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If you build castles in the air,
your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be.
Now put the foundation under them.
-- Henry David Thoreau

By Kathy V. Moll
Deep River Collies

Our puppies are ready for their new lives as little collies. At four weeks begin weaning, a process that should not be fully completed until the puppies are five weeks. They still need mom around at least part-time during the fourth week to teach them valuable collie lessons. This is also a "fear period" and we want nothing to upset our little charges.

Eukanuba makes a weaning food that is already ground, or use a blender on "grind" to create your own weaning food. A high quality food is essential, but puppy food is not. Some provide too much of a good thing - overdosing on fat, vitamins and protein. A quality adult food is the best choice. If you supplement, be certain that you use a complete and balanced vitamin formula. Mix the ground food with hot water; then add plain yogurt or evaporated milk and a little canned food if you like. After the mixture sits for a few minutes, feed it (add more hot water if needed to make thick soup). The puppies will lap the mixture up readily although you may have to point some in the right direction. I use a puppy trough, which keeps the puppies cleaner than a flat pan. After a day or two at one meal a day, increase to two, morning and evening. To complete the process, add a third meal in the afternoon.

By five to six weeks, puppy teeth are well developed enough to eat small kibble soaked for ten minutes or so. By eight weeks, the middle meal can be omitted. Biscuits and bones (non-splintering) should be part of the diet to help keep teeth clean. Soaked food fed at a scheduled time for the duration of a collie's life is best. Scheduled feedings make better "doers," and soaking eliminates gulping too much water after eating while dry food encourages it. Of course, fresh water available at all times is a must once the puppies are no longer on mom.

Once solid food becomes the main source of nutrition, the puppies' "new mom" will have clean-up duty. Layered newspaper topped with shredded newspaper makes the best bedding, keeps the puppies cleaner and is easiest to clean up. All that's required is that the papers are rolled up and put into a large trash bag. Cleanup takes less than a minute and a quick spray cleaning and new papers another few minutes. Most puppies outgrow their whelping box quickly. An exercise pen, or two put together, makes a good new home and provides space. Depending on climate and time of year, puppies can begin spending time outdoors at five weeks.

Since you will be doing cleanup duty, keep a close eye on stools. Any sign of looseness and a fresh sample should go to your veterinarian. Strongid is the wormer most often used for roundworms and hookworms. Albon is the medication of choice for coccidia. Take a fecal sample in every two weeks just to be safe. Vaccinating should begin at seven to eight weeks. The first vaccine can be a distemper/parvovirus combo or a combo vaccine with all components except leptospirosis. Vaccinate every four weeks until eighteen to twenty weeks with a combo vaccine. Begin heartworm prevention one month after the puppies go outdoors. Find a reputable, board certified eye specialist and have the litter checked at around seven weeks for collie eye anomaly. Before the puppies go to their new homes, they should have a physical to be certain that they leave in the best of health.

Proper socialization is crucial. At four weeks, routinely take each puppy out of the box for individual play. Introduce the puppy to different floor surfaces - linoleum, carpet, wood, etc. Group playtime with humans is important as well. Provide toys of various types and textures. Once the puppies are outdoors, provide more stimuli. A puppy obstacle course challenges puppies and teaches them how to "learn." Boxes to get in and out of, a platform, a tunnel, a mini-dog walk - use your imagination and design a play yard. Short car trips and a change of scenery for play and socialization are important once the puppies are vaccinated. Seven to twelve weeks is the optimum human bonding period, so make the most of that period.

A little early training is important as well. Give each puppy some grooming table time and check bites, do nails, stack, and brush. Give the puppy treats during table time. Begin ear training on the table - there are several Internet sites with collie ear training instructions if you need guidance.

Puppy evaluations are important learning tools for you and your litter. Puppy aptitude testing at seven weeks is an excellent idea. The Volhard method is very effective in testing for each puppy's degree of human attraction, willingness to accept training, sound and sight sensitivity. It's very helpful in determining whether a puppy is subordinate or dominant and to what degree. The test provides a starting point for determining suitable temperaments for the conformation ring and performance. The information allows better matching with prospective buyers.

Pat Hastings' structural evaluation method is excellent for determining virtues and faults and should be administered at eight weeks. Her seminar, book, and videotape provide a step-by-step approach. Head evaluation in our breed is ongoing and variable depending on the lines you're working with. If you're not familiar with head development, go to someone you trust who has a track record for producing correct head pieces and expression.

Next month we'll select the puppy we're keeping from our litter. We'll be on the road to turning our show prospect into a champion!

Kathy Moll of Deep River Collies has been breeding Collies since 1974. She has owned or bred between 70 and 80 collie conformation champions, approximately 30 to 40 in each variety. She also earned the Collie Club of America Presidential Award for Smooth Collie Breeder of the Year for 1998 and was tied for the same award for Rough Collie Breeder of the Year in 1999.