The Three Sisters

Day 1: Sept 18, 2017

Sage, Rosemary (Rosie), and Marjoram (Marji) came home with me very unexpectedly on the afternoon of September 18th. The pups are approximately 7 weeks old, but Mom Gracie has had issues with skin allergies and needed to go on a medication that, obviously, would not be great for the pups. Since she was miserable and they’ve been eating on their own for a couple of weeks now, it was determined that it would be all right for the puppies to be separated from Mom early.

Coastal Humane provided me with a crate, a couple of blankets, a towel, puppy food, food and water bowls, and a package of puppy pads. I stopped at PetSmart on the way home and got a play enclosure and some puppy toys, then went to Tractor Supply and stocked up on tarps. When I got home, I set two tarps down and put the play enclosure on top of that in our rumpus room, and added a puppy pad, food and water, and plenty of soft blankets.

To my knowledge, the puppies had never been anywhere where they could just roam freely, so the rumpus room was a big hit with all three. Naturally, there wasn’t much in the way of toilet training, so there were a few accidents when I couldn’t get them on the puppy pads in time. Nothing I wasn’t prepared for, of course.

The pups ate well, played lots, snuggled whenever anyone was available for snuggling, and then I set them in their pen for the last time at around 10:30 and turned out the lights. They made it through the night very well, but were definitely ready to go when I got up at 6:30 the following morning.

Day 2: Training Begins

I’ve been reading a lot by Dr. Ian Dunbar about the potential for training very young puppies using play and other positive methods, for things like potty training and some basic commands, and was eager to try things out with these guys. I have had one batch of pups before that I raised from birth (the batch Killian and Adia came from), and while that was ten years ago, I do recall how responsive the pups were to training at a very young age. Sage, Rosie, and Marji are much the same – eager to learn, and very responsive.

We started out with a potty break outside first thing. It was the first time the girls had ever set foot in the wide world, and they went into the venture with varying levels of enthusiasm. Marji, the boldest by far, couldn’t wait to get out the door. Rosie is usually the second to go, while Sage – the biggest among the trio – hung back until I picked her up and set her down on the stone walkway.

Peeing outside came naturally to all three, and they got lots of praise for that. Pooping took a few visits, but all of them did manage to do their business a couple of times outside by the day was done.

We also started working on recall and ‘sit,’ with little bits of string cheese provided as an incentive. Within an hour, all three were coming when called – though so far Rosie seems to be the only one who responds to her name – and sitting on command. Marji usually interrupts that sit by jumping up to get her reward, but Rosie and Sage sit very well and remain seated while they get their prize.

The three pups have also been introduced to Magnus, our year-old Maine coon cat. Magnus was a stray who came to us a few months ago, and he’s gotten very used to being the only baby in the family. He seems curious about the pups, but definitely not eager to make friends. The puppies, on the other hand, are dying to meet him. He’s hissed a few times, enough to make an impression on all but Marji. Sage and Rosie keep a respectful distance, but Marji heads straight for him the moment he comes into the room. Since Marji is about a third of his size, right now we’re not considering it a huge problem – though we are trying to discourage the behavior so it doesn’t become an issue later.

That’s about it for now. All three pups are healthy, seem very happy, and love to be cuddled. They will definitely make a wonderful addition to someone’s family when the time comes.

Day 3

I was up at quarter past six this morning, unsure how the night would go. Happily, it was great. Pups were sleeping soundly but woke when I came in, and then very happily went out for their first potty break of the morning. There was some pee on the puppy pad and one bit of poo off the pad, but definitely an improvement over what I’d found the previous morning. As soon as we were outside, all three girls peed right away, and Rosie and Sage pooped on our first out. Then we went back inside for breakfast at about 7 a.m. – they’re still having the puppy food, which I mix with a little bit of water. All three girls ate like champs, and then we went back out for extended play time.

The original plan had been for me to take the pups with me to my mom’s today as I had an appointment in Rockland – the pups would then stay with my mom, and we would have dinner there. I was already on the fence about the wisdom of this (the car ride is about an hour each way, which seems excessive when they’re this young), and that plan was scrapped when Rosie had a total meltdown in the car and screamed like she was being executed for the first five miles. We turned around, I cuddled the pups until they slept, and then headed out on my own.

I returned at about three-thirty, and then that afternoon at a little past five my brother, his wife, and their two daughters — Maggie and Maya, 11 and 9 respectively — came to meet the pups. There was lots of socialization and cuddling, all three pups very responsive and not at all shy. Magnus the cat came out from hiding and interacted a lot, and is actually doing great with the pups. He isn’t into playing with them per se, but he’s becoming more tolerant of their presence, and is very gentle when he pushes them away — lots of batting at them, but no claws. By the end of the evening, he even seemed to be enjoying himself!

Ben was out for the evening, but returned at nine and we settled in with the pups. Sage almost had a poo accident but I managed to get her out on time; Marji did have an accident before I could get to her. Rosie I managed to catch while she was circling, and got her out straight away. All three girls did a final poo outside by around 9 p.m., and it was lights out shortly after ten. By then, all girls were completely ready to conk out.

Day 4

When I got up this morning at 6:30, Sage had a sneezing fit and had some white discharge around her nose. Rosie was also a little stuffy. Of course my first thought was, “oh my god, I’ve given the puppies distemper.” They don’t have distemper — they have a little cold, and now have meds to take care of it as provided by Coastal Humane.

Potty training was a big success this morning – some pee on the puppy pad, but no poo at all. All three girls pooped the moment they were outside, and peeing is a breeze out there. They still have accidents inside if I’m not watching them, so I would not call them potty trained by any stretch of the imagination… But it’s a great start for this young.

Our trip to Coastal Humane was a little traumatic as Rosie continues to scream like she’s being electrocuted the moment she gets in the car. I’ve been listening to Ian Dunbar’s iWoofs podcast and they have a great deal there about puppy development and socialization, and I think I would like to start taking the pups out one at a time and walking with them in a Baby Bjorn so that they’re able to see the world and be exposed to lots of different people. Short trips like this would, I think, be a great way to get Rosie feeling a little more favorably about car rides.

We returned home and I thought the girls would be ready to conk out, but it was gorgeous and sunny and instead we did lots of playing. I brought my dog scale from Cushing yesterday, so was able to weigh all three little ones. Marji is 4.18 lb, Rosie is 6.2, and Sage weighs in at 8.1 lb. I probably should have had their weights when I first got them – live and learn. I will definitely make sure to record that sort of data next time, regardless of the age of the fosters.

That afternoon, I had an edit due and so went upstairs to work while the girls slept. When I came back down a couple of hours later, there were multiple loose stools on the puppy pad. I took the pups out, where they continued to have diarrhea – Marji in particular, and she vomited twice once we returned inside. The girls had been prescribed Clavamox to address their colds, and I ultimately realized the medication was likely the culprit. Evening was quiet, and the girls slept well once they finally settled in.

Day 5

I woke Friday to no poop or pee on the puppy pads – I think the poor girls just had nothing left by the time they were done Thursday afternoon and evening. All three girls went to the bathroom outside the moment I put them out, both pee and poop – they’re getting so good! Of course, they still pee inside on the rug the moment they feel the need, but they avoid going inside their pen whenever possible, and when they do have to go in the pen, they definitely know to use the puppy pads now.

We had a quiet day on Friday since Thursday was a little rough. All three sisters adore being picked up and snuggled at this point, and there’s usually a mad rush to climb in my lap as soon as I sit down. Sage is usually the first up, with Rosie piling on top. Marji is pretty independent and can be a little wild – she wants to settle in when she wants to settle in, and I think the fact that she’s so small means she often has to defer to the wishes of her sister by default. So, she goes off by herself and does her own thing until someone is available for her. It makes me a little sad, so I try to cuddle her as much as I can and make sure there’s always room when she wants to come up.

I’ve been working with the pups on ‘sit,’ which they’re getting great at. ‘Come’ depends on mood and what kind of exciting things they’re doing, but all three at least get the concept. Magnus the Cat continues to get closer to the pups, and I think he actually wants to play by now but doesn’t quite know how to go about it with the little munsters. So, he’ll zip through as fast as he can, get them to chase him, and then run off again. Sometimes, he’ll lie down and allow one or two pups to get near, but if they try to actually touch him, he hisses and bats at them. It’s great because they’re learning to respect him, but there’s no fear there and the novelty is wearing off, so they’re not constantly obsessed with chasing him. If there is a dog-savvy cat in their forever homes, I think they’ll adjust very well.

Day 6

Saturday, Ben and I were planning to go to the Common Ground Fair in Unity for the day, so I’d arranged to drop the girls off at the shelter. I woke to find all three pups fairly sniffly, but once again they hadn’t gone to the bathroom in the pen at all, and eagerly did their business when I put them out at 6:30. We had play time and snuggle time, breakfast and meds, and then Ben and I packed the girls up to make our way to the shelter. This time, I put Marji and Sage together in one crate, and kept Rosie in a crate on her own since I know she has the most trouble. Since I wasn’t driving, I was also able to set it up so that the girls could see me and I could interact on the drive over.

This time out, the trip was far less painful. Sage and Marji ride like champs, basically just snuggling up and settling in. Rosie was definitely agitated, but far less so this time around, which was great. There was some whimpering and some pacing, but none of the ear-splitting shrieks she had going on our last car rides.

Ben and I picked the girls up again at about 3:30, and the car ride home was slightly less pleasant – this time around, Rosie was pretty loud once again, though Sage and Marji continued to remain fairly chill. When we got home, I expected they would be ready to conk out, but they DEFINITELY weren’t even close to interested in that. They played and ran and snuggled and played some more. I gave them the new puppy food the shelter had provided – this one with duck and chicken, I think – and the girls went wild. Rosie actually growled a bit, and I got a separate bowl for Marji and fed her outside the pen to make sure she was able to get her fill.

We went back outside for quite a while after that, and eventually the girls settled in later in the evening. As they get older, it seems the nap times are getting shorter and the play that much wilder. It’s inevitable, of course, that pups aren’t always going to stay snoozing babies, but it does make it a little more challenging to keep up with them!

I did notice that Marji did several little wee accidents on the carpet this evening, and I’m not really sure what that’s about. I’ll keep an eye on her, and just need to make sure to remain attentive to whether they’re remembering to go to the bathroom outside amidst all the play and exploration. It’s easy to forget with so much fun going on!

SIDE NOTE: On the way home today, Ben and I listened to an Ian Dunbar iWoofs episode about working on bite inhibition in puppies. It was really informative and very helpful in dealing with the girls. Essentially, what they talked about in the show is the fact that mouthing and biting is actually important for puppies up to 16 to 18 weeks, as it gives them the feedback they need to figure out how to soften their bites. So, rather than prohibiting a puppy from biting people at all, ever, it’s best to give them feedback on when a bite is okay and when it’s too hard. So, when puppy bites down particularly hard, say “Ouch!” and stop moving. Don’t pull your hand away, as this makes it seem like there’s a game afoot to the pup – just freeze. The fun stops. Then begin again. If puppy is getting way over the top, you might consider leaving the area – I go up the stairs far enough that they can’t reach me, and remain there without interacting with them for a count of 10. Then, play begins again. If you’re interested, the link to that particular episode is here: https://www.dogstardaily.com/podcasts/iwoofs/406-protecting-my-boy

I’ve noticed that Marji has the biggest bite by far of the three pups, while Sage has the softest. I expect that’s because Marji is so small – she has to have the bigger bite if she’s going to survive with her rough-and-tumble sisters. Sage, meanwhile, has had to learn to play a little more gently since she is literally twice the size of her sisters. Otherwise, she would get no play time at all.

Day 7

One week today! The pups were all super sniffly this morning, particularly Sage, but that doesn’t seem to slow them down any! They were ready to go when I got them at 6:30, with all three heading out into the world for pees and poops without prompting. There were a couple of pee patches on the puppy pad from overnight, but bedtime was a little sketchy last night in that the pups had several pee accidents inside and then fell asleep quite early. I’ll need to wake them for a final out a little later to ensure the night goes smoothly. The puppy pads, in the meantime, are a lifesaver.

All three girls were weighed again today. Marji is still just 4.12 lb, while Rosie is up to 7.6 lb and Sage is 9.2. I’m slightly concerned that Marji isn’t growing, but ultimately I just think she’s going to be a very little dog. I’m so curious to find out how big Rosie and Sage will get, though!

The girls had their first baths this afternoon since it was so nice outside. None of them were fans in any way, shape, or form, though they did enjoy the cheese bits that came along with the endeavor. They definitely smelled better when all was said and done, though!

Day 8

I’m using a new puppy pad that the shelter provided, and it’s a bit flimsier than what I had before – the pups seem more intent on destroying it than peeing on it. I’ve also noticed that the girls are peeing in their pen more frequently than they had been, so I’ll need to work on their schedule to see if I can figure out what works best for them. I expect that if they were confined to a crate overnight rather than a whole pen, they would be less likely to have accidents… For now, though, they do confine their pottying to a corner of the pen (which is placed on a tarp, so cleanup is easy).

Today, I created a puppy enrichment center for the girls in our 1,000-square-foot workshop. There’s more info on the center itself in the section “Puppy Enrichment Center” on this page. It worked out very well, though, and I was genuinely pleased at how much thought the girls gave to the whole thing. I had placed bits of cheese and turkey throughout the little obstacle course, and it gave the pups a more interesting afternoon, I think, than just tearing around eating up the flowers. Though, obviously, tearing around eating up the flowers also has its place. đŸ™‚

Sage was the star of things this afternoon, figuring out where the treats were and how to access things overhead in record time. Marji continues to be the most fearless – she’ll climb on anything, even though she’s the littlest and has the farthest to drop. Rosie was a little slow this afternoon, which I think is interesting. She uses her nose more than the other girls (though Sage does tend to be pretty sniffly as well), and I wonder what her reaction would be if I used some things with a stronger scent to them. I’ll have to check it out and see.

Day 9

No pee in the pen this morning! It’s been days since there’s been any poop inside the pen, or since there’s been any pooping inside the house at all. Fingers crossed, they seem to have gotten the message that the outdoors is best for that particular activity.

I switched up the girls’ food today, cooking up a vegetable stew consisting of garlic, carrots, and sweet potato. I let that simmer for the morning, then added it to their food at lunch time. They ate it up eagerly, and I feel better knowing they’re getting at least a little more nutritional value than the puppy kibble I’m feeding them from the shelter.

The girls are getting much more adventurous outside, and it’s becoming a real issue trying to keep track of all three of them out there. Rosie headed for the woods this afternoon, and I had to round up all three girls and send them in. A fenced yard is a definite must if we plan to do more fostering… Ben says just a fenced area will have to do, but my ultimate vision is definitely a place that’s fully secured. It will take time and money, but I think that should be the ultimate goal.

This afternoon, I added a snuffle mat and a wading pool (a shallow plastic tub, actually) to the enrichment center. No one ventured into the tub, though they all drank from it, and Sage was able to reach into the center to get the cheese I’d placed on a bottle there. Rosie was much more on top of things today, Marjji was all over the place (man can that girl climb!), and in general I think we all had a great time. I look forward to finding new ways to make the center interesting for them – I’m having a blast doing the design and building, personally.

THE PUPPY SETUP

There have been some questions about the setup I’m using for the pups, so I thought I would address that here for anyone interested.

I went to PetSmart on the first day I got them, and purchased the 24″ x 24″ Top Paw Exercise Pen, as well as several toys made specifically for puppies. Then, I went to Tractor Supply and got two packages of Barn Star 6′ x 8′ tarps (a package containing 2 tarps, for $5). The exercise pen was pricey at $80, but I knew it would be critical, and I’m planning on doing more puppy fostering in the future, so want to have necessary equipment on hand.

When I came home, I lay down two of the tarps, then put the puppy enclosure on that. A puppy pad goes in the corner, with their crate (with fresh bedding, of course) in another corner, along with more fresh bedding for anyone who doesn’t want to sleep inside the crate. Food bowl and fresh water are also inside the pen.

We’re lucky to have a largely unfurnished ‘rumpus room’ with a crappy carpet we’re planning to tear up as soon as we can anyway. That room is where we have our TV set up, so we go in there regularly and are able to interact that way, but it’s not in the middle of the action and the pups are thus able to get away from too much stimulation when it’s time to settle down.

Outside, we actually don’t have a fenced yard, but it is big enough and far enough from the road that – right now – the pups are safely able to be out there. Another two to three weeks, however, and I don’t think I will feel comfortable having them roaming without a fence. Ben and I are planning to put in a fenced area as soon as we can. It seems to me that time and money are always in short supply these days, but we’ll get there. In the meantime, however, it seems to be a great setup for the girls right now.

PUPPY ENRICHMENT

In order to keep the pups entertained and to help with their development, I’m working on creating an enrichment center in our 1,000-square-foot workshop. Responsible breeders are already working on these enrichment protocols for their own puppies, with a focus on early socialization and training to prepare the pups for whatever home they ultimately wind up in.

It seems fairly obvious that foster families should be following the same protocols with shelter puppies in order to increase the chances that pups will successfully adjust to their new homes. Too often, puppies are returned to shelters for issues like potty training, biting or mouthing, or just generally being puppies. If we can work together on training these pups while simultaneously preparing new owners for what they can expect, we can ideally set both pup and new family up for a lifetime of success together.

This is my first enrichment “center,” made primarily from found materials that I had around the house. That includes my Bosu ball, lots of boxes of varying sizes, plastic tubs, and a snuffle mat that I made for my sweet boy Killian, who passed a few months ago. The frame you’ll see in the photos was made of 1/2″ PVC pipe that I bought from the local Home Depot. It’s $2.17 for a 10′ length of pipe, so I bought four of them and then used a hacksaw to cut the pipe into 2′ lengths. The joints joining the lengths are between $.33 and $.40 apiece, and then I used scraps of cloth and velcro I had on hand to put around the pipe – just to make it a little bit prettier to look at.