Early Puppy Rearing - A Breeder’s Perspective

The following is an account of how one breeder approaches the task of raising a litter of Akbash Dog pups.

I’m sure we all raise our litters a little differently, but this is how I do it. My bitches whelp in a section of the barn that opens to a fenced half acre. Within that part of the barn is a 4 by 6 foot screened whelping box, with a mosquito net door during fly season. If the weather is cool I use a hard plastic livestock heating mat and a heat lamp. For the first two to three weeks pups remain in this box on a clean blanket or straw. In cold weather the dam and pups are kept in the house for the first two weeks.

I pick up and handle each pup daily, I pet them, turn them over, touch them all over to stimulate them. These biosensor exercises have been shown to help pups handle stress better as adults, to mature more quickly, have stronger hearts and greater resistance to disease. By three to four weeks pups are starting to crawl around and will find their way out of the whelping box in the barn. They are right next to a pen of Polish bantam chickens so they hear and see them right from the start. The sheep are just outside their fenced puppy area so once the pups are going out of the barn they see and hear the sheep as well.

At about five weeks of age when the pups are more coordinated and quicker on their feet, a couple of gentle sheep are allowed in with the pups. I have two mature puppy training sheep, hand selected to be docile and tolerant of the pups’ exploration and antics. The ewes, however, will softly butt pups for inappropriate behavior like biting sheep ears. Typically, most sheep run from busy dogs and this encourages pups to chase them. Some sheep will smack pups into the ground and be too rough with them. I tried several ewes before I found a couple of sheep that were kind to pups yet corrected the pups as necessary.

Pups stay with Mom until they leave for their new homes at a minimum of eight weeks. It has been shown that pups learn important social skills like “enough!”, “bite softer”, “play nicer”, “ok” and “more!” by staying with their mother and siblings at least until 7.5 weeks and even better for 8.5 weeks.

I usually start offering wet puppy kibble by four weeks of age. I call pups to eat with a “puppies come! “ command, which helps them learn the word “come”. I also have friends come over to socialize puppies. Visitors are asked to call pups with a “puppies come” and then push them on their tail into a sitting position saying “sit” before petting them. Thus pups learn to greet people by sitting, reducing the chance of a young dog jumping on someone in greeting.

In my opinion all training is shaping the behaviors you want. I make a startling buzzer sound “Ehh!” when I see them eyeing a chicken, their ears perked up and their body posture suggesting they’d like to chase that fascinating, noisy bird. As soon as the pup looks away from the chicken, I say “Good dog”. At least through four months of age just about everything should be “Ehh!” or “Good dog”, both easy commands for pups to figure out, and to be used until they truly understand what is expected of them.

At four to six weeks of age the pups don’t completely understand “Ehh” and “Good dog” and sometimes it is appropriate to make a swift and stronger correction. I often carry a horse riding crop with a flapper end to whack pups on their shoulder if they get too wild with a ewe or chicken.

I introduce the pups to a chicken by holding the chicken butt end towards the pups and I allow the pups to smell the chicken’s tail. Sometimes an “Ehh!” or a tap on a pup’s nose for mouthing or grabbing the chickens feathers is necessary, followed of course with a ”Good dog” for stopping. We practice this until pups don’t mouth at all. Then I turn the chicken around and repeat the process with the front end, eventually putting the tethered chicken down with the pups. We further progress to allowing a chicken out to mingle with the pups for a few minutes under supervision. The pups may forget their lesson and charge up to the loose chicken to grab it. That’s when they get a crop whack with an “Ehh!” and then a “Good dog” for stopping. Thus we start shaping appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. If the correction is properly timed it should only take a couple of corrections for each misdeed.

Pups are dewormed with Pyrantel at three weeks and every two weeks until they go to their new homes. They are given their first distemper/parvovirus vaccine at seven weeks of age and that is repeated at 3.5 week intervals until their immune system is mature at about 14 to16 weeks of age.

Parent dogs are hip certified before breeding and some breeders also do radiographs for elbow dysplasia to lessen the possibility of pup having either problem. A few years ago one breeder had a deaf puppy in the litter so several breeders began testing their litters before they left for new homes. At this time 6 or 7 litters have been checked and there has been no other incidence of deafness. In other breeds, white or nearly all white dogs can be genetically deaf, so we believe hearing should be monitored to ensure that deafness doesn’t become an issue in the Akbash Dog.

I put different colored collars on pups at three weeks of age and change to bigger collars with the same colors at about five weeks of age so I can study the pups’ behavior and interactions at a distance. I notice things like which pups play nice, which ones play rough, are more or less social, have high or low activity levels. These observations along with the puppy aptitude test at seven weeks help me determine puppy placement. I want to be able to select the puppies that are most appropriate for the new owners’ life styles and canine skills. I wouldn’t for instance place a high activity pup with small stock or in a confined area; or a very social pup in an open range situation where the dog will be expected to work with little human interaction.

Having done all this, I feel more confident that the pups and their owners will have the best chance of a good match, a happy life for the dogs, and satisfied owners. That is the goal of all caring and good breeders who have the success of their pups and the breed at heart.