First, our puppies do not stay in a kennel or room away from our home. They are raised in our home as part of our family. This not only prepares them for their new homes, but also makes sure we don't miss anything as they grow. They start their life in our master bathroom. We chose this room as our beginner nursery for many reasons. One, it has little activity and typically guests don't ever go into our bathroom. Therefore, it is safe, still smells like our family (and no one else), and has the least amount of outside germs. Our children are not allowed without one of us adults and are instructed to be quiet and calm around the babies until they have moved to the "Big Nursery".
The Agape Puppy Protocol & The "Big Nursery"
At Agape Standard Poodles, we aim to produce the most well-rounded, versatile, and happy puppies we can. We delight in our puppies becoming service dogs, facility therapy dogs, obedience champions, agility contenders, and so much more! One of the ways we accomplish this is by setting out a protocol for proper handling. We have studied many highly recommended puppy protocols and have formulated our own with the knowledge we've gained from others. I call it the "Agape Puppy Protocol". New families are kept a part of our protocol and given details on what happens each day their puppy is growing in our home.
We start at just a day old and keep the time handled to less than a minute each. It is during this time that Early Neurological Stimulation begins. During week three, we focus on every part of the puppy’s body. More time is spent on each section, focusing on the puppy as a whole, as they age. By the time a puppy goes home, he will be used to it all! Puppies are also introduced to scents from days 7 to 16. This helps give us an idea of the stronger noses in the litter and has proven successful at scent work placement for service work (diabetic alert, etc).
As part of our protocol, we also begin introducing novelty items while the puppies are in the Nursery. Whelping box novelty item exposures are conducted in the whelping box in a gentle and safe manner. Children are not allowed during the initial introduction. The exposures are conducted from week 3 to week 4 and nothing is done in an unpredictable manner. Pups are not stressed or overstimulated during the exposures. The goal of these activities is to build trust and have fun. The puppies are curious and may engage as they please, never forced or manipulated around or on the items. It is all on the puppies’ terms, at free will. We do a few items each day, only when puppies are all tolerating the exposures nicely.
Once puppies are moved to the “Big Nursery”, we begin Environment exposure activities. We closely monitor the puppies for any stress and evaluate startle recovery when exhibited. We only move through the exposures when puppies are ready and when doing them for the first time, no children are allowed. Items are introduced from beginner to advanced levels and each item is assessed and worked at an appropriate pace. We do not ever force our puppies to participate. It is always done at free will. Once an item is mastered, it is still available for play. We start with items such as plush toys and advance to tunnels and balance boards.
Our Big Nursery is in a large room directly off of our kitchen, in the busiest part of our home. This room is normally used as our childrens play room so it has tons of fun stuff to look at and listen to. Our children are not allowed in the play room at free will once puppies have moved in. We monitor all time our kids play with or around the puppies, even as puppies get older. We set up a puppy pen in the playroom, or Big Nursery. Their pen is separated into two sections- the play area and the sleep/crate area with potty trays (one or two trays containing alfalfa pellets for outdoor grass recognition when the time comes) placed in the middle.
The play area starts as a basic play area with few toys and eventually advances to a complete play gym and brain exercise center (as protocol advances). It also has an exterior door with a doggy door the puppies begin using around 4-5 weeks old. They have free will at using the doggy door after several days of supervised outside play. The puppies are also allowed in and out of their individual crates at free will during the day. This begins the process of crate training for their new homes so it is not a scary of unfamiliar "prison", but instead, it feels safe and secure to them. Puppies are also exposed to grooming early. Clippers are turned on, but no shaving is actually performed, and the butt end of the clipper is rubbed over puppies from a week on. Official grooming begins around week 5 and faces, feet and sanitary are clipped twice before going to their new homes.
We feel that our strict and proven protocol has helped us with successful placement of our puppies, whether it be in family homes, therapy work, service work, and everything in between. It has also helped our puppies exhibit less stress when they go to new homes and begin life with their new families.
*This is an extremely condensed, Cliff-note, version of our Protocol. We are happy to share more info, videos, pictures, etc. Just ask!