The art of breeding is only a part of what it takes to produce great dogs. An often overlooked part of the equation is the care taken with the mother before the puppies are born, and the puppies themselves. Sarahsetter Kennels has raised the bar on how to care for puppies. This article will be a quick overview of the effort and thought that goes into raising a great litter.

Sarahsetter’s Progressive Early Natural Development (S.P.E.N.D.) program for puppies is unparalleled in the sporting dog world. Research for early development in children or animals has made tremendous advances in recent years. We have continually searched for new research to build on this amazing program. Sarahsetter Kennels goals are to breed highly intelligent bird-dogs that start early through intensive management of the mother and puppies through environmental and nutritional influencers. We have taken advantage of this research to produce the best bird-dog puppies available in the world. All Sarahsetter puppies at 12 weeks old point quail in the field, back, and most retrieve. They know their names and these commands – here, kennel, and place (whoa or sit) and walking on the lead without pulling.

Prenatal care is very important not only for the Mother but also for the developing puppy fetuses. Please think about what happens in nature to every mother whether it is a coyote or fox.  The mother will remain active and hunt right up until the day she has her babies. That provides stimulation not only for the mother but also for the puppies yet to be born. What happens when the mother is chasing a rabbit or a bird is that there will be a spike in her adrenaline levels. It's very important to keep a mother active throughout her entire pregnancy because these hormones and brain chemicals influence the unborn puppies. All of my bred females go to the field daily to hunt. They also are kept active with truck rides, going home at night from the kennel, etc.

 Neonatal Period care begins at birth and lasts until about 13 or 14 days. During this period something that's been around for quite a while but not used by many people is the Early Neurological Stimulation program or the bio-sensor program. It was developed by the Army during the 1960’s to make war dogs more stable during warfare. What this program consists of is gentle stimulation of the puppies in a carefully prescribed manner which causes the adrenal system to start reacting earlier which enables the puppies to handle stress better for the rest of their lives’. It is very important that it's done properly and not over done. You can find this at .
The Awareness and Canine Socialization Period overlap from 3 to 7 weeks. This is when puppies learn to play with each other. It's very important that no puppy should ever be taken out of a litter before seven weeks of age so the puppies have the opportunity to learn play patterns. They also learn limits as they bite each other on the ear. It is important to provide toys at this age.

The period of human socialization occurs from 7 to 12 weeks. It is important to understand that this is not a personal relationship between you and your puppy. It is a relationship between a human and a canine and it can be done by anyone especially a trainer or the breeder if the puppy is staying with them. Most people have an instinctive nature to want to mother their puppy at seven weeks of age but it's much better for the puppy to stay with the breeder and continue to develop a normal fashion while being exposed to humans by the owner of the litter or the trainer.

The value of clicker training appears to be obvious with great obedience but the hidden gem is the ability to influence intelligence.  Researchers have shown that there is a rapid period of growth of the puppy brain between 7 to 12 weeks. Clicker training at this age aids in the development of the brain. More neurons connections are created if the brain is actively stimulated during rapid brain growth period. Breeders can increase the intelligence of every puppy if it is their goal to raise the best. We begin clicker training at seven weeks of age. During the first week of clicker training we teach the puppy to come to the word ‘here’. In the beginning we teach the puppy to come to a single person. After a couple of days we will then add a second person and teach a puppy to run between the two people until we can stretch out that distance quite a ways upwards of 50 feet. The second week of clicker training we introduce the kennel command and start close teaching the puppy to get in the kennel with clicker training. At by the end of the week you should be able to stand15 feet away from kennel and send a puppy to the kennel. 

The third week of clicker training which would be starting at nine weeks of age we teach the stationary command on the place board. It offers a convenient method for teaching puppies to stay at a given location. With pointing breeds we teach a dog to stand on the place board. We then actually teach the whoa command when the dog is learning to heel. With retrievers and obedience breeds we teach the puppy to sit in the kennel and on the place board without using the word sit.  It is very simple to reinforce the sit position in both the kennel and on the place board. This will have huge payoffs later in your training program as this behavior will almost become instinctive to sit calmly anytime the handler is still. In just a couple of day we then teach the sit command with the clicker to generalize in multiple locations. We play retrieve with all puppies as a fun time after each clicker training session.  We don’t try to get delivery to hand until after the puppy has been place trained.

During the fourth week of clicker training we teach the puppy to walk on a lead. It is very easy to teach a puppy to heel with a clicker and use the target stick. Let the puppy drag his lead as he learns to heel. In a few days you will be able to pick up the lead and drop the target stick. Once the puppy is walking well on lead you can begin to teach the sit or whoa command with the clicker and gentle leash pressure if needed when you stop. A tip here is to always stand a few moments on the dog’s right while he is in the kennel or on the place board so that he learns which side to be on while never standing on the wrong side.  Remember they are always learning something so it is your job to be in the right place. 

During the fifth week of clicker training which would start during the 11th week of the puppy’s life we teach retrieve command to the place board. It’s very easy to click retrieve a puppy at 12 weeks. While the clicker training is going on there's also a great deal of time spent taking the dogs to the field. In the beginning (6 wks) it is short walks with the mother on lead to get the puppies accustomed to following us. Starting at seven weeks we have daily walks that give the puppies the time to explore their changing environments. These walks give the puppy’s time to pick up sticks, leaves, etc while being exposed to new scents and noises.   These walks give you an opportunity to walk away from the puppies that aren't keeping up with you so that they get lost. We have watch mothers time after time run back to a lost puppy and then return to the litter. The lost puppy will follow its mother by sight, hearing, or scent.  We like to expose both bird-dog puppies and Boykin puppies to live quail in the field to encourage them to have a life long desire to hunt. 

Other things that influence the development of puppies are included in this paragraph. It is important to provide different surfaces for young puppies to walk on as it helps the body develop in many ways. It is nice if you can incorporate some sort of stairs in the kennel or play yard as this builds muscle and coordination. I provide a shallow pool by seven weeks of age in the play yard with sides too high for the puppy to get a drink. Puppies must crawl over and stand in water to get a drink. This will help teach all puppies to like getting in water. Almost everyone is guilty of fat puppies. We do not provide any supplement food to nursing puppies unless there are complications. If you have a mother that does not provide enough milk she should be removed from the breeding program. They will grow just fine on mother’s milk alone as all wild mammals raise their young. Again following nature’s cue, the puppies are exposed to fresh game as they go off their mother’s milk. We actually provide the ultimate raw diet as we feed fresh quail at this time. Nature imprints what the mother has brought home for food as a likely food source for the rest of that animals life. This will help to create a gifted and eager bird finder for the rest of his life. After this imprinting has occurred the puppies are introduced to dog kibble. Another technique that is used is called competitive feeding. Isn’t nursing competitive feeding? As soon as we go to kibble the food is scattered across the floor. As puppies scramble to each individual piece of food no one is able to hog the food bowl.  The small quick puppy will out compete the bigger puppy. Every puppy is on an individual mission that fosters competitiveness without aggression over food. 

Any kennel that will incorporate the S.P.E.N.D. methodology into their breeding program will see amazing changes in success rates of every puppy that is produced. The end result will be breeding for quality. After two or three generations the breeder should expect a very high success rate from each litter. The real power of the SPEND program is the ability to identify the future sires and dams that have innate natural ability at a young age (12 weeks) in multiple generations to create dogs that are incredibly consistent producers. The gifted dogs at twelve weeks are showing you true genetic potential that is easily passed on to the next generation. Many great sires and dams are overlooked because they are not campaigned in trials. It is much more difficult to ascertain the genetic potential of trained dogs because their natural abilities are masked by many months of training. 

Sarahsetter Kennels will always be looking for innovative ways to make it easier for your puppy to learn and to retain his learning.

SIDEBAR article- info about Mark Fulmer

Mark Fulmer of Sarahsetter Kennels in Aiken, South Carolina has trained dogs professionally since 1991. Mark has campaigned pointing dog from 1978 to 1990 in hunting dog field trials. He gave up field trials to be home to meet his clients on the weekends. He has owned Boykin Spaniels since 1974 and played with them with relatives in the early sixties as a child. Mark got his first bird dog in 1975 and has been fascinated with them since then.