Raising Puppies, Our Way

Matching development with opportunity for growth

My approach to raising puppies is two pronged and a mixture of nature and nurture.  First it’s important to understand the stages of puppy development and their limitations and opportunities within each stage; and second is to take deliberate action within those developmental stages to enhance their natural development. This process starts at birth and goes to 8 weeks (or 11 weeks with my Puppy Academy) when they go to their forever homes.

My goal is to provide a nurturing environment coupled with maximum experience and exposure so that puppies are calm, confident and socialized when they go to their forever homes. A large part of my program is to work within the hierarchy of pack dynamics. I’m happy to discuss this with you at greater length, but believe it’s the cornerstone to a calm well adjusted dog. After all dogs, like wolves, are pack animals, and it’s important to think like a dog during training so that the message is clear and the lesson easily grasped. I believe the single biggest mistake humans make in raising and training dogs is to impose human psychology on their dog.

Everything I do with my puppies from birth forward is done with intent to help accomplish this goal. My puppy raising experience spans the last 30 years and has been raising working Border Collies and fostering rescue litters.  The principles I use in raising puppies transcend time, breed, and circumstance.

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Birth and the first few days

The Newborn

If possible we let Mother Nature to work her magic during the birth process, and see our job as providing a safe warm (85 degrees) whelping location.  Of course we closely monitor the Mom’s health as delivery approaches, and only intervene if there is an problem. Once puppies are safely here, they are weighed and inspected for general health. This newborn stage requires minimal handling by humans; instead we just stand back and let Mom do what comes naturally.

Newborn puppies:
Are blind and deaf, and ears and eyes are closed;
Can smell well enough to identify their mother;
Are born with rooting instinct to nurse;

They nurse almost constantly 8-10times/day;
Require stimulation from their mother for bowel movements and urination; (can’t potty on their own);
Body temperature is 94-97 degrees, and they can’t control their own body temperature.

Lucy tends to her newborn pup.
Puppies root in to nurse

The First 2 Weeks, Overview

The Neonatal Period.

The first 2 weeks the Mom does most of the work, as the puppies nurse from her almost constantly.  We are careful to make sure she has an increased calorie and nutrient dense diet so she can produce adequate milk for her litter.  

During the Neonatal period:

Puppies are weighed daily to make sure they are growing.
They continue to nurse multiple times a day and the room is kept at 85 degrees.

Day 3 - We start Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) at 3 days. See the next section on ENS, and learn more about ENS is this video link:  https://youtu.be/ja6E4xa-6Hs
Day 5 - The puppies start to move and crawl around and increased human stroking and handling is started; 

Days 8 to 10 - Sounds are introduced in anticipation of ears opening any day. Generally I start by playing music and and add new sounds daily from my “puppy noise” playlist which includes sounds of barking dogs, doorbells, vacuuming, horns honking, sirens just to name a few; 

Days 10 to 14 - The eyes and ears begin to open; and their eyes start to focus about day 14.  The puppies start to stand but are still wobbly and human handling and verbal interaction is increased each day.


Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS)

“Early Neurological Stimulation” (ENS) is a gift that can only

be given once during the window of 3-16 days in a puppy’s life.

Research shows that if you stimulate the puppy’s neurological system during this neonatal period of rapid neurological growth (days 3-16) the puppy will benefit for the rest of his life.  Puppies receiving ENS have greater tolerance of stress; heightened resistance to disease; greater adrenal system function; faster heart rate and heartbeat.

ENS excercises done for 3-5 seconds a day (Days 3 to 16):
Tactile stimulation is an exercise where a Q-tip is massaged between the puppy’s toes.  This stimulates the tactile system (skin) and wakes up the neurological system; Head up exercise is exactly what the name would suggest, where the puppy is held head up and tail down.  This exercise causes blood to drain from the puppy’s brain making the neurological system recognize that the heart needs to pump blood back up into the brain to maintain equilibrium; Head down exercise is where the puppy is held head down, and causes the reverse problem from the “head up exercise,” making g too much blood to run down into the brain which makes neurological system to work in a different manner; Supine exercise requires that the puppy is held on it’s back, much like you would hold a human infant.  Puppies will resist this position, and the neurological system is again challenged responds by going to work in yet another situation; and Thermal stimulation in which you place the puppy’s feet on the cold damp washcloth.  The puppy will tell you he doesn’t like being on this cold washcloth, but the neurological system is forced to respond to a temperature change of the body.

​See this video for a good description and demonstration of ENS https://youtu.be/ja6E4xa-6Hs 


Days 14 to 21, Two Weeks

Spacial and Texture Awareness

Puppies start expanding their horizons from days 14-21.  With their newfound mobility I start “spacial and texture awareness” by creating an area separate from their bed of a different texture – usually wood pellets or pee pads.  By nature, puppies don’t want to soil the area where they sleep, so I give them another option. Their area/pen is expanded to include a soft bed large enough for them all to nurse, and an additional area for pottying, and with the texture and space differential puppies naturally start eliminating off the bed.  This teaches good hygiene and is the beginning of potty training. Within a week I find that puppies are using the pellets/pee pads more often than going in their bed.

Milestones this week include:
They start to explore;

The baby incisors (front teeth) start to emerge;
Puppies start touching items with their paws and reaching for things;
We complete the ENS program by Day 16;
We increase social interaction and handling of the puppies each day;

I play recorded “city sounds” and a variety of music during the day so puppies get used to a variety of sounds;
​Puppies can eliminate/potty without help from Mom by days 17 to 21;

They start to interact and play with litter-mates and start tail wagging.


Days 21 to 28, Three Weeks

No Fear and Good Startle Recovery Response

Sound desensitization starts intently at three weeks because at this age they have virtually no fear, and yet their startle recovery response is strong (they recover quickly from being startled).  I often vacuum near their bed, leave loud music or recorded noises playing, and drop the metal food dish or pots and pans. The net result of this noisy work is building the puppies’ trust, diminishing their fear and making an easier going puppy.   

This week is a critical socialization period and puppies increase their play with toys and each other, it’s equally important for human socialization and introduction to other species.  Mini-separations are started by taking one puppy away from the litter (and mom) for a short period of play. This exercise makes the weaning process easier by increasing their confidence while increasing their bond with humans.

Milestones this week include:

Puppies start to mouth and wrestle with each other during this week, biting on siblings ears tails and paws;

New toys are introduced and puppies start to attach and drag them around;
New surfaces are introduced to the puppies — tile floor, hardwood or concrete are all good new surfaces to experience so to avoid those fears as an older puppy;

Eye color changes & Body temperature reaches 98 to 100 degrees;

Puppies start lapping from a dish on the floor and are feed 4 times per day;

They start to lick and groom themselves.


Days 28 to 35, Four Weeks

Problem Solving Introduced. Day Pen Added

Puppies are moved to a larger “day pen” in a separate location from where they’ve been living and sleeping.  Research shows that physical activity helps brain development and cognitive skills. The enlarged day pen provides them more room to run, wrestle and play which in turn helps brain development.

Problem solving skills are in full development during this week, and I provide challenges and opportunities to develop these skills.  Obstacles are in the day pen that encourage critical thinking. For instance, a barrier is placed in front of the food, so they learn how to go around things.   The morning move to the day pen is another learning opportunity, and usually requires some help from Mom at first; I find puppies learn to follow (the start of the recall) if I use my voice, clap my hands, and shuffle on the floor.  They can hear it, feel it and see it, and it only takes a few days for the whole pack to race after me when moving to the day pen. The day pen is also helpful in giving mom a break and for short periods during the day the puppies are locked in the day pen without Mom.  All this is great conditioning and preparation for weaning and future separation from the litter.

Milestones this week include:

Using litter box or pee pads in day pen;

Room temperature is no cooler than 75° F; 

Puppies have full set of baby teeth; 

They are eating soft food 4 times a day; and 

Playing with litter-mates establishes a social hierarchy within in the litter.


Days 35 to 42, Five Weeks

Fear Imprint Stage.

The game changes during the 5th week, as puppies now develop a true fear response, so exposure to new experiences is guarded and supervised. This is not a good week to introduce small children if they haven’t already been exposed.  They sometimes will have a fearful response to something they’ve been okay with previously, although puppies that have gone through Early Neurological Stimulation come through this period so much more relaxed and recover from stress more quickly.  This week I watch each puppy’s individual response to external stimulus so I can help that puppy overcome a particular sound or fear.

Milestones this week include:

Potty training continues, and the floor space that is covered with pee pads is reduced this week;

If summer puppies, the dog door is introduced with outside play;
Dry food/kibble is introduced;

Puppies are fed 4 times a day, and food is picked up once they stop eating which enforces pack hierarchy and pack leadership;.
Puppies are invited to play in a larger area of the house, after everyone has eliminated.


Days 42 to 49, Six Weeks

Exploration and Curiosity Stage

The inquiring mind of a 6 week old puppy is a beautiful thing to watch and their scope of play and experience doubles this week.  They are curious about everything at this stage, which makes an opportunity for stretching their experience and socialization. We spend increased amount of time outside and take the litter on mini excursions and adventures.  This week I introduce puppies to stairs and ramps, as well as water if the weather permits. Puppies are also separated from the litter on a more regular basis and given time for individual play. This is a good exercise to prepare them for weaning and to develop confidence away from the litter.

Milestones this week include:
First vet check, shots and de-worming;

Relationships with people and other dogs in the household are formed;

They actively eat dry food;

Puppies are more independent and more frequently separated from litter-mates;

The natural weaning process starts and Mom starts growling them off from nursing a few times during the day;

Mom actively plays and wrestles more with the puppies.


Days 49 to 56, Seven Weeks

Exploration & Curiosity Stage; Obedience Training Starts

This is such a fun age as they continue to expand their horizons and explore and are keen to learn.  It is important to capitalize on this period and teach them as much as they can absorb during the 7th week.

By seven weeks the puppy can be well on it's way to being potty trained, and eliminating outside (if we have summer puppies) as well as inside on the pellets or pee pad.

I continue to work individually with each puppy on the recall and extend obedience training to the “sit” command; puppies are put on leash for the first time. This training and individual time builds the bond with humans and makes them more independent and self assured.

They should have all 28 puppy teeth and Mom welcomes the start of the weaning process which is reinforced by more frequent and longer separations.

Puppies are eating dry food three times a day.


Days 56 to 64, 8 Weeks

Ready for Forever Homes.

Puppies are ready to go to their new homes at 8 weeks; my work "can" be done and I'll pass the baton to you.

However, I do offer a 3 week Puppy Academy if you want a head start on training before bringing your puppy home.  During my three week program, puppies receive daily and individual training which includes potty training, leash training and basic obedience training (sit, lie down, stay, and the recall.)  Puppies will sleep alone in individual crates to help with the separation issues. I will continue to introduce new experiences, and work on socialization during their extended stay here. I will entertain specific training requests like teaching the "load up" if you need your puppy to be subway ready to load in a bag. However special requests must be discussed so you have a realistic expectation.

Puppies will receive their second set of shots (week 9) which means new owners won't have as long of a period to wait to mix their puppies with other dogs.   Talk to your vet, but my rule of thumb is 1 week after the second set of shots, it's okay to set your puppy down in a public area. By week 10 they are good to go, and will make socialization a mixing with other dogs by week 11 easier and reduce the risk of Parvo exposure.


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