What does Puppy Culture mean to me as a breeder?
What sets Puppy Culture apart and makes good, stable puppies raised by good breeders into great, enrichment-seeking puppies raised by amazing breeders?
What does this require from breeders?
Time. And a lot of it.
“Enrichment seeking” isn’t just how they’re born, it’s also how they learn to be from a very young age with the stage-specific protocols wonderfully researched and put together by Jane in the Puppy Culture video. It's not all 'cutting edge', in fact, it's pretty simple and straight forward and many of the pieces have been around for years. But when a puppy experiences it all at the right times in the right amounts, the results are amazing. To me, Puppy Culture's cornerstone is all of the stage-specific active enrichment- individualized clicker training/shaping, resource guarding protocols, the entire puppy party, leash walking, creating positive conditioned emotional responses to specific stimuli, etc.
Many of us, as breeders, were already doing much of what’s outlined in Puppy Culture, but I’d venture to guess that most of what we were doing was passive enrichment with a touch of truly individualized, active enrichment. Passive enrichment is a great start, but that’s what it is- a start. Puppy Culture is about so much more- it’s about taking these puppies and showing them that the world is theirs and that being brave and curious pays well and should anything startle them, they'll be known for their quick recoveries. We’re talking about puppies who will demand to be part of their own world because they are confident and supremely curious about everything.
Let’s face it; a litter of 8 is a lot to do individualized attention with, let alone daily individualized attention and training and conditioning with for 8+ weeks, but it really is the time that goes into these puppies that make the difference. The half an hour every night it takes to teach puppies to take treats so that you can later reward them effectively. The 3 hours a night it takes to go through the whole litter for their first box game. The 15 minutes per puppy that it takes to teach them that you grabbing their prized possession is the best thing that could ever happen. These are the activities which give them the tools to seek enrichment and interact with their world in a confident manner. This is what makes them brave.
There is a trend of passing off the passive enrichment side of Puppy Culture as being the meat and potatoes of the method. Doing such is a huge disservice to the puppies and Puppy Culture seeking owners. The effort and actively engaging hours are what our puppy buyers should expect. Ball pits, baby slides, and jungle gyms are great! But they’re passive enrichment without putting in the individualized time and effort that Puppy Culture is about. This isn't about turning their whelping box into a claw machine prize box or putting them in an area with many potentially startling obstacles and hoping they habituate. At best, the bolder puppies that were predisposed to check out the new stuff are enhanced, the other puppies are oblivious or at worst, they are flooded and overwhelmed. I’m not saying passive enrichment doesn’t have its place- thoughtful, intentional passive enrichment certainly does and that was a huge step forward 10 years ago. And now, there’s more. To paraphrase Maya Angelou- now that we know better, we should be doing better.
Please, don’t feel as if you need to have a whole shed worth of “stuff” for your puppies. We’re the ones that like have all the stuff. The puppies don’t care and the protocol that should lead to puppies that demand to interact with their world most definitely doesn’t require anything fancy. The stuff is the easy part. The rest is what makes the difference. Raising enrichment seekers requires a huge portion of your time, patience, and individualized attention and very little from your wallet.
Puppy Culture isn’t about stuff. It’s about time. That’s what people that are seeking Puppy Culture puppies should be expecting. Puppies that have had TIME put into them, not necessarily stuff purchased for them.
As we're raising the bar in puppy rearing and have a specific protocol for people to seek out, the responsibility falls on to us as breeders to send puppies into the world that are more than ready to face it into homes that are seeking these kind of puppies. These aren’t sedate puppies who will lay by the couch and not notice new things. These are the puppies who have their eyes (and occasionally mouths) wide open to all the possibilities and adventures they can have, especially with a human by their side. Puppies that want to see, smell, taste and climb on their world. Puppy Culture puppies require an above-average owner: owners that will be proactive in their puppy’s life.
What does this mean for you, the seeker of a Puppy Culture reared puppy?
This means that you’re going to take home a puppy ready to take on the world. This means training from the day you take your puppy home because they’re actively learning, not merely absorbing information as less-enriched pups do until they learn how to learn.
These puppies have been taught how to learn and interact with their world from the time they opened their eyes or before. I’ll even go a step further in saying that not only have they been taught how to, they’ve been shown that this is how the world works. They make it work. They get to make choices and have a say. They are expected to make the world work by their choices.
That’s what creates the confident puppy you’re looking for- they understand that they have choices and those choices will be honored by their people. Their first months of life set a foundation that reinforced that. Now you, as a puppy owner of one of these enriched puppies, have the responsibility to uphold their trust in their world and you.
Puppies that know the world is theirs for the taking are neither subdued nor frightened easily and therefore can be a handful to those not prepared to be a proactive part of their puppy’s life. As above, this means training from the day you take your puppy home, continuing adventures and continuing to back them up in life. They should stay bold, confident puppies that grow into dogs that are comfortable in this human world with the full potential their genetic makeup allows.
Similar to the breeder’s responsibilities, yours as an owner also revolve around time and not stuff. I’m not saying your dog can never leave your side, but I am saying that this won’t be a dog you can expect to be content without continued time, effort, and enrichment through puppyhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Puppy Culture reared puppies are seeking a purpose, clear positively reinforcing training toward that purpose, and continued trust in their people to reach their full potential. Even if that purpose is to be a well behaved family pet, they will need to be taught the skills that encompass the job and they’re seeking the information to learn those skills from the moment you take them home. They’re incredibly fun, outgoing, and occasionally frustratingly brave and creative puppies who need an owner that’s up to the challenge of helping these brilliant minds reach their potential. These puppies must be more than “just a pet” and will clearly demand to be part of your life. So be proactive and enjoy the ride of a lifetime!