Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Visitors! And Socialization, and Fear Periods

 I think everyone has heard how important it is to socialize puppies.  But not everyone understands what that means.  Sure, it includes exposing the puppy to lots of new experiences: new people, new animals (including other dogs), new places, etc.

But what's even more important is that those experiences must be positive. In other words, if the puppy isn't having fun then you're not going to get the result you hoped for.  You may even trigger a fear response that will undo a lot of the work you've put into socializing the pup.

This is complicated by the onset of what is called "fear periods".  A fear period is a developmentally NORMAL process for puppies, during which they may have a heightened fear response to new experiences.  Sometimes they even become afraid of something they weren't afraid of previously.

The difficulty is that fear periods don't happen at the same time for every dog, nor do they always last the same amount of time.  Typically, pups go through a fear period sometime between 8 - 11 weeks, and again later, between 6 to 14 months.

The fear period doesn't last that entire time, these are just typical ranges for when it might happen.  The fear period itself might only last a few days, or sometimes a week or more.   Often, the owner doesn't even know that their puppy is going through/has gone through a fear period, if during that time the puppy isn't exposed to something it finds threatening.

But this doesn't mean you should just leave your pup at home, and isolate him in case he's going through a fear period!!  Far from it - you always want to keep socializing the puppy.  But if you find that he's suddenly acting scared of something that didn't bother him before - or if he seems scared or hesitant about something new - the rule is NEVER FORCE THE PUPPY TO APPROACH SOMETHING HE'S AFRAID OF.  Give him space, and encouragement sure - but never force him.  If after a few minutes he wants to approach the scary thing that's fantastic, and he should get an award (always keep treats in your pocket when you're with your puppy).  But if he doesn't, that's OK.  Try again another day. 

But back to our pups, and the visitors they've had.  We are having the pups meet as many different people as possible, different ages etc.  No puppy is ever forced to interact with anyone, but generally if the visitor gets on the ground then the pups are all over them.

Pups got tired out!!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Grateful for small (or in this case, large) things

We had our kitchen totally remodeled 3 years ago, and it's been great.  But back then, when we requested a large sink, we were not thinking of washing giant puppy feeding bowls.

But it's worked out great! :-)


Litterbox training

 All dogs have a strong instinct not to soil their sleeping area, whether it be a den, a crate or a comfy bed.  This is what makes it possible to housetrain our dogs - the trick is to teach them that the concept of "sleeping area" includes the entire indoor space.

This can start quite early.  The main thing is to keep the puppies and their area as clean as possible.  As you might expect, puppies who have to live in filth quickly lose the impulse to keep their sleeping area clean.

The first evidence of this behavior starts very early, before the puppies' eyes are even open.  As soon as they are able to void their bladder and bowels independently, after nursing they will turn and toddle a few inches away to relieve themselves.  At this age the mother is still cleaning them, but sometimes she has to stretch a bit to reach them!

At this point we can put a pee pad of some sort a few inches away from the mom.  This makes it easier to clean up anything the mother dog misses.

After the pups' eyes open and they start walking better, we put out more pee pads.  Since we planned to use pine shavings for our litter boxes, at this time we sprinkled a few shavings on the pee pads to get the puppies accustomed to the smell and feel of them.

The next step is some sort of container for the shavings.  At first, something like a crate pan works very well. The main thing is the litter pan/area needs to be very, very easily accessible to the pups, and also close enough that when they are toddling away to potty they "accidentally" find themselves in it.  

As the pups get more mobile, the litter area can be moved a little farther away.

We then started using plastic wading pools for the litter boxes - one side cut down so the pups can easily get in, but the sides of the pool really help contain the litter.

Here they have 2 crate pans with shavings nearly surrounding their sleeping area - "next door"
 is a play area with another litter box.

The pups are now 5 1/2 weeks old, and are almost 100% consistent with using the litter boxes!  Since this is such a big litter, they have 2 potty areas, at either end of their play area.  Their sleeping areas area still near the litter boxes, since the first thing they have to do when the wake up is pee.


The next step will be to start getting them used to sleeping in crates, and going potty outside!  More on that later.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

3.5 week photo session

 We had some friends come to visit the pups, and they helped us get some pictures!


Black collar boy


Blue collar boy


Green collar boy


Grey collar girl


Hot pink girl


Light blue collar boy


Lilac collar girl


Lime collar boy


Pink collar girl


Purple collar girl


Red collar boy


Yellow collar girl

The different colored collars are so we can tell them apart!!  This is a very consistent litter, which is nice but we need all the help we can get to tell who is who!

Saturday, November 06, 2021

It's a tough job...

 I've been talking a lot about how difficult it is to care for a large litter of puppies (for that matter, smaller litters are a ton of work too!).  Worry, sleep deprivation, aching back... but there are definite upsides!!

Like getting to cuddle puppies every day.

2.5 week old blue collar boy checking out Ronnie's beard.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Early Neurological Stimulation

 ... also known as "E.N.S.".  This is a well-researched and documented method of introducing TINY, and very well controlled amounts of stress to neonate puppies.  This has been researched for 20+ years, and has been demonstrated to result in adults who tolerate stress better, and have healthier immune systems, etc.  

The process is very well standardized.  Starting at 3 days of age, and progressing until Day 16, the following 5 things are done to the puppies.  Each of these things subject the puppy to a small amount of stress, since they are not experiences a puppy would normally have. Each stressor is applied for 3 to 5 seconds, and if a puppy becomes distressed the stimulus is cut short, and the puppy is soothed.  The purpose is NOT to frighten the pups, in fact lots of the time they barely react.  More is not better - the amount of stress applied is very small.  And if a puppy is ill, or is under some other kind of stress the ENS is not done.  Again, more is not better!

With this litter, we started the ENS on Day 3 as planned, but then when they all began developing diarrhea a few days later (see the "Challenges" post) we stopped until the diarrhea was cleared up.  Not only is diarrhea hard on baby puppies, but they were also getting a lot of extra, unusual handling during this time anyway (being dosed with Clavamox, getting baths pretty much daily, etc).

But then we were able to resume the ENS and proceeded until they were 16 days old.

This is what it looks like:

1) Tactile stimulation.  A cotton swab is rubbed gently between the toes of one foot for 3 - 5 seconds.

2) Head up.  The puppy is held in an upright position for 3 - 5 seconds.

3) Head down.  The puppy is well supported in a head down position for 3 - 5 seconds.

4) Supine.  The puppy is held on its back for 3-5 seconds.    

If the puppy starts to struggle, the handler can stroke it to soothe it.  The puppy isn't allowed to flail or panic - if stroking doesn't calm them, the action is stopped.

5) Thermal stimulation. The puppy is placed on a damp, cold washcloth for 3 - 5 seconds.

The puppy is not restrained, and is allowed to crawl off the cloth if they want.  Usually they just stand up like "Wow"!  This is the one you usually get the most reaction from.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Look who's starting to walk!


Cuteness overload

 The puppies are doing better!!  The little red collar boy I took to the vet Monday is doing great, and they are all starting to grow and gain weight noticeably, as they should.  The diarrhea is clearing up and Ellie is starting to clean them!!  Yahoo!!  This is good for the puppies, and for sure it's good for us, since we don't have to do it anymore!  We are still rotating the puppies for nursing every couple hours, so we are still sleep deprived but things are looking up.

And they are getting so stinking cute!  

This is an early set up for the whelping box: we removed the pig rails since the puppies are supervised 100% of the time, and if Ellie is moving around we move the pups to sleeping boxes (you can see those on the left).

The pups are also getting weighed every day.  Now that the diarrhea has cleared up they are gaining nicely.

Their nails are also getting trimmed each week, more often if I can get to it.  Since they aren't really walking yet, it's not so important for the structure of their feet and legs.  But it's really important for the comfort of their mom - also reduces the chance of them scratching each other.

Before: you can see they are sharp as cat's claws!

And after:

Puppies' nails grow as fast as the rest of them, so it's a constant thing to try to keep up with all the tiny toenails!!

Monday, October 25, 2021


 Well the puppies have diarrhea!  This started a couple days ago.  Since Ronnie and I are still having to stimulate them to eliminate, we are very aware of the state of their poop.  It started in just one or two pups, and we separated them from the others but gradually more and more began having the runs.  In addition to worrying about them, it is also a big mess and a time-consuming chore as you might guess.  We found it was easier to just take each puppy to the sink, and after stimulating them we could wash them gently if needed (and it was often needed).

We dosed all the puppies with Benebac, which is a probiotic designed for newborn puppies.  It seemed to help for a day or so, then the diarrhea started again.  The pups are staying well hydrated, which is great since dehydration is the major risk when neonates have diarrhea.  I was planning to consult our vet anyway, and then today the red collar boy started getting weaker and having more trouble nursing.  So off to the vet we went.  

She said he looked pretty good, and didn't need to be hospitalized but did need some meds and to be supplemented until he was nursing again.  So we went home with Clavamox (antibiotic) and some feeding tubes.  

Tube feeding is not very nice, but if a newborn animal can't or won't nurse (either on mom or a bottle) then it's the best and safest way to get nutrition into the baby.  A small, soft tube is put down the puppy's throat into the stomach.  Obviously, great care must be taken to be sure the tube doesn't go into the lungs.  I was a vet tech (a long time ago) and have tube fed baby animals before, but it's been a long time so I got a refresher course from Dr Barnett.  

Thank goodness, after starting the Clavamox and tube feeding him a couple of times, the red collar boy started getting much stronger and was able to nurse.  The bad news was that the diarrhea appeared in all 12 puppies, so everyone was getting Clavamox twice a day!  That proved to be a 2 person job for sure, since it's hard to hold a struggling puppy and squirt a little liquid medicine in its mouth.  Fortunately, the dose is very small, just a couple of drops for pups this size so it went quickly.


 Precious red collar boy, I'm so glad he recovered.

 Our kitchen has been taken over by puppy stuff - scale for weighing them on the island and formula, supplements, medications etc. on the counter along with small towels to dry the pups after their baths.

As with many of these posts covering the first few weeks of the puppies' lives, I am writing this a few weeks later and post-dating it.  From this perspective, it's gratifying to know we caught the diarrhea fairly early and were able to give an effective treatment.  But oh my, what an exhausting couple of weeks!!!  I am NOT one of those people who can function for a long time on just 3 or 4 hours sleep.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Who needs sleep?

 The puppies are all doing well, but Ronnie and I are exhausted already!  As is pretty common, since Ellie had a c-section and never truly went into labor (which would have triggered a lot of maternal hormones) and this is her first litter, she basically woke up from the surgery with all these little aliens, and didn't have a clue what to do.  In some cases like this, the mother dog will actually try to attack her babies, but fortunately Ellie has been very tolerant.  She will lay and let them nurse, but doesn't really want to be with them all the time.  That is OK with us, because we made the decision to keep the pups separate from her since there are so many of them, and the risk of her stepping on one, or accidentally laying on it and crushing or severely injuring it.  Which means we are putting the pups on her to nurse every couple hours around the clock.  (Hence the exhaustion).  It would not necessarily require both of us to be up so often, but in another common consequence of an inexperienced mother having a c-section, she is not cleaning the pups. 

Newborn puppies can't eliminate on their own, the mother has to lick them to stimulate them to pee and poop.  If she's not doing that, the breeder has to stimulate them with a cotton ball dampened with warm water, or a little oil.  That is a lot of work for 12 little poopers, so it nearly takes both of us at this point.

What happened?!?

Good thing they're so cute!

 Another problem we encountered was trying to let all twelve pups nurse at once.  It would be fine, as long as we could keep track and make sure the smaller/weaker puppies got plenty of milk.  But we found that was really difficult.  So we split the litter, and just had Ellie nurse 6 at a time.  That worked well for the puppies, but means we have to get puppies onto her twice as often!

12 puppies is a lot for mom to nurse at one time!!


Six puppies at a time seems to work much better.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Puppies are here!!

 I have really gotten behind on reporting on this - once the pups arrived we got BUSY!!  But things are under control (hopefully) so I'm trying to catch up.  I'm going to post-date these posts until I get caught up, so the dates make some sense.

Anyway, Ellie had to have a c-section in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Oct 19, 2021.  We did this since her labor wasn't progressing, and some of the pups were getting distressed (thank you Whelpwise for the technology to be able to detect all that!!  Scroll down for a post about them.  They absolutely rock and I can't recommend them highly enough).  I also am so grateful for my wonderful vet Dr Jennifer Barnett at Josey Ranch Pet Hospital, who not only came in to do the surgery but rounded up 3 wonderful techs to help. 

She did have 13 puppies, but we had to have one euthanized because it hadn't developed properly (failure of midline closure) so it's abdominal organs were outside the body.  Sometimes puppies like this can be saved, if the opening isn't too large but this was not the case for this baby.  Breeding can be a heartbreaking thing.

But fortunately the other 12 were healthy, and Ellie did very well.  Six girls and six boys.  They are a very consistent size, the smallest is one and a quarter pounds, the biggest is one and a half pounds.

Brand new puppies keeping warm in the incubator during their mother's surgery.

Vet tech helping the pups nurse the first time, to get that all-important colostrum.

Now the fun begins!!

The colors (basic rick-rack ribbon) are used to identify the pups, since they all look so much alike.  We have to monitor that each one is healthy, gaining weight etc.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Still waiting...

 Today, October 18 is Ellie's due date, but as with any pregnancy it's an estimate.  So far she is showing no signs of getting ready to have her puppies.  She's calm, and comfortable (well as comfortable as a late pregnancy can be) and eating well.

Thanks to Whelpwise, we have a pretty good idea of the status of the puppies, and so far so good.  But after checking this morning at the vet, her progesterone has dropped below 3, which means she is close to going into labor.  If she hasn't started having them by tomorrow, we'll do a c-section.

Big and beautiful!!  Forgive the distance shot through the x-pen - if she was closer she would just come over and lean on me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


 Not a surprise that Ellie pregnant - but I took her to the vet for an x-ray today.  This is commonly done in dogs to get a count, check positioning etc.


There were THIRTEEN puppies!!  And the vet couldn't guarantee there might not be more, since they were packed in there like Tetris pieces.

Things are about to get VERY busy around here!!

Sunday, October 10, 2021


 -Known officially as Veterinary Perinatal Specialties, Inc.  This is a company that leases uterine contraction monitors and doppler ultrasound units so that breeders can monitor their bitches prior to whelping.  The staff is very knowledgeable, and provide excellent support and advice (in conjunction with the client's veterinarian, of course).

Here is Ellie getting monitored.  The sensor is a flat little disc, and although it can be strapped to the dog, it usually works best to just put it under her when she is laying down.  By the last week or so of pregnancy, the mother usually is sleeping a lot anyway.  The monitor stays in place for an hour, then you send the data to Whelpwise and they call back with the results.

Here is a picture of our latest monitor session.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Setting up the whelping box

 Things are starting to get real!!  We set up the whelping box last night.  It's a 6' x 6' vinyl box designed for raised garden beds.  But some smart person realized they made great whelping boxes for giant breed dogs!  Lightweight, easy to assemble, easy to disassemble and store, and easy to clean!

 We started by laying down a section of inexpensive vinyl flooring - the floors in our den are already very durable and pet-resistant, but as you can imagine things can get messy in a whelping box, so this is an easier way to keep things clean.  There is a layer of carpet padding underneath - I'd like to say that's for Ellie's comfort, but truly I was thinking more of my knees :-)

This was before I trimmed the excess padding away.

You want a whelping box to be big enough that the mother can stretch out comfortably.  But not so big that puppies can get lost.  Ideally you want the opening to be adjustable so it's low at the start when the pups aren't very mobile, and the mom may be sore from either whelping or a c-section.  A few weeks later you'll want to be able to raise it to full height to keep the little darlings corralled.

Ellie playing "find the cookies" in the box to get accustomed to it.


Ronnie showing Ellie how comfy it is. (that big cushy bed will actually be removed when the pups are coming.  Overly squishy bedding is dangerous for neonate puppies just like it is for newborn humans.

With most breeds of dog, but especially large and giant breeds where the mother is so very much bigger than her pups at birth, there is a risk of the mother accidentally crushing or smothering a puppy who gets trapped between her body and the wall of the whelping box.  This is also a problem with breeding pigs, and the solution is therefore called a "pig rail".  It's a small shelf or bar that runs around the edges of the box, a few inches above the ground that gives a space for the pup if the mother accidentally traps it against the side.   Here are some shots of the pig rail.  

As the puppies get bigger, we will remove one side of the box and expand it into a puppy play area, and space for their litter box.  

Two weeks to go...

Thursday, September 30, 2021

We are having puppies!

 It's been many, many years but we are finally expecting a litter here at Casa Symmetry.  One of the original reasons I started this blog was to document what it's like to live with Great Danes, and also to document what it's like to be a Dane breeder, to let people know what goes into this.

 Our breeding plans have hit roadblocks for a variety of reasons, but finally we have been successful!

This is Ellie's first litter, although we did breed her last January using frozen semen from Keeper, a dog born in our last litter.  Unfortunately that didn't work.  

So this time we picked a gorgeous young dog so we were able to do a natural breeding.  He's a wonderful dog who belongs to people in Louisiana, but at the time we needed to do the breeding he was at a show in Kansas.  So I drove up there with Ellie, and we were successful!!

To say we are excited is an understatement.  This should be a very special litter, since not only are both parents AKC champions, but they have physical traits that really should complement each other.  

I may post more about the parents here later, but in the meantime if you want to see pictures, pedigree, health testing info etc you can find them on our website.

In the meantime, Ellie is just baking those pups: