Letters from readers:
Quadruplet puppies huge
family for single owner
I HAVE four puppies - two sisters and two of their brothers - and I need HELP! They are 12 weeks old now and still very cute and weigh between 22lbs and 33lbs and growing. Any brain storm ideas for a very stumped person who agreed to have this tribe of crazies? I have problems trimming their nails, and also understanding how much rough play is appropriate and when it might be too much. I do not understand the alpha dog thing too much or each puppy's placement in the litter. They all have different temperaments and I love them all. But love is not enough. I need to train them! I need to learn when to separate them from each other.
I have found that the largest dog is the most passive and thus end up spending a lot more one-on-one time with him. He is easy to be with, follows me without me calling him more than once. He is the easy one - I started to have him spend more time with the others but then found that he was losing his attachment for me and started to be more distant so I do spend my down time with him - he sleeps with me - but I do not trust any of the others to sleep in my room and not chew my bed covers or somehow get themselves in trouble during my sleep. I feel so bad that I can not trust the others - please help me. They all did learn the meaning of sit, but my fault for not keeping it up several times a day because now they mostly do not sit the first few times I say it - but they are getting better.
I do not let them out of the crate or kennel until they all are sitting - I wait for them all to sit which might take a few minutes. It is like they are in the army now, they are a group to me most of the time and they all must obey me before any of them get the treat or praise. I do not know if that is fair to the one that might sit/stay/come or whatever the command is - if one does it promptly should I treat her as special? Or when they are together they all must do as I say before I continue? Help! Four puppies is much too much for anyone to care for, but somehow I have got to - they are my responsibility and I must make them the best they can be. Again, please help in any way you can. I will try to keep us all going forward. - Gato
I think with these four young dogs a management programme is the best solution here. I will look at each point one-by-one but this programme is long term and will need to be followed for the entire lives of the dogs. Trimming nails should become easier once you are managing the dogs better and have brought down their stress levels.
Most play will be too much for your puppies. In the wild the Dams (mother), who are left to manage and teach their puppies the necessary life skills, intervene when their puppies play by splitting them up and stopping the behaviour. The puppies learn bite inhibition and the Dam will allow them to learn this but if the play becomes rough which is normally within a few seconds, the Dam will walk between them and split up the play. The puppies will usually take this cue from their mother as a sign to stop this unacceptable behaviour.
Unfortunately puppies often do not learn this valuable lesson from their mother as they are taken from the Dam and sold into new homes by the time they are eight weeks old. The dam is usually not finished her training with them at this stage. This leaves the job to us, the new owners, to take over from the mother and teach the puppies that rough and tumble play is unacceptable. Sadly, rather than stopping play behaviour, humans tend to encourage it by taking puppies to organised puppy parties where many puppies will play together for more than five minutes whether they can cope with it or not. Many puppies learn bad behaviour in these parties. It is the same in a home were more than one puppy live together - often they play continuously, stress levels rise and there is no Dam to stop the behaviour or bring calmness.
This is where you come in as the new parent to these puppies. You must stop this behaviour even if it means going between them and splitting them up all day long for the next few weeks. Every opportunity they get to play is another opportunity they get to learn bad behaviour. Mature adult dogs do not play like this. You may want to consider a dog gate or two (like baby gates in doorways) to split the dogs up and give them space. They need space as much as we do. This is a good way to manage interaction and to control it when you are out.
I am please to hear that you do not understand the alpha dog fixation. I don't think alpha dog is an issue here. If you look at dogs in the wild such as African wild dogs and dingoes, they do not have an alpha per se, but they have parents who are usually the parents of all or most of the dogs in the pack. They also allow puppies to eat first. Making dogs wait while we eat may send a message to our dogs that we are puppies. It is not necessary to have a pack leader as such but only to have a few household rules as you would with children. They may be not to jump on visitors, not to take food from the table, not to pull on a lead, to be calm when people are visiting etc. These real life issues are more important than trying to establish a heirarchy.
Training may be important down the track depending on what you want to train, but I think your main issue here is to first manage the dogs and bring down their stress levels so they are easier to live with. At the moment as often as possible, they should be resting at least 18 hours a day. How nice that your largest puppy can be trusted and it sounds like he can trust you too. However, if you place him in stressful situations he will lose that trust - he may shut down or start other displacement behaviours. Your dogs also need to learn to trust you. They will learn to trust you if they know you are going to help them out, taking them out of situations they are not coping with. You will know if they are not coping when you see them: panting, lip-licking, sitting, eyes blinking, barking, paw-lifting, head turning to side, back turning, tails up over back (unless its a husky or such breeds in which tail should be over the back), stiff body stance, lying down, frantic play, hiding, or shutting down.
For training them to sit: Is a sit so important? Is it not better to have well-behaved dogs? A sit is not a criteria for having a well behaved dog. I very rarely tell my dogs to sit. Your puppies are so young, it is best not to make them sit at such an early age as you do not as yet know how well the bones are growing or if there is any pain experienced when sitting. There are years ahead of them to learn to sit.
I have a good article on crate training on my website: www.shalvaholistics.com - please read this article on the training page. You are right - it is not important that they all sit before you let them out of their cage, this will confuse them. Teach them one dog at a time and again is it necessary that they sit? Are you teaching a sit, or that it is good manners to just wait until you give them the cue to come out? You sound like your really do love them and want to do your best for those precious pups of yours and I salute you for managing so many young ones at once.
Please go to my website and look up stress reduction techniques. Follow the stress reduction techniques for your puppies. These techniques are excellent for brain development, brainwork and nosework. Please give at least one of your dogs’ meals daily in their kongs.
I would like to ask you what diet you are feeding your puppies? Also how much exercise are the puppies getting daily and what type of exercise is this? - Nicole