Transitioning to the bigger play pen:
Once the puppies are 3.5 weeks old (or between 3 and 4 weeks old depending on the litter) we transition them to the bigger puppy playpen area. This area is in our livingroom, which is just off our kitchen/dining room area. So it is a busy part of our house that make the puppies a big part of everything that goes on in our house.
All of our puppies will be introduced to a litter box. We use litter boxes to teach the puppies that it is best to go in one place to potty and that place is not near your sleeping area, play area or eating area. We fill each litter box with pine pellets. Transitioning puppies to a litter box takes time and patience. The first couple days we transition them, I completely clear my schedule. We set up the litter boxes with only a small area for play and the crates and eating area. I put each puppy in the area one at a time directly into the litter box. Then I basically spend most of the day in the living room. Each time a puppy starts sniffing around or turning like they need to potty. I pick them up and place them into the litter box. Doing this consistently for two days, your puppies will get the idea very quickly and you will find they are going in the litter box 90% of the time within a week. A couple tricks I use are to disinfect any area where they have an accident with bleach water so as to remove any scent and to only remove the stools from the litter box for the first few days, leaving the urine smell. After they get the idea what the litter box is for. I remove all the litter boxes once a day and disinfect them thoroughly and replace all the litter. Then spot clean throughout the day. Once they get past the first few days and are going consistently in the litter box, we expand the play area much bigger to give them more room. Litter training has made our puppies understand that they need to go to the potty in the same place and that place is not where they sleep, eat or play, so they transition so much easier to pottying outside in their new homes. For more on potty training.
We have one crate for every puppy when we transition them to the bigger puppy play area. We start their transition slowly though. They will be introduced to a few crates once they go to their new play area.
At 3.5 weeks : The crate doors will be left open, so they can go in and out as the please and explore the crates.
At 5 weeks old: We will start putting two to three puppies in each crate for a couple hours at a time once a day.
At 6 weeks old: We will start putting two to three puppies in each crate overnight from about 11PM until one of them starts crying to be let out. This usually extends to 5 to 6AM by close to 7 weeks old. It is important to make sure that you take all food and water away from the puppies for at least 2 hours before you put them into the crates at this age, as they have very small bladders and won't be able to hold it that long, so need their bladder depleted first.
At 7 weeks old: We start putting the puppies into their own individual crates every night from 11PM until 5 to 6AM. We will go out to them if there is any crying in the night and will talking soothingly to them and sit with them, but we do not remove them from their crates unless ofcourse they seem distressed at all. Usually by 7.5 weeks old they are still asleep when I go to wake them up in the morning to let them out and they still go to their crates on their own during the day for a nap.
For more on crate training once they go home.
All of our puppies are on TLC Puppy Food. We highly recommend that food and start them on that food pureed with Esbilac at 3.5 weeks old. Our puppies will slowly transition from their food being mushed up at 3.5 weeks old, to completely dry food at 7 weeks old. We slowly mush it less and less and always make sure every puppy is on their dry food for at least 1 week before they go to their new homes.
Once our puppy go to the expanded play area (usually around 4 to 4.5 weeks old) they also get introduced to our activity center. We have an activity center made of toys hanging from pvc pipes that holds dozens of toys for the puppies to play with. We make sure to change the toys out often introducing many new toys all the time. This works as a great way to stimulate the puppies but also to have many toys in the area without all of them ending up in the litter boxes and needing to be washed every few hours. I still have many toys loose in the play area that the puppies can drag around and put in their crates, etc. but the activity center is something that the puppies love. We disinfect all toys that are on the floors once a day and the activity center toys every couple days.
Socialization is one of the most key things we do here. We use many different techniques of socialization, but the primary one with regards to our whelping and rearing areas is proximity to the family. Our puppies are immersed in our day to day activities which is very important to us, as they have such rapid brain development and social stimulation during the first 8 weeks of life, that if they don't get the proper socialization that they need they won't be as well adjusted moving into their new homes. We take pride in knowing that our puppies are given the best first start this way. For more depth to our socialization techniques.
Dam has access:
Our Dams always have access to their puppies at all times. If you look at our puppy play area there is always a place that the Dams can get into the puppy pen. We use a Kuranda Bunk Bed (on the right side of the first picture below) so that our Dams can jump up and go in with her puppies anytime. She freely goes in and out of the pen all day. It is important for our moms to be with her puppies as she sees fit. Once they get to be over 4 weeks old the dams don't want to be in with the puppies as much and spend a lot more time with the humans in the house, but the puppies still need their mom through the day for periodic meals and for proper socialization.
We do a lot of different things to desensitize the puppies to stimuli they will see once leaving our home. This list includes (but not limited to):
Bathing: We bath the puppies twice a week to get them used to the bathing process.
Blow Drying: Every time we bath the puppies, we also blow dry them so that they get used to the feeling of the blow dryer when they get groomed.
Ears: We play with their ears often and intentionally put our fingers in their ears and pull the little hairs out. This gets them used to this being done for the rest of their lives to prevent ear infections.
Nails: All our puppies get their nails trimmed weekly. We do this to get them used to the feeling of getting their nails trimmed. ENS also helps with this.
Grooming: We use motorized toothbrush turned on against the puppy to mimic the feeling of the vibration of the trimmer used to groom them, once they are old enough. We also use the actual trimmer to do sanitary trims on their bum a couple times before they go to their new homes.
Car Rides: We take the puppies on a couple car rides before they go to their new homes. This gets them used to the feeling of the car. Dogs don't get car sick, they more often than not get sick in the car due to anxiety with regards to the car.
People: Our puppies are exposed to all different types of people. Men, women, young children, older children, adults and when we can elderly. This makes them adjust better to different types of people.
Adult Dogs: Our puppies also get time with the other adult dogs in our home besides their mom. We do regular one on one time through the day with each puppy, during that time they get to play with the other dogs and also learn from the other dogs.
Couch Time: If we are watching a movie as a family or having any kind of couch time, we will take turns with the puppies snuggling with us. As much as it is important for puppies to learn in a social dynamic with each other, they also need one on one down time with the humans in our house.
Vacuums, Brooms and Mops: We regularly use the vacuum, broom and mop around the puppies to get them used to the sounds and movements.
Loud noises: It is easy to do loud noises in our house with three young boys, but we also will play different sound tracks with different noises on them to have the puppies learn to deal with loudness or unexpected noises.
Music/Television: We often will have different media on even when we have to go out for a couple hours. We will leave something on for the puppies. We also make sure that the puppies get lots of silent time too, helping them adjust to different households they will go into.
Newborn puppies are born in our Durawhelp Boxes and raised there for the first 3 to 4 weeks depending on the litter. We usually have our whelping bed in either our bedroom or in our office. This is strategic because it is important for the Dam to have privacy from the other dogs when her puppies are this small, so that nobody gets hurt, but both of these places are places where the puppies still get a lot of interaction as well. We start a lot of socialization at this age as well, including ENS at 3 days old.
Key things in the first few weeks as far as set up are:
Good whelping bed pads:
We always prioritize the type of footing we have in our whelping beds. We personally use durawhelp pads. These pads offer good traction for our puppies, which should lower the environmental factors contributing to Hip Dysplasia and other joint issues due to it not letting the puppies slip constantly when they are learning to get their feet underneath them. We know that joint issues are not all genetic, so we want to give our puppies the best start possible by making sure that the environmental factors are minimized. We have seen a huge difference in the time that it takes for a litter of puppies to learn to walk and get their feet underneath them with this pad as well. It also is highly absorbant, so the puppies always remain dry and clean. Another great feature is that it has velcro on the corners so that it is harder for the Dam to pull the bedding up and potentially bury a puppy.
Puppy rails are important to minimize the risk of the puppies getting accidently laid on by their mom. The rail leaves just enough room for a puppy to get behind mom in the event she lays down close to the edge of the bed.
Toys are introduced once their eyes are all open. They don't pay much attention to the toys at first as eating is usually more the focus at that age, but we introduce new toys regularly to get them use to new stimuli all the time.
I use puppy pads from two weeks old until they move to the bigger playpen between 3 and 4 weeks old. The puppy pads provide a place for the puppies to learn to go to one side of the pen to pee and not just pee anywhere they want. The puppy pads usually take up about 1/3 of the whelping bed at this point. This gets them ready to move on to the pine pellet litter boxes.
A very important part of raising puppies is to take their weight regularly. We weigh our puppies daily for the first week, then weekly after that. Then we chart their weights based on previous litters. This first helps us to know that each puppy is getting enough from their mom's milk because they are gaining each day. If they are not gaining sufficient weight we will make sure they get additional time on their mom and if needed supplement them. We also use these weights as they get older to give an estimate of adult size. Through carefully comparing their weight to their littermates week to week, plus what other puppies in previous litters weights were at that age and then compared to adult weight, plus considering the parents weights and grandparents weights, we give our best estimate of adult weight. Unfortunately, we can never guarantee any adult weight. Most of the time this method works, but weights can vary drastically in a litter.
Crate training from 7 to 8 weeks old each in their own individual crate.
What does it look like to grow up at Kent Family Farms?
First introduction to puppy play area.
From 2 weeks old to 3.5 weeks old
Newborn Pictures of our Girls with their puppies in their Whelping Beds
Expanded puppy play area once litter training is going better