Know your Pooch
The writer is former director, GSI, and an avid animal lover. His understanding of man's best friend comes from over six decades of dedicated association with it…
A bitch starts showing some tell-tale signs that she is carrying. First her coat and looks improve a lot. She starts gaining girth. In the initial few weeks, she may lose her appetite and may even stop eating food. Don’t worry, she will catch up soon and would be ravenously hungry. Her teats begin to enlarge and her gait changes, Exceptions are always there and some bitches play till the last day. But generally, they slow down. At this stage, active games should be dissuaded. More emphasis should be given on walking. Instead of giving her a long strenuous walk, it is better to walk her short distances, several times a day. Climbing up or going the down the stairs is taboo. But if she is a toy breed or reasonably small breed, you should carry her on the stairs. If you have other dogs too, avoid her playing with them as the foetus may get injured!
The bitch doesn’t show symptoms of pregnancy. Till about 35 days, please do not start feeding her extra. But after 35 days, start increasing the number of feed. For example, if she is on two feeds per day, increase it to three. Gradually increase it to five feeds by the time her due date is close. People often increase her intake of milk, presuming that will increase her milk output. It is not so. She needs more protein at this stage and that should be increased. Her total food intake just before the delivery should be approximately two and half times more than her normal food. A puppy is born helpless. His eyes are yet to form, brain is only partially developed. He cannot stand on his legs. His cousin, a hyena puppy on the other hand, can stand on his own within an hour and can see and hear perfectly. But some of the reactions shown by a dog puppy are akin to the human infant. Both cry to draw attention.
A significant reflex shown by new-born puppies is excretion. If his genitals are gently massaged the puppy defecates. His dam seems to know this intuitionally and licks them to make them excrete. Her senses are so well developed that she licks the either sex puppies in particular direction. It is amazing to watch that she licks all the male puppies from tail end towards her throat and licks all the female puppies in opposite direction. Knowledgeable breeders also use this technique while rearing orphan puppies. New-born puppies do not have the proper ability to feel pain. Even if they feel the pain, the motor nerves carrying the sensation to the brain tire off quickly. Therefore, when the tail of a two or three days old puppy is docked, he gives a squeak of pain, but then goes off to sleep or feed, as if nothing happened. This is the right age to get the dew claws (extra nails) on the side, above the toes removed.
Yet another significant reflex the puppies have is the rooting reflex. Due to this reflex the puppies are drawn towards the dam’s nipple. A just born seems to know his way and starts sucking immediately. In this action it seems that the puppy’s nose guides him to the destination. Eyes of the puppies open around 14th day. Even at that time they do not have a vision, as the retina is yet to form. It takes another 15 days or so to make both ears and eyes functional. At the age of four weeks the puppies start showing reaction to sound. A sharp noise can startle them. In terms of dog behaviour specialists, it is called as the ‘startle reflex’. With the ears becoming functional and vision getting normal the puppy starts to show interest in his littermates and the dam. He tries to communicate with them. What the human baby does with his smile, the puppy does it with his tail. They start recognising each other and wag their tails.
The interaction between the puppies grows fast and at this stage the puppy likes to act grown up. He starts to growl and bark, chew at the ears of his mates. The sensation of pain is well developed by then. In case a puppy bites too harshly the other howls in pain. This is also the age of socialization. They start to identify themselves as a group, with their dam as their leader. This period ranges from 21 to 35 days. During this period if a man and puppy bond is established it lasts life-long. With his uncanny sense of smell already developed, the puppy learns the basics of association of ideas during the socialization period. On the other hand, if a puppy is removed from his littermates at the age of 14 days and reared only in human company, he does not have any affection for dogs of either sex. In later life such a puppy is a dog hater. He may behave normal with humans.
In order to make a quick buck many times the so-called breeders sell their entire litter to dog brokers at a tender age of three weeks. These puppies remain huddled in cages in the shop or house of the broker. They often turn as aberrant puppies/dogs in the human society. At the age of four weeks such puppies learn to associate with each other as a pack. But they remain unaware of many traits which they learn as real pack members. Puppies adapt to the world around them between the sixth and the twelfth week of life. Intelligent dog breeders seem to know this fact and part with their puppies only between the ages of six to eight weeks. Well-adapted puppies face fewer traumas in later life. For example, a puppy separated at the age of four weeks from his littermates and reared by a working couple becomes shy when taken out of the house. He is not used to all the hustle and bustle. It is best to carry home a six to eight weeks old puppy. He is used to humans and dogs both. Various household noises do not disturb him and gradually, he adapts to the noise of the traffic as well.
We will discuss more about socialising a puppy from early stages in the new home in the next issue.