Once the puppies eyes open and they are reacting to noise, it’s time to add enrichment to their living space! This is one of my favorite times because the puppies absorb things at such a rapid pace that you can barely believe what you are watching!
At this point, they are getting up on all four legs and walking (stumbling) around the whelping box; their eyes have only been open a day but you can tell they are already starting to look at things around them regardless of how blurry it might be; they are startling at noises and lifting their heads when I come into the room and talk to them; and that just means they need some opportunities to interact with colorful objects and they need to continue building their motor skills.
So now they get some additions to the whelping box! They get the puppy play gym-I intentionally made it with lots of colors so it was bright and enticing and I fill it with a variety of puppy and baby toys. They will crawl all around it, under it, through it and as they gain play skills they will stop and chew on the different items because they will seem too irresistible to pass by! This will help them in many more ways than just having toys to entertain them. The brain enrichment that they get from adding things to their living space will help build them into confident dogs that will want to explore and not be afraid of their surroundings. As they grow, every few days new items will be added to their living space including a ramp, a wobble board, various flooring surfaces, noisy toys, a slide, and a myriad of other items to keep their brain learning and developing!
This is a critical time for neurological development and all of the things that they are able to do during these initial puppy weeks build the foundation for a solid dog that’s happy, confident and willing! The variety in flooring pads that create different textures to crawl on, the tube snakes, the puppy pods, the puppy play gym – all of these items may seem like no big deal, but they are all part of the big picture of creating happy and well adjusted pups that will be able to take in the rigors of training to be assistance dogs!
I have to admit, knowing that every moment during these weeks in my home can help change the physiology of these puppies’ brains is pretty amazing, stressful and unbelievable!
Of course, there is science to back up what we offer the puppies from the very earliest stages! And while I am sitting in the whelping room keeping an eye on the beautiful puppies that I get to do my very best to build a solid foundation for, my mind decides that I have to learn a bit more about the research on how to create a complex environment for the puppies so that they have the very BEST start they can have!
Here is some of the information that I read about and that I implement in the living spaces for the puppies while they are in my home:
Over the years researchers have proven that these behavioral changes are the result of actual changes in the physiology of the animal’s brains. The brains of animals that have lived in changing and complex environments actually become larger.
New connections develop between existing neurons in the cortex as a result of experience. Recent evidence demonstrates that it is even possible to grow new neuralcells in important areas of the brain that are associated with learning, memory and the organization of behavior.
The important aspects of the animal’s experience which cause these positive changes in their brains involves exposure to a wide variety of interesting places and things that novel, and exciting experiences. It is best when these are combined with frequent opportunities to learn new things, solve problems and to freely investigate, manipulate, and interact with objects and environmental features. The data is unambiguous in showing that this leads to individuals who not only tend to be more inquisitive and are more able to learn quickly and perform complex tasks, but also who are less fearful and emotional.
Recent research by psychologist Norton W. Milgram and his associates at the University of Toronto have shown that the benefits of such experiences are not restricted to growing puppies. Adults and even elderly animals, not only benefit from having richer environments, but these problem solving experiences seem to help to offset the usual decline in mental efficiency that is seen in older dogs.
So, if you are interested in reading more from the article by Psychology today including some of the research, clink on this link to find out how you can continue to work with dogs and build their brain power even after they are out of the puppy stage!
Here is an excerpt from a website about the first 7 weeks of a puppy’s life:
First 4 Months of Age
The Imprinting Period
Like children, puppies have a small window of time during brain development when they are most impressionable. This is called the imprinting, or critical learning period. For puppies, the imprinting period is during the first 16 weeks of life. Puppies learn more during this time than they can learn in a life time. Therefore, the quality and quantity of what they experience will have a huge impact on their future personalities and determine the formation of many of their “good” or “bad” behavior tendencies. In fact, such vast change in development happens with each day that passes, the Imprinting Period is further sub-divided into multiple distinct puppy-stages.
First 7 Weeks
(Neonatal Period, Transition Period, and 1st Socialization Period)
In the first 7 weeks of life, puppies gain use of all the senses, become mobile, start growing baby teeth, transition to eating solid foods, and become completely weaned (independent) from their dog moms.
Learning is already rapidly occurring, making it important that human caretakers provide puppies with specific neurological stimulation, a complex environment, and careful, yet thorough, socialization for proper development and adjustment to living in human society.
Excerpt taken from the following – http://wonder-puppy.com/puppy-stages