(This post is part of a series of posts, please be sure to read the others to learn all about the Roverchase Service Dog Program puppy raising protocols)
The first 7 days of raising puppies are the most wary. I typically take 4 weeks off of seeing clients or going into the office and work from home to care for the puppies full time. I choose to sleep right next to our whelping box for the first 2-3 weeks. Once the puppies are about 7-10 days old, they get a second whelping box beside the bed. However, for the first 7 days, I sleep in the recliner by the main whelping box in the living room. I choose to do this because it keeps things very consistent for the mama dog and the puppies which I feel is really important. I sleep right next to the puppies so I can hear every squeak, noise, and fuss. It ensures that our mother doesn’t accidentally crush or smother a puppy. It helps me know that all the puppies are eating and looking strong. On such a tiny little being, an hour is often a matter of life and death once they begin to weaken. One minute is a matter of life and death if they cannot breath or if they choke. I average about 2-4 hours of sleep each night the first week. I do my best to nap during the day when the puppies are napping. 6 hours per 24 hour period is a lot of sleep for me during this first week.
I weigh the puppies 2-3 times per day to be sure the puppies are maintaining and gaining weight. I supervise every time they nurse to make sure the smaller ones get access to food and the big ones aren’t squishing them away.
The mother is still having a lot of post whelping discharge and has to urinate more frequently (about every hour) and has to be rinsed off several times a day. Bedding has to be changed several times a day. I usually run 2-4 loads of laundry per day during this first week. Here’s a picture of our post-birth whelping box.
Often times a first-time mom is anxious during this first week. She’s still trying to figure things out. Her mental health is extremely important and can effect her puppies greatly. I spend a lot of time sitting with her while she nurses if she’s unsure of what to do. Most of the dogs we select for our breeding program are very, very human focused. It can be very hard on a dog that is used to sitting on the couch and snuggling to suddenly be expected to sit a little away from you in a whelping box. It takes comfort and encouragement for her to feel safe doing this. Outside noises, other household dogs, visitors, and a myriad of other things she’s usually completely relaxed about can now seem very stressful to her. It’s important to keep things calm and quiet.
Even experienced mothers like a nice quiet environment during this first week. If you do have visitors it’s important that they are people your dog has a long-established relationship with and that those visitors don’t have any hopes of actually holding the puppies.
We also require all visitors for the first 6 weeks to wear protective shoe covers. We require all visitors for the first 4 weeks to wear protective body covers as well. Here’s an example:
The first 7 days is also when most of the heartbreak happens if it’s going to happen. Golden Retrievers typically have very large litters. The larger the litter, the more statistical likelihood that you will lose a puppy. We lost one puppy in both our C and D litters. Both of these puppies were classified as “failure to thrive” by our veterinary team. This can encompass a myriad of issues from a puppy that was simply too small to thrive outside the womb to a puppy who has an undeveloped or underdeveloped digestive system. Puppy’s this young fade very, very quickly. They can seem completely fine at your morning weigh in and can pass away before your lunch time weigh in. It’s always extremely emotional and difficult. You’ve spent an enormous amount of time, energy, finances, and emotional investment on preparing for and whelping out a litter. We have a waiting list that spans usually two litters at any given time, so losing a puppy not only means that you are heartbroken, it means someone on your waiting list will have to wait until the next litter and they will also be very sad. Having an amazing on-call veterinary team is extremely important so you can call them for advice at the very first sign of trouble. Here is a photo of our little C litter girl who didn’t make it past the first week due to failure to thrive (digestive issues).
In this first 7 days, the puppies also have their first visit from their personal veterinarian. We are super fortunate to have an awesome vet who is willing to make house calls to our babies to listen to hearts and check everyone over. Here is a photo of our babies with Dr. Jenny Biehunko getting their check up. Our mama-dog also gets a full physical during this time.
Did we mention organization? EVERYTHING is charted! We chart each puppy individually for weights and every single developmental marker. This first week, the charting isn’t too overwhelming. It takes us about an hour a day for a litter of 9. We also do some important developmental handling called Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS). This protocol is 5 simple exercises designed to help the puppies get used to lots of different handling and different feelings of touch. We do ENS protocols everyday for 2 weeks starting when they are 3 days old. This is part of our Puppy Culture protocol, but more on that in it’s own post later.
Even at just 1-7 days old, we are very careful to chart every behavior noted so that we can use that in our overall evaluations to select which puppies will join the training program to become service dogs when they are 8 weeks old.
Here are a few photos of our puppies from the D litter from 1-7 days old: