So, I was down at the dog park a few days ago, and we had another one of those “Go ask Ash” moments. I don’t know who died and made me the authority on all things dog, but – oh, wait, um, I set myself up as the authority, didn’t I? <Blush!>
Anyway, it seems that a lot of the time, the questions I’m asked involve Rottweilers. I don’t always have the answers, but when I don’t, my friend Neila does, because she’s been breeding Rotts pretty much ever since Jesus had a paper route. I didn’t need her help with this question, though, because she’s already told me the answer many times.
The question was, “How can I care for my six-week-old puppy? He’s a Rottweiler.” I already knew that, generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to separate a puppy from the mother and the rest of the litter before eight weeks, and even worse with the Rotts. Neila tells me, and I have no reason to think that she’s mistaken. It seems Rottweilers need a little more time – usually 10 weeks before they’re really ready to be adopted into a human family, and they’ll need special treatment.
As it turned out, though, this was kind of a special situation. It seems that the mother was rejecting the puppy, and for no apparent reason. Sometimes, a bitch will try to drive a puppy out of the litter if there is something wrong with it – no point in wasting time, energy and milk on something that isn’t likely to make it. Everything happens for a reason, right?
That wasn’t the case here, though. This was a perfectly healthy puppy that, for some unfathomable reason, the mother just didn’t want. Sometimes things happen for no reason at all, and this was one of those times.
So, the person at the dog park had a puppy that, ideally, should have had four weeks more with his mother but who could still be considered to be weaned. There was no need for anything like a milk replacer, but there was still a need for some special considerations. Caring for a 6-week-old puppy is different than caring for an 8-week-old puppy, or a 10-week-old puppy.
When you bring a six-week-old puppy into your home, you have the challenge that he has not had enough time with the litter. Typically, puppies need at least eight weeks with the mother and the littermates just to learn the basics of how to be a dog! So, when you have a six-week-old puppy, caring for him means that you have to be super-vigilant about socializing. If you can, you should expose him to other dogs as soon as possible. If you have another dog in your home, that’s half the battle, and it will probably be smooth sailing. If you haven’t, try to introduce him to dogs that your friends have – puppies, ideally.
Next, work on socializing your puppy with people. That’s even more important than socializing him with other dogs. Usually, puppies that stay with the litter for the proper amount of time become used to certain humans – the breeder, and the breeder’s family. You’re going to have to introduce your puppy to your family, and to strangers, as well, and that might take him a bit out of the comfort zone that would be normal for a puppy of his age. You can’t neglect this step, though, because there has been a “breach.” He’s been taken away from the people that would normally have provided his “dog to human” socialization, and you are essentially starting from scratch. So begin right away – you have to make up for lost time.
If you are caring for a six-week-old puppy, chances are that you are in the same position as my friend from the dog park: you have ended up with a puppy that really wasn’t expected to leave his mother and his littermates quite this soon. It might be a bit of a scramble to bring together the right supplies, but what you’ll need are food and water bowls, a collar and leash, good quality puppy chow, toys, and possibly a crate.
You want to make sure that your little one has a good environment, and one that he can get used to easily since he has been prematurely displaced. You want him to feel comfortable, safe, and not stressed. So make sure that he has a place where he feels good. If you work from home, this could be something as simple as a blanket under your desk so that you can reach down and offer a reassuring touch from time to time. If you work outside the home, then a crate can be your best friend. Provide food, water, a nice blanket and some toys so that your little one will see the crate as a good place to be while you are away.
Keep in mind when caring for a six-week-old puppy that he is barely weaned. In fact, most bitches will allow their puppies to nurse, at least periodically, until they are eight-weeks-old. Your little guy does not understand why he has been so quickly taken off his mother’s milk, and he might not be all that receptive to solids right away.
Resist the temptation to offer milk. Cow milk is nothing like dog milk, and if you offer it to your puppy, he could develop diarrhea. If he gets hungry enough, he will take solid food. In the short term, though, it might be wise to offer wet food. As he accustoms himself to the wet food, you can begin mixing in dry, and ultimately you will be able to have him on a regular diet of dry puppy chow, which is best.
If you have brought a new puppy into your home, supervision is important, and that’s true whether he’s six weeks old or older. Puppies are like little kids: they can get into any manner of things that are not good for them. So, ideally, you will bring your puppy home on the weekend, or at another time when you are able to closely supervise him. He’s getting used to his new space, and he needs your help and guidance.
There are two things that your new puppy needs to learn: first, where to go potty, and second, when he should stay in his crate. This can take patience. Remember, especially if you’re caring for a six-week-old puppy, he is just a baby. He doesn’t know where he’s supposed to go potty. Take him outside about half an hour after every meal as well as first thing in the morning and right before he goes to bed. Don’t praise him for peeing or pooing, though – that’s confusing. He won’t understand why you praise him when he does it in the yard, and then scold him when he does it in the house. Potty is just that – potty. Not a cause for praise or for discipline.
As to the crate, that can really help with potty training, because most puppies do not want to eliminate where they sleep. The crate is also often perceived by dogs as their “home within the home” where they can snuggle up and feel safe. There is no reason why your puppy should be afraid of the crate, provided that you do not use it as a “doggie prison.” No dog should be confined to a crate for hours.
I’m going back to this because it is so very important, especially if you are caring for a six-week-old puppy. Your puppy should be introduced to all kinds of different people and situations before he is three months old, so that means that you only have another month and a half to take care of socialization.
No, it is not. He needs to be around many different people and learn how to interact with them. He should also be introduced to other animals. A well-socialized dog is a joy to be around, and a wonderful companion. A poorly-socialized dog is not nearly as much fun, and could even be dangerous.
Keep in mind, though, that socialization is relative; it has a lot to do with the breed. If you have a Labrador retriever, for instance, and a stranger enters your home, the Lab is likely to react something along the lines of, “Hi, new best friend, can I give you kisses and go home with you?” That can be hell on your ego, but it says a lot about the loving nature of the dog.
On the other hand, if you have a Cane Corso, the reaction is more likely to be, “I’m reserving judgment – prove that you’re a good person, and I might decide to permit you to be my friend. I will not, however, ever consider going home with you.”
Either behavior is fine; it has to do with the basic nature of the dog. The main thing is that socialization issues are dealt with early on, and a six-week-old puppy is going to need more socialization than an older puppy, regardless of the breed.
Most dogs, if brought into the household at the proper time, will be fine with being home alone. Sure, you’ll get the greeting when you come back, and it probably won’t matter if you were gone for five minutes or five hours, it will still be “Oh, you were gone forever and I’m so glad you’re home!”
Very young puppies, though, might be prone to separation anxiety, and that can lead to destructiveness. Again, the crate is your friend. Put your puppy in his crate with some of his favorite toys so that he can stay entertained while you are gone. Resist the temptation to come back in the house and soothe him if he starts to whine. This just tells him that if he makes a fuss, you’ll come back right away. And don’t worry about potty issues. If you’ve put him out before leaving, there is little chance that he will mess in the crate.
Your puppy probably won’t like the idea of you being gone, but he will come to accept it. If you don’t make it an issue for you, it won’t be much of an issue for him.
Of course, you don’t want to be known as “that idiot next door whose dog never shuts up,” so work on positive reinforcement if your dog tends to bark and howl when you leave him. Begin by ignoring the barking. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. But your dog needs to know that if he barks, nothing is going to happen. Nothing good, nothing bad. Then, when he stops barking, give him a treat and praise him. He will quickly get the idea that something good is going to happen if he stops barking.
If he’s horribly annoying, and will just never stop barking when you go away, get him a cat.
No, I’m serious! Puppies get lonely just like the rest of us, and some puppies feel lonelier than others. If he absolutely can’t stand it when you’re away, and nothing you do will stop him from barking, consider introducing another animal into the house to keep him company.
Getting through the first few weeks when caring for a six-week-old puppy is going to be the most trying times. Keep in mind that what you have is a baby that has been taken from his mother too soon. He’s going to be frightened, unsure and confused. Be gentle with him. He needs you more at this vulnerable stage of his life than he ever will. Your kindness, care and compassion will mean the world to him, and he will reward you in years to come by being a loving, loyal companion. Sure, he came to you a little too soon, but that wasn’t his fault. Take him close to your heart, and help him to become the strong, loving soul that he is meant to be. He’s only six weeks old; he needs you, and he’s worth it.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that dog park Rottie pup, but I think he’ll make it!