I planned time off from work to look after mom and the pups and we started rearranging the house to accommodate the whelping box in our bedroom. As a behaviourist, I had all sorts of plans for how these puppies were going to be raised in the 8 weeks that we would have them so that they had the best possible start in life.
As soon as my own vet confirmed that Rosie was pregnant, we booked her in for an ultra sound. There was great excitement all around! However, this excitement soon turned to anxiety and, to be honest, real depression when it was found that Rosie was only having one puppy!
I knew all the stories about “singleton syndrome” and the reality of being faced with a puppy that would very likely have serious emotional and behavioural difficulties due to a lack of opportunity for normal social interaction with littermates during the most formative period of his or her life, was just devastating in the face of all the dreams I had and the plans that I had made. We had determined to keep one puppy and could not possibly let a singleton go, so I was now convinced that I was faced with having a problem dog for the next 10 -14 years. The list of problems reported by the breeders and owners of other singletons was just awful:
1. Lack of social skills with other dogs
2. Aggression towards other dogs
3. Lack of bite inhibition
4. No frustration tolerance
5. Poor learning abilities
6. High levels of reactivity
7. Lack of tolerance for handling
8. Excessive resource guarding
To name a few…..
Some of the Rottie breeders who had had a singleton before said that Rosie would teach the puppy everything he or she needed to know. Others said that there were probably more pups hidden away somewhere, as it was so unusual for a Rottie to have only one! No matter what was said, I could not escape a sense of impending doom!
However, I had to pull myself together and face what lay ahead. I allowed Rosie to carry on as usual and she was literally swimming, training and having a great time on the beach up until a week or two before she was due.
We brought in our whelping box and I started reading up on the actual birth, which I knew could be complicated due to there being only one pup (labour doesn’t always progress normally in such cases). To be on the safe side, I enlisted the help of a good friend who had not only delivered puppies, but was the sister in charge of the Neonatal ICU at a well-respected human hospital!
Rosie’s delivery was rather eventful: She had seemed a bit unwell and I had taken her into the vet (on a Sunday of course) to have her checked out. The vet said that she was not in labour, but would probably go into labour fairly soon. By the time I got home again, she was clearly having contractions. My friend arrived and took charge - thank goodness, as I was in a bit of a panic. It was eventually decided that contractions had been going on for too long and Rosie needed to be taken back to the vet in case a C-section became necessary. Of course, Rosie’s one and only son was born, feet first, on route to the vet, with his head being delivered by the vet as we arrived in the car park! Due to his rather unusual start in life, he was given the name “Cruz” (as in “cruising” in a car), by his “godmother” who delivered him while I was driving.
I spent the first few days convinced that Cruz was going to die, despite the fact that he seemed a strong puppy and didn’t have any health problems. I didn’t sleep if he was making a noise, sure that something was wrong and I didn’t sleep if he was quiet, sure that he had been suffocated or squashed. I was like a panicky new mom!
As things started to settle down though, we became more confident that he would survive and started to enjoy the experience of having a neonate puppy in our home. We marvelled at how his body weight doubled each week and at how brilliant he was at suckling and working the entire “milk bar” which he had all to himself. Rosie was an amazing mum and from the moment she stepped into the whelping box and we gave her her baby, she did not want to leave his side. She was attentive and devoted.
Despite all of this, I was still worried about the future and I was convinced that Cruz was already “lonely” and crying at times because he did not have siblings to cuddle up to! Very silly I know, seeing as he had never known any different and was not capable of any real social or emotional behaviour at that point!
As time went on I started to see the amazing changes that take place during the transitional period (eyes opening, ears opening) and before I knew it, the start of social behaviour with the socialisation period. I will never forget the first time that Cruz wagged his tail when Rosie returned to the whelping box and when a friend visited and held him. I captured the very first play session that Cruz had with Rosie on video and I can remember holding my breath wondering how this was going to develop and whether Rosie would be able to play with him as siblings would.
I am still in awe of how gentle she was with him and how accommodating, but “instructive” the play between Rosie and Cruz became. At the same time, Cruz also started interacting with our big boy, Judah, and so learned that there were other dogs around too who he had to be a little more respectful of than his mom. Judah was incredibly sweet with him and really very excited about having a new puppy in the home.
As Cruz grew more competent at moving around, I started increasing the challenges that he faced each day. I made an effort not to “molly-coddle” him, but allowed him to find his own way when walking with the dogs out in the garden and following us back up the path inside. He had to learn to navigate boardwalks, stone steps and various surfaces when he was just beginning to walk and see where he was going!
At 6 weeks Cruz had his first play date with two Beagle pups of a similar age, whose breeder kindly allowed him to visit. We did not introduce him to the whole litter so as not to overwhelm him, but kept it to just two of the quieter pups. The difference between Cruz and the pups was clear - while they wanted to play with their visitor immediately, he looked at them as though they were aliens! However, after a short time he started to tentatively play and eventually exhausted the Beagles!
At 7 weeks I enrolled him in a puppy class run by trusted colleagues who I knew would protect him from unpleasant experiences with other pups and allow him to have a gentle introduction to socialising. Cruz quickly took to the whole idea and made lots of friends. In fact, he ended up being used as a “stooge” puppy a couple of times, because he was so easy-going and was given the nickname “Mr Chill”!
From around 6 weeks we started taking Cruz out on “walks” with the other dogs in quiet areas where he was unlikely to encounter diseases. We felt it was important for him to get used to the sights and sounds of the outside world and face as many environmental challenges as possible, because he was lacking in social challenges being an only pup. So at 6 weeks of age Cruz was wetting his feet in the sea, digging in the sea-sand and clambering over rocks. He also visited both our parents’ homes and was introduced to their very tolerant dogs.
Once my training school opened again in the New Year, Cruz began attending and he also started puppy class at the Rottweiler Club. By that stage he was also going for walks in popular dog walking areas and meeting lots of people, dogs and kids and seeing surfboards, people in wet suits, skateboards and bicycles. Cruz really took everything in his stride. He never had a cross word with another puppy and was outgoing and friendly to everyone he met.
However, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop or for the wheels to fall off! Surely at some point we were going to have problems? After all, Cruz was only weaned at about 12 weeks because his mom really didn’t seem to be bothered by him suckling! What was his frustration tolerance going to be like? How would he cope if another dog got annoyed with him or as he became an adolescent and his hormones gave him even more confidence?
Well, at four years of age, I can still say that I am waiting for Cruz’s problems to develop! He is completely non-reactive and seems to take most things in his stride, with the sweetest disposition a dog can possibly have. He is also the best working dog I could have asked for and has won several Rally-Free competitions and achieved his Intermediate Rally Freestyle Elements title and Beginners Freestyle title so far. His only fault is over-excitement with visitors - he really is ridiculously overwhelming in his friendliness. But I guess that there are worse problems than a dog that loves everyone too much!
While I do often think that Cruz has simply been given as a wonderful gift to show that sometimes what one fears most can end up being the best thing that could happen, I would like to think that some of our input and Cruz’s early environment possibly helped him to overcome potential “singleton” issues as follows:
1. Genetics! I do think that having good “raw material” inherited from his good-natured parents gave him the potential he needed to respond optimally to socialising and training.
2. Having a devoted mum who was always willing to care for him and play with him, taught him essential canine communication skills and socially acceptable behaviour.
3. Having a tolerant “uncle” and meeting other tolerant adult dogs at a young age taught him respect for and “politeness” with older dogs.
4. Having to cope with lots of environmental challenges helped to develop frustration tolerance.
5. Meeting other pups as soon as possible helped to develop his social skills further and created positive associations with other puppies and dogs.
6. Getting out and about in the world at a very early age, exposed him to lots of varied stimuli that developed his frame of reference and helped to build his confidence.
7. Being loved and cuddled to death by everyone who fell in love with him at an early age helped with stress immunisation and to develop a tolerance for handling.
8. Early and ongoing positive reinforcement training, particularly clicker training and free shaping, taught him how to think, problem solve and “learn about learning” which has made him such an enthusiastic working partner.
9. Protecting him from bad experiences with people and other dogs, has prevented him from developing a defensive/aggressive strategy to cope with things he is unsure of.
10. Avoiding the use of ANY type of positive punishment in training has built his trust in us and created an incredibly responsive and enthusiastic dog who loves life and sees the world as a wonderful place!
11. Ongoing, regular and careful socialisation has kept up his social skills.
Of course no dog is perfect and Cruz can be a typically overenthusiastic male Rottie who gets into everything and thinks all of life is a game, but he is truly the most special and gorgeous dog I could have hoped for. I often say that if I could bring every dog into my life in the same way and have them turn out as well as he has, I would now choose to have a singleton every time!
Cruz - Raising a Singleton
Having never bred a litter before, the decision to breed Rosie was not one that we took lightly. We had been told repeatedly that since she was such a wonderful Rottweiler, in health, temperament and working ability, it would be good to “give back to the breed” by allowing her to contribute to the gene pool. We took things slowly and had her breed assessed, hip and elbow scored, aptitude tested and acquired a V1 rating in the show ring. We chose a mate for her carefully - a dog of 8 years who had never had any significant health problems, was still energetic and in excellent condition as a “senior” dog and had a very sweet temperament (the more serious breeders approved of him as a good match for Rosie from a conformation and aesthetic point of view).