10 Days At The Whelping Box. But Why?

A Tiny Dose of Cute

Puppies have that whole cuteness factor going. And “cute” hits a bulls eye in the target: our mammalian nurturing instinct for babies. New studies suggest that cute images stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain (the same centers that respond to sex and drugs), but do we really need studies to confirm what we already know?

Banzo boy (2)Just look at this guy.

A scientific paper on cuteness (yes, there is such a thing or two) mentions “visual signaling of vulnerability, harmlessness and need”. Not sure about the need and vulnerability in this particular photo but boy oh boy, does Banzo signal harmlessness! Along with “I-can’t-stand-it-how-cute” skin rolls, a big head taken right out of scientific definitions of “cute”, and squeeeeezable butt! My pleasure centers are exploding!

And incidentally, for those who follow this blog, Banzo is illustrating his desire to have his head lifted even when he migrated to the side of the box with less “lumpy” surface.

However, this post is not about puppies, a break for everyone’s sanity. It may be difficult to pry oneself from the drooling, comatose infatuation with “cute”, but one must. Garden is calling, canine and human family gets hungry. I still haven’t figured out how to write a best-seller, and so I have to go to work. In all seriousness, after a magical 10-day survival threshold, Norwich Terrier breeders breathe a big sigh of relief and usually do what they must:  go back to all normal activities that were put on hold while hovering over puppies day and night.

Mind Boggling Differences In Mothering Styles

I have been able to start leaving Beanie and puppies for longer and longer stretches of time even slightly before a 10-day mark, mostly because Beanie is a mother-genius.

Putting aside breed differences that compare in their vastness with the expanse of the other milky way (the one you capitalize), I find the breadth of differences within Norwich Terrier moms incredible. Beanie is the ideal – not close to it, not almost, she is it! If I could just clone her maternal instinct and wisdom! Beanie always makes best decisions, but much more to the point she never loses her calm demeanor.


Genius mom with her 10 days old

Beanie hears a little squeak from one of the puppies, she unhurriedly walks over, peers over the box, checks who it is, what the situation is, and either ever so  serenely approaches her son and helps with whatever help is needed, or just walks away if she deems the squeak not to warrant response. The boys react in turn by being the most low-key, quiet, laid back litter. At least for now.

Beanie takes breaks to chase chipmunks,  watch me work on my laptop  or plant this year’s annuals. She helps too,  mostly by rearranging the freshly planted flowers. (Beanie is well aware that feeding a little nation earns immunity). With all the breaks, she gives our doggy door a serious workout and checks on her puppies responsibly frequently.

Contrast Beanie’s maternal style with that of my most emotional Norwich mothers, and you would not believe they are the same breed of dogs.  Take Tazzi. She used to panic at every squeak and rush to get me, often in her emotionally charged hurry stepping on  her babies, which would then cry and sent her into a further tizzy. While nursing, if one puppy was not attached yet and searching franticly for a nipple, Tazzi would dislodge other attached puppies while jumping out of the box to get me to help. Mind you, I was right there, inches away all the time! When Tazzi had puppies, it was not enough for me to sleep in the same room. I had to sleep on the floor and my mattress had to touch the whelping box. It was that or she would bark at me till I obliged. Tazzi’s puppies were conditioned by their mother to run at slightly elevated emotions most of the time. My biggest challenge was always to teach them self-calming. However, by the time her babies were about six weeks old Tazzi would calm down and be an exemplary role model and an exceptional teacher. She absolutely adored her brood and loved maternity. All her babies grew up to be wonderfully adjusted adults.

Kate with Holly

Kate never ever stopped playing with her pups

Norwich mother teaching hunting

Norwich mother Magic teaching hunting

Tazzi watching over her pups as they learn steps
Tazzi watching over her pups as they learn steps
Mother teaching her daughter to get her feet wet, something Norwich Terriers do not like

Terrier mothers taught me while teaching their puppies. They taught me to respect their individualities, to view them as unique beings with deeply rich emotional lives. I learned to experience with open eyes whatever is happening, to listen to the dam and puppies and not jump to hasty conclusions, or apply one-size-fits all formulas.

Celebrating Each Unique Dog While Delighting in the Common Traits

When you have a chance to experience how differently each puppy develops, how distinctly individual female dogs are as mothers, what exclusive dynamic each litter has, you learn one overarching truth- each individual, each situation, each interaction is unique. Singular. Particular. Never to repeat. A miracle of witnessing birth and growth of life that is one and only is what draws me to the experience. Yet, I breed a particular breed of dogs and I swear there is a magical congruity.

An essence of a particular breed seems to tickle a peculiar soft spot in various people. We tend to get attracted by certain characteristics over others, and somehow within the commonality of traits of a particular breed, we form an irreplaceable and unique connection with each dog.  Then, there is also a curious pleasure in bonding with other people over our beloved breed’s common characteristics.

While an official breed standard is a written formula for a breeder’s ideal, there is such a thing as a sense of “Norwichness”, shared by anyone who lives with a Norwich Terrier, just as I am sure there is “Labradorness” or “Pugness” experienced by Labrador retriever and Pug owners respectively. How we crave seeing a pattern! As individual and irreplaceable as each experience is, we all like knowing that someone else has had a similar experience and can relate to ours. Every Norwich Terrier owner likes hearing that other Norwich Terriers have much in common with his dog.

An endearing example of Norwichness is a fast plop to lie down. It looks as if the dog’s legs were stretched very fast by invisible strings pulling the front legs forward, and the rear legs backward. You end up with a “frog-dog”, little hind legs stretched out behind the dog. It can happen at a comical speed. It doesn’t have to but it can. You see a dog standing. You blink an eye, and you see a dog in a “frog-dog” position on a floor. You might have heard an accompanying sound effect of elbows and knees hitting the ground, while you were blinking your eye; the younger the dog, the faster the plop. You can recite numerous Norwich Terrier characteristics to guaranteed nods of recognition of their owners: greeting everyone as a long lost friend; licking water off your legs as you are leaving a shower; trailing after you all day long; disdain for their own poop, and so rushing to get away from it as soon as it’s out of their bodies; fierce-sounding (but totally benign in nature) noises of puppies at play; diving under the covers to do some digging in the sheets, or for a terrier wrestle mania.

And then, there is another sacred connection, that of breeders. For every sleepless night at the whelping box there were others before me.  For every common breed trait I love, someone preserved those characteristics in every mating decision, every agonizing pedigree research. As a breeder, you are given a torch and entrusted with its cherished light.

As I reflect on ten days of putting life on hold to Hold Life, these thoughts might help to explain why breeders do what they do. Why we endure sleepless nights, pay emotional and financial toll and at the end of the day love, love, love doing it.

Whom am I kidding? It’s the cute factor!

Nugget in a dog-frog position

Nugget in a dog-frog position

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