Day 35-Tunnel Vision

Today the puppies got to explore a new feature in their puppy play palace-a tunnel!  I thought that they would be really leery about going into the tunnel and walking through the loud plastic  and tube-NOPE, not these playful puppies!  They immediately ran over to check it out and began to climb through it before I even had a chance to be a dog whisperer and teach them the ropes! 🙂 I had it all planned out; I was going to introduce the new object to them, then I would playfully throw some of their favorite toys into the tunnel for them to go get and I would run to the other side and call them through it with a big Yippee! when they did it successfully.  3.4 seconds after I set the tunnel down they were checking it out and running through it as I sat there realizing that all of my “puppy planning” was for nothing,  But my brief disappointment didn’t last because of my excitement that overtook me knowing they didn’t need my guidance after all and they were secure enough to check out the new toy.

They have gone to 2 meals a day, which in my terms only means twice as much “cleanup”, twice as many potty pads, and twice as many loads of laundry so you’ll forgive me for not being “thrilled” at this new stage:)  Then the breeding coordinator told me that 3 meals a day will start very soon…….FABULOUS…… 🙂 So I had to put my thinking cap on for what I could do to make sure my house didn’t start to smell like a barn or a pet store, and then the idea came to me!  I would use the diaper genie that we have for our grandson and that would become the property of the puppies room for the next few weeks while they are here!  I noticed a difference immediately when I began using it, and I was able to reclaim my house from the smells that aren’t nearly as cute as puppy breath…..

They have grown so much (from their mere 1 lb weights as newborns to over 6 lbs. now-which means they had to “upgrade” their collars.  I bought them new ones, but it’s difficult to find collars that match exactly the velcro strips you chose for them when they were born-so some of them have some “variations” now in their collar color which adds one more set of confusion in keeping them straight!  Blue is now blue and green stripes, purple is now pink, white is now black…….and that is why I’m going collar hunting tomorrow!



Day 34-It’s a Slippery Slope…..

That title sounds like the beginning of a bad conversation, but in the case of puppies, it’s all happy and only describing their new enrichment toy added to their play area today-a slide!


Today, it was all about staying warm in the -20 degree weather, having fun and learning some new confidence!  They checked it out with intense excitement as it came over the x-pen, and then they weren’t quite sure what to do with it, but after a short investigation period they started tackling the task at hand and trying to figure out how to use it:)  It was funny to watch them problem solve which way to go up, whether they really wanted to go up, and how to get back down once they got up!!!

At this point now they have a ramp, a wobble board, a slide, a fun pvc toy with household items dangling from it……..and tomorrow will bring a tunnel and some other experiences!

Play puppies, PLAY!

Day 32-Bark! Who goes there?

Today the puppies are continuing to enjoy their constantly changing environment and we are trying to note the personalities of each one.  Green-the first one to actually howl….and I’m not sure why, but Red and Orange are pretty vocal in their wants! They are all developing into their own beautiful personalities!

Part of the desensitization is exposure to many different noises like I posted in a previous blog; so it was a little surprising to me as I that as I was playing holiday music all of a sudden it happened-Little Drummer Boy came on the speaker…….and the puppies started BARKING! I didn’t know what it was about the drum sound so I thought I would test their reaction a few hours later by playing the same song again.  Sure enough, the puppies for whatever reason began to bark. I was speechless for a moment because I felt like I had exposed this litter to EVERYTHING! But when I stopped to really think about it, there are so many things they haven’t yet been exposed to.  Because of this, I have now added “drum sounds” to the list of exposure items for this week!  The list keeps growing, and if I keep up at this pace I will never make it out of the box!!!!


Clamoring to get to Sugar once they heard her!


Happiness at reaching their Momma!

At 4 1/2 weeks they are chewing like crazy, biting my toes, and getting their beautifully new, sharp, teeth in my sweater. Dress up in onesies continues so that they are less likely to be sensitive to a cape on their back-they still aren’t completely comfortable in them, but they get better each day-and the laughs that it provides me while watching them is valuable in keeping my sanity!

And that’s how this volunteer work evolves; you think that you are going to be “babysitting” a litter of puppies, and then before you know it 4 weeks has gone by and you are completely in love and entrenched in the puppy world, and you have to remind yourself frequently that there is a world outside of your house!

Day 31-Baby, it’s Cold Outside!

The weather has been a little brutal for December and it’s typically what I would expect for the Minnesota cold snap in January-so the puppies have not gotten to experience the outdoors like I had hoped other than a little bit through “jacket excursions” that I mentioned in my blog a couple of days ago.

Unfortunately, puppy brains don’t stop developing just because our weather is not fit for man nor beast (or in this case puppy!) Because of that it’s necessary to come up with as many things as possible that challenge and stretch these beautiful puppy brains so that they can be self-assured, confident dogs which isn’t easy during the winter months.  All of a sudden I feel like I am back in the days of a stay-at-home mom trying to think of any activities I can to keep my active 2 and 4 year olds busy and entertained!  For my first litter I had beautiful September weather and I literally x-penned in most of my entire front yard so that every nice morning Ii set up a lawn chair, brought out any “to do” items I had and we played outside from 630 in the morning until late in the day with only nap breaks inside! Change of plans for this litter…… 🙂


So, today’s enrichment activity is the wading pool and a ball pit!  First I introduced them to the cold wading pool that had been out in our garage-not too cold, but definitely a temperature difference from what their precious little puppy paws are used to in a house that is 72 and “sunny”!  Once they acclimated to the new environment, I added the balls!  At first glance it might seem like a quick, simple game for them and you may wonder “What’s the big deal?” But with that small enrichment activity, there’s many things going on:

  • The puppies are exposed to the temperature difference-good for enrichment
  • Exposure to a variety of textures, from rippled plastic to the round balls they have to navigate
  • New sound exposure-I never realized it when my kids were at ball pits, but these balls are NOISY!  The pups had to get used to the balls moving around and making noise
  • Wading through new material-the puppies haven’t had any experience to date where they had to go “through” a material to get somewhere
  • Climbing-getting in or getting out requires some muscle!
  • Desensitization in general-one tiny ball pit.  This seemingly unassuming little play thing can be scary for the first time!  ( I remember when my kids went into their first ball pit and they started sinking down and I watched their faces go through the first panic stage, then the smile broke out when they realized everything was going to be okay!)
  • General observation for me-this gave me the opportunity to “check-in” on the personalities of each puppy; who was afraid of the experience, who tackled it head on, who wanted to sit back and observe, who loved it right from the start.  It’s amazing how little activities like this can tell you so much about what these dogs are like and maybe what they need to work on.  Because of this activity, I am changing up some of my daily “exercises/training” to individualize it a little more to meet the needs of where each puppy is at.

So, today it’s the ball pit-and I will start brainstorming what activity is waiting in the wings for tomorrow!

In the Twelve Days of Whelping-Day 30 Part 2

With 12 Days until Christmas, it feels appropriate to think of a holiday song that can be sung with the puppies in mind!


Sugar and Mr. Orange getting into the holiday spirit!

Feel free to hum along……..

In the Twelve Days of Whelping, My Sugar Gave to Me:

12    loads of laundry

11    rooms of cleaning

10    hours of playing

9      wrapping presents

8     nail trimmings

7    puppies whining

6    nursing sessions


4     box changes

3    charts to fill

2    floors to mop

and a journey of a lifetime!

Day 30-Part 1: Living in the past-it’s not “just” another litter….

Being a breeding/whelping home connects you to the puppies you have raised for the first 8 weeks in a very special way.  You feel a bond with them even though you don’t great start, puppy raise, foster them or do their final training.  You are a silent partner, rooting them on from the sidelines hoping they become the fabulous dogs you had tried to develop in those beginning weeks. You think about nature vs. nurture and what part you may have had in their development; would they have been the dogs they are regardless of the effort you put into it? You wonder if you did the “right” things when they were puppies to help them become great adult dogs; did you give your whole heart to them for the time they were with you, and was that enough? Being a home for newborn assistance dog puppies is not just a job of feeding them and loving them-for me, it’s a mission of magic.

And then as you follow them because you love to see them grow, change and learn! You start to anticipate the day they will either graduate or become part of the breeding program so that their contributions will continue.

And if you’re lucky you get the opportunity to have a brief encounter with them on the journey with the organization when they are in for final training.  I was fortunate enough to have that opportunity this week while I was in at Can Do Canines picking up puppy capes.  I got to see my first litter “all grown up” at 16 months and I got to take some pictures of them to share:)  (Thank you Can Do Staff!)  Here are 3 of the Spice Girls born in 2015 and on their way to great things!!!




Miss Poppy as a puppy! She was one sick puppy at 4 days old and we spent almost a week nursing her back to health, so seeing her as a full grown dog full of energy and lilfe is a special treat for me to be sure!




Day 29-It’s a Balancing Act!

With the puppies activity and brain development growing every day, it’s time to start “ramping up” their environment.  So, Ken built a ramp and we introduced it to them in the evening!  This will give them added confidence in their steps, will challenge them in their problem solving skills and will create yet one more surface for them to get used to. In addition it gives them a nice, easy way to enter and exit the whelping box. They didn’t let the grass grow under their feet at all when checking it out-I barely got it into the area and placed it over the entry way of the whelping box and they were clamoring up one side and down the other wondering what the new addition was in their area!  It’s so much fun to see what they do every time we add something new to their play area.  We try to keep it interesting by rotating toys and changing up the space so they have something different and engaging to play with and they seem to love the variety!


Exploring their new ramp installation!


They had this figured out in a snap!


I didn’t realize this was the first time they were exposed to wood-they were fascinated!


Lining up for the trip into the box!

They are 4 weeks old now, so we will be increasing their space after tomorrow’s video shoot to include the front entry.  This will double their current space and give them even more room to explore! With that additional space, they will now become enveloped in the family happenings and get used to increased noises, activity, and a little bit more of “real life”.  They are also getting big enough that we are removing the “pig rails” in the whelping box (the frame around the inside so that they have a space to scoot under if Sugar were to accidentally lay on them)

At this point, if it were warmer, they would start going outside regularly for potty breaks, but unfortunately the weather isn’t going to allow that process so we will make it work with the potty pads instead!

It’s too cold for them to walk outside right now, but teaching them new environment adaptation means they get to go out for brief 30 second “jacket excursions” on the “warmer” days (Minnesota definition of warmer)!

And now the fun begins!  They are old enough to slowly introduce visitors into their lives!  They have made it through the critical stages in as close to a germ free environment as possible and now visitors will come to help socialize them so that they are well adjusted to many different people, handling, voices, and situations!  While it’s important to not have TOO many visitors to wear them out or expose them unnecessarily to anything that may make them sick, it’s a critical stage in their development. This is a serious concern not to be taken lightly with puppies that haven’t had their vaccinations yet.  Because of this visitors have guidelines about not exposing the puppies to external germs from dog parks, vets, pet stores and even their own dogs. They will also be introduced to our resident dog Maddie to meet other dogs:)

So, where are they currently in their development?  According to  Puppy Behavior and Development at Dogtime , these are some of the high points of their age:

The socialization stage: Three to twelve weeks

  • A puppy needs occasions to meet other pets and people during this stage.
  • By three to five weeks, play becomes important as a puppy becomes aware of his or her surroundings, companions (both people and dogs), and relationships.
  • The influence of the puppy’s littermates increases at four to six weeks as he or she learns more about being a dog.
  • From four to twelve weeks, a puppy’s interaction with people becomes more influential. With littermates, the puppy learns to play, develops social skills, learns the inhibited bite, explores his or her social boundaries and hierarchy, and improves physical coordination.
  • By five to seven weeks, a puppy needs positive human interaction as he or she develops curiosity and explores new experiences.

Miss Purple with a toy AND a puppy dog tail!


Mr. Orange with his multi colored nose!


Miss White guarding the toy pile!


Clamoring out of the box in the morning for breakfast!

They have now sprouted their bottom row of teeth as well, and by day 45 they should have 28 teeth filling that tiny mouth of theirs! Ouch! soon my hands will have bite marks all over them from the sharp puppy teeth and I will look like I’ve been in a battle with someone and I lost……



Day 28-Curiosity Blooming!

It’s around 9:30am when I am writing this portion of the blog-I am on my 4th load of puppy laundry, and they are busy running around which insures I will have many more loads before the day is done!

They are getting so fun and active!  They come running when they see us at the door of the room, and when we step in to play with them they literally light up with joy!  I love watching their faces and excitement for the new things each day!

As the day progresses, I begin introducing some new things-Christmas has come a little early for them in the way of a large box of toys that I’ve been saving for them!  I have more than enough to keep them busy for their next few weeks at our house, and it’s interesting to see which puppy likes which toy.  Some of them prefer the little bird toy (hunting dog genes I think coming out…..) and others prefer the teeny, tiny, tennis balls.  Purple is definitely ball driven while White is more of a bird dog:)  They can finally wrap their little mouths around the small toys and they are starting to carry them places.

It was also a day to just start the process of putting some shirts on to get them used to having capes on their backs.  Not all dogs are comfortable with this and I would say most if not all need training in this area at a very young age to give them the best shot at not minding the capes on their shoulders and back.

I had fun introducing them to my face today as well!  I laid down on my back and let them crawl all over and explore my face-I think that dogs typically don’t get this type of exposure and I personally believe that this takes the excitement out and desensitizes them as they get older that peoples’ faces are really no big mystery to be all excited about. They were really excited at first and as time wore on, the excitemet wore off and they went to play.  I will continue to do this to see if that helps them regulate at a higher level. Next is vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, train whistles, piano music, and various other noise exposure to help them understand that there is nothing to be afraid of regarding noises.

And, so, as quickly as it began-the day is now over and the puppies are snuggled in their whelping box for the night.  Some days I wonder where the time has gone and then I realize just how little I got done, how much I was in the play area with the puppies, and how happy I am that I was able to prioritize in that order…….. 🙂

Day 27-Do You Hear What I Hear?

I’ve been getting asked a lot about why we are called whelping homes and what that means.  My honest answer is “because that is what the organization calls us”. 🙂  While the term whelping is the process of a dog delivering puppies which we are a part of doing in our homes, the term “whelp” when looked up says “It doesn’t sound as cute as “puppy,” but whelp means the same thing: a baby dog or wolf”.  So that’s the long answer to why we are called whelping homes!  We are the process of helping the dog deliver puppies and we deal with the baby dogs (puppies) until they are ready to go to their training homes!

“The puppies are starting to become more vocal, and they are learning the appropriate times to use their voices!  They are starting to grumble with their playmates while jostling each other around the play area; they whine and yip when I put them in the whelping box for bedtime (hoping I will change my mind I’m sure); and they have the fun “bark and pounce” which is adorable because they can’t quite control the rest of their body and they typically go tumbling somewhere that they didn’t intend to go!


Sugar is increasing her playtime with them as well as her corrections for inappropriate behaviors which is fascinating to watch.  I will sit in a corner of the play area and just observe-and she will watch them playing, decide which one is not meeting her expectations and then she will single them out to start playing with them and guiding their behavior.  I would love to know what is going on in that mind of hers as well as the puppies because it’s very clear that this is not JUST playtime, but rather the beginning of learning how to be a certain type of dog. Her “corrections” include using her paw to stop a behavior, nibbling them, pushing them with just enough energy to let them know who’s really in charge, and she also will nudge them away from a puppy that seems to be the underdog in almost a protective manner.  I realize at this point that I would LOVE to be able to follow a researcher that was working on animal behavior to gain more insight into this area.  I just can’t seem to pull myself away from the activity in front of me!

The paw correction-

The puppies are all making fabulous strides in using the potty pads and it’s now become somewhat of a game for me.  I try to see how many puppies can use the pads successfully when I am in the area with them and I keep stats! (I know-it’s a sad statement of what my day entails, but it’s necessary to keep things interesting in the box!)  Today on three separate occasions I had a 5/7, 6/7, and 7/7 in my success ratio-and yes, I call it MY success ratio because it still does require some active participation by me to teach them where they should be going:) By the time the first litter left my house in 2015, they were 95% potty trained but we had the advantage of the month of September as the training time frame with LOTS of time outside, so it will be interesting to see what this winter litter will be like in that category.  But there is no doubt that I am giving it my very best shot at success!

Miss Purple going over to use the potty pad after playing with Sugar!

With this blog I want to give a BIG thank you to the volunteers who also help with these litters as they grow!  Obviously, staying home and not doing anything for 1 1/2-2 months during this process is impossible, but it’s also understandable that these puppies need a high level of care due to their hopes of becoming awesome service dogs-which means that sometimes my husband and I have activities that we need to attend, ESPECIALLY during the holiday season! So, what do we do when we have to be somewhere but we have a houseful of puppies needing care?  We call on the volunteer village of Can Do Canines! We are so fortunate that volunteers are so willing to help the whelping homes and give us the much needed breaks during this process!  For example, when I was gone this past week and Ken had a business function to attend, a whelping home volunteer came and took the reins for the whole afternoon to make sure Sugar got outside, make sure that she got in to feed the puppies, kept the puppy area clean and gave the puppies some socialization and much more; yesterday when we had a family celebration that was going to mean we would be gone for approximately 5 hours (which of course was over the feeding/dinner times!) another whelping home volunteer came over to help out, and that was after a snow emergency was called!  I sent them an email saying it wasn’t necessary with the bad weather, and yet they said no problem, drove over 45 minutes and showed up so that we could enjoy a family night out! I have always been appreciative of the volunteers in this organization that consistently use their time, talents, energy, and money to make this organization successful but I appreciate them in a completely different capacity after becoming a whelping home! It requires a heightened level of intense time requirement and I’m not sure I could pull it off without the help of other volunteers-and I’m sure the other whelping homes would agree!

It’s interesting, because even my family didn’t understand the difference between raising a litter of puppies and raising a litter of “future assistance dog” puppies.  People sometimes have experience with puppy litters, but it’s safe to say this is a totally different ballgame~but a totally awesome one to be a part of!

So, thank you to all of the volunteers who help to make the process of getting puppies to the next stage of their journey possible!

Day 26-Timing is Everything!

48 hours under our belt with real puppy food and WOW, it’s been a mess! It required an 11pm, 4am and 8am box changing to keep the puppies in a clean environment.

But the story of today is their activity level increasing drastically.  They are awake more, and when they are awake they are drumming up a play date with one of their siblings!
After saying yesterday was a typical day in the box without much of a change, today made up for it!

Yesterday I started putting down potty pads to get them used to the idea of having a set “area”.  While yesterday was hit or miss, today I noticed a definite change in their behaviors and I saw them actually getting up from a nap, going over to use the pad and then going back and laying down!  Not every one of them is that intentional, but I’m seeing a definite increase which I think is absolutely amazing considering they are only 3 weeks old!  I’m not an expert in dogs, but I personally would find it hard to believe that 5 out of 7 puppies went over to the pads on more than one occasion and it was nothing more than luck.

They are actively playing with the puppy play gym that I made for the first litter as well.  They are figuring out how to grab the ropes, how to get inside of it, and how to get back out.  It’s like I’m watching their brains develop in front of me!

Red galloped across the play area today, figured out that the play gym was a great thing, and stole a little more of my heart along the way!

The really fun part is that they are actively seeking me out on a regular basis.  They are starting to try to climb in my lap for a nap or snuggle, they are starting to “pounce” on me in a playful manner and they are staying awake for much longer periods during the day.  When I put them in the pen at night for bedtime, they now are coming to the door and looking up at me with those unbelievably adorable puppy dog eyes.  I have to quickly turn out the light before I succumb and take them all out of the box and play with them for “just a little bit more”.  I have to work hard at reminding myself that what I let them do now could have an effect on what they are like once they get older-that I have to be the one who sets the parameters and insures they follow it so that they can be confident, well adjusted service dogs in training. But let me tell you, that is not easy when I look at them!

Waiting for the humans to come play with him……

Today, Red seemed to be the most animated and he is the first one that has learned a lopsided “gallop” across the play area.  I burst out laughing the first time because he couldn’t stop his movement and went right into the side wall of the whelping pen! He looked stunned for a moment before he turned and galloped off to run into one of his siblings, which I’m sure was a much softer landing 🙂

Mr. Yellow’s motto: Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Miss White has a thing about licking 🙂

Sugar has decided that TODAY is the day that the puppies are ready for her to start playing with them and for her to start teaching them some rules.  She waits for them to walk over her head, (which they all seem to do and I’m not sure why) and now she starts to very lightly nibble on their legs and neck-partly I think a sign of affection and the other part the beginning of dog socialization for appropriate behaviors.  This is why it is so critical for puppies to stay with their moms during those critical weeks.  Research has shown that puppies taken away from their moms before they’ve had a chance to be trained in litter mate and dog behavior are typically not as well adjusted and have more behavior issues.

Something I heard someone say about dogs in your care; They’re singing your praises by their behavior and contentment. So, today I enjoy spending time with them, wondering what their futures hold and how proud I will be as they grow into fabulous assistance dogs in training knowing that I played a tiny role in their journey of greatness!

Sugar keeping an eye on her crew while relaxing in the afternoon sun!

“Please, can you come play with me?  My family is asleep and I’m ready to PLAY!”