quickly. Maturing between 9 and 12 months of age, these breeds should be fed a complete and balanced growth food specially formulated for toy and small breed puppies for the first year.

Purina veterinarian Callie Harris, DVM, explains, “Small breed puppies reach skeletal maturity faster than large breed puppies, so a lot of growing takes place in a very short time. This requires energy, thus they need food containing the right amount of energy-supplying nutrients, such as protein, which help support growing muscles and tissue development, and fat, which aids in palatability. A growth diet is ideal because it contains the appropriate amounts of minerals like calcium and phosphorus, vitamins, and omega fish oils with DHA for brain and vision development. Also, the smaller kibble size of toy and small breed puppy foods is easier for puppies to chew and encourages acceptability.”

Dr. Harris offers these tips:

• Introduce solid food when puppies’ teeth begin to come in, usually around 3 to 4 weeks of age. Note that toy breed puppies should continue nursing until they are 6 to 8 weeks old, as these breeds do not have the enzymes necessary to produce glucose, or sugar, from the liver until they are older.

Wean puppies by preparing a gruel mixture by grinding puppy food in a blender and then soaking it in warm water. Initially feed puppies the gruel mixture one time a day and then go to two times a day. In between feedings, puppies should have access to a dry feeder containing puppy food kibble.

• Establish a feeding routine as puppies get older to help keep the digestive system regular and make housetraining easier. Feed three to four equal-portioned meals a day, not exceeding their daily recommended intake. Toy breed puppies may need four to six meals a day.

• Do not supplement with additional minerals and vitamins if you feed a completed and balanced puppy or growth food, unless your veterinarian advises doing so.

“Breeders should feed pups to grow at an average rather than a maximum rate for their breed, reducing the risk of overfeeding,” says Dr. Harris. “Start out by following the food manufacturer’s guidelines based on the weight and age of the puppy. Consulting your veterinarian, you can then make adjustments as a puppy develops considering its weight gain and addressing any concerns that arise.”

Raising a happy, healthy litter of toy or small breed puppies is rewarding. The time and energy spent starting at day one in the whelping box until puppies leave with their new families is well worth the effort.

Purina Pro Plan Nutrition Specially Formulated for Toy & Small Breeds

Purina Pro Plan Specialized Nutrition Puppy Toy Breed Chicken & Rice Formula and Purina Pro Plan Specialized Nutrition Puppy Small Breed Chicken & Rice Formula provide complete and balanced nutrition for toy and small breed puppies. Both foods provide these nutritional attributes:

• High in protein to meet the needs of highly active small dogs

• DHA from omega-rich fish oil nourishes brain and vision development

• Antioxidants support a puppy’s developing immune system

• Calcium, phosphorus, and other mineral build strong bones and teeth

• Bite-sized kibble makes chewing easier

• Fortified with guaranteed live probiotics for digestive and immune health

• Chicken is the first ingredient

• Highly digestible for optimal nutrient delivery

• Omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin A nourish skin and coat

• No artificial colors or flavors

For more information, visit or call 800-778-7462.

Related article: How to Care for Small-to-Medium Dogs
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