This Wednesday, August 24th the pups will be four weeks old. Watching puppies grow and change is endlessly fascinating. When puppies are born they are very dependent on mom. Their eyes and ears are closed. They do not generate their own body heat and entirely rely on mom and siblings to stay warm. They need mom to lick them to stimulate elimination of waste. Pingo has been doing a great job as a first time mom. She is very attentive to her three children, but she also gives them room to grow and explore on their own as they get older.
For the first two weeks after they are born puppies spend up to 90% of their time sleeping, their awake moments are entirely focused on nursing. Somewhere around 14 days (our pups opened their eyes on day 12-13 this year) old the pups open their eyes. They develop usable vision around 18-21 days old. All pup eyes are a milky bluish color when they first open. We'll know their true eye color soon. Around the same time their hearing starts to develop and they respond to new sounds. It is good that the pups don't see or hear for the first few weeks of their lives as the rest of the park dogs are so excited and fascinated by our new arrivals they make quite a ruckus any time a little one squeaks or grunts. The pups are also capable of producing and regulating their own body heat by the time they are about 2 weeks old.
The 14-21 day old week is a HUGE transition time as the pups can begin to see, hear, walk around and eliminate without mom's help. In the past week we have begun to observe our three interacting and starting to play with each other. They make funny puppy noises, paw and mouth at each other, and tumble around together. We have installed the puppy ramp to their house so that they can easily walk in and out without having to make the "big jump" that our normal house structure would require. Once they leave the house, their world expands dramatically again. They can begin to interact with visitors who come to their pen, they are socialized by everyone - park employees and visitors alike.
When people ask me when their training begins I always reply, "As soon as they are born." It is so important for our pups to adjust to the constant love and attention they will receive from the hundreds of thousands of visitors who will come through the kennels to meet them during their careers here. These little guys have already been filmed by a professional film crew, just the beginning of their long careers educating people about the life and work of Denali's sled dogs.
As they grow older they will also begin to be introduced to other adult dogs in the kennels. We bring the pups into the kennels building for play sessions with various "aunties" and "uncles" that we know will be gentle and playful with our young pups. We need our older dogs to teach the kids good manners and the rules of canine social behavior from the time they are young. They have toys and tubes and plenty of new things to explore in their puppy pen to encourage them to be curious and unafraid of their surroundings. The park staff often refer to this phase as the period of "maximum cuteness" for puppies. It is fun to watch them grow and change and develop their unique personalities.
Kennels staff has started to offer soaked kibble to the pups this week and train them to come to the call of, "pup, pup, pup".They can still nurse, but it is time to supplement the milk that mom can provide with some grown up dog food. The pups let us know that they are ready for this step by curiously sniffing into mom's dinner bowl. The pups will learn that people are their food source and they will follow us anywhere for a food reward. This is critical training for the rest of their lives. We are building their trust in us, their belief that whatever new thing we ask them to do they will be kept safe by us ad they will get their favorite reward - a treat or kibble and lots of love and attention! We can trust that our dogs know where home is and where food is so we don't have to worry about them running off in search of these things. They want to be in the kennels or on the trail with their extended family of park dogs and people. This essential life lesson begins now.
The pups are still wobbling around on their puppy legs now, but they will continue to grow and change rapidly in the coming weeks. They will soon be running around the summer demo track to get their kibble reward at the end. We will get a better sense of their individual personalities with each passing day as we witness how they react and interact to the people, dogs, and world around them.
Enjoy the pictures that emerge on the webcam (www.go.nps.gov/pups) and feel free to post any questions or comments you have for us.