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Rolan Tripp DVM
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 Dog Behavior Library

Behavioral Aspects of Postnatal Care of Puppies

Elimination
Postnatal is defined here as the first month of life. This roughly correlates with the period the bitch or queen will stimulate and consume urination and defecation. By 2-3 weeks of age, puppies are neurologically capable of eliminating away from the nest. This should be encouraged by allowing access to an appropriate area. This also reduces the elimination load on the mother. The Squatting Reflex
in male and female puppies begins at about 28 days of age.

By 2-3 weeks of age, puppies are neurologically capable of eliminating away from the nest.

Body Heat
Thermoregulatory behavior is important since hypothermia is one of the most common causes of neonatal death. For the first two weeks, puppies are dependent on their mother's body heat, or the ability to sleep in a heap and share heat. The ability to regulate individual body temperature begins at about 2 weeks of age, and is well developed by 6 weeks of age. During this period, the progress can be assessed by observing the tendency to sleep in groups, gradually changing to sleeping alone. This is the basis of the Rooting Instinct
in puppies. This is the instinct in the 4 day old puppy to orient toward, and push into any warm object near its head. This will usually get it near mom or a heap of littermates, and a source of heat. This rooting reflex disappears as a reflex at about 4 months, but may be observed in older dogs as "nudging" for attention or affection.

Sensory Awareness
At birth the nervous system is literally not fully "hooked up" as evidenced that the eyes and ears (the primary sensors of the environment) are not functional until about two weeks of age. When they do open, they are not fully functional until about 3 months of age. The Startle Reflex
(freeze after a new sound) gets plugged in at about 20 days, and the Orientation Reflex based on visual and auditory stimulus (turn toward a stimulus) begins at about 25 days.

Socialization
Because the eyes and ears are closed for the first two weeks of life, there is relatively little opportunity for specific learning, but gentle handling stimulates balance, adrenal function, and imprinting on the smell of humans. The classic socialization period begins at about 3 weeks of age and continues through about 12 weeks of age. This is the perfect time to teach the puppy everything.

Gentling
is the key to developing a people friendly personality. Starting any time after 2 weeks of age, it is recommended that each puppy be picked up and handled for at least one minute per day. Multiple short episodes is ideal. The gentling should consist of rotating the puppy in different ways, and rubbing hands all over the body. Talking to the puppy during this time will link gentle handling to the human voice. The puppies must be protected during this 3-12 week period since any negative experience will also have a magnified negative fear inducing effect.

All behaviorists do not agree, but it may help the development of balance to push the puppy gently when he has all four feet on the ground so he responds by trying to keep his balance. It almost certainly increases intelligence to provide play, toys, and climbing obstacles for puppies.

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