…And puppy makes three. Yes, our friends recently had a new addition their home. A bouncing baby dog. As wonderful as it is for them to have a new puppy in the house, the process that brought them together with their new dog was well planned and thoroughly thought out.
Different people go about the process of getting a dog in different ways. Some homes prefer to take in rescue dogs from local shelters or breed rescue groups. These placements require special kinds of home, ones willing to deal with whatever behavioural issues come with “re-homing” a dog. For others, there is a special joy in bringing home a young puppy and teaching it all about the world.
Preparing the Nest
For many of us who have had dogs for much of our lives, bringing a new dog home is just a matter of finding old food dishes and gathering those puppy management tools we put in storage after our last dog outgrew them. But for our friend Angela, this was a new adventure that she wanted to prepare for in more than just physical ways.
I met Angela two and a half years ago. We attended ClickerExpo, a behavioural training seminar, together in Portland, Oregon. Angela was looking forward to getting her next dog, another Belgian Shepherd (a breed she has had before) and she wanted to learn more about behavioural training using Operant and Classical Conditioning. The sessions presented at the weekend ClickerExpo offered a wealth of information and the opportunity to discuss training and behavioural issues with professional dog trainers and dog owners alike. Even though Angela was more than two years away from her next puppy, here she was taking the time to get smarter about behavioural science and how to apply it in her life with her dog. We spent the weekend exploring concepts, sharing stories, and talking about all the things Angela’s new pup would need to learn.
Finding the Right Dog
Unlike people who choose adult dogs from rescue situations, prospective puppy owners don’t get a preview of the adult personality of their new dog before bringing them home. So much of a puppy’s personality will be shaped by how they are raised in their new home, it can be hard to know what to look for in a puppy. Finding a breeder that you can have confidence is can make all the difference.
Just as there are differences between dog breeds, there are also differences in the traits passed along in breeding lines within a given breed. That’s where a knowledgeable breeder can be a great help. Knowing what behavioural and health issues are possible in a given breeding can be a great help in preparing a new home for their dog. And there are even differences within a given litter of puppies. An experienced breeder can spot the outgoing troublemaker puppy from the stoic thinker, and knows how to match the right pup to the right home for the best placement.
Angela’s interest in Belgian Tervurens produced from a particular dog she had seen led her to Tanya Vivian, the dog’s owner. As luck would have it, Tanya’s sister Natalie was the breeder of the dog and Angela was introduced to a local community of Belgian Shepherd owners. The preparations had begun in earnest and the connection to a breeder had been made.
Producing Perfect Puppies
Our friend Natalie Vivian is one of the most conscientious breeders I know. Her kennel, Blackcomb Belgians, has produced champion Belgian Shepherds who have earned their titles in both the US and Canada. But Natalie is not just about producing great physical specimens of this breed, she also works on producing great temperaments and puppies that can be successful when they go off to their new homes.
Producing great puppies begins for Natalie on day one. From the day they are born, she places toys used by her other dogs in the whelping box to provide something for curious new noses to explore. And the puppies are handled too, in very specific ways. The young pups are picked up and held briefly in different orientations (e.g., feet dangling, upside down, on their back, and others) to provide mild stimulation of their nervous systems. They are also exposed to different textures on their feet. All of this neural stimulation is done without unduly stressing the pups and eventually leads to a more tolerant and confident puppies, ones who have had a variety of new experiences at a young age.
As the pups grow, Natalie continues to introduce new sights, sounds, and smells into their world. And their world gets larger too! Moving from the whelping box to the kitchen when they are two to three weeks of age exposes them to a new set of experiences. At three to four weeks, the puppies are allowed some freedom to explore their environment and interact with a variety of toys, both human and dog, to take in colors, sounds, and smells. Some times are even motion activated to provide the puppies with that novel experience as well. This is when they are introduced to the world outside — discovering grass and wind for the first time.
Week five brings out the “Puppy Party Tent”, a shade tent hung with dangling toys that blow in the wind, make sounds, and move unpredictably. The puppies spend their outdoor time here, learning to accept these new and different objects with curiosity and coming to see them as non-threatening. Crates are placed with open doors to give the puppies a place to nap and to get them used to seeing a crate as a “safe” place for them to be.
It’s not just about acclimating the pups to a world full of objects, although that’s important. atalie begins regular human interaction with the puppies at about 3 weeks of age, playing with each puppy to stimulate them and get them used to human touch and smells. She increases the human time spent with each pup exponentially as the puppies grow, until things get to “48 hours days” as Natalie puts it!
Pups are introduced as many different types of people as possible as guests are brought in to meet them. Natalie also makes the effort to take the puppies out to meet the world as it gets close to the time for them to go to their new homes. Trips in the car to supermarkets and such get them used to that new experience and offer opportunities to meet some new people.
Finding the Right Homes
Like most breeders, Natalie is looking for the right homes for the puppies she has so carefully raised. Belgian Shepherds are an intelligent breed with lots of energy and can be quite a handful. Although she takes great care to prepare her pups for the big world, Natalie is looking for homes that are as keen on raising a great dog as she is on producing fabulous puppies.
To give her puppies the best chance of going to a good home, Natalie has a survey she presents to prospective owners to get an idea of their experience with dogs (and Belgian Shepherds in particular). Sometimes prospective owners will send over an essay detailing their experience and environment. Natalie is also interested in what the dogs life will be like. Belgians are an active breed and so she prefers homes that will provide lots of stimulating activities, both physical and mental, to keep the dog healthy and happy.
At a minimum, Natalie speaks with prospective owners by phone. A visit to her home by potential owners is even better. They get to meet both the puppies and the dogs that produced them. It also gives Natalie a chance to get to know them a bit better. For Natalie, being a breeder means a life-long commitment to each puppy, and being there as a resource to help the people who take her dogs is an important part of the process for her. So people who adopt a puppy from Natalie not only get a great dog, they also get a very knowledgeable friend to help them along the way.
A Matchmaker’s Dream
In Angela, Natalie had found a committed and caring home for her well-prepared pup. In Natalie, Angela had found a breeder who would not only produce a good dog but who would carefully prepare it to meet the world head-on with confidence and without fear. In my opinion, it was the perfect connection between a person so looking forward to a great life with a wonderful dog and a breeder who takes great pride and care in producing the best of her breed.
For Angela, there was the comfort of knowing that her puppy’s breeder had given her new dog every advantage by giving it great experiences and acclimating it to the world. She would have all of the support and help she could want from a breeder who cares as much for the puppies she produces years after placing them as she does while they are with her. And that’s a tremendous advantage in raising a dog.
For Natalie, there was the joy in knowing that she was placing a dog in a home where it was truly wanted. Angela and her partner Michael had moved to a new home to give this new addition enough space to grow and be part of their family. They had actively gone out to learn about behaviour and training. Best of all, they had come to establish a relationship with Natalie that hopefully will last for the lifetime of this dog.
The saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” can apply to dogs too. I look forward to watching Angela’s puppy grow and learn as she applies all that she has learned. I’m sure Natalie is also looking forward to that, as is her sister Tanya. And my wife looks forward to play sessions with Angela’s new puppy and playing agility together. I’m sure Angela will be active in many dog communities, both locally and online.
How wonderful to see a young dog’s life start with such promise!
Until next time, have fun with your dogs.
All photos © Petra Wingate and Angela Norton 2011. All Rights Reserved.