Monday, April 30, 2012

Places to Go...People to See....

Pups are two-weeks old today!  Yellow Boy's eyes were the first to open yesterday and today his brothers and sisters are starting to see the world  too (well what they can of it at this point).  The puppies are climbing up on shaky legs and, though not quite walking, are a bit more coordinated than just a few days ago.  There is more tumbling and rolling than actual forward purposeful movement, but hey, they are just two weeks old.  In the next week, one brave guy or gal will venture up and over the side of the whelping box--the tumble to earth accompanied by a surprised cry.  The Monks of New Skete refer to the coming week (days 13-20) as the "transitional period" because the pups' sensory capacities--seeing, hearing, walking, teething and smelling--will increase dramatically.  At first the puppies do not see very well; it will be at least another few weeks before they will be able to distinguish shapes and forms.  Similarly, they can't hear yet, but that will change in the next week, and considering that they live right next to the kitchen, they will very shortly become used to the sounds of water running and blenders blending.   When the pups are not crowded around Sophie nursing, they are often found sleeping in clumps of two or three.  They have tripled their birth weight and have definite heft.  Must buy more rick rack tomorrow since they are outgrowing their collars on a regular basis.  They all tolerate the handling exercises comfortably and enjoy being held close to our skin.  Who can resist being nuzzled by a puppy?  Not me.  Sophie is comfortable leaving the whelping box for extended periods of time, sensing when she is needed and when she can take a break.  Big brother Clarence has finally met the puppies up close and personal and is very curious about these squeaky, wiggly little characters. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Week One: They're Here!

 I went to bed Sunday night, April 15th,  with the sure knowledge that I wouldn't sleep until morning.  Sophie was already panting and restless, signs that labor would be coming soon.  Her temperature had dropped below 98 degrees, another telling signal.  Her due date, which I had calculated to be April 17th, was close at hand despite the fact that I had added on another day to account for "leap year."  I left the hall light on to make sure that whatever sleep I managed to get would be minimal.  At midnight I heard Sophie make her way out from under the bed and go into the hallway. When I opened the door for her, she ran to her whelping box and jumped in.  I guess she was telling me she was ready!  The rest of the night was spent in the baby nursery (aka the dining room) awaiting the arrival of the first pup - which always takes much longer than expected.  After hours of panting and shaking, finally around 10:30am, Sophie's waterbag broke and the first puppy - purple girl - arrived a half hour later.  Half an hour after that, baby blue boy arrived, followed every half hour or so by another puppy.  Boy after boy arrived - orange, green, yellow and blue until finally little pink-and little she was--arrived at 1:35pm.  People often ask whether the delivery was easy.  Not knowing what Ms. Sophie would say I can't say for sure, but what I can say is that there were no surprises.  With each delivery I checked to make sure the sac was off the puppy's head and if it wasn't, I removed it.  Each pup was rubbed down in a towel until she or he began to squeak, cord cut, and then presented to mom, who thoroughly, meticulously, and sometimes vigorously, licked each puppy from head to tail.  Soon enough every one was settled in and seven new lives begun.

As I write this post today, the pups are nearly a week old and have more or less doubled their birth weights from a starting point ranging from 5oz (little pink) to the blue and orange boys who were more than 7oz at birth.  During the first few days, we made sure to position little pink strategically so that she didn't have to struggle to find her food and as she finally began to gain weight, we were able to relax.  As I did last year, I slept next to mom and pups for the first few nights and again I will describe that experience as "intimate" since I can't think of another way to talk about those moments in the middle of the night when I rolled over to see mom and pups in the whelping box.  The sole focus of mom is pups and the sole focus of pups is mom.  

At six days old, the puppies' eyes and ears are both closed.  They locate their mom by scent, and increasingly over the first few days, they have become more coordinated and purposeful in their wobbly crawls from one end of the whelping box to wherever mom decides to be.   They let mom know when they need her with a unique series of sighs, squeaks, and trills.  And Sophie instinctively knows when it is OK to leave the box and join the family in the other room and when she needs to be nearby.  

On their third day of life, the puppies had their first "big world" outing, traveling to the vet to have their dew claws removed.  Every breeder would like to believe that this experience is harder on them than it is on the pups.  The vet carefully takes his time tending to each pup and tells me that he no longer docks tails; he just doesn't feel comfortable doing so.  The vet tech comments that she can't believe these are wheaten puppies and it's true--with their dark brown coloring, closed eyes, and ears pressed tightly to the sides of their heads, their identity to the uninformed, would be a complete mystery. 

We've begun our early neurological stimulation exercises, exposing the pups to a slightly stressful series of handling exercises known as the "bio sensor" or "super dog" program.  These exercises, recommended for pups between three days and sixteen days old, are believed to encourage greater tolerance to stress and improve the pups' health.  We will also be able to observe how each puppy responds to this stimulation and begin to have a sense of their individual temperaments.