Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It Takes a Pack to Raise a Puppy, Part I: Uncle Cole

A great mother gets a puppy -- or a whole mob of them -- off to a great start.

But it's not natural that she should have to do it alone.

While the pups work out many of their social principles internally, with puppy-on-puppy interactions, there is no substitute for lessons learned from grown dogs.

Not all of those lessons are about respect, self-control, good manners, and other civilized virtues.

Some of the most important ones are about having fun (with a little thrill of "danger," perhaps), being indulged, knowing that you are widely beloved.

The entire pack here is solicitous and protective towards the puppies. Woe to the errant woodchuck or crow who "threatens" the wee ones as they play on the deck or yard.

Uncle Moe is psychologically incapable of letting it go and romping with tiny puppies. He knows this about himself and withdraws from mayhem. Sophia and Ernie are still kept on the periphery for the moment, because Rosie says so -- she will soon relax this rule. Pip enjoyed them a bit more when they were at the snausage stage.

Cole is, as I expected, coming into his own as the Fun Uncle. The guy who will let you get away with stuff that Mom pops you for. He will feed you candy and swing you around and get you riled up before bedtime and tell scary stories and wrestle.

He had a dress rehearsal with the Indiana Plague Puppies this winter. Those pups came to us at about seven weeks old, and he didn't know their mother at first, wasn't sure what to make of them or what he'd be allowed to do. In time he found ways to have a blast with them.

These puppies are pack puppies. He and Moe probably both half-think that they are the Daddy, seeing as neither ever got the memo about their testicles. It's likely that they have an unconscious sense of their own relatedness, driven by olfactory information about their MHC that shunts straight to their primal lizard brains. (Moe as a biological uncle, and Cole as a cousin, though it's not clear exactly how close.)

This video shows Cole playing with the four-week-old Roseannadannas for the very first time. At first he is afraid to contact them. They might break. He might get in trouble. Best to dance without touching. In less than ten minutes, he is flopping on the grass for them, inviting them to pile on.

Yes, the whole episode was really that silent. Most of the whining you hear is one or more pups in my lap, complaining that I am paying attention to the camera and not puppies. When Cole plays with age-mates, he is very vocal -- sounds positively savage. I don't think he makes a peep here. What does he need to say, with a grin that big?

I was going to edit out Rosie interrupting the play, for length, but decided to leave those moments in. Notice how she comes in and disciplines the pups -- that is diminishing after a week, as they learn to solicit and give respect to her. Also notice how Cole literally fades into the background when she does this. Don't get involved, Dude.

But for sure, be there when Mom lets you out of your room and off grounding, because we are gonna have some fun.

I'm so happy the pups have this in their lives. It will make them richer, more complex, more flexible beings than if they'd been raised by just their dam, with cameo appearances by humans.

I'm even happier that Cole has puppies in his life.

One of the volunteers who cared for Cole during his troubled puppyhood and adolescence told me that, because of his severe intraspecific aggression, they thought that he could go into a home where there were no other pets, and with an owner who would keep him away from other dogs, not take him out to parks or places where dogs congregated. That was the best life they hoped for Cole, and they worried that he was so aggressive to animals that he wouldn't be granted that.

When Pip adopted him, Cole was allowed to be a puppy among adult dogs -- psychologically speaking, for the first time in his life. Now he's getting the immense privilege of playing the junior uncle role in the pack -- a useful station in life that prepares one for full social maturity as a stable, well-adjusted, happy adult.

Monday, August 29, 2011


We are beginning to wean the Roseannadannas.

Force-weaning is unnecessary, and frankly a bit barbaric. Unless a bitch cannot nurse her pups -- mastitis is commonly the cause -- there's almost never a reason to pull them cold-turkey off her milk.* Mother will wean, and the gradual process is part of their physical development and education as social beings.

Rosie feeds her babies when she feels the need to now, not whenever she is with them and they are hungry. This means that she is starting to tell them no. Sometimes Hell No. She's got the clawed breasts and chewed nipples to justify it.

I was reflecting on the advice we trainers all give to owners -- the injunction to, above all else, be consistent.

But Rosie -- their first teacher -- is not at all consistent. Sometimes she will let them nurse, sometimes she won't. Sometimes she just exits stage left, sometimes she is quite forceful and scary in her nipple-denying tactics, even seeming to practice entrapment by not choosing to walk away when she easily could do so. Downright erratic.

Is Rosie then a bad mother? Or are dog mothers a bad template for teaching things to puppies and dogs? Shouldn't we throw out Nature's horribly flawed schematics and adopt the cold perfection of the Skinner box and the dolphin tank?

This begs the question, what is Rosie teaching her pups?

If the lesson was meant to be "You can't nurse anymore," then Rosie would be a mercurial tutor.

What if the lesson is something else?

Perhaps "You are no longer a helpless blind hamster; your needs will not be met before you are even aware of them, ever again. Deal with it."

Or, "You will ask before invading the personal space of a superior being."

Or, "Because I'm the Mommy, that's why."

Or even, "Don't let the door hit ya in the ass on your way to your new home." (Extended goodbye version.)

I think it is the pinpoint edge of the general principle that leads from infancy to full social adulthood: Love, she is conditional after all.

I think unconditional love ends for every mammal the day she bites Mommy's nipple hard enough to hurt. From that day on, we need to control our selfish impulse to atrocity in order to merit care and acceptance. This is a good thing.

So Mommy starts saying no, and we humans, who will (collectively) continue to nurture and guide long after her crucial job is completed, take over a little of her first role as food-givers and contingency-enforcers.

This will be the second litter I have weaned on raw meat, hand-fed. I found the conventional kibble-derived puppy-gruel to be unsatisfactory in several ways -- the mess (smelly, crusty puppies), the excessive competition among the pups, the repeated salvos of attacking yellowjackets, and the gawdawful diarrhea that my vet prescribed "special" food to correct.

I start them for the first few days on "satin balls" -- a rich firm mixture of ground beef (our dog beef has heart and liver in it), eggs, cereal, and some nifty supplements (recipe below). Puppies quickly discover that they love meat, and also that I am made of it. The hand-feeding is an opportunity for them to learn that I love them, but that this love does not extend to allowing them to feast on my living flesh. (For starters.) They don't learn to sit for a cookie or take a treat politely at four weeks of age -- they learn the groundwork for those and every other shred of good manners they will later acquire.

I mentioned posting the recipe for satin balls in the clip. This is the one I use, with a nutrient analysis. The Knox Joint Gelatin /Osteo Bi-Flex is harder to get than the TEN packets of gelatin in other versions of this recipe, but much cheaper.








Ground beef, 70% lean



1361 g

651 g


1089 mg

Total Cereal

Box (12 oz)





1134 mg


Box (18 oz)






Wheat germ

Jar (12 oz)





133 mg

Olive oil (vegetable oil)

1 1/4 cup





3 mg

Unsulfured molasses

1 1/4 cup





1872 mg

Raw Eggs

10 large





265 mg

Knox Joint Gelatin

(Osteo bi-flex nutrajoint)

3 oz **






Flaxseed Oil

1/4 cup














15# mixed


1,813 g

980 g

932 g

4496 mg

Amounts per pound


121 g

65 g

62 g

300 mg

Per one-ounce ball


8 g

4 g

4 g

19 mg

Whiz the cereal in the food processor or smash it up by stomping on the inner bag. I like the cereal to be very fine, and even food-process the dry oatmeal.

Mix all ingredients in a really big bowl. Get in there with your hands, a spoon will not do it. Add some more eggs or a little water if too stiff.

Roll into little balls and freeze, or freeze big clumps in ziploc bags.

Puts weight onto sick, starved, parasitized, and recovering dogs, and poor keepers. Good during times of stress -- such as nursing, hunting, SAR missions. Not for fat dogs!

* I have been reminded that it is common in certain breeds to take Momma away from her own offspring before she kills them. Literally. I consider this a flashing neon sign of rather vulgar proportions in the window of Nature's shop that says "DON'T MAKE MORE OF THESE."

** The analysis for the Osteo Bi-Flex Nutrajoint / Knox Joint Gelatin is not quite on -- when I did this analysis all I had was Knox plain gelatin, which is what you see in many satin balls recipes. This stuff has more calcium and less protein than plain gelatin. I had a hard time finding it, finally sent PC to a K-Mart in Ross that had it.

Snapshot Sunday: Command Post Compliant

Like her mentor, Lilly, Pip is a great command post dog.

She can recharge her batteries, schmooze, and keep it all low-key if I get pulled into management tasks.

Puppy blogging resumes this week. We've been a little oversubscribed since Tuesday. PC and I and our friends and family and pack have had just enough time to care for the Roseannadannas' emerging social needs, not enough time to report on their adventures.

This is why we breed more working dogs.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Macro Monday: Moving Day

Rosie thought she had it tough three weeks ago -- six whole puppies to move into the living room, and with only one human to step 'n' fetchit for her.

At the PARSEC picnic this Saturday, someone spotted these lovely golden ants on the march. We quickly ascertained that they were moving house, from under a hydrangea in a landscape island to beneath a sidewalk slab about 12 feet away.

I got this with my iPhone. There is some quality loss from the YouTube conversion -- not sure why. The original is much sharper.

Notice how the larvae and pupae only go in one direction. The ants moving left to right are returning to the old nest for more kids or stuff to shift.

I think The Vandals really capture the energy of ant moving day.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Use Names

When they go to their permanent homes, the Roseannadannas will get their permanent names.

Each will have a registered name and a regular name, chosen by their new families. Their registered names will begin with "Brandywine" and then generally be or contain their regular names. Nothing too fancy. They won't be trotting circles for the approval of some schlub in a monkey suit, so there's no need for chest-thumping when naming them. Just something unique that will make it possible to identify them in pedigrees. There are just eighteen possible registered names that their new humans cannot choose from, so it's pretty wide open. And they can call the dog whatever they wish. That's his real name, the one to which he answers. One does well to consider this task weighty, but not solemn.

Every burrower, each flier
Came for the name he had to give:

Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
Not yet sunk to primitive.

Meanwhile, they need baby names, Earthsean use names, as they learn to become individuals.

So, some introductions.

Jane is a petite little girl, either black and white or very dark seal. She can howl. It doesn't sound exactly like a howl, but she throws her little nose up when she does it, and this summons her mother.

Bill is the smallest boy. He is seal and white. He is going to have totally adorable big freckles. Right now he just looks like he has a dirty face. He already shows a beautiful structure. A cuddle pup.

Laraine is a dark-faced beauty -- that little white dot on her head will be gone soon. She's a big girl, just like her Aunt Tia, whom she resembles. She's one of the two most adventurous of the pups.

Garrett is a big boy, who will look like his grandma Pip. He's also an adventurer and the first to conquer the walls of the now-defunct Moses basket.

Gilda is a petite thing who will look like her Mom, except for her coloring -- dainty limbs and ultra-feminine head and face. She is the blackest, glossiest black. She loves to snuggle.

Chevy is the biggest puppy, nearly twice as big as Gilda. He likes to talk, and growl, and issue complaints. He resembles his Uncle Moe and (social) Uncle Cole. So if Cole is Mini-Moe, Chevy is Micro-Moe. He's already a little pisser, and I am already working on extra conditioning with him, because he's going to be a handful. He may also be a very dark seal.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Click little speech balloon icon for captions.

The Roseannadannas turn three weeks old today, leaving behind the label "transitional."

They have met and been handled by ten people, including two (older) children.

They've had a field trip outside every day in the past week when it hasn't rained. On each trip they are exposed to a slightly more challenging area (slope, undergrowth, and "obstacles" getting increasingly challenging.)

They are still riding in their Moses basket to their night crib in the bedroom closet, and back downstairs in the morning, but it is getting really heavy, and sometimes I have to sway it a little to keep them from climbing out.

They've experienced, I think, seven substrates, not counting human laps, etc.

They now rush the the front of their containment field when they see a person. Rush laps. Kiss faces, and try to get to faces to kiss them.

They know and trust Gramma Pip and Uncles Moe, Cole, and honorary Uncle Ernie. Aunt Sophia -- a proven good puppy Auntie -- is still at more of a distance, because Rosie says so. The grown dogs take on different roles. Moe is vigilant and protective, but increasingly keeps his distance as the pups become ambulatory, just as he did when Rosie and her siblings were tykes. Cole blocks Sophia and either blocks or distracts Ernie when Rosie starts getting unhappy about him. Pip would totally take over if Rosie would let her. She's very relaxed and matter-of-fact with the babies, just casually nurturing them, and they respond to her as if all puppies have a Gramma to babysit them, and it's just automatic for a puppy to grok that.

I'm just feeling little teeth under the gums now. Nursing is about to get a lot less fun for Rosie.

They are beginning to play with one another, soft toys, and parts of their mother, and to gum on humans in a way that suggests mischief or piranha-fish rather than suckling attempts.

Their new day pen is a 4'x6' space bounded by 16" deep (high) Closet Maid wire shelving* zip-tied at the corners. Big enough for a person to lie down and snuggle inside. It is half carpeted and bedded, half newspapers. They went to the newspapers to eliminate literally within seconds of being set down on the carpet remnant. They do this en masse when they wake up from a nap, even though the newspapers are slippery and hard to toddle on, to say nothing of hard to squat on.

For a completely raw video, taken with some smudges on the lens, of their first time outside on grass, look here.

* One of the few human constructions that I am convinced will survive global nuclear annihilation. Based on my observations during Katrina recovery search.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bye Bye Baby(hood)

With the appearance of all their tiny peepers over the weekend, the Roseannadannas are officially no longer neonates.

They've now entered the week of their life that has long been relegated to, in essence, "miscellaneous" or "other" or puppy limbo -- what behavioral researchers call the "transitional" period, prior to the explosion of learning and brain pruning between the ages of three to twelve weeks.

(Select little speech balloon to view captions)

As neonates, they experienced three different puppy dens and a Moses-sized wicker basket. A couple days after the first Moving Day, Rosie decided that she didn't want to give up the company of the rest of the family in order to care for her puppies. So, until they start eating solid food, they all get loaded into their Moses basket at night and come upstairs to bunk in my bedroom closet. Most mornings they get breakfast in bed -- a chance to imprint on human scent, snuggle, bump into Uncle Moe, and occasionally plop off the edge of the bed, lemming-fashion, and promptly fall asleep on the rug. Then, downstairs to the day den.

Their eyes opened precociously. They are sometimes getting their feet underneath themselves. I'm hearing proto-barks and liquid little growlettes among the squeaking, crying and puppy whale song. They recognize the existence of people and toddle closer, even climb into laps. They are great climbers; whenever I didn't provide lumps and bumps and texture changes in the puppy den, Rosie would heap the bedding into an infant monkeybars structure.

They are rather relaxed about handling. I'm still looking for that orienting reflex that allegedly "forces" a young puppy to right himself when he finds himself saluting the sky. Their reflex on being picked up and put in nearly any position is to go slack and fall asleep. They especially love being cradled.

If altricial infants can be said to "imprint," they have been imprinted on the scent and touch of human beings and the rest of their dog family, a great springboard for multi-species socialization.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Photo Phriday: Oh Hai!

Ten days old. Precocious peepers.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Brain Breakfast

Old wive's white-coats' tale -- you can't teach a puppy anything before his eyes open.

No less a pair of authorities than Scott and Fuller proclaimed it, more or less.* After all, neonatal pups are blind, hear poorly, and don't get around all that well. Terrible at mazes. Nevermind that their little noses can lead them to the biggest nipple in their dark, warm world. Humans are a bunch of sight snobs. Worse than our hangup about thumbs.

Michael Fox** discovered that neonates could be conditioned to localize the scent of anise, but essentially concluded that this was as far as it goes.

Jebus Christmas -- they are living, growing beings. They don't just wake up from a coma at three weeks of age. Shit is happening.

Differential equations and whistle commands -- save it.

Neurological connections, resilience, trust, persistence, scent-imprinting -- now we're talking.

While the neonates' nervous systems are pruning and strengthening connections, their immune systems are also beginning to develop under the protection of mother's magic colostrum.

Interestingly enough, the same kinds of mild challenges can strengthen both body systems, just as massive insults to one can throw the other out of whack. (The immune system/nervous system nexus is huge and unappreciated. The New Agers basically ate the white-coats' lunch on this one, and it will be a while before those who apply the scientific method sheepishly catch up and distinguish the valid information from the moonbeams.)

Our "program" for imprinting and stimulating neonatal puppies is mostly the terrible chore of picking up little grunting sausages for snuggle time every day. I know! What we breeders sacrifice. Zrrrbting pink bellies, nibbling tiny toes, smooching little schnozzes -- oh the humanity.

But we do some extra stuff, too. We get a head start on the "Rule of Sevens" and make sure that the pups experience different surfaces in the whelping box. (With this litter, Rosie is intent on making sure they experience four or five different dens in the first two weeks -- still fighting that battle.) We create little moraines under their blankets, so that puppies must climb obstacles to reach the milk bar. (Or Rosie bunches the bedding into Mount Pupali and really gives them a workout.) As soon as Momma allows, pups are touched and cared for by their relatives -- Gramma Pip and Uncle Moe are already cleaning pups. And we do "Superdog" early neurological stimulation -- a little first taste of challenge for the puppies' developing brains and nervous systems.

The neonatal exercises
arose from the DoD's "biosensor" program -- an attempt to breed and develop a better military working dog -- in the 1970's. The "Superdog" breeding, developmental, conditioning and training protocols were mostly cloaked in obscurity -- possibly secrecy -- but a few consultants, including the late lamented Cap Haggerty, brought results and protocols out into the light. While the program itself was not a success -- whether due to errors in breeding selection, failure to follow up with appropriate socialization, training shortfalls, or the interaction of all three -- there was a general consensus that the neonatal conditioning, once initiated, improved the results within the program.

It takes only a few minutes a day. Used as directed it does no harm, and may do considerable good.

I've never seen photographs or video of the process, so here you go. Apologies for the poor video quality -- lighting is poor in our living room, and my video camera batteries were all dead, so we used my regular camera. Cutting off the puppies' heads is a YouTube issue -- they were properly framed in the original. My assistant didn't feel confident panning and zooming, so we put the camera on a tripod. And I wasn't sure that it was properly recording audio, so I didn't narrate what I was doing.

I know, I know -- paint drying. But it is fast-drying paint.

Some important points. No puppy is in any given position for more than five seconds. And you only do this once a day. (We couldn't do a second take yesterday for this video.)

One isn't evaluating puppies during this exercise. Whether puppy sleeps or squirms is of no consequence. This is neurological stimulation -- a little bit of challenge that the puppy would not normally get.

Two things I've noted over the course of five days:

• The puppies are responding much more vigorously to the head-down position, and are squirmier in general.

• The puppies are dramatically relaxing in the belly-up position, a little more each day. I don't know whether that can be attributed to the short stimulation sessions, or if it is due to all the snuggle time they spend in this position, in a lap or tucked under someone's chin. Their epic six days of experience on the part of the planet that is not the inside of their mother is already overriding their programmed reflex to right themselves when tits-up, at least when the touch and smell of a human being is part of the equation. This will stand them in good stead in their lives with people, no matter what jobs they hold.


* "Early in our observations of newborn puppies, we noticed that they did not seem to learn by experience. A puppy would fall to the edge of the scale platform, fall off, and begin to yelp in distress. When placed in the middle of the platform, it would do the same thing over again ... Some recent experiments (Stanley et al 1963) indicate that the puppy is capable of some degree of slow learning with regard to sucking. A puppy which is given milk after sucking a rubber nipple will eventually begin to suck more often than a puppy which is not so rewarded, and one that is given quinine instead of milk will eventually refuse to suck the nipple at all."

Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, 1965, pp. 87-88.

** Before he went all woo-woo.