I can't emphasize the importance of the first 8 weeks enough. The obvious reason is the health benefit from being with mama. But beyond nursing, there's the social aspect. What I do for the first 8 weeks lays the foundation for the rest of the pups life socially. I take this responsibility very seriously. Pups learn quickly what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in their little pack instinctively. Part of my job as a breeder is to provide them a solid foundation emotionally to thrive in their human pack on their own. Instinct drives them to stay alive the first two weeks. They can't see or hear until about 2 weeks. They rely on smell and instinct to find mama and eat. Mama cleans them to stimulate potty and she cleans up their poop. Mama keeps the 'den' nice and clean by instinct. Both mom and pups are driven by instinct for the first couple of weeks. It's super important that I handle the pups as much as possible. I want them to be acclimated to someone touching them all over from the get-go. Oftentimes I take phone calls while sitting with them so they can hear different voices and I keep a radio playing in the background. I'm constantly in there with them doing something. At about 5 weeks I set up a play pen in my living room away from their 'den'. The playpen will have a crate, a potty turf, food & water bowls and toys. I bring 2 pups at a time into the playpen. I want them to experience the sights and sounds of a regular household. The TV, doors opening and closing, the vacuum, teenagers shouting from their bedrooms, the neighbors dog barking, car horns, the doorbell etc. This is vitally important to their social development. It also lays the groundwork for crate training and potty training. I also introduce the collar at this time. A tiny breakaway collar is perfect. Each pup gets a couple of hours a day in the playpen. My goal is to lay the foundation for an emotionally balanced pup, well prepared for life with his new family. I believe these early life experiences is a vital contribution to their development and last a lifetime. At or around 6 weeks I introduce them to the bathtub and blow dryer. Very tepid water and very low setting on the dryer. I want them to experience the feel of the water and the sound of the dryer. I move slowly and hold them gently yet firmly so they can relax and not be fearful. I encourage as many visits as possible from the new families during this 8 weeks. I also enlist friends and family as puppy cuddlers. The sights and sounds of a living room full of people with puppies running around, chasing balls, carrying their toys, interacting with each other, using the potty turf all contribute to a balanced pup. I spend many hours preparing my pups for life in their new homes. I firmly believe what I do here in these 8 weeks is irreplaceable. I obviously take pride in my puppies confirmation and bloodlines with genetic testing, dna profiling and the like. But my greatest achievement is developing a puppy's mind. Aussies are one of the most intelligent and most athletic breeds on the planet. They can literally do and learn anything. But it requires a healthy, well-balanced, thoughtfully designed puppy-hood. I am their pack leader and they depend on me to provide just that. They need to be ready and able to bond with their humans, respect their humans and communicate with their humans. I always encourage puppy classes for obedience and basic manners with their new families. Educate yourself. Learn how to be the alpha. Learn how dogs give and receive information. From there, the sky is the limit with an aussie.
The amount of effort that goes in to picking a female that will be producing the next generation is mind boggling. I will write about that one day in detail. But for today, I want to talk about taking care of mama before, during and after pregnancy. The health of the mama is vital to the health of the babies. Her body will give everything she has to the pups. Keeping her fit and happy is my number one concern. Above all, my girls are my best buddies and their well being is my top priority. I consider them athletes so I treat them as such. Long before pregnancy I build them up with the best food and supplements. Food is the foundation. That doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive. To me, each bitch is different. Finding the right food is critical. They are individuals and what works best for one may not be what the other one needs. So I look at them individually and choose accordingly. As puppies, I start them on Purina. Purina has always produced a great puppy chow. From there, I watch their bowel movements, appetite, energy level, coat texture and weight. Purina One Lamb and Rice is my go to once they outgrow puppy formula. Purina Pro Plan Lamb and Oatmeal and Science Diet are also my favorites. There are so many good brands out there to choose from. None of mine are big fans of chicken and rice. They prefer lamb and rice, lamb and oatmeal, bison or salmon, anything but chicken. I never buy off brand or cheap food. No Pedigree, no Beneful, no Rachel Ray, no Alpo, not even the Purina dog chow in the green bag. Although, years ago, Purina in the green bag was a great food. I don't know what they changed but it's just not what it used to be. I switch up flavors when I think they have grown tired of the same ole same ole everyday.
NuVet Labs makes a great daily vitamin for every age. Adequate exercise is super important as well as mental stimulation in the form of learning tricks or puzzles or anything that makes them think. I like fetch with tennis balls and also agility jumps. I try to coordinate her annual vet check up right before breeding. Her vaccines will cross over and give the pups a little bit of a head start of protection.
Once breeding has occurred I increase her caloric intake by adding some canned food. One half can to her dry food at each feeding. When her due date is about 2-3 weeks away, I pull her away from the group. I don't want her rough housing with her friends. Exercise is nice and easy walks. No jumping but digging in the sand box is always allowed. I keep plenty of chew bones available. I keep a very close eye on her. I am with her during delivery and I don't let her eat the placentas. I cut the cord and put the placenta in a trash bag. There's no advantage to letting her eat it. I have found it gives her diarrhea and that's just unnecessary. I make her a big meal for afterward. Typically, I will add oatmeal, pumpkin and veggies to her dry food. Maybe add some beef broth to season it up good. For the first 3 weeks of nursing I add a calcium supplement. Ask your vet for dosage. I add a little ground flax seed as well. Brown rice is always a go-to as well. I will feed her as much as I can get her to eat. I watch her bowel movements to the point of obsession. I keep an eye on her milk production and boobies as well. If something looks amiss, a trip to the vet is in order. I also watch her energy level. She needs a little sunshine everyday but still away from her friends. No rough housing. I follow her lead as to when she's ready to start weaning. The first sign is she stops laying down to nurse. I trim the pups nails at 3-4 weeks because they get so sharp and it's painful to nurse. I deworm her and the pups at 2,4,6 and 8 weeks. Around 4 weeks old I introduce the pups to a puppy chow mush made with milk supplement. Mama typically really likes this too. By 5 weeks, I switch to water to make the mush. By 6 weeks, the pups aren't nursing much at all. But I continue to follow mama's lead. She can nurse as much or as little as she wants. I weigh the pups every week to make sure they continue to gain weight. Once mama has mostly weaned the pups, I will let her outside to play with one friend at a time. Sometimes she just likes to sit in the sun for a bit. The pups start to go to their new homes after 8 weeks. Mama will go with the pups for their final vet check up at 8 weeks and if there are any issues we need to address we get it taken care of.
I will continue to keep her caloric intake pretty high over the next several weeks and slowly build her exercise routine back to prepregnancy.
Mama will bounce back fairly quickly when she's had everything she needs before during and after pregnancy. Bringing new life into the world is awe inspiring and I am always humbled and blessed to be a part of such a wondrous moment.