Thoughts on Puppy Development


I’m fostering a (heartworm-positive) mama hound and her seven puppies for one of my favorite breed rescues, the American Black and Tan Coonhound Rescue. It’s my first foray back into puppy-fostering since the epic Great Dane mama and litter of 11 fostering experience, which wiped me out in terms of time, energy, and even spare cash for a while. After that litter, which came to me underweight and sickly, and had to undergo treatment for coccidia and giardia, I took a break from fostering puppy litters for a while.

But I couldn’t resist this bunch: They came from an open-admission shelter north of me by 90 miles or so, and were “pulled” by the ABTCR, whose Western-U.S. coordinator is about 90 miles south of me . . . I was in the middle, see? I had to help!

Thoughts on Puppy Development

The mom had come into the shelter in early October, super skinny and yet obviously pregnant, with grossly long nails – and a heartworm infection. She had her pups in the shelter on October 17, and the shelter put out a call for help. The ABCTR responded, and then asked its volunteers for assistance (which is where I stepped up). The group will see to it that Mama is treated for her heartworm infection once the pups are weaned, and get all the pups vaccinated, microchipped, neutered, and adopted – all in good time.

Thoughts on Puppy Development

In the meantime, I get to play with the puppies (which is fun) and the mom (less fun). Mama isn’t house-trained – I’m not sure she’s ever been in a house, judging from her worry-free propensity for jumping up on the kitchen counters when I’m preparing food. She also guards her food, even from her own babies, which is maybe understandable given her extreme thinness. I hope as she gets comfortable and in good weight, she’ll relax a bit.

The mom and the puppies were delivered to me by a shelter volunteer when the pups were 10 days old; that makes them the youngest puppies I’ve fostered. Almost all the rest of the puppies I’ve ever fostered were about three weeks old when I got them, and what an incredible difference there is between 10 days and 21 days! These guys were sort of grub-like – fat, gooey pups, eyes mostly closed, only able to sort of wobble and roll toward mom, spending all their time either eating or sleeping.

Thoughts on Puppy Development

At two weeks, worried that a couple of the pups weren’t getting enough to eat, I offered them formula. I didn’t know that at that age, they didn’t yet have an instinct or ability to lap at liquids offered to them; all they could do was suck. I gave the littlest ones some formula in a puppy bottle (you know, a baby bottle for puppies), and kept trying. The puppies were all wild when offered the formula; they’d get frantic and start lunging toward it. But they had absolutely no ability to lap it up, until one day, at about three weeks old, they did. No more bottles needed.

Thoughts on Puppy Development

Other developments happen daily, like magic. Their eyes opened, and daily, it’s clear they could see more and farther. Their vocalizations went from simple whimpering when hungry or cold, to include yelps when mom steps on them, and then playful growls at each other, and now, barks of alarm or excitement. They used to poop and pee anywhere and everywhere; then, one day, they started exiting the warm crate where their bed is and going out in the kennel (bedded with wood shavings) to poop and (most of the time) to pee.

Ten days ago, humans were just enormous things they didn’t really comprehend; now, at 30 days old, when they see people, they come running and tumbling toward the humans, eager to be petted and picked up and cuddled. It happened overnight, I swear.

Thoughts on Puppy Development

I was dismayed to see that they have already developed the ability to remember scary things. The other day, I was removing some damp bedding from the crate (still a few bed-wetters among them) as the mom was eating her food outside the pen, and the pups were eating their (supplemental) food inside the pen. I carried the laundry about 10 feet away to the laundry room, took some things out of the dryer and folded them, added more to a load in the washer, and stepped out of the room just in time to see that the mom had finished her food, and was finishing theirs . . . and boom! She dramatically barked and snapped at one of the puppies who was still trying to eat its food. All the puppies yipped and ran into the crate; the one who got snapped at was so shaken, she missed the door of the crate and instead stood, trembling and cringing and trying to disappear in the corner of the pen. Although the pups still all dive toward their mom when she lays down with them for nursing, I swear they are all wary now when she walks among them in the pen.

Watching this incredibly fast development makes me realize how much, for better or worse, our puppies experience long before we usually get our hands on them. Were they raised in a scary, unpredictable place, subject to loud, clashing noises and other frightening stimuli? Was the environment stripped down and devoid of different textures, substrates, heights, and toys to experience, and people and other animals to see? Did they have a nice mom, or a scary one, or only minimal contact with their mother? It’s fascinating to ponder.

We can only do what we can do, and of course I’ll try to give this bunch of darling puppies the best possible experiences for the next couple of months – and stay more alert to protecting them from Mama when she’s eating. Sheesh. 



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