Day 37-Learning the Ropes, One Day at a Time

The puppies turned 5 weeks old on Friday, and that means that we spent the weekend transitioning to the next stage of their journey.  On Tuesday, they will be on their way to the Duluth Federal Prison Camp where they will get approximately 5 weeks of training in all of the important skills like crate training, continued potty training, walking on leash, getting weaned from their mom, learning independence and being without their littermates, and much more!

Once that time is finished they come back to typically be placed in one of two foster homes; a puppy raiser home or a great start home.

If they are placed in a puppy raiser home, they will be raised by volunteers until they are approximately 2 years of age and then they get “called in” for final training with staff.  As a previous puppy raiser, I can tell you that I personally dreaded the day when I received the letter in the mail saying that it was time for the dog in our home to graduate to final training!  As happy as I was that I had been a part of something bigger than myself, I never like saying goodbye, so it takes a bit of time to adjust to that reality.  You know the process when you get into volunteering, but somehow the time flies faster than you think and before you know it your heart is captured by the little furball from the beginning!

If they are selected to be in a “great start” home they are fostered for 8-12 weeks or more and they are placed in one of the prison programs affiliated with the organization.  I have been a great start volunteer as well, and this volunteer opportunity is shorter term so that sometimes works better for some. They may get the chance as well to be rotated out of prison between 6-8 months of age to go into homes so that they get additional socialization and time for training to go into public places. People often ask me about the prison program and there are usually very definitive opinions about whether people think dogs being raised in prison should be an option.  I have had the benefit of seeing the prison program firsthand and meeting some of the men in the puppy program, and I personally love that this option exists within the organization.  The inmate handlers dedicate large portions of their day to training the puppies in their care; and while they are training the pups for the next part of their journey they learn life lessons themselves along the way that change how they think, interact and they gain confidence and tolerance! When I think of the lives that 1 dog changes during its journey getting to its client, I’m sometimes overwhelmed.

I also love the fact that there are many foster volunteer opportunities for people who want to foster dogs on the weekend to take prison dogs out into their homes and provide additional training while getting them out into the community.  I think that this  is sometimes the biggest misunderstandings regarding the prison program, that the dogs are in prison for 2 years straight without any additional training or foster opportunities, but that isn’t how this program works-at least at this organization.

Once they complete their puppy raising journey, then they go into final training with organization staff to learn the specifics of the job that they have shown an aptitude for.  This could be mobility assist, hearing assist, seizure assist, diabetes assist or autism assist.  How do they get their specific job?  It has been explained to volunteers that during their final training they are introduced to a variety of opportunities and that they are chosen for their “career” based on what they are happiest doing and what they can do best.  So, in essence, they choose their own career!

So, while these puppies are only 5 weeks old, I can’t help but ask myself what I think they might be good at in the future!  Part of sending them off to the next step in their journey is that we get to write up “bios”/biographies on the puppies so that the inmates in Duluth  can get an opportunity to know the particular attributes of the puppies that they will have for the next 5 or so weeks. These early descriptions can also be used once they get placed with their long term fosters/puppy raiser homes.  I find it amazing how many of the traits that they have as such small puppies follow them into adulthood!  I’ve had volunteers who have fostered pups I’ve whelped ask me about their puppy personalities and when I describe some of their characteristics they get excited and say “they STILL do that!!”  Some of the personality traits that I have noticed with these litter pups are wonderfully individual and should provide the inmate handlers with much entertainment in the near future!

The next step for me?  I get to wait with anticipation for Sugar to return to our home!  She will go up with the puppies for the first two weeks as they are too young to be without her at this time.  The inmate handlers will work on the weaning process and give her lots of snuggles and special time away from her growing (and biting) puppies.  After two weeks she will return and start her own journey of getting back to life without the puppies, and we will get back to LBP-life before puppies. When kids grow up and leave they call it Empty Nest Syndrome…when puppies leave it feels a bit the same, but I call it “Empty Box Syndrome”!  You get to readjust your schedule (that you forgot you ever had!) back to regular hours, getting to eat dinner with family, no taking weights, temperatures, giving medicines, cleaning whelping boxes, washing laundry…..

Then, the final step will be approximately 3 weeks after Sugar returns,  when we get to go to the program building where the puppies return from Duluth! Breeder fosters and whelping homes get some time in the training room to get reacquainted with the puppies and love them up just a bit more before we say our final goodbyes. Then the time comes when they get placed that evening with their new volunteer families.  During this process there are a lot of goodbyes, but there are also a lot of great hellos with anticipation and excitement for THEIR journey to start-and as much as we wish we didn’t have to let these bundles of joy go and we tell ourselves we could keep them all, we know that they need individualized attention and that we don’t have enough time in the day to give them what they need, what they deserve, and what they have waited for all of this time…..a foster family to call their own while they work their way through this life adventure.

Will there be tears? No doubt about it!! (I tear up just thinking about next Tuesday as I write this!) But with each litter I whelp, the process becomes more “predictable” and I am able to see the joy that I have received with this opportunity to raise a litter of puppies.  Sugar has had 27 puppies that have started and continue to train in assistance/service dog organizations around the world, and yet she has no idea the contribution she has made towards giving others peace of mind and freedom that they dream of to make their lives just a bit easier!  I think about the future graduation days of Sugar’s puppies, and when the first puppy from my first litter I whelped graduated this past February, I was able to see our efforts come full circle! I know that giving these puppies the best foundation that I possibly can while they are in my care indeed makes a difference for someone who doesn’t yet know that in 2-3 years their life will forever be changed by one special pup!

Day 36-The Names are Official for the N’s!

The puppies have received their permanent names now and will now be known as something other than the “N” litter or by their nicknames!

The organization chooses names within the “theme” of the litter-usually an alphabet letter in order so it is easier to track which litter came first, etc.

Once the names are chosen, we usually get input on which name should go with which puppy based on their personalities, behaviors, and antics!

Sometimes in a litter, someone generously donates money in order to be able to “name-a-puppy”!  In this litter, there is one of the name-a-puppies and his name is Norton!  Thank you to whoever donated to the program to name him!

It took me one full day to evaluate the puppies at play and socializing with each other and humans to determine which name I felt fit each one the best and I’m thrilled with the matches!

Here are the official names!

Nelson Orange

Orange is named Nelson-I chose this name because he is the biggest in the litter and he is the one always wrestling his littermates to the ground and crawling over the top of them and laying on them!  I felt a wrestling name (full nelson, half nelson) fit him to a T!

Nesa Pink

Pink is Nesa (pronounced Nessa); She is a one-of-a-kind puppy with spunk and sass and she needed an equally unique name! 

Nino Red

I had suggested the name Nino for Red because of Nino Niederreiter as a Minnesota Wild Hockey Player in honor of breeding coordinator Dora who just recently retired! Of course there was only two colors of Red or Green since those are the Wild colors!She is an avid hockey fan and it only seemed fitting to have one of these final litter pups be named in her honor!

Natalie Purple

I gave my husband the opportunity to choose some of the girls names and he really thought purple was perfect for the name Natalie!

Newton Blue

Mr. Blue just had to have the name Newton!  He’s so snuggly and loves to chew on my fingers, so  I would have given him the name Nibbles if it was one of the selections!

Norton Aqua

Mr. Aqua is the lucky littermate that was chosen to be a Name-A-Puppy!  I’m guessing he has big shoes to fill! 

Nana Green

Miss Green is named Nana-she is quiet, unassuming and loves to snuggle, just like any good Nana is!!!!

Day 28-Today’s Life Lesson; “Learning the art of the small dog bed-love it or leave it”.



Miss Pink with Sugar learning the ropes about a small dog bed…..


The puppies are getting more adorable by the minute, so it’s a good thing that they are heading for their next part of their journey in a little over a week or I don’t think I could stand it!

Their eyes and facial expressions have become so animated; they are recognizing and responding to our voices and calls from a distance, and even just sleeping they melt my heart!  (Okay, so in all honesty they don’t melt my heart when I have to get up at 2 or 3 am to do a middle of the night poop clean-up to make sure they aren’t wearing it by morning, but they more than make up for it during the rest of the day!)  They are seeking out companionship and playtime with humans and they are awake for much longer periods during the day.

They are also progressing wonderfully on regular food.  They still nurse, but now twice a day they get “supplemented” with puppy food to take some of the stress off of Sugar so the demand on her isn’t too high and because they simply need more food for those growing bodies and brains!  Slowly over the next few weeks their puppy food intake will increase and they will be weaned from Sugar to allow her to return back to “pre-puppy” status.

Sugar and the N litter

Sugar wondering “When are these puppies getting weaned???”

The litter doing a great job a learning to eat politely


Patiently waiting for me to climb into their space and play with them!


Miss Krackle (right) has been an incredible aunt for the puppies, and Sugar seems to adore her companionship during this litter!  Sometimes Sugar will even get up from her place to search out Krackle and lay by her 🙂

I’ve always chuckled trying to figure out why these big labs love small beds but I love them for it!!! Some people say that it offers a sense of security being in a tight space like a small dog bed which makes sense-I just wish I would have known that before I spent hundreds of dollars purchasing large dog beds for them when they first came to our house! (At the end is an article about the small bed/big dog phenomenon:)

Miss Green has decided that laying her ear in the water bowls feels oh so good….

This is the cuteness that overwhelms

Even though they are four weeks old, they still get to train on skills that they are going to need in their future. We work every day on calm, fun skills and the boring “learning to do nothing and trusting me while I hold you on your back” skills!

And then we add a few “look adorable and let me snuggle you” skills just for good measure!!

Loving snuggle time~

Ask A Vet: Why Does My Big Dog Love To Sleep On A Little Bed?

by Dr. Kathryn Primm

We laugh when we see photos of very large dogs trying to curl up in tiny dog beds. We wonder why in the world that big dog would choose to lie on that little bed when there is a bigger one visible in the photo.
To try to explain this phenomenon we have to look at who the dog is.
In such a situation, there are clearly at least two dogs in the environment and one is large and one is small. It is not the case in all situations, but most veterinarians would agree that small dogs tend to have the attitude of much bigger and tougher dogs. And bigger dogs are often gentle giants who accept their lot with serenity.
We can’t always explain why an individual dog prefers one thing over another, but all dogs want to feel safe and secure in the place that they sleep. Having a bed in a size that is small enough to touch the dog’s body on all sides may make him feel swaddled and safe. Some dogs certainly take the swaddling concept to an extreme, like when a Great Dane tries to sleep in a Chihuahua’s bed. But the swaddling and safety concepts may still apply.
We can surmise that the smaller bed belongs to the smaller dog and so it is a prized resource. Because the small dog likely has a very plucky nature, the large dog may look to the smaller dog for guidance. So he might feel protected in the bed that has been pre-approved by the smaller dog.
Our human tendencies make us want to believe that the smaller dog ousted the big dog from his more desirable big bed, but this may not be the case. Only someone who carefully watches their dogs interact could say for sure.
One thing is for sure- we have fun captioning photos of big dogs spilling out of tiny beds and they seem none the worse for the wear and may even prefer the tiny bed every time!

Day 26-Finally- A Trip Into the Great Outdoors!

Today was the first day that the puppies ventured outside!  And with that opportunity, I got to go outside and enjoy the beautiful day as well!

Going outside is not as easy as it may sound for a litter of 7 puppies.  First, there is the prep time of getting the area ready for them.  While they have gotten the all clear from staff to go outside, I wasn’t quite ready to let them “explore” everything that a new spring lawn has to offer-so my overprotective compromise with the puppies was that they could go outside if their area was covered with surgical drapes to prevent any unnecessary ingestion of foreign materials! (Yes, I have a number of conversations with these litter pups on a daily basis….when you spend 24/7 with these beautiful pups you naturally fall into a conversational bond with them:)

So, I proceeded to spend 20 minutes gathering the materials, toys, and x-pen and set them up a nice mini play yard for their first experience.  Then there was the chore of making 4 trips in and out of the house to gather 2 puppies at a time to move them.  Once all were safely outside, I reveled in their cuteness for just a moment, took some photos of their first exploration and then climbed into the pen for some snuggling to reassure them of this new space!

The first time the puppies go outside it is a brief journey; just long enough to get them acclimated to the space but short enough to make sure that they don’t become too stressed in their new situation.  For this first trip, the outing was between 3-5 minutes.  Then the trips back into the house ensued! It ends up being about 30 minutes of set-up and take-down for that brief visit, but it is a wonderful time to watch them getting their first taste of the outdoors!

While outside I play with them, but also watch their body language, their facial expressions, whether they whine, how they move about their space, etc. to make sure this is a positive experience.  This is one more activity to help them build their skills and it’s my opinion that it’s critical to make sure that all of these firsts don’t become overwhelming but instead are fun and give them a desire to do more as the days continue.


Blue is saying “Let her think you like her best-but I know what you’re thinking……”


I started seeing the pups begin to yawn-one by one, and it traveled through the litter.  They were playful but sticking close to me for reassurance and it was interesting to watch and observe. Of course, that got me to thinking; I’ve heard a few different opinions about what a dog yawn actually indicates, so when I got back inside I decided to do a little research on it! Often I hear people focusing on “a dog yawning indicates it is stressed”.  While that MAY be true, it’s certainly not the only reason a dog yawns and it is only ONE piece of a very complex puzzle that you can use to paint the bigger picture. Interestingly enough, dogs that yawn aren’t strictly yawning out of stress; there are other reasons they yawn, including communication between them and other dogs and in communication with humans! They can yawn for a calming signal to soothe others around them, when they are unclear of what is going on around them, out of stress, in anticipation, confusion or conflict, or due to medical issues, when they are bored, and most obviously because they are simply tired.  And finally, possibly the most surprising reason, dogs it seems can yawn as a reaction to a human yawn!!! (See research study below)

So, the next time you yawn around your dog(s), watch and see if they follow your lead!

What I came to see in these puppies is that they were simply yawning most likely due to a change in their environment-they had never been outside and were wondering just what was going on; maybe a tad of elevated anticipation/stress but that they were just fine with the new space and they enjoyed their new but brief experience in the beautiful weather!  If tomorrow is nice again, they will get another opportunity to learn about the big world around them!

So, what does a dog yawn REALLY mean???? Well, I’ve been yawning the entire time I’ve been writing this blog, so while I would love to provide more links for you to read about the subject, I have to stop 🙂  The real question is, have you been yawning while reading this???

Here is an article excerpt taken from a study, indicating some of the reasons of yawning and whether it is contagious between humans and dogs:


Taken from the following link: Yawning may promote bonding even between dogs and humans

“Until the last few years, the feeling was that contagious yawning was unique to humans,” Provine says.

But recently, two more species have been added to the list of contagious yawners: dogs and chimpanzees. When two groups of chimpanzees were shown videos of familiar and unfamiliar chimps yawning, the group watching the chimps they knew engaged in more contagious yawning. This study, by Matthew Campbell and Frans de Waal, supports the theory that yawning plays a role in the evolution of social bonding and empathy.

And dogs not only catch each others’ yawns, they are susceptible to human yawning as well. In one study, 29 dogs watched a human yawning and 21 of them yawned as well — suggesting that interspecies yawning could help in dog-human communication.


Here is some interesting information about dog yawns and whether they are contagious!

Is Yawning Contagious Between Dogs and Your Dog and You?

(excerpt taken from Why dogs yawn-the research behind it )

Contagious yawning between humans is well documented, but can dogs “catch” the yawns from other dogs or from their humans?

A 2014 study published in Animal Cognition did conclude that shelter dogs that had a rise in salivary cortisol levels, which is a sign of stress, caught contagious yawns more often than those dogs that didn’t have a rise in salivary cortisol levels. This suggests that stress yawns among dogs might be contagious. [i]

Several studies have concluded that yawns are contagious between humans and dogs. One of the most famous studies, which was conducted by researchers at Tokyo and Kyoto universities and published in U.S. science journal PLOS One in 2013, concluded that “contagious yawning” was a sign of empathy dogs were showing their humans and not a sign of stress.

The researchers studied two-dozen dogs and involved humans both familiar and unfamiliar to the dogs. The people involved in the study also made different facial expressions and mouth gestures to determine if dogs could tell the difference.

Researchers also monitored the dog’s heart rate to rule out yawning as a stress response. The results revealed that dogs yawned contagious yawns more often with familiar humans. “Our study suggests that contagious yawning in dogs is emotionally connected in a way similar to humans,” says Teresa Romero of the University of Tokyo who led the study.[ii]

Georgina Lees-Smith, a certified canine behavior consultant near London in the U.K., who has studied and written about the varying theories about dog yawning for her post graduate degree in psychology and neuroscience, says that her own anecdotal research seems to support that theory.

“I’ve conducted a study with my own dogs and have found that if you yawn and your dog yawns, it shows a definite social connection with your dog,” she says. “It really is quite lovely.”

The Dog Yawning Conclusion

While we cannot be absolutely sure why dogs yawn when they are not tired, modern studies have suggested that dogs yawn for several reasons, based on the circumstances:

– Dogs may yawn as a response to stress

– As a communication signal toward other dogs

– In empathy (or at least in response to) their humans

Some other links: Dogs and Yawning


If by chance you want to do more research on the subject, here is a study, the first of its kind, that discusses the testing of contagious yawning between dogs and humans that was done in 2008 and here is a brief excerpt from the study:

Link:  First study of its kind to indicate human yawns are contagious to dogs

“The current study demonstrates that human yawns are possibly contagious to dogs. The presentation of human yawning elicited yawns in 72 per cent of the dogs tested, which is higher than the rate reported in humans (45–60%) and chimpanzees (33%). This effect cannot be attributed to a general effect of the mere presence of unfamiliar humans, or to the observation of human mouth movements in general, because no dogs yawned in the control condition. This study is the first to demonstrate that the observation of yawning elicits yawning in a non-primate species, as well as the first demonstration of possible contagious yawning between different species. Since yawning is known to modulate the level of arousal (Daquin et al. 2001), such temporally synchronized occurrences of yawning may help coordinate interactions as well as communication between humans and dogs.”

Day 25-Pups and Personalities!

Today the puppies got another room expansion and we continue to adapt to their needs:). A new enrichment toy was added which will desensitize then to things bridging their back, noises as the items clank together, requiring them to work through obstacles; and the introduction of a grass/turf potty yard for them was added this morning as well!!

Every day brings something new for them to learn or explore, and hopefully all of those opportunities increase their resilience in unfamiliar circumstances as they navigate the journey of an assistance dog in training!

They have also been introduced to various sounds/noises which will make them more startle resistant-city sounds, storms, vehicles on sound Cd’s and the natural edition of trains, planes, automobiles, geese, city street sweepers, horns, etc. brought to them by the beautiful weather that has allowed me to open the windows for noises “a la Carte”!

I can see them building their problem-solving skills as I sit and watch them at a distance. Purple /Mindy has learned that if you want to play with your siblings and they are sleeping, just walk on top of them and bite their ear to get them going; Orange/Boomer has learned that nothing is really stationary if you pull and chew on it vigorously and that the ramp is his favorite place to sleep; Aqua/Jax knows that the only quiet place in their space is the far corner where his siblings can’t find him; Pink/Lady has figured out that if she finds me and gives me her adorable puppy dog eyes that life stops and it’s snuggle time!

Mr. Orange/Boomer is the official “bird dog” of the litter!

I told Ken if I got to convert the living room into the puppies play area then we wouldn’t have to add the office space as their play area……….but then it happened……. 🙂  Seriously, when you look at those faces, how could you NOT give them more space to explore???????

Each of the pups has very distinct personalities, and I have always loved this age because in previous litters I’ve had I see their personality traits continue to follow them into adulthood. Whether they are spunky, quiet, a chewer, playful or a snuggler-they continue with those perfect personalities to bring joy to others !!

From the looks of it, they like their new addition!

Miss Purple/Mindy getting to know her new potty yard space!