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Bedding for Puppies

Starting from the moment the puppies are born, the right type of bedding provides a fundamental role in their proper development, both psychologically and physiologically. Primarily, the bedding must be, above all else: safe and hygienic. Secondly, it must also be comfortable and practical. However, the use of different types of bedding at different stages of their development also serves to educate and assist the puppies as they mature.



STAGE 1

At birth, the whelping box is covered in several thick layers of large, clean, absorbent towels. During the whole whelping process, we use approximately 20-30 large towels and approximately 20-30 small towels (depending on the size of the litter/number of puppies that are born)… these are all old towels that have been worn soft from many years of use and are well washed in the laundry machine at a high temperature prior to use, to ensure they are completely disinfected. We only use baby-safe laundry detergent and baby-safe fabric softener to ensure there are minimal chemicals so that there is neither overpowering smell of perfumes nor risk of allergic reactions.

During whelping, the mother dog (bitch) might shred some of these large bedding towels as part of her nesting instinct (to build a comfortable nest for her offspring) and as a way to distract herself from the discomfort of contractions (method of coping with the pain). Any large towels that are shredded beyond repair are simply cut down to smaller size for future use as small hand-towels (for cleaning / drying off the puppies as they enter the world) and any loose strings are immediately cut off and discarded, for safety. This way, the old towels can survive many years of frequent use, and wear and tear, recycled many times until they are finally thrown away.

  

During whelping, the large towels become flooded with amniotic fluid and blood as the puppies enter the world, so they must be constantly removed from the whelping box (into a pile of dirty towels for the laundry) and replaced with fresh, clean dry towels, throughout the night. Once all of the puppies are born, cleaned and dry, the dirty towels all go to the laundry and the newborn puppies spend their first night on a comfortable bedding of clean soft towels, which provides the necessary traction to help them wiggle up to the nipples for suckling.



STAGE 2

For the first three weeks after birth, the newborn puppies live on soft blankets. The blankets are soft and absorbent, yet also provide ample traction for the puppies to move around confidently. Since our whelping boxes are very large (2m x 2m) we use a large, clean duvet cover (200x200) that goes on top of the layer of clean towels. By only using one large blanket on the top layer, we try to keep the whole surface area as smooth and flat as possible, without any large lumps or bumps, so that the puppies don’t get trapped or stuck, to ensure they conserve as much energy as possible to get to the nipples easily. At this stage of development, comfort is very important since 90% of their time is spent sleeping, which is when their bodies are growing, so having a soft bed to sleep on is of paramount importance.

  

We normally replace the top blanket every 24 hours to ensure the whelping box stays as clean as possible, though at this stage, the mother dog (bitch) helps with cleaning up after her babies by licking up their urine and eating their poop. Any dirty towels underneath the top blanket are also regularly replaced with clean towels if any urine soaks through. This phase of development entails constant laundry cycles, day and night, but we have professional/industrial size laundry machines to cope with the workload/backlog of dirty laundry. As before, we only use baby-safe laundry detergent and baby-safe fabric softener to ensure there are minimal chemicals so that there is neither overpowering smell of perfumes nor risk of allergic reactions.




STAGE 3

At approximately three weeks old, the puppies are developed enough to begin the gradual transition to eating solid food. With their eyes fully open at around two weeks old, they are now able to trundle around easily, and they also start to develop their babyteeth. The first few days of tasting solid food are very messy as most of the mushy food (warm soaked kibble or minced meat) gets trampled into the bedding while being sampled… it is relatively greasy and mucky so, to ensure maximum hygiene, it is super important for the whole area to be kept as clean as possible to minimize the risk of any bacteria or pathogens growing in their environment. This transitional period also coincides with the mother dog (bitch) reducing her clean-up of the puppies so, to ensure the trampled food doesn’t mix with faeces or urine and get inadvertently consumed, the bedding must be constantly clean and regularly replaced.

  

As the puppies are developing babyteeth and starting to explore the world around them, they also begin to chew… on everything: each other, and the blankets around them. This is completely normal, yet also poses some potential risks. If pieces of chewed/shredded blankets are ingested, they cannot be digested and this can cause intestinal obstruction, which is potentially life-threatening and requires abdominal surgery under general anesthesia to remove the obstruction. This is a serious situation that we strive to avoid under any circumstance! Therefore, it is at this stage of development (3-4 weeks old) that we switch the puppies over to newspaper… a thick layer of flat absorbent matte newspaper (not glossy magazines) with a thick layer of shredded printer paper (sourced from local offices) on top.

This newspaper bedding serves multiple purposes:
• the newspaper is highly absorbent, which ensures the paper gets dirty – not the puppies! The dirty newspaper is easy to discard and constantly replace (to simply throw away, without puppy poop or old food clogging up the laundry machines) rather than having to change the whole blanket several times per day, we can simply remove individual sheets of dirty newspapers constantly, every hour throughout the day.

• the newspaper is safe for the puppies to chew… it is easily shredded (lots of fun for the puppies to play in/with!) yet also rarely ingested. Thankfully, if any small pieces of newspaper do get swallowed, this poses minimal risk for the puppies (compared to swallowing cotton fabric).

Newspaper is produced from cellulose, which is an organic compound that is obtained from wood pulp (from a variety of sources). Cellulose fibers are extracted and converted to paper pulp, which is then combined with water and placed on a paper making machine where it is flattened, dried, and cut into sheets and rolls. Today, the majority of newspaper print is composed of soy ink, which is a kind of ink that is made from soybeans. As opposed to traditional petroleum-based ink, soy-based ink is more environmentally friendly, provides more accurate colors, and makes it easier to recycle paper. Soy ink is also lower in Volatile Organic Compounds, which decreases toxic emissions during the printing process. Since newspaper is an organic compound, this means it can be digested if small quantities are accidentally ingested, which is rare since most puppies prefer to chew / shred the paper, rather than actually eat it. However, if any small pieces of newspaper are accidentally swallowed, the soy-based ink is completely safe and nontoxic. This is why, for long-distance journeys and international flights, we also try to ensure the puppies travel on newspaper (as opposed to puppy whelping pads, which are made from cotton and thin plastic… diaper-like material that is more absorbent/waterproof yet also much more dangerous if ingested!)

• the layer of shredded paper, on top of the flat newspaper that is underneath, provides a fun and interactive surface for the puppies to play in… it stimulates the puppies by providing enrichment (aka “hamster mode”) and it also ensures more traction, compared to a completely flat surface of slippery newspapers, which is important for the proper development of their joints (to minimize the environmental risk of hip dysplasia). The puppies can learn to dig, play and explore in the shredded paper, which also provides obstacles, lumps and bumps for them to climb over and under, to help their muscles to develop and to gain more self-confidence with their movement. It also means that, from a very young age, the puppies start to experience different surface textures, which is an important step of the ENS (Early Neurological Stimulation) protocol, compared to puppies that are raised on only one type of surface, or that switch over to a different surface at a later age. The newspaper also provides a relatively soft transition material before the next stage of bedding (STAGE 4 – see below) from blankets to straw.


• finally, the newspaper also helps with future potty training… at this age (3-4 weeks old) the puppies are not yet able to distinguish between different areas for sleeping and eliminating (in the past, we’ve experimented with potty areas and litter boxes, within the whelping box, with limited results). However, in our experience, puppies that regularly eliminated on blankets and towels (similar texture to carpet) at a later age are usually slower to potty train than puppies that learn to eliminate on newspaper, from a younger age, once they go to their new homes.


STAGE 4

At 4 weeks old, the puppies are now used to eating solid food (with constant access to fresh water and dry kibble) and they receive several small meals of minced meat throughout the day. They are also able to explore their environment confidently and require more space to run and play. Therefore, we open up the whelping box to extend their puppy area to include the entire surface of the puppy room (3x more space overall).

  

At this age, we also switch the puppies over to dry straw for several reasons:
• At 4 weeks old, the puppies are starting to learn where to eliminate vs where to eat and sleep. So, to encourage them to pee/poop in a specific area, we keep newspaper in the part of the puppy room that was previously the whelping box area, which retains the slight smell of urine better (to encourage them to eliminate there) and then put a thick layer of clean dry straw over the whole entire room. In case of accidents in other parts of the puppy room, the dry straw is very absorbent and easy to clean (simply removing the dirty straw and poop to replace it with fresh clean straw).

• The straw also provides a relatively soft nesting material for the puppies to play in and sleep on, and it is also completely safe and nontoxic in case it is chewed and any small pieces are accidentally swallowed. Of course, we use only the highest quality straw, sourced from a local farming family, to ensure that it is completely free from mold or mildew or any bugs/insects (especially ticks or tick-eggs) that can be a problem with lower quality straw.

• It is important to note that we never use sawdust or wood shavings! Breathing or inhaling airborne particles of sawdust or wood dust into the lungs can cause breathing problems and lead to respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, while getting dust in the eyes or nose can cause irritation and damage. Exposure to wood dust has long been associated with a variety of adverse health effects, including dermatitis, allergic respiratory effects, mucosal and non-allergic respiratory effects, and cancer. Certain woods and their dust contain toxins or harmful tannins that can produce severe allergic reactions, while contact with the irritant compounds in wood sap can cause dermatitis and other allergic reactions. This is why we only use straw, which is generally much safer for puppies overall, compared to sawdust or wood shavings.

• The puppies can learn to dig, play and explore in the straw, which stimulates the puppies by providing enrichment (aka “guinea pig mode”) and also provides more advanced obstacles, lumps and bumps for them to climb over and under, to help their muscles to develop and to gain more self-confidence with their movement. The puppy area also has a Kuranda dog bed, which the puppies can climb on to sleep (or tunnel under, to form a cave area). It also means that, from a very young age, the puppies start to experience different surface textures, which is an important step of the ENS (Early Neurological Stimulation) protocol, compared to puppies that are raised on only one type of surface, or that switch over to a different surface at a later age. The straw provides a slightly more tactile transition material before the next stage (STAGE 5 – see below) from straw to the outside world, since straw has a similar texture to grass, which also helps with future potty training.



STAGE 5

At approximately 4-5 weeks old, the puppies are relatively larger and stronger, and ready to start exploring a wider area… this includes exploring our living room and kitchen, where they are exposed to a variety of household noises (dishwasher, laundry machines, vacuum cleaner, television, etc) and a whole bunch of new and interesting toys to play with... they also get to meet our household cats and play with our children on a regular basis. At this age, we open up the puppy room to include the (roof covered) outdoor puppy area, so the puppies can choose if they want to be inside or outside.

  



STAGE 6

At around 6 weeks old, the puppies are large enough to start exploring the wider outside world. When the weather is nice, we let the puppies play outside in the grass area... since this grass area is not covered, we only let them play there under constant supervision, due to the potential risk from hawks/eagles in our area (nothing has ever happened before, but you can't be too careful).

  

Once the puppies are 7-8 weeks old, then they can play in our larger outdoor enclosures without supervision as, at this age, they are usually too large/heavy to be potentially targeted by predatory birds. The outdoor enclosures also have plenty of trees for shade, as well as the Hobbit Houses for shelter. At night, the puppies sleep in their designated puppy enclosure: puppy room/roof-covered puppy area. When the weather is very warm/hot, the puppies also get a paddling pool to play with/in.



As you can see, our protocol exposes our puppies to a variety of textures/surface areas both indoors and outdoors, from tiles to blankets to newspaper to straw to grass/dirt/concrete as well as wooden/laminate flooring... so that they have a solid foundation and are fully prepared for the next stage of life with their new families.

Please note that this "system" has been modified and adapted over the course of more than a decade of trial-and-error experience. Undoubtedly, some other breeders will advocate for other methods, which may be better (or worse) but this is the system that works best for us, and the reasoning behind the whole thought-process that went into it.

Also, please note that the timing listed above is somewhat approximate as there are various factors that influence our decision to move the puppies from one stage to the next, including (but not limited to): seasonal climate/weather conditions, litter size/number of puppies, maternal care provided by the mother/bitch, overall condition of the puppies for that age of development, etc. Sometimes the puppies are ready sooner, or sometimes they require a little longer (for instance, sickly or weak/small puppies might be too delicate for the next stage, whereas robust and strong/large puppies might be ready to tackle the outside world at a younger age). As with human children, there is always a slight degree of variation with regard to environmental and genetic factors so this is where years of experience comes into play: to decide what is best for each specific litter of puppies, with consideration to all relevant factors... as opposed to a generic "one size fits all" rule.



MORE INFO:

Check out our article on Puppy Socialization and Exposure!


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