I love having puppies, despite the work, despite the worry and despite the expense.
A litter doesn't start with the pitter patter of tiny feet and small but sharp teeth tearing out the toes of your stockings as you do the puppy shuffle across the floor. No - it starts, sometimes years earlier, with the decision on which stud dog to use.
Mentally picture your ideal Basenji, take a look at future Mum and figure out what you need to take your line onwards and upwards to that goal. Some calculated risks are permitted, especially if your long term plans allow you to plait back into your own lines to fix type. You can breed out for - say - extra height, knowing that you will keep your excellent fronts and tight feet, but with the possibility of losing the quality of your coats.
Personally we eschew fashionable studs in the interests of breeding something which pleases us and we are ever mindful of the original functions of a Basenji in the wild.
Having come to a decision, take a look at the parents, siblings, progeny of the siblings, aunts, uncles and forebears of your chosen boy. And above all, ask questions of his breeder, his owner and anyone who has used him. Be as sure as you possibly can be that there are no hidden scourges - and be entirely open and honest with the owner of the stud about the health or otherwise of your own line.
Finally, agree terms in writing with the stud dog's owner. Our own boys get cash at time of mating and in the event of there being no puppies, a repeat mating at the next season between the same pair. If the mating is to be for *pick of litter* - spell out whose pick - yours or the stud owners ?
It is customary in my country to take the bitch to the stud. Number of mating is optional. Some breeders feel that a second mating about 48 hours later is "insurance" and others feel this leads to uneven litters. Above all, once the mating has taken place and the bitch has dried up, don't start prodding her about. It is too late now to do anything about it if she isn't in whelp and if she is, that too will become obvious in due course. Basenjis carry very high as a rule and sometimes it is difficult to be sure until the 6th week or even later.
What you CAN do at this time, apart from ensuring the mother-to-be gets gentle and regular exercise, is whisper instructions in her ear. "one r/w boy, 2 r/w bitches, 2 tri bitches and whatever else you like".... She won't take a blind bit of notice - Basenjis are notorious for producing the wrong colour/gender combinations - but it'll help pass the time. No need to feed her up until the litter is born - if she puts on too much weight she could have a difficult delivery.
You should be making sure, if you have not already done so, that you know exactly where each puppy is going and that the homes are suitable. Keep in touch with your new owners. And prepare her whelping box - making sure it is accessible to you but will ultimately provide privacy for the new mother and her babes. Time soon passes.
If this is her first litter, you will not have much to guide you about the length of her pregnancy nor the best day to breed her. It is a good idea always to keep copious notes on each bitch - seasons, visual observation, day bred, and ultimately number of days between mating and whelping.
The day will come when she starts to get restless and shows a tendency to tear things. Have a large amount of newspaper at the ready - torn in narrow strips, not cut. The Financial Times is perfect. It is less absorbent but better quality and the ink doesn't come off on tiny pads.
This is the point where I bow out. Our bitches know that in Marvin they have a gentle, efficient and utterly reliable mid-wife, with experience (he should have after 40 years of this sort of thing) to see them through safely. He always deliveries the first puppy and calls out markings and details - Shani has had ten puppies and all but three have been breech births - which I record. While the second puppy is emerging, I weigh the first and so on. Careful note is taken about the sightings (or otherwise) of the placenta. Speed of each pup around to the milk bar is also noted. Depending on the length of time between puppies and a need for us to sleep, the bitches will accept a substitute midwife after the first one or two.
Being Basenjis, they do not always chose the most appropriate times to give birth. Middle of the night - 2 in the morning.... Marvin likes to have forceps and surgical clamps as well as scissors at the ready. The ferocious way a Basenji mother can put paws into the tum, grab the cord in her teeth and wrench, can appear a tad brutal. If possible, we try to clamp and cut it. This is why accessibility of the whelping box is essential. Mums tend to curl up in the corner and make sure you can't see what is happening, let alone get a helping hand near them.
By morning, bleary eyed and lacking sleep, you can clear up the mess and collapse somewhere, thrilled to bits and oh so proud of your squirming little creatures. If you are lucky, the nightly screaming will cease quite soon. Some litters are very quiet - which I find even more disturbing. What is she DOING to them ?
We leave our puppies on torn up editions of the Financial Times until they can take their own weight. It is a personal preference, but the puppies can maintain their natural swimming motion easily and are not forced to stand up on a deep piled piece of bedding until their legs are strong enough to support them properly. As soon as they are 'up' they have proper bedding.
Socialising puppies starts at once. Making sure the mother can see her babe at all times, we pick them up from the very first day and cuddle them. I hold them against the pulse in my neck so they can sense, if neither see nor hear, outside contact. There is a right and a wrong way to pick up puppies and even adult dogs. Bums must be very firmly supported and front legs held close to the body and facing forwards. At NO age does one pick up a dog by one arm or even under both with the thumbs on the chest as with human babies. When the time comes, it is very important to teach everyone who comes into contact with the puppies how to handle them.
For the first couple of weeks, they seem to just lie there when they are not feeding. Mother will stay pretty close to the bed-box and at first may be a little concerned each time you pick one up. So long as she sees you do it and can keep her eye on it, all will be well.
Come the day when they take their first hesitant steps - invariable backwards - we put our puppies onto Vet-bed. Throughout their puppyhood it is vital that they be handled. Everyone who comes to the house gets to cuddle a puppy. Doors are slammed, pans dropped, radio or TV left on - so they are totally used to noises, sudden bangs and people.
Mum by now is probably on 3 or even four meals a day - it is better to keep her strength up than let her become ravenous for her next meal. And at about three weeks you can start the kids off on supplementary feeds and solids. We use their normal kibble, ground to a powder at first and then increasingly coarse until it is fed to them in its normal state. First meal is usually taken 'ensemble' - all the piglets at the same trough. Push a tiny nose into the very sloppy powdered milk with ground kibble and warm water and see what happens. They get the message delightfully quickly and very messily. It is sensible to feed them sometimes all together and sometimes in individual bowls. Of course, when you are worming them, you must make sure they have their own bowls and stick with them.
It is now that they have a woollen collar, crocheted or plaited and with a tail hanging loose. They pull each other around by the tails and become accustomed to something around their necks. At about 5 - 6 weeks we put a light leather collar on last thing at night. By the time they wake up in the morning they are used to wearing a collar.
Socialising should be continued - this has to be a non-stop process even as other training is introduced. Stand them on a table and take photos of them 'stacking' themselves in front of a hand-held bowl of something nice. Let them play out in the garden, rustle leaves, chew, explore. Have their owners visit if at all possible and if not, send them photographs at every new stage of development. Make them feel involved and that it is THEIR puppy.
Feed them sometimes in a crate, sometimes not. Let them learn that a crate is not a bad thing - put toys and favourites bones in and leave one up near them. As soon as they are used to it, take them in the car in it - perhaps with an aunt or Mum. Just a couple of miles at first, and if two people go, one can keep talking and reassuring the travellers.
Lead training is best done one at a time. We start with the puppy destined to leave us first. Going away from the house is always the worst, so we start by carrying them to the top of the drive-way and letting them pull us back. Later we stand and watch the cars, lorries, tractors (this is a farming community) and even horses go by. At first they can watch the world go by from the safety of a cuddle, but later they can stand on the ground and be encouraged with words and caresses.
Nails should be regularly cut. First of all with scissors but as time goes on, the puppies can be accustomed to the sensation of a file or proper clippers. And of course - toilet training..... This is nowhere near as daunting a task with Basenjis as it can be with other breeds. They are naturally clean. Newspaper in a designated area or tray and a soon as they wake up, pop them in it - if the weather is clement, get them out in the garden before eyes are properly opened. Trying to get six puppies onto the paper with two hands when they all wake at once - oh well. You'll be surprised how fast they learn. Praise, praise and encouragement at all times is the key. They will regress when they get to their new homes but the seed is sown and very often within a week they are well on the way to being clean again.
A piece of bedding put down with the babes and the adults - by the time they leave us all they are all sleeping in one pile on the floor at night - goes with each puppy. This smells nicely of the rest of the family and helps settle the puppy to a new home. Some new owners find it helpful if the breeder has purchased a crate and already accustomed their particular baby to it.
New owners are helped by the provision of detailed health, worming, dietary notes. Instructions on what to do in the case of a tummy upset brought about by the journey, food for a few days so any change can be effected gradually and the knowledge that the breeder is always available to offer advice and guidance. A lesson in nail-clipping before they depart with the new addition to their family is a good idea too. They should be aware of the need for the second inoculation, the date it should be administered and the particular product used for the first one.
Even if it is only a card at Christmas, preferably with a few
photographs, new owners should be encouraged to keep in touch
with their breeders. Sending the puppy away is painful enough
but the knowledge that your kids will remember you and greet you
with yodels and shrieks of delight when you meet again, helps.
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