Winthrop Farm puppies are born in the house, carefully supervised. I document each birth including time, white markings to identify each pup, birth presentation, and other pertinent information. If it is a large litter, I may supplement by bottle feeding a goat's milk formula after they get colostrum in the first 12-24 hours, and all puppies get a good supply of mother's milk as their primary diet. I weigh the pups at birth and daily for at least the first week to ensure everyone is gaining weight, then weigh 2-3 times a week thereafter. Each puppy has its own documentation page to keep track of activity level, day eyes opened, and other indications of personality, such as "Day 5: he got separated from Mom and the rest of the litter, but did not panic, very deliberatelycrawled around the edge of the box until he found his way back to them."
I do the "Super Puppy" program using Early Neurologic Stimulation on days 3 to 16 for each puppy. This is a very specific set of simple exercises that strengthen both the immune system and an appropriate response to stressful situations that the dog may later encounter in its life. It also accustoms the puppy to being handled by humans.
At about 3 weeks of age I introduce solid food to the puppies, starting with goat's milk and quality kibble gruel along with free access to their mother's milk which continues until the mother decides to wean the pups. When they are all avidly eating, I add a "noises" tape played at meal times to accustom them to the sound of thunder, gunshots, racing engines, children shrieking, clapping, etc. I begin with the tape on a low volume, gradually increasing the noise level over a period of days. They are also exposed to a vacuum cleaner and other normal household noises. I take care to watch their responses and not over-stimulate or scare them in the process.
At 4 weeks of age I take each puppy individually into a new environment (usually another room of my house) and document their responses to being away from the litter. Is the pup brave and independent, exploring the new room? Is he more careful, wanting to stay close to me? Does he follow when I walk away? When distracted, will he come when I call and clap invitingly? All of these exercises continue with each pup over the next weeks. I introduce the concept of luring (as the pup above is lured into a sit) using bits of raw ground meat, then progress to shaping simple behaviors like touching an object with the nose, or placing feet on a low box and rewarding the "right" behavior with food. The specific behaviors are not important--I am teaching the puppies how to relate to humans and training as they "learn how to learn."
Week 5 is all about adding environmental stimulation! Weather permitting they go outside in a daytime puppy pen, but still sleep inside at night. They experience different surfaces (grass, concrete, gravel, walking over wire grates, plastic sheeting, taller weeds, etc.) I put a collar on each pup. Then over the next days I add a light leash the pup drags, then I pick up the leash and follow the pup, later I stop and the puppy feels the leash tighten as it keeps walking, but I never pull or drag the pup on the leash. Then I encourage the puppy to follow me while leashed. By the end of the week, all of the pups are walking quite happily on leash! I also introduce housebreaking the puppies by taking them to their potty area immediately when they wake up, after they eat, or after a time of intense play. No big deal if they do potty in their puppy pen which is covered in newspaper because they are still such babies and can't "hold it" for very long, but I do clean the pen at least twice a day and they are beginning to want to keep the area clean if given the opportunity.
The 6th and 7th weeks are full of fun activities! I expose the pups to livestock in very carefully managed situations. It's amazing to see herding behaviors emerging in these tiny babies! They go for their first car ride for "socialization" in places that are dog-friendly, but do not attract large numbers of dogs (because the pups are not fully immunized as yet), places like home construction stores--great for having the pups meet bearded men and experience rattling carts, metal buildings, slower traffic in the parking lot, etc. They meet dog-saavy children at least once or twice. For those pups who will travel with their new owners by plane, I have a Sherpa bag to acclimate them to traveling in such a bag in the plane's cabin. I start feeding them individually in crates rather than with the whole litter. By 8 weeks old, the pups are ready to go to their new homes with the best start in life I am able to give them!
The following is a slightly updated article I wrote for the BCSA national magazine "Borderlines" in 2010, for their puppy issue. It applies to anyone seeking a new puppy, not just those on my waiting list for a puppy:
A letter to all new prospective puppy owners on a waiting list--
Each of you, in one way or another, has asked me which is the "best" puppy in the litter, and they are only 4 weeks old! Right now it all depends on the moment, how sleepy, full or hungry each one is! They are changing so fast! For instance, I thought one of the boys was lowest on the activity/pushiness scale a week ago, but this week he is deliberately nose-bumping the toughest of them and confident as he can be! None of these puppies are shy or retiring, no one hides in the corner, they are all right there ready to rock and roll.
There is usually NOT one universally "best" puppy in a litter! Every new owner has their own personality and expectations. From one past litter I have five different owners that all swear they got the "pick of the litter." Different dogs, different owners, and somehow we managed to get it all sorted out to place the right pups in the right homes--but that takes time to let the pups begin to show their personalities and talents, and time to learn more about the potential owners.
I know this is not the answer you want to hear. You really want to start focusing in on one or two pups as maybe "the one" (just like everyone else on the waiting list.) But I think you are going to have to wait and let them develop a while longer, and hopefully be able to interact with them yourselves before final decisions are made. They tell me patience is a virtue!
I bought a book, "Top Trainers Talk About Starting A Sheepdog" that is a compilation of interviews with seventeen top USBCHA herding trial handlers; each were asked the same questions. One of the questions was, "How do you choose a pup?" I eagerly scanned each interview for the answer to help me choose my next pup. Almost universally, the answer was, "I just keep the one that's left after everybody else picks!" The second most common answer was, "I dunno, one just kinda takes my fancy." Only one guy had ANY specific criteria, which was that the pup's tail should be carried low. (Now, to me, in a baby puppy that is more likely to indicate hesitancy and lack of confidence rather than "thoughtfulness." Low tail carriage when working stock is indicative of working focus in an adolescent dog, while high tail carriage indicates a dog is aroused and playful, not working. So maybe he was choosing an older pup, not a baby.) Anyway, I did not get any help from the book in choosing next my puppy.
A friend who has been a longtime breeder of successful working and performance Border Collies told me, "If you know the parents and the pedigree, close your eyes, reach in the box and grab one--it will be a great dog!" She told me no one was willing to consider one of her pups, even though he had the best structure and was her "pick of the litter" performance-wise, because several weeks earlier she had posted online that he was "laid back and having a little heavier bone than the others." After those few words, nobody could see the pup right in front of their eyes for who he had become! Their minds were made up about him before they came to pick their puppies; apparently they thought of him as a Clydesdale! We competitive working/performance/agility folks seem to drive ourselves crazy obsessing over picking a perfect puppy, forgetting that if you have a good, sound pedigree and no glaring deviations from normal conformation and temperament, then the final results depend to a very high degree on training and the relationship you develop with your dog!
I have raised puppies for close to 40 years, including nine Border Collie litters over the past 20 years, always keeping one or two pups from each litter for myself. In all that time, I have learned not to make MY "final pick" until the pups are 7 weeks old. I usually do NOT end up with the pup who was my favorite at 3-4 weeks old, even living with them every day. They just change too much as they develop, another comes on and out-shines my original pick, or one of the puppies decides I am "the one" for them and doesn't want to go with anyone else. You can't turn down a bond like that, and in retrospect, every time that has happened I ended up with the best dog for me! Myrrh was one like that--I did NOT pick Myrrh! She picked me, and "my" puppy that I picked and nurtured from 3 weeks old picked someone else. It was so obvious that we could not argue with the situation, though I cried for three days when "my" puppy went home with the other lady. Look at what a great dog I got! Myrrh taught me so much, made me a much better handler and together we finished championships in herding and agility, a CDX in obedience, the Border Collie Society of America's Versatility Champion award, and she again proved herself through her multiple exceptional pups from only two litters!
I know your minds are racing, looking at puppy pictures online and imagining competing in herding or agility or obedience trials for championship points with that little face! Imagine what it is like for me, staring directly into all of those little faces, getting puppy licks and knowing that even I do not yet have all the information I need to make my decision! I think "Wait!" is one of the hardest commands I teach my dogs; harder still for people to endure "waiting..."
Do your homework on parents and pedigrees, then trust your reputable breeder to help you pick your new puppy partner when he/she is a little older and ready to go to a new home. Trust your own impressions at that time, too. You may surprise yourself and fall in love with a puppy of a different sex or color than you initially sought! And if you are not "taken" with any of the puppies presented, don't be afraid to leave without a puppy. You may need to wait a little longer for your special puppy.