Since May 11th every morning has begun by going to see how the puppies are. Of course, to begin with, their mummy Stella did a wonderful job both in feeding them and in cleaning up after them. Then it became my job although very ably and kindly helped by a home team. They have been a source of much pleasure for my nieces and their friends as well and, miraculously, they all want to visit me.
Looking after puppies is both relentless and utterly entrancing but the time is now coming for some of them to go to their new homes. As you might imagine, I have mixed feelings. I know it is exciting for the new family to welcome a puppy yet there are separation issues for both siblings and myself.
From observation and experience, it seems to me much kinder to keep puppies until they are 10 to 12 weeks old rather than the oft quoted 8 weeks. They are still only a few weeks old – still so very tiny – when they first have to deal with separation from their mother.
They depend entirely on her, her milk, her love, her warmth and her protection- at the beginning she is with them all the time. Gradually Stella went down to seeing them twice a day and from there to just once a day and then they were entirely weaned. They had to get used to her absence and so they bonded ever more with each other to overcome this early stress.
Equally, Stella has also been through a roller coaster, both in terms of her own hormones and her mental journey. She still watches them from time to time and they can spot her presence amongst them.
Dogs can undoubtedly remember each other even over years and, in fact Stella herself still recognises her own mother, Finse, and she rushes up to give her a kiss whenever Finse visits. The latter equally seems happy to be with Stella. I love that memory.
Published research suggests that if puppies are separated from their siblings too early it can lead to problems later in their life. They learn from each other to roll over and get on together, to wrestle with each other and learn that a squeak from another puppy means to stop. It is these first weeks which should help ensure calmness and sharing later on.
Naturally the puppies are popular with my family, with the team here and various friends with children of all ages, all of which helps get them used to different situations and different people. This will stand them in good stead when they go on to share other homes and lives. Even at this age, their innate recognition of emotions and feelings is far more sensitive than ours. They will turn their heads, looking and listening, aware of my body language.
I think that humans as a race are in some ways too often on “transmit” rather than “receive” whilst many of our companions, dogs or others, even the trees for example, are ahead of us in this world, searching out information and assessing it impact.
I have been sitting down with some new friends who are going to welcome one of the puppies into their home and just talking about establishing a healthy routine of walks, meals, socialisation and playtime. It is about working out what will best help the puppy and what will best help the new family: everyone needs safe spaces. I do hope they will return through the next few months for some walks together.
Not all the puppies are leaving and indeed some are staying very close, but it is a step change for all of us and these few weeks with these adorable little puppies have been very special and life enhancing.