The First Eighteen Weeks

Angie Meroshnekoff
Pompier Working Great Pyrenees

Many novice breeders incorrectly assume that good puppy raising begins with the birth of the pups. Not so. The first 9 weeks of a puppy’s life begins inside the dam and attention needs to be paid to her care and nutrition. So I thought I would take you through the first 18 weeks of one of our recent litters.

Week One

The breeding has been achieved. But just prior to this we planned ahead by making sure the bitch was up to date on her shots and worming and flea free. I will not use any chemical flea treatment from here until the pups are no longer nursing. Mom gets weighed to get her “normal” weight.

Week Two

Mom gets plenty of exercise. We start going over the whelping area, making sure that we have all the equipment and order what we don’t have. Mom is eating her normal feed at this point with no supplementation.

Week Three

Mom still getting exercise, does not really look pregnant at this point, but her attitude is changing. Many bitches become reluctant to eat all their food at this point so we offer plenty of healthy treats to keep her eating. Mom is started on vitamins at this point as well. We like Pet Tabs and she will get one a day during weeks 3 and 4.

Week Four

Time for a visit to the vet for an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy and count potential pups. Mom is weighed again to see if she is gaining. Often the bitch will actually have lost a few pounds at this point because of her reluctance to eat over the last 2 weeks. Not to despair, she will begin eating very soon. The puppies are about the size of walnuts right now. If she’s not pregnant we stop the vitamins.

Week Five

Vitamins upped to 2 tabs a day and her diet is changed a little as well. At this point we start mixing good quality puppy food with her regular food - she needs to gain a lot of weight in the next 4 weeks. Now is the time to start thinking of names for the puppies if we haven’t done so before. If she has been with the livestock up to this point, we remove her to a pasture with no livestock for the protection of the puppies.

Week Six

If she hasn’t whelped here before we start bringing her inside for an hour or so to get used to the routine and spend time in the whelping room. Still getting lots of exercise with free choice food. The whelping area is set up and we stock up on old towels and lots of newspaper. Start asking friends for theirs if you don’t take the paper. Build or buy a “whelping kit” consisting of : iodine, Q-tips, thread, very sharp scissors, thermometer (I like digital), self stick wrap (often called vet wrap) to keep mom’s tail clean and out of the way, heating pad, puppy scale, small pet nurser, and powdered or canned milk replacer. You'll need a whelping box; a six-foot diameter plastic wading pool works well or you can build or purchase one about 4' x 6' for a Pyr

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A plastic wading pool used for a whelping box
A corrugated plastic whelping box

Week Seven

Mom gets her belly shaved. This will allow the pups to nurse easily and help us keep her clean during the whelping. At 54 days after the breeding we start taking her temperature. Some bitches can successfully whelp as early as 55 days. Charting the temperature, we take it 3 times a day. When the temp goes below 99 and stays there for at least 12 hours, we will know it’s time to put on the coffee.

Week Eight

About 5 or 6 days before she is due to whelp, we have her x-rayed to establish how many pups there are and whether or not their development looks normal. Knowing the exact number of pups to expect is very important. If she decides to quit labor before the last pups are born, we can rush her to the vet and have a much greater chance of saving them (and mom as well!). We get 2 cc’s of Pitocin from the vet at this time as well, to help her along with whelping if she goes too long between pups. This is something only an experienced breeder should handle and only under the supervision of the vet.

Week Nine - Whelping

This would take up a whole article on its own. The average litter for a Pyr is 7 to 10 pups and with an average wait of 45 minutes to an hour between puppies. So you are looking at a 6 to 10 hour labor and often more. Keep a tub of vanilla ice cream handy, when she is at the half way point you will all need the sugar supplementation to keep going! No kidding - we give our girls ice cream during whelping.

The bitch's rear is stained with birth fluids; having most of the hair clipped ahead of time makes it easier to clean her. The yellow is vet-wrap that is keeping her unclipped tail clean.
Whelping is finished, bitch and whelping box have been cleaned and pups have had their first meal.

Week Ten

Pups are at or nearing 1 week now. In the whelping box we have covered the newspaper with a thick fake sheepskin rug and have that covered with old towels. The towels are changed 2 to 3 times a day leaving the underlying sheepskin much cleaner. This is also changed and washed daily – usually in the morning when mom is out for her morning walk. We have been weighing the pups daily since birth to be sure they are gaining weight and getting enough to eat. Pyr pups gain 1 to 3 ounces a day with 1 ounce being average. Any pup not gaining correctly gets extra time on mom or is supplemented with milk replacer.
Puppies get handled several times a day, socialization begins at day two and is very important for producing happy, secure dogs. Mom is still taking 2 vitamin tabs daily and getting dry puppy food mixed with her regular food - she has access to food 24 hrs a day. She drinks an incredible amount of water as well.

Week Eleven

Pups are 2 weeks old now. Still getting weighed daily although now they are getting pretty hard to keep on the scale. Pups are handled as much as possible and we began to observe differences in their temperaments. The sheepskin rug and towels really help the pups get traction to nurse and they are quickly developing muscles, many are half sitting by now. Eyes begin to open although they can’t focus, nor can they hear, however there is nothing wrong with their sense of smell. Some of our more adventurous pups even try leaving the box, looking for mom when she takes a break. Mom is still on the same diet as before, getting as much as she wants along with her 2 vitamins a day. The pups are quite a load on her and we encourage her to eat as much as she can.
2 wk Moving Pups

Week Twelve

Pup doesn't object to being handled
Pups are 3 weeks. Their eyes focus pretty well and their ears are open. Sitting up comes easy for them and they walk pretty well - this is usually the time they first try leaving the box. They spend a lot of time either sleeping or play fighting with each other. They are still getting weighed but usually every other day now, depending on their gain. They continue to be handled as much as possible to teach them that people are part of their pack.

Week Thirteen

Pups are 4 weeks. The big move comes for us,- mom and pups are moved from the house to the puppy pen inside the barn. This is a 5 by 10 pen with a 10 X 10 pen attached to it for more exercise. Here they are introduced to a new littermate, often a “bummer” lamb who will share their pen for the next several weeks. They were also started on solid food this week. We make a mush by soaking puppy food in hot water mixed with powdered milk replacer and run it through the blender. Lots of fun to watch the pups go swimming in their first meals! We put mom out for a walk while feeding the pups but she gets to come in and clean up after them – yum. Pups are wormed for round worms at this point. We also begin to allow a very limited number of visitors, and only those who have healthy dogs at home and are willing to change out of their street shoes when they arrive. We usually limit this to family members because we don’t want to bring in disease. The concern about disease is big but it’s also important that they continue their socialization if they are to become respectable members of society.
Barn Pen

Week Fourteen

Pups are 5 weeks. The pups have been gradually switched over during the week from blenderized mush to kibble soaked in milk. Mom is back on mostly her own food but she gets to clean up whatever the puppies leave. They are out in the big pen during the day and locked in the smaller pen at night. We put a short gate across the doorway of the smaller pen so mom can come and go into the bigger pen and get a breather from the pups. She is almost back at pre-breeding weight but is still going through a lot of water. We keep a large shallow pan of water in with the pups as well.

Week Fifteen

Pups are 6 weeks. First shots, second worming and first flea treatment if necessary. Pups have graduated to dry puppy kibble, free fed. Big relief for us since we don’t have to remember to soak the food ahead. The pups are still nursing some but go through an enormous amount of food as well. They also get to start going outside with mom. Mom, pups and lamb go out in the small pasture during the day and back in the pen at night. They can now have outside visitors and they welcome the new faces to kiss. At this point we have potential buyers come meet the dogs, go over the sales contract and educate them about Pyrs in general.
Pups in Field

Week Sixteen

Comfort Nursing
Pups are 7 weeks. Mom is nursing less and less, in fact there is no real milk - it’s more for bonding and reassurance than a need for food. They spend a lot of time playing and exploring. We can introduce them to the adult sheep at this point and watch their attitudes and reactions. They get lots of handling and attention and start to learn to come when called. The litter follows us from the barn to the small pasture and back again at night.

Week Seventeen

Pups are 8 weeks. They get their second puppy shot and third worming. This is also the time we do an in-depth evaluation of their conformation. Several other breeders and handlers are invited to go over the pups using the Pat Hastings method of puppy evaluation. The scores are noted and kept as a permanent part of the litter’s record. Based on the outcome of the evaluation and the results of the temperament testing that has been ongoing done since birth, we now decide what pups are going to which buyers. We pick out the working dogs first, then the companion dogs. They start their crate training and leash breaking this week if possible. All pups that are going to working or pet homes go to the vet at this point for early spay and neuter. We seldom sell “show” pups.
8 wks mirror
Sage Pups At Barn Gate

Week Eighteen

Pups are 9 weeks. This is their last full week with us. They continue to be handled a lot, improve their leash work and get some more crate time as well. We keep a close eye on the pups surgery area and try to limit their play but that’s difficult with such ambitious pups. Mom is still very much interested in their welfare and while she doesn’t want to be with them the whole time, she is the best teacher there is and spends a lot of time playing with them. The approved buyers will start picking their pups up when they reach 10 weeks.

It's goodbye time


This is the hardest part for me, watching each one leave. We have gone to a lot of trouble to produce pups who are sound, healthy and well socialized. I will miss them all, but I know we have done the best job possible screening and educating the new owners and that each of the pups is going to a good home and will be a valued member of the home, whether working partner or family companion.

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