True Tails: The give and take of Puppy Ownership


Born after an average of 63 days of gestation, puppies emerge in an amnion that is bitten off and eaten by the mother dog. Puppies begin to nurse almost immediately. If the litter exceeds six puppies, particularly if one or more are obvious runts, human intervention in hand-feeding the stronger puppies is necessary to ensure that the runts get proper nourishment and attention from the mother. As they reach one month of age, puppies are gradually weaned and begin to eat solid food. The mother may regurgitate partially digested food for the puppies or might let them eat some of her solid food.The mother dog usually refuses to nurse at this stage, though she might let them occasionally nurse for comfort.

At first, puppies spend the large majority of their time sleeping and the rest feeding. They instinctively pile together into a heap, and become distressed if separated from physical contact with their littermates, by even a short distance.

Puppies are born with a fully functional sense of smell but can't open their eyes. During their first two weeks, a puppy's senses all develop rapidly. During this stage the nose is the primary sense organ used by puppies to find their mother's teats, and to locate their litter-mates, if they become separated by a short distance. Puppies open their eyes about nine to eleven days following birth. At first, their retinas are poorly developed and their vision is poor. Puppies are not able to see as well as adult dogs. In addition, puppies' ears remain sealed until about thirteen to seventeen days after birth, after which they respond more actively to sounds. Between two to four weeks old, puppies usually begin to growl, bite, wag their tails, and bark.

Puppies develop very quickly during their first three months, particularly after their eyes and ears open and they are no longer completely dependent on their mother. Their coordination and strength improve, they spar with their litter-mates, and begin to explore the world outside the nest. They play wrestling, chase, dominance, and tug-of-war games.

Puppies are highly social animals and spend most of their waking hours interacting with either their mother or littermates. It is important that puppies are socialized with humans, particularly between the ages of eight and twelve weeks, so as to encourage healthy interaction and develop the puppy's social skills around people. Puppies ideally should be exposed to as wide a variety of friendly people as possible during this period. Dogs that do not receive adequate socialization during this sensitive period may display fearful behavior around humans or other dogs as adults. In small breeds, puppies are considered puppies up until around 1 year of age as opposed to large breeds that may be regarded as a puppies up until around 2 years old. (The previous excerpt was from Wikipedia.)

And the crowd goes Awww! Yes. we're all familiar with that. The sweet, cooing adulation that comes with a bundle of fur. The deeply instinctive baby talk that puppies draw from us is comparable to nothing. So, once you've brought little Fido home, and the kids have all gathered 'round and tried to get him to bite their fingers, or go fetch a stick, yes, right after that it will come. The completely unexpected, dreadfully shocking...


"Wha... I... but... Fido, NO!!!" This is a typical response to the sudden pop of the bubble-like illusion you were living in. Examine the following...

"Oh, your dog chewed up your new leather chair? That's so funny. Of course, Fido would never do that."

"Really? He tried to run away? Well, of course, you mustn't blame yourself. Any dog might try. Except Fido, he's a good boy."

"He bit another dog! Well, Fido wouldn't dare. He's so sweet. And cute. And soft. And neat. And polite."

Does one of these sound like you? If not, do all of them sound like you? Fear not. We've all been through puppy pride, the honeymoon period before that fateful night when you come home to find he's dug up every one of your heirloom tomatoes, or ripped your great-grandmother's hand-sewn shawl to shreds, or left a little present for you on your brand-new carpet. And we've all felt anger at our dogs for what they've done, but, more importantly, for letting us believe they were angels, transcendent above the species. But that too will pass. And after that comes the true experience of owning a puppy: allowing a deeply human being into our hearts to teach us more about ourselves.