Last week, I was all a-flutter, waiting to hear about a friend's puppies. They were due any day now, but every day puppies stay in utero is equivalent to a week in utero for a human baby, so the vet was delaying as long as possible.
While I was waiting, another friend invited me to visit her new puppies, born just before Christmas. Squeeee! More puppies? Amazing!! Not quite four weeks old! So cute!!
(Before I show you the pictures, I should say, all of the puppies have already been spoken for and are going to wonderful, carefully selected homes. Please don't ask me about prices or availability.)
Because it was very hot when I visited, the puppies were pretty sleepy and snoozy.
A corner of my friend's living room had been converted into a puppy play pen, with baby gates keeping daddy and the aunties away until the puppies were big enough to stand on their own four feet.
There were five puppies in total, but I've forgotten how many boys and girls. All greys, and mostly brown eyes, although that's still changing.
Within the puppy pen there was a crate and a dog bed at one end, and a toilet area at the other. The whelping box the puppies had lived in at first was gone, now the puppies were mostly mobile.
My friend rousted the puppies out of their beds and we watched them stagger across to the toilet area. I was really impressed by their mobility, but my friend said they'd be walking properly soon. Then there was some wrestling and games - plenty of toys scattered around, but hey, isn't it always more fun to yank on a brother's ear or pull a sister's tail? There was plenty of squeaking as the puppies rolled about together - this stage is the beginning of bite inhibition in dogs, learning the difference between mouthing and biting hard through trial and error. And it's not limited to each other - it was funny to watch a puppy nibble on my friend's thong (or flip flop or jandal if you prefer) but when the puppy moved to her ankle, she mimicked a puppy-squeak and moved him away. Too hard! Ouch!!
The mother dog came in to check out what was happening. At this three week mark, she was quite happy to let us handle the puppies, and give her a break. As soon as she appeared, the puppies sprang into action, throwing themselves at her and desperately trying to attach themselves. I thought about those pictures you see of neat lines of puppies, feeding away. This was much more of a bun fight, pushing, shoving and trying to block others from getting in on the action.
After having had only milk for the first few weeks, the puppies were now going through a natural weaning process. They were being given age-appropriate, soft foods, and mum was happy to dislodge them when she felt like it and start skipping feeds.
The mother dog was still interested in cleaning the puppies, licking their bellies to help with toileting. But now the puppies were able to toddle to the potty pads themselves, and squat on their funny little legs, they needed this help less. Mum was encouraging this toilet training and they were becoming more independent and closer to house broken!
While the mother dog was feeding her pups, we talked about all the ins and outs of breeding. Within Victoria, breeders are registered with Dogs Victoria, and can only breed dogs who are registered or papered. Dogs Victoria also puts limits on the number of litters a female can have within a particular time frame, to protect the health of the female.
(Breeders who don't comply with these rules are described as backyard breeders, but perhaps it's better to call the profiteering breeders? The emphasis on profit over health and well being of the dogs is what separates them most ethical breeders I know, who do their breeding at home, if not literally in the backyard.)
This litter's family tree is detailed for several generations back, which gives us a pretty good chance of winning the genetic lottery. Except of course for any new mutations, these puppies have a very high chance of living healthy lives, growing to a predictable size and having a temperament similar to their parents and grandparents. Unlike a pet shop puppy which comes with no guarantees about anything, and may turn out to be very different to the expectations of the owner.
All breeders have a goal, a reason that gets them through sleepless nights with whelping mothers and crying puppies. For the most (the ethical ones, who aren't in it for a profit), it's about producing a better dog. Of course, what consistutes "better" is really personal. Some people are looking for calmer temperaments, some are looking for more refined head shapes, others are looking at top lines (the angles of the back and rump), and other people look at leg lengths and gaits, imagining these dogs steadily running over hundreds of kilometres of snow. I asked my friend how she might decide which puppy to keep and she told me about assessments. This was a term I'd heard but not fully understood and she explained that they would break the puppies' skeletons down into many measurements and try to understand which puppy had the "best" structure, coat, head shape, temperament and every other feature they could think of. At the moment the puppies are changing every day, growing and developing, so every day there was something new to consider. Even up to two years old, the final structure is still developing, so many breeders will play a waiting game on who they'll choose to produce the next generation.
A puppy that didn't have what the breeders were looking for would go to a "pet home", to be loved and cared for, but desexed and now removed from contributing to the future gene pool. Again, most breeders (the ethical ones) are very selective about finding good homes, ones that will cope with huskies and give them the love and care they deserve.
It may be several years before J and I are ready to introduce a new puppy to our pack, but in the meantime, getting to visit and play with other people's puppies is pretty wonderful. Special thanks to my friends who have invited me into their homes and let me see these incredible little personalities in their infancy!
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