Day 81 – Continuing the Journey of a Lifetime, 11 Weeks in the Making!

It’s been an emotional 7 days in our household with a variety of different “Sugar news”.  Last Tuesday, it was time for Sugar to be spayed and begin her journey of smelling the roses!  In the very near future, she will be retired and we will be adopting her!  She is well known and liked at the Vet Hospital due to her litters, and the cutest thing I heard was when the news was spreading amongst staff that Sugar was in for a spay one of the staff came up to me and said: “What do you mean, no more Sugar Cubes????”  After a good chuckle, I told her no, it was time for Sugar to turn that over to the younger pups in the program!

The spay didn’t go as well as we had hoped.  Due to her C-sections and litters, she had a bit more of a complicated surgery.  It was a long night at our house with her.  As the night became early morning and we still weren’t seeing the progress we had hoped, it became evident early the next morning that continued medical care was needed. Unfortunately, there was some unexpected internal bleeding which required her to return back to the vet for an additional procedure the next morning, some extra medications, and observation. She came back to our home on Thursday after her extended stay and has been recuperating while we spoil her rotten and get her back on the road to long walks, fun playdates and some great exercise in the not so distant future.

So it was wonderful to have a fun and rewarding time to play with adorable Sugar Babies tonight and unwind from an otherwise stressful week!

Seriously, how do you resist such an adorable face??

Today was the special opportunity that many whelping homes wait for patiently – the evening to see “their” puppies after they are away at the Duluth prison!  They left around 6 weeks and now this N litter of Sugar’s is over 11 weeks old-the 7 pups have been away for almost half of their life and I couldn’t get to the facility quick enough for my play date with them! It felt like when my girls returned from college!

Norton offering his best sit on command!

When I arrived they were just getting taken out of the vehicle.  Then they were corraled over to the training room where my husband and I would have the opportunity to play with them for about 45 minutes prior to their great start and puppy raiser families arriving to come to pick them up.  Tonight would be their first official time away from their littermates.  They spent time away from their siblings at night when they were all with different handlers, but they got multiple opportunities to play with them during the days while they were there.  The first two weeks they still had Sugar there with them and the last 3 weeks they had the comfort of their other 6 siblings.  They’ve been busy learning while they’ve been there, but that doesn’t mean that tonight won’t still be a tough adjustment for them!  I will be curious to hear how the evening, the overnight and tomorrow go for these wonderful puppies!

While I thoroughly enjoyed playing with them, about halfway through I had to step away and detach a bit.  This litter, in particular, I was a bit sad because I knew it was the last litter Sugar would have, so this goodbye seemed a bit more emotional and final than I had prepared myself for.  I wanted this to be a happy celebration for these puppies who are going to do amazing things during their lifetime and I didn’t want that to be lessened by me falling apart into a puddle of tears, so that meant I needed to step away from the “playing” and observe a bit more from distance.  Over the years I’ve learned a bit more about controlling those emotional stepping stones(but I’m still terrible at it!); I’m not sure if it’s because you get used to it, or you start learning how to protect your heart a bit more from the emotions of the experience.

You never get tired of seeing your whelping litters

Using a “settle” to keep this pup quiet during some of the filming from the news station

After the litter drank the WHOLE bowl of water, those eyes were expectantly looking for more!

The puppies were having a great time with the space and the toys

And as I was playing and watching the puppies, I started seeing the anticipatory faces of the volunteers who were coming to pick their new “adventure” up through the observation windows!  I thought back to the time when I was the one picking up a puppy to puppy raise and how excited I was for the new opportunity I was embarking on!  I can’t believe how many years have passed since that first experience, but my heart feels like it’s been way more than 6 1/2 years!  It is FULL of experiences that 7 years ago I couldn’t have even imagined in my wildest dreams!  Happy, sad, funny, exhausting, overflowing with joy, amazed, scared, determined……Offhand I can’t think of any emotions that I haven’t experienced through the puppies that I have been so fortunate to have in my house whether it was for a short foster, a long-term foster, a great start, being a puppy raiser,  having a litter of puppies, or hosting a breeder dog (or two).  Each of them has taught me something that is now part of me and that I can’t separate from even if I wanted to

Ken enjoyed the opportunity to say hello again as well

Norton wanted to sit and watch the other puppies roughhouse, but he wanted to catch a quick rest rather than joining in!

The mirror in the training room is always a big hit when the puppies arrive!

So, with time, things change.  I get to say another goodbye and think of how my life will change again in the near future, with new and different adventures.  Soon, Sugar will be OURS and we will get to write a new future together!  I’m not sure what that future holds, but I know with Sugar by my side it will be amazing!

Right when we got home, Sugar went crazy when she smelled the puppies on me, grabbed a toy and looked at me like “where are they”??!  Due to her surgery last week, we had to try and keep her calm and quiet, but she was waiting to play with her puppies! 

Even though Sugar won’t be having any more puppies, I hope people will still read this blog!  Since the blog is called “Life of Sugar” we still have a lot of things to say!!!!  I think Sugar has many new things she will be enjoying!  Hopefully, the next post you see will be about her official retirement from the program!

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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 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:

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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.

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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

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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 18-Freedom Like Never Before!

Yesterday and today the puppies will be able to see, do and experience a variety of things that they have never done before!  And once they find out how big their world is, there will be no stopping them-the whelping box will no longer be seen as a place of security but instead a place they want to leave; 4 white walls will be replaced with sights, sounds, toys and lots of different interaction with “things”!!!

They’ve graduated from bio-sensor training and now they need to do things to build their tolerance, adaptability, and overall resilience so that when they grow into their role as assistance puppies in training they are ready for the task at hand as much as possible!

As whelping homes we do as much as we can to ensure their success, and so it’s difficult in my opinion if one of our puppies doesn’t make it to graduation; there are so many things out of our control that can derail the trajectory of the puppies-personality, allergies, medical issues and simply not having the desire to work.  None of these issues mean the dog isn’t wonderful, it just means this career isn’t the right path for them.

So we pour our hearts and energy into these mini-miracles in the hopes that one day they will pour THEIR hearts and energy into someone else. And for me, that’s the only reason I can happily go without sleep for many hours or days, be content for weeks mostly in the confines of my home, wash laundry like it’s a fine art, and be okay with pooper scooper duty of 7 pups for 5+ weeks:). The hope fir them is what fuels the passion for me!

Here are some pics of their last 24 hours of firsts!

First field trip to the dining room

 

Special mom time on their first field trip

First protest about weigh-ins-Miss Green decided to take matters into her own hands and block the scale, then promptly go to sleep!

First group escape and coming when I called them!

Blue got the honors of the first cape wearing opportunity!

Miss Green loved the bright colors of the first “big puppy” toys!

First long field trip to the living room “headquarters #2” complete with train sounds, honking geese, birds tweeting, trucks and cars, and of course some new musical artists with some crazy beats on Alexa!!!  Our house has officially become an obstacle course around x-pen living spaces for the pups, and it will continue to expand over the next 3 weeks to essentially consume our entire home 🙂 

Day 8-What Blizzard? It’s Sunny, Warm, and 80 Degrees-At Least in the Whelping Box! (Perspective is Everything)

THE GLIMMER OF POTENTIAL BEGINS TO APPEAR

As you can see by the picture below, it’s hard to remember it’s spring right now……

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But perspective is so important!  We may not be having the nicest weather currently, but hopefully, everyone will be able to settle inside somewhere and enjoy some good music, television, family time or just catching up on their to-do list.  This won’t last forever….at least that is what I keep telling myself day after day after day…… 🙂

Perspective is also important when it comes to assistance dogs. There are all sorts of storylines regarding assistance/service dogs in our everyday world-from those who make training service dogs much more difficult because they try to pass off their pet as a service dog, to those who ask us questions about if assistance dogs are happy and ever get to “just be dogs”, to the dogs who have “made it” and are happily serving clients all over the world, changing their lives and wagging their tails! And let’s not forget the dogs who started in the journey of becoming an assistance dog and for a myriad of reasons were unable to complete THAT journey, but have gone on to lead wonderful lives of purpose as comfort dogs, therapy dogs, and precious pets. The great thing about dogs is that they change lives everywhere they go, and it’s not limited to those in only in the assistance/service dog world! They are truly amazing, and if you haven’t had the opportunity to see that then just take time to stop and observe one day and watch the dogs around you. They read their humans like no one can; they adjust to the changing world around them that’s out of their control with a calm stride and they make others laugh and smile-sometimes they are the only ones that can do this with such little effort!

People ask me why fake service dogs are a problem and I talk to them about how poorly behaved dogs that aren’t qualified to be out in public give ALL dogs a bad name in public places, not to mention the safety factor which is unfair to the dogs who aren’t adequately trained to be in all of those situations as well as the humans who encounter them.  Just like you wouldn’t pay an untrained person to be your doctor or fix your furnace due to safety issues, having people who aren’t trained to handle public situations with dogs is a recipe for disaster in my opinion. Dogs that are put in environments that they haven’t been exposed to regularly can suffer from stress and anxiety, and that can lead to a bad reaction or interaction in a crowd.  One bad experience with a fake service dog that you think is a legitimate service dog will taint the viewpoint of how these dogs serve clients in public spaces.  The more issues that people and businesses encounter with fake service dogs, the more they question us volunteers about the dogs we are training in public. That’s exactly why it takes assistance dogs 2+ years to get enough experience and training to be successful in their careers and that’s why it’s so frustrating for fosters, puppy raisers and volunteers to have to endure the increased challenges of justifying why we have the dogs we are training out in public.  If assistance dogs in training don’t have the opportunity to get out in public and experience all of the things they will need to know about before they go into service, this can decrease their confidence and make them less able to perform their tasks as needed.

As for dogs in training “just being dogs”, I can assure you that the dogs in training that I have personally fostered, short or long term puppy raised or have been a breeder host for have more opportunities, more fun times of play, more one on one attention, more toys (just ask my husband how many baskets of dog toys he begrudgingly has to tolerate in our living room) and more “just being dogs” than other dogs I have owned in my entire life!  We experience life as a TEAM, and they get to enjoy things with me that I never got to enjoy with my own personal dogs.  Movies, restaurants, cafes, parks, buses and light rail, pancake breakfasts and the list goes on!  They’ve allowed me to see the everyday things in my life from a completely different lens and my perspective has changed in ways I could have never imagined!

When I had ankle surgery and was in a wheelchair and on crutches for 4 months, I realized how difficult it was to get places, how hard it was to open doors and how every task for me seemed so much more difficult to accomplish.  I also realized that people are so busy in their lives that sometimes they don’t take the extra few seconds to help someone around them-not wanting to “offend” them by offering help or they are just too busy to stop. But when you watch clients with assistance dogs, part of the difficulty in some tasks gets removed but their companionship also provides comfort, and these dogs draw a great sort of attention that makes people react differently which is so incredible to watch!

And, don’t ever feel TOO bad for a career changed assistance dog; their lives are full of people who love them, families who play with them, and opportunities to continue changing lives!  Many become certified therapy dogs and bring joy to another whole plethora of people!

So, on this blustery winter day, my suggestion is to change your perspective, and feel the warmth of these puppy pics-and just TRY not to smile!!!!! Feeling warm inside from the cuteness of these adorable puppies is a pretty good alternative 🙂

Miss Pink-I just call her heart stealer……

cuteness overload!  Check out the extra skin on the leg of Mr. Red-he’s sure got his Mama Sugar’s extra skin gene!!!!

Sugar just relaxing on this cold blustery day with her beautiful pups!

Mr. Blue getting comfortable

NOW he’s comfortable!

A little snuggle time with Miss Pink

Glimmer

Day 5: The Gift You Can Only Give Once-Puppies of Purpose Have a Busy Schedule Ahead of Them!

Many people love seeing Service/Assistance Dogs when they are working with clients, but often don’t realize the work that has gone into those dogs over their entire lives to get them ready for the job at hand, and the work begins as soon as they are born.  As a whelping home for my first time in 2015, I was a bit amazed at everything that these puppies are exposed to in the early days of their lives which research has proven has a direct impact on how well adjusted they can be as an adult dog!  I also had to learn that holding and loving these puppies is critical, but it doesn’t replace the other things that puppies need to experience; new environments to experience and changing their environments to teach them to adapt to their surroundings, exposure to a whole variety of sights, sounds and smells, socialization with every possible opportunity once they are old enough (but at the very least with me and my husband handling them frequently until they can socialize with others) creating brain challenges for them to keep their neurological stimulation at its very peak so they can transfer that to becoming a dog that loves to work and help with tasks.

Here are the stages of these tiny pups and what they should experience in order to give them the perfect building blocks for success!

The excerpt below is taken from a Healthy Pets article by Mercola and does a great job of explaining the first 8 weeks of puppy development.

5 Milestones in Every Puppy’s Life

Stage 1: Whelp. A whelp is any just-born carnivorous animal. The word is most often associated with newborn puppies. Whelping means birthing; to have whelped means to have given birth.

Stage 2: Neonate. Neonate refers to a newborn pup from day 0 to day 13 of life. Neonate puppies can’t see (their eyes are still closed), can’t hear (their ears are sealed shut) and can’t pee or poop without stimulation (licking) from mom.

They have no teeth, nor do they have the ability to regulate their own body temperature.

These tiny babies depend on mom and their littermates to stay warm, which is why they tend to snooze in furry little piles. Neonates sleep about 90 percent of the time, and when they’re awake, they’re nursing.

Fortunately, they’re born able to smell, which helps guide them to mom’s nipples at mealtime.

The first milk a mother dog produces is colostrum, which contains the antibodies that transfer maternal immunity to help protect the pups from opportunistic diseases during their first weeks of life.

NEUROLOGICAL STIMULATION

Virtually all the energy a neonate’s body generates goes toward growth. They typically double their birth weight during the first week of life. Since they can’t yet stand, they sort of paddle around using their front legs. This soon leads to crawling.
It’s during this time (days three to 16) that its beneficial to institute early neurological stimulation (“super puppies,” as some say) which can oftentimes result in more balanced adult dogs.

The U.S. military did studies on raising puppies, and they found that doing certain exercises with puppies during the time of rapid neurological growth, between the puppies third and sixteenth day of life would increase the pups performance in later life. They created a program called the Bio Sensor program consisting of 5 exercises to be done once a day with the pups. They found that not only were puppies able to cope more with stressful situations, and problem solve better than other puppies, but that they were actually physically healthier with higher cardiovascular performance, stronger immune systems, adrenal glands and heart beats.

They are only done for a brief 3-5 seconds so as to stimulate the neurological functions without stressing them too much.

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Holding them upright encourages neurological stimulation and blood flow


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Holding them upside down for 3-5 brief seconds causes additional neurological stimulation which is different than when they are held upright!


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The supine position has them laying on their back or cradled-I can just imagine those brain cells developing as we go through these exercises!


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Using a Q-tip on the paws and between the pads is a tactile stimulation that can help them be adaptable in future situations where there is a flooring change, a different surface that they need to manipulate, etc. and keeps them learning to be adaptable to their surroundings

 

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Placing the puppies on a cool, wet rag briefly continues to stimulate the neurological connections that they will use as they grow into adult dogs!

Below is a video explaining neurological stimulation by a veterinarian.

Stage 3: Transition period. The transition period covers days 13 through 21 of a puppy’s life. The ears start to open at around day 14, and the eyelids between days 10 to 16. As you can imagine, these events give the pups a whole new outlook (literally) on their world.

They begin to respond to smells and tastes, and their little puppy grunts evolve to whines, yips and barks. By day 15, most pups are standing up, and within the next several days they take their first unsteady steps. At this point, they go from total reliance on mom to a bit of independence.

Stage 4: Awareness period. The awareness period is day 21 to day 28. By 3 weeks of age, pups are using their senses of sight and hearing to learn. They’re beginning to play with their littermates and explore their environment.

This is also the time during which puppies gain some control over elimination and begin moving away from their “den” (sleeping area) to pee and poop.

Stage 5: Socialization period. The initial socialization period encompasses weeks 3 to 8 in a puppy’s life. It’s during this period that her interactions with other pets and people increase, and she’s able to form attachments.

At about 4 weeks of age, mom’s milk production begins to taper off, and the puppies’ calorie requirements increase. As mom gradually weans her pups, they begin showing serious interest in solid food.

As luck (and more importantly, nature) would have it, at 3 to 4 weeks, the canine teeth begin to push through, and a full set of puppy teeth make an appearance between weeks 4 and 6.

Age 6 to 8 weeks is considered a critical time in every puppy’s socialization period. This approximately two-week window is when puppies are most accepting and least fearful of others.

How quickly a pup’s mental development occurs is a direct result of the environmental stimulation she receives during this period. By week 8, most puppies are fully weaned. Puppies need additional, expansive socialization from 8 weeks to 6 months of age to best acclimate to all life will throw at them as adults. At 3 to 5 months, permanent teeth begin to replace puppy teeth, and by 7 months, puppy has a full set of permanent teeth.

Here is a video that I believe explains the process of Super Puppy Training that Whelping Homes perform with their litters to help them have the best possible start in life on their journey to becoming an assistance dog!

 

Day 3-The Foreign Language of the Whelping Box; Strangely Familiar and Yet Totally Brand New at the Same Time

The puppies have been in my home for 3 days now, and what I realize is that although it’s not my first litter,  it’s a whole new world that I have to explore again with new eyes.  Every litter, every momma dog,  every experience, and every puppy is different; and every whine, cry, and pant that I had learned to decipher from a previous litter in my home is now only a casual reference point and I have to learn the “language of the box” all over again.  I have to use what I’ve learned in the past to help guide me on this journey, yet I can’t allow the previous experiences to cloud my judgment for what’s in front of my eyes with THIS litter.

 

A cry from a puppy can be that they are too hot, too cold, hungry, not feeling well, are looking for their mom, or have to go to the bathroom which they need Sugar’s assistance for, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The possibilities are endless, and as soon as I assume I automatically know what it is without exploring all of my options I’ve lost the benefit of fresh eyes to find the real reason for their vocalization.  Honestly, it’s like learning a foreign language in a record amount of time! Some litters love a warm whelping box, while others don’t; some love being with their littermates and others love to be in the far corners of the box away from everything-yet puppies going off on their own could also indicate something might be amiss.  So, you carefully watch and wait for their next move so you can compile the information and then come up with your best guess as to what’s going on and if it’s an issue or just puppies being puppies.

 

 

There’s what the books and the experts tell you about tiny little puppies and then there’s your vision of what you see, your gut instinct, and the interactions between mom and puppies.  It turns you into a detective of sorts until you solve the mystery and you see a reaction in the puppies, the mom, or the environment that tells you either you are right on or try again.  More often, it seems to fall into the latter category, and yet you don’t have the option to get frustrated because being alert to the tiniest of clues is really important. You don’t have time to pat yourself on the back, because a new mystery is waiting just around the corner to present itself for you to solve! The first big hurdle is the birth of the puppies, but sometimes people don’t realize that there are a hundred more hurdles along the way to them becoming 8 week old bundles of joy! Lucky for us, staff is there to guide us along the way with their knowledge and expertise so we don’t have to do the journey alone!

 


One litter in our home loved a 90-degree whelping box and this litter prefers more like an 80 degree box-but the variables are what played into that difference.  Sugar is spending much more time in the box this time around and so they are cuddling with her nice warm body more often; the days have been sunny and the sunlight in the window can warm the room more than if it were the middle of winter; even my choice of waterproof pads and sheets can affect the level of heat that the floor retains which affects their comfort level. All of these things that change are out of my control and so I have to figure out how to solve it differently this time than maybe previous times. We watch the puppies constantly to watch their body language.  If they huddle they might be cold, if they spread out they are too warm, if they cry it could be either or a combination of anything else!

By the end of the night, your mind feels like you’ve spent all day in a college-level course of a brand new language, and tomorrow you get to do it all over again with a whole new language! My brain loves a challenge, so this experience gives me opportunities in thinking “outside of the box” and to be open-minded.  I honestly believe that my experiences in whelping have directly impacted my views of the real world; I have learned to explore options much more freely and to look for solutions that might not be “traditional”.  It’s taught me to appreciate experiences and people, places and things that I may not have previously because you never know how much effort, training, skill or heart that has gone into what you see in front of you!

 

 

Nursing while laying down is EASY!  But sitting up gives you an idea of just how smart I am already!

 

I never get tired of watching the puppies vie for their Mama Sugar’s attention!

Day 2 – The Wonder of Love in Progress

As I sit here during the pre-dawn hours, I watch with wonder at this moment in front of me.  Just 24 hours ago, we were at the Vet Hospital getting an earlier than planned assisted delivery of future assistance puppies.

But now, as I watch with only the light from the streetlights and the heating lamp, I am on the sidelines, watching this beautiful bond being formed between a mother dog and her puppies. I quietly sneak a peek into her private world-where humans aren’t part of the equation.  You would think that she was too tired, in too much pain from the surgery, or too concerned about herself to concentrate any of her limited energy on her litter of 7. But, what I witness is exactly opposite of that; I see Sugar-who with every litter has given it her all in ways I would have never guessed would happen in the canine world! You see her watching the puppies as if she were studying them to get to know them; at the first sound coming from them she immediately reacts to see what the issue is and she offers the only thing she has to make them feel better -herself. And tonight is no different because she searches for them even if she is out of the box for a couple of minutes-wanting me to bring her food into the whelping room area where she will be close to the puppies.  She chooses to only leave the room to go outside to the bathroom, preferring a 4X5 whelping box in the office in our house instead of the freedom of our entire house where she could relax! Now that the babies are here, she knows where HOME for her is!

And her mother’s senses which are laser sharp seem to gain clarity with each litter and each day, like when she finally decides to come out of the box to sleep right at the entrance but wakes up for no apparent reason, goes into the box and walks directly to ONE particular puppy who magically goes to the bathroom only seconds later- and she is right there to clean her baby up!  What is it that tells her which puppy would need her a few moments into the future? Is it a particular scent that gives her direct cues of what she needs to do with which puppy?:  She also hesitates and doesn’t step into the box; preferring to wait for us to come check on her when she gives a little whine so that we can move the puppies out of her way and she can get into the whelping box without incident! She also exhibits this behavior if she is going to get out of the box and puppies are on her.  Rather than jumping up and displacing the puppies she waits for them to be cleared from around her before making her exit.

I sit outside of the box with a sense of wonder at watching this critical bond with her puppies unfolding right before my eyes! I wonder what it must be like for her to wake up and all of a sudden have someone placing puppies on you.  I can only imagine her instinct is so strong that taking care of these babies just seems like another everyday experience that came her way!

Some of those questions got me to thinking about whether scent makes it possible for dogs to ‘smell” their relatives even years after they have been separated.  The studies seem to show that indeed they do!  See the article below for some of the backgrounds on studies done by Cornell University.

picture of article about dogs remembering relatives
Sugar for sure is a natural at this motherhood thing, and the pictures below give you just a tiny glimpse of how evident that is when you watch her with her puppies, the “N” litter!

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Miss Pink having some one-on-one time with her Mama

Mr. Blue showing he knows what he wants and how to get it!

 

Sugar and her puppies are enjoying a sunny afternoon catching up on some much-needed sleep after 2 night shifts!

 

 

Learning Every Day-A bunch of ZZZZZZ’s

Today was the first time I went back to Stanley Correctional Institution since Lyric and Liam left. They were going to get an opportunity to see some of the footage that was shown at the Fetching Ball Gala for Can Do Canines and I was excited to be able to say hi again to the handlers in the program. We also had the added bonus of bringing 4 puppies from the “F” litter (who are Sugar’s grand puppies-their Mom Clover is from Sugar’s first litter ) to them to begin their journey in the program!

Although it was the 4th time I had seen the footage, it still grabbed my heartstrings and brought me to tears. There is something about watching the process of others loving and letting go that gets me every time. And it’s not because of the sadness of saying goodbye, but rather the magnitude of people giving of themselves in order to get a dog to its final destiny. I’ve experienced the part where you say goodbye myself, and I’m not one to say it’s easy, but I’m so thankful that people are able to see themselves through that momentary sadness for the joy that their dedication brings to others-it’s a magical experience to see dogs with their clients and know that volunteers make that happen!

So I was thrilled when I returned today and was equally as excited to see the program handlers, watch their dogs and the progress that’s being made, and I got the opportunity to ask them how they are teaching these puppies such amazing things! I watched the puppies attention to their handler, the obvious bond they have formed even at this young age, and I wished my training skills were remotely as good as theirs! These dogs were on waits/stays all around the room and when their handler called them, they came and found them-and almost all of the other dogs still held their position. I felt honored to be able to watch them train, and I realized that if you stay honest you will realize that you can constantly learn from others throughout your day!

One of my favorite comments I heard while they were training was when I heard a handler talking to his dog and saying “Wait-think about what you’re doing. It’s all about choices.” and when the dog did what was expected, the handler responded “good choice”. I marveled at how that simple interaction could sum up many of life’s moments in a nutshell!

As I looked around the room, I was so happy to have the opportunity to see Sugar’s previous litter, the Z litter-as well as our other Breeding Foster in our home Krackle’s puppies-the X litter! I wanted to hear about how they were all doing, and I loved being able to answer the questions from the inmate handlers about Sugar and Krackle’s personalities, whether the puppies looked more like the moms or the dads, and I loved hearing how happy they were with their pups in training!

This journey continues to amaze me at every turn, and today I appreciated the opportunity to try to comprehend a few of my takeaways from the day: the difficulties of letting go through the eyes of another, the gift of acceptance of ourselves and others, the responsibility to yourself to grow as a human and strive for something greater, gratitude for others to recognize the sacrifices that are made…..and to make sure I always try to keep an open mind and not take another’s journey for granted.

It was obvious; the puppies have grown-but all of us who are involved in this journey have grown equally as much along the way, and for that, I will always be thankful!

Sugar with Blue puppy

Zip as a baby with Sugar

Blue

Zip

green

Zoom

orange

Zag

red

Zing

4th litter without people

The day they came back from Duluth Correctional to go into great start homes

Zing 020718

Zing showing how to “be handsome”!

Beyond the Walls of Stanley-Liam and Lyric Continue Their Journey!

Warden hutch of puppy pictures

The program dogs from 2017 proudly displayed by the Warden’s office!

Today seemed like a day that I was excited for and dreading all at the same time.  I was excited to see Lyric and Liam finish one leg of their journey and have the opportunity to go into their long-term foster homes because that meant they were one step closer to the day they would graduate.  But, I was also dreading this day because I know what it feels like on the day that you are turning in your puppy in training; and even though you know that this is all part of the process and so worthwhile for the final objective or raising assistance dogs, it’s a difficult day none-the-less.  Today wouldn’t be hard for me other than the fact that I would be watching others saying goodbye to their dogs in training, and as a volunteer who has puppy raised, I could commiserate with their feelings all too well.

I saw it as soon as we got into the correctional facility-the handlers were out playing with their dogs and having fun-but the look on their faces told me there was more than just playing going on.  They were processing the day ahead of them, and they were quieter and less conversational which I could totally understand.  Petting the dogs by the handlers was more frequent, the kibble rewards were flowing freely, and other inmates that aren’t part of the program could see and feel the change in the room as well I’m sure.

Changes were already happening; the inmates had packed up the items for the dogs and some if not all of them that were switching cellmates had rearranged their items and moved in with their new roommates.  Change happens quickly here, and I wondered if that was a piece of self-preservation learned over the years or simply a way to move on and start fresh again.

Before we knew it, filming was coming to an end and it was time for the handlers to say goodbye to Lyric and Liam. I watched from a distance, mainly because I knew if I got any closer I wouldn’t be able to contain my emotions which were hanging by a string the way it was anyway. I didn’t want to make the day anything more difficult for the handlers than what they had to already do.  The snuggles with their pups in training were heartwarming and sincere and it was clear what these dogs had done for their handlers.  They had given them the gifts of patience, confidence, a learned discipline in dog training, trust and teamwork and that just was the tip of the iceberg.  One inmate told me that this was the best thing he has ever done with his life and I was amazed to hear this verbal acknowledgment.  It was during those moments I realized the gravity of one dog and a person who is incarcerated.  The research shows that dog programs in facilities like these reduce recidivism and create success in the handlers-and I’m confident that these 4 men will prove those statistics right.  Success in dog training is easily transferred over into many aspects of life because you need the same skills in life as you do training a dog.

It’s more than just a dog.  And turning them over for the next part of their journey is a difficult one.  As a whelping home, we worry about the next step for the puppies that we have loved for their very first weeks; as a great-start home we worry about the next step in their journey for the pups we have loved from the time they were 10 weeks old; as an inmate handler/puppy raiser you worry that the  foster home for the pup you have loved many months or more won’t be able to give the puppy the same amount of time and attention that you have provided every single day since they walked through your doors and into your heart; and as a final foster home we worry whether we will be able to give them all of the skills they will need to have in order to realize the vision of the organization to give freedom and independence to those that are waiting for it.  It’s not easy!  All of this involves stress and whether we can do the job we volunteered to do.  There are moments of doubt and lack of confidence-did we do ENOUGH????  What does ENOUGH look like?

And then I tried to figure out what I could do to share with the handlers a little bit of Lyric and Liam after they left so staff and handlers could see that everything was well.  I figured the best way to do this is to share the comments from other fellow volunteers-and these are for all of the inmate handlers that work with dogs from Can Do Canines!

And although this story is about the Life of Sugar and her L puppies, I don’t forget for one moment that Liam and Lyric weren’t the only dogs that left the program yesterday to start the next step and that next week more dogs will be leaving there.  The feelings I talk about here apply to all of the handlers in the program and my appreciation and gratitude is for everyone who makes that program successful-from Can Do Canines, the Staff at Stanley and the inmate handlers.  It couldn’t happen without all of them!

Throughout this post is a glimpse of Lyric and Liam when they arrived as well as their final day with their handlers…….

Puppy kisses LiamPuppy love tooPuppy Love with Lyric

And the comments from other volunteers in the program show the effect of this program as well:

“Could you tell them that I understand how much they will miss him and I will take good care of him?”

“All of us fellow puppy raisers and fosters know just how they feel….and I hope they know that these pups are going to touch more lives along their journey to their forever client. I’ve post-prison fostered several dogs and each of them has enriched my family’s life. I can always tell they’ve been well loved and cared for, because each dog has been nothing short of amazing, each in their own way.”

” It is never easy to say goodbye! Please be sure the handlers know how much they are appreciated. Their efforts never go unnoticed and we are grateful to have them as part of our big “team.” These dogs are so special because they change clients’ lives, but they always change the handlers’ as well. Wishing Lyric & Liam the best of luck as they begin their next chapter.”

“What a blessing these dogs are for so many people along the way!”

So, if there was any doubt that volunteers are rooting for the success of the Prison Programs or the success of the dogs that pass through them, you can see that volunteers all hope for a graduation at the end of the rainbow!!!

Puppy love makes the world go round

Then and Now…….Lyric as a puppy coming to the PAWS Program

Vernone and Lyric at the appreciation banquet

After 8 months here, Lyric’s all grown up!

My biggest disappointment of the day was that I didn’t get the opportunity to go back in and say goodbye to these volunteer handlers due to the filming schedule, to shake their hands, congratulate them on a great job and wish them well….and I just couldn’t write a blog today without taking an opportunity to do that.

An Open Letter to the Inmate Handlers of Stanley 

Thank you.  You have been willing to open yourselves up to allow me to follow your journey with Lyric and Liam.  You endured the endless questions, the changes, and interruptions in your daily life so filming could take place, and you still managed to keep training the dogs to the highest level to increase their success once they left you and your PAWS program.

You have given them a piece of your heart, and that is the best thing these dogs will use to make you proud.  You have learned to trust in them, and they, in turn, have learned to trust you.  It may not have always been easy, but you didn’t give up on them or yourselves.  That is what maybe impressed me the most because as a puppy raiser previously I had to struggle through the training challenges and had to figure out what I could do to stay positive, continue training and wait for the moment when the dog finally clicks and understands what you are asking them to do.   Sometimes it would have been easier to give up – but with determination comes success!!!

I am so appreciative that you allowed me into your lives to get just a glimpse of life at Stanley within the PAWS program.  You may have been learning many new things, but I was learning along the way as well.  The lessons I’ve learned are dramatic and for me, they are life changing.  I know being a part of a film project is daunting and fun all at the same time.  But filming wouldn’t have been successful if you hadn’t shared your experiences, challenges, and your heart.

On Saturday, the first two dogs from the Stanley program(Harvey and Rio) graduated with their clients. I can only imagine how proud you feel that you had a piece in that story of their success!I can’t wait for the day where you can see Lyric and Liam graduate!  I would love to see the grins on your faces when you see once again that through this program you are changing lives!!!  And my grin will mirror yours-because I know the hard-fought journey for these two beautiful pups required a commitment that many might find difficult to comprehend.

Congratulations to Ronald, DJ, Marc, and Vernon as well as all of the handlers working with dogs!  Wishing you continued success in everything you do on your journey!!!!

Holly

Liam at can do

Doing some tasks after arriving at the organization

Liam sitting pretty

Liam showing off some of his tricks in the Can Do Canines Training room!

Liam sitting pretty 1

The tail wag while sitting up was impressive!

Lyric at Can Do Canines

Waiting for his next command…..with his beautiful eyes focused on the treat!

Lyric at Can Do doing a park

Lyric did a beautiful park while waiting for the filming to begin!