After an epic trip to Finland in December to meet Ronja and her beautiful boy Kuro, and an anxious 9 week pregnancy, on Monday 18th February 2019 - starting in the early afternoon and finishing around six hours later - Kirin gave birth to four beautiful puppies. This is the first litter of Hokkaido Ken puppies born in the UK and the first litter born at Toboetsuki Kennels!
Pedigree of puppies: click here
All puppies in this litter are spoken for and will have wonderful homes to go to when they are old enough. If you are interested in learning more about the Hokkaido Ken or in joining our waiting list, please get in contact via the 'Contact' page.
Here we will document their journey as they grow and develop over the next eight weeks. The puppies have all been given temporary call names due to the fact that they will not be allocated to their new owners until 5 or 6 weeks of age.
During the first week of a puppy's life, he must rely only on his nose to navigate his way around the whelping box, to find mum and milk! A puppy is born both blind and deaf and will not gain these senses until he is a couple of weeks old. Life consists of mostly eating, sleeping and squeaking!
It is very important in the early weeks to keep the whelping box area at a carefully controlled temperature. Newborn puppies are not able to regulate their own body temperatures and rely on mum and their environment to keep them adequately warm. This means that the whelping box is most covered in heat pads and hot water bottles, with a heat lamp overhead and the radiator situated on one side of the box to help everyone keep warm. You'll notice in a lot of the photos over the first two weeks there will be a slight tinge of red - that's the lamp!
We are monitoring the puppies' weights twice daily, to make sure that all are growing well and so we know which puppy might need a bit of extra time suckling from mum. The first 24 hours after whelping are vital hours for a puppy, during this time mum releases a special type of milk called colostrum; this gives the puppies an extra boost of immunity to everything mum has been vaccinated against. It is common for a puppy to either maintain their birth weight or lose a little during this time as the colostrum is not as nutrient-rich as 'mature' milk which comes in over the next couple of days. Once the milk is mature the puppies start to gain weight at a steady pace and there's often a lot of pushing and shoving at the milk bar to find the best spot!
For mummy Kirin, the first few weeks are all about getting used to the new experience of being a mum! Feeding a litter of puppies is a big task for a dog and requires a lot of calories - so Kirin is being fed multiple times during the day, also being supplemented with natural yoghurt and goats milk to help her produce enough milk to feed her new family. As the whelping box needs to be kept at such a high temperature, it's important that Kirin is drinking plenty to keep her hydrated. As she is reluctant to leave the puppies for any amount of time, she is sometimes given her extra drinks in the whelping box, although after a day two she is happy to come out of the pen for a few minutes at a time to scoff down a bowl of food! Toilet breaks are usually a quick affair as she doesn't really want to be out of sight of her puppies, but we encourage her to take little breaks away from them to stretch her muscles and get some fresh air, usually accompanied by many woo-woos and yells in protest.
The first week is a week of sleepless nights and regular checking of temperatures in the whelping box. It's a lot of paranoid checking and re-checking as a first-time breeder with a first-time mum, to make sure everything is going as it should and that mum and babies are progressing and coping well! Currently I am 'sleeping' next to the whelping box on a rather uncomfortable fold out foam bed...and I say 'sleeping' what I really mean is I might manage to close my eyes for 10 minutes or so before obsessively checking on the babies again...and again...and again! My alarm is set for every 2 hours in case by some miracle I do manage to fall asleep, so that I can check on pups, mum and temperature!
At around 5 days old the puppies have started yelling for no discernible reason! All are putting on weight steadily so they're getting enough milk...perhaps they are too cold? So we turn up the heating and put the heat lamp on high. Nope, more screaming! So, perhaps they are too hot? This is very contrary to what all of the breeding books and whelping advice says - read any book and it will tell you that puppies cannot regulate their own temperatures and the whelping area ideally needs to be kept at 30°C for around the first two weeks. So I do some digging on the internet to see if anyone has had similar issues and find a post saying that after dealing with their puppies yelling for over 24 hours they decided to put some damp towels down into the whelping box. So, after very little sleep, I decide that's what we're going to try next...into the whelping box goes two damp towels. Almost immediately the puppies seek out the towels, plop themselves down and go straight to sleep!
It's week two of puppyhood and the puppies are starting to become more mobile and more determined! During this week we expect to see the eyes starting to open, although once they do, the puppies will still not be able to see properly for a number of days. It's still an exciting time to be a puppy!
By the end of the 8th day since birth - all puppies have doubled their initial birth weight and are growing as expected. There's often a little squabble at the milk bar over who gets the best teats, and we try to rotate the puppies so that they all get their turn on the more productive ones! Lou often pushes his smaller siblings out of the way and sometimes needs to be removed from feeding, just so he doesn't guzzle down everyone else's share as well as his own. By day 10 he is almost 100g heavier than his closest sibling and we have a feeling he's going to be a big boy!
Kirin is much happier leaving the box for short periods of time now, to have a rest away from her babies and away from the heat. She will often keep an eye on them from my bed and will go and attend to them when they start squeaking for her. She loves to go out into the garden with the rest of the Toboetsuki crew for a play session a couple of times a day to stretch her legs and spend some time being social. The other dogs are fascinated by the puppies but will not be allowed to meet them without bars being in-between for many weeks to come yet.
Although the puppies cannot see just yet, we have started adding different toys into their whelping box. This is to start getting them used to different obstacles and textures! They enjoy clambering on and around things and they are starting to become more sure of where their feet are. It won't be long before we get to the wobbly-walking stages of puppyhood.
At 9 days old, the puppies had their first visitor. Normally we would not allow visitors until the puppies have reached at least two weeks old, but our good friend, Lou, from Norfolk (after whom our red boy was named) was desperate to come and see the puppies whilst they were still tiny. As this is Kirin's first litter, we weren't sure how she would react to someone who is not part of her 'family' coming to see her puppies, but she continues to surprise us with how lenient she is with people handling and touching her babies. Lou was very privileged to be allowed cuddles with all of the babies and we hope that Kirin will continue to be so tolerant with visitors she doesn't know quite so well.
On day 12, the puppies had their second visitor and our very first puppy owner! Liv will be owned by one of our little girls, who will be going to Norfolk to become the foundation bitch for Ichiyo Kensha, hopefully the second breeding kennel of Hokkaido Ken in the UK. We are very proud that both of our little girls will be staying in the breeding program here in the UK (depending on health tests of course). The hardest part for both myself and Liv is not yet knowing which puppy will be going to Norfolk and which puppy will be staying here at Toboetsuki! We are awaiting the results of their CEA tests before making a decision, and fingers crossed we'll be able to do those sometime in week four. Liv and Keaton got some lovely cuddles with all of the puppies and Kirin did us proud again, although a little more protective of her babies she was still happy to let everyone have a cuddle as long as she could keep a close eye on proceedings.
It's week three in the whelping box and a whole new world is opening up for the puppies, literally! On day 14 their eyes are beginning to open, with Lou and Mi taking the lead. Even though their eyes are open, the puppies do not have the same visual acuity as an adult dog for many weeks to come, so they are still constantly bumping into things and not really sure of where they are going. However, once the eyes are open there's no stopping them and the puppies quickly begin to find their feet and explore their environment. Yuu and Ai are a little behind the two red puppies, with their eyes opening a couple of days later, but they don't let that stop them on their wobbly walks around the box.
The puppies are now also beginning to start engaging in play, as much as their clumsy wobbling will allow. After a meal they will often clamber over and on top of each other, mouthing at faces and paws. They also love climbing around on Kirin who puts up with their new explorations admirably. The puppies are learning new vocalisations other than squeaks and shrieks, testing out tiny barks, growls and even a howl or two!
On day 18, we decide to try them with 'solid' food for the first time. The couple of times we have tried encouraging them to lap puppy milk from a bowl hasn't resulted in much, so this time we decide to try Natural Instinct's 'puppy weaning paste', adding some warmed puppy milk and stirring to create a mush with the consistency of something like custard. We weren't expecting much, but as usual the puppies love to prove us wrong! 20 minutes later we have an empty puppy dish; a whelping box that looks like something was massacred in it; and four puppies absolutely covered in pink goo. Safe to say their first foray into feeding was a success! At this point they still very much rely on Kirin's milk, however we will begin to supplement them with one feed a day for the next couple of days to see how their digestive systems cope with the change before slowly increasing the number of feeds they get from a bowl and decreasing the amount of time that Kirin needs to spend providing them with milk. We hope this will help take the pressure off her a little and allow her to regain some of her lost weight.
On day 19 we have a visit from puppy-owners-to-be Harleigh and Sam! They are taking home our big chunky boy, who is given a brand new name! He will be called Kaito. Kirin and the puppies are all very well behaved and perfect little angels whilst our visitors are here. Of course, as soon as they leave to go home, the puppies decide it's time to be naughty and noisy!
It's week four and now that the puppies are starting to see and hear, it's time to start with noise desensitisation training! This includes playing sounds on the TV like fireworks and traffic noises, and introducing them to my dogs' greatest nemesis: the Hoover Monster! The weather has also been quite a big help this week on the noise front as it's been blowing a gale and storming on and off all week, no thunder yet, but the wind has been whistling through the cat flap in the kitchen!
The puppies are slowly introduced to more solid meals and have their first taste of soaked and mashed kibble on day 22. They all happily stick their faces into this new stinky, edible stuff, but for now they appear to prefer raw to kibble! They will continue to try different foods and flavours over the next few weeks so that new puppy owns can choose a feeding regime that best suits their lifestyle and preferences.
The morning of day 23 is CEA test time! This is big day for me and for the puppies are they have to be split from Kirin and from one another for a period of at least 2 hours before the swabs can be taken. We have opted for buccal (cheek) swabs rather than drawing blood as the puppies are still small and a blood draw can be a bit traumatic for them. The swab is a small cotton bud which you use to vigorously wipe against the inside of the cheek to collect a DNA sample. This is then air dried for a few hours before being sent off the lab for analysis. The puppies are typically unimpressed with being restricted from each other and make a rather large deal of noise about it all.
On day 24 the puppies are introduced to the wider area of 'Puppy Corner' and given unrestricted access during the day. This gives them a much bigger space to play in and explore whilst they find their feet! Kaito is the first one to come out and start playing with the toys, the others are a little more reluctant, but within an hour they are all out of the box and playing (or sleeping). Over the next few weeks we will introduce different things to Puppy Corner to help with their socialisation and learning experiences, this will include different textures under their paws, different toys and hopefully also some hanging toys to provide plenty of enrichment and fun!
By day 25 the puppies are on four meals a day, spaced out over the daylight hours. This is to try and give Kirin a break from the newly sharp puppy needle-teeth. She still feeds them every few hours and overnight, but it appears - from taking the puppies weights every 12 hours - that she may not be producing as much milk anymore. She is looking a bit thin, but is finally starting to have solid poops again so will hopefully start to put her weight and muscle back on now that the huge burden of feeding four growing puppies is lessened a little.
On day 26 (or rather, at 4am) the puppies decide that the whelping box is no longer an acceptable place to be overnight and demand full and unrestricted access to Puppy Corner, which is granted to them in return for the retention of my diminishing sanity. This at least means that I get to move my 'bed' from outside the whelping box to the sofa! The puppies are happy with this new arrangement and are settled at night again now, periodically getting up for a play before going back to sleep.
The puppies are now able to urinate and defecate without assistance from mum, this newfound bodily function freedom comes at the cost of much newspaper, puppy pads and the washing machine is now on daily to clean any soiled bedding and toys.
It's already week five and I am faced with the fact that almost half of my time with these puppies as a family is almost over. That makes me sad, but I hope that we can continue to give them the very best foundations to make confident and well-mannered puppies when they go out into the world with their new owners.
The puppies' personalities are developing every day and you can now pick out who is the most confident puppy (Kaito) and who is a little more unsure and reticent (Mi), this gives us important information on who will need the most work with socialisation and what kind of approach will best fit each puppy as the weeks continue. The puppies are introduced to the bigger dogs without the barrier of the gate in-between (with the exception of Yoyo who is still slightly fascinated and over-exuberant), they show no fear and instead try to engage the big dogs in play behaviour, a good start! During the next few weeks the puppies will learn the vital foundations of 'Doggy Manners an Etiquette' beginning with their mother, Kirin, who will push between puppies and gently tell them off if they are getting too rough with each other. As they get older and more robust, the puppies will spend more time with the bigger dogs, and especially our oldest boy, Kiba, who is great at teaching puppies what is and is not acceptable behaviour.
The temperature in Puppy Corner (and by proxy the living room and rest of the house) is now turned down as the puppies are fully able to regulate their own temperatures, although we try to keep it above 20°C anyway, just so nobody gets cold. We introduce a water bowl to the puppies when they are four weeks old which is a new source of fascination for them all and of course becomes more of a paddling pool and favourite sleeping spot than an actual source of drinking liquid.
On day 31 we get the news we've been holding our breath about for the last week. Although the turnaround at the lab is supposed to be 2 - 3 weeks, at 4:30pm I have four emails sitting in my inbox - the results of the CEA tests! Our reason for travelling all the way to Finland to use the handsome Kuro as our chosen sire was because of his CEA clear status - something extremely hard to find in Hokkaido, where 2/3 of the population are either carriers or affected by CEA. Obviously the results of these tests were of great importance to us and we are ecstatic to announce that three out of our four puppies in this litter have tested CEA clear: both girls and our little white boy, Yuu, with Kaito being a carrier (unable to be affected by the disease). It's good news all round!
Finally, four and a half weeks after being born, we can choose which puppy is staying here at Toboetsuki. We have chosen the red girl, formerly Mi, who will now be known as Satsuki! Even better, our little boy Beau (formerly Yuu), who's intended home wasn't to be, was given his very own new family on day 32, and we are so happy that he will be staying close by.
Day 34 is an important milestone for the puppies as they take their very first steps outside! The weather is finally clement enough to introduce the puppies to the safe outside world of the garden. They are a little cautious at first, imagine all of those new sights and more importantly, smells, that the puppies must be experiencing for the first time! They soon find their paws, and are running from one end of the garden to the other, exploring the grass and the mud, eating leaves and generally having a great time. It's a tiring experience for them and once they've finished exploring they are all out for the count for a few hours afterwards...time to process all that new information.
Week six and our daily routine is all about change this week. Now the puppies have experienced the outside world they want to spend more time out there and less time in Puppy Corner! This means wake up calls at 4:30am to howling and demanding puppies. Sorry puppies, it's dark and cold out there, Puppy Corner will just have to do!
The puppies are now on five meals a day to decrease their dependency on Kirin, who now feeds them once or twice a day for no more than a few minutes. Those needle teeth must hurt and her milk flow is slowing down too. They are given new things to try every few days and so far they have decided that raw is their preference but they also love scrambled egg with natural yoghurt which they have just before bed, and Naturediet Puppy wet food. Mushed kibble is definitely not a favourite but we want our new puppy owners to be able to make the choice of feeding kibble if they are not confident feeding raw, so we begin leaving a few handfuls of biscuits in Puppy Corner at night and the puppies decide that they like the crunch much more than they liked the mush and by morning the biscuits are all gone.
We are now spending more time outside with the puppies whilst the weather is good, they have enough energy to play and explore for around an hour before they all begin to crash, usually on top of your feet or cuddled into your side. The big dogs are now all allowed out with the puppies, this is important social interaction for them as they begin to learn boundaries in play. Princess is an excellent 'auntie' and will encourage them to play with her, whilst being very gentle when she plays back. Yoyo, the dog we were worried wanted to eat the puppies or treat them like squeaky toys for the first two weeks, has been the biggest surprise and allows the puppies to climb all over him, fall asleep cuddled up to him and even bite his paws and face. Kiba is our resident grumpy old man and is a good teacher, the puppies are already learn to respect that 'no means no' when it comes to Kiba.
By day 39 we notice that the puppies no longer want to poo in Puppy Corner and are instead making an effort to only poo when they are in the garden. We knew the Hokkaido Ken is a clean dog, but these puppies are toilet training themselves! However, they will still wee wherever they are standing when they need to go...we'll carry on working on that one! We begin putting the puppies out first thing in the morning and last thing at night so that they have the chance to not soil their bed area.