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  • Writer's pictureHoekema Family

Puppy Brain By Kerry Nichols

There's a new book that recently got released, many of you have heard of it, many of you are also reading it.

Puppy Brain: Rethinking how we train our puppies. How our dogs learn, think, and live. By Kerry Nichols. I was gifted this book by a couple on 'Gotcha Day"

"How to raise a happy, healthy, and emotionally resilient dog. Full of actionable guidance, Puppy Brain will show you how to create a harmonious, fulfilling relationship with your pet"

Kerry is the founder of Nicholberry Goldens down in CA. Her program is very similar to mine and she raises her pups with the same mindset and methods as I do here. 


I actually just sold a pup to a terrific couple that flew in from CA. They contacted Kerry and not only is her wait list to get one of her pups always over a year long, but currently she was/is not even taking in new families on her list at all.

Realizing that our programs were very similar, they entrusted me with the decision to bring in their latest addition. They now are over the moon to have a darling Hoekema Homestead Golden pup in their home.


I've been following Nicholberry Goldens for quite some time and indeed there are many paths that we walk that cross over. Pups are raised with the use of intentional rearing protocols that focus on honoring a puppy's choices and needs. They are guided to be confident, resilient and strong little balls of brilliance.

Just like how we raise our pups here as well. 


So on cue with many others, I prioritized my time, dove in (ok floated off) and consumed the book.

Thought I'd share some key points with you all that I personally connected with...


"We must give our puppies permission to be a different species and not only allow them to behave accordingly but modify our behavior accordingly"

A concept that many do not grasp and more do not put into place.

We have to relinquish what we would choose and focus on what our puppy actually chooses and be okay with that. Hence raising choice based puppies. 


"What does a dog need - choice, stimulation, rest and space"


She talks a lot about being radially intentional, extremely aware and thoughtful about raising a new puppy.

I as well cannot put enough weight on this topic. 

I spend 2+ yrs. Carefully planning and prepping for each and everyone of my litters of pups. 'Gotcha Day' for me is only a brief moment in time. The prep work leading up to pups arrival is very intentional and lengthy. I spend countless hours of research and am continuously learning how to improve what I do here so your pup is the very best it possibly can be by the time it gets to you. 

The 8 wks. That pups are actually under my roof and in my care is so short and flies by so quickly that every moment of my day is filled with this passionate, very intentional guided way of raising these babies. 

"A puppy's brain between the age of three and fourteen weeks of age is radically different than it will be at any other time in its life"

Puppies at this age are so open to new stimuli. Their brains are marvelously complex. When a pup learns something new, the synapses between neurons become stronger, connecting the neurons more tightly so that the information flows between them more rapidly. They are mushy moldable balls of clay really. I influence and 'wire' the formation of these neural pathways. These early positive introductions have an extremely powerful effect on these fur babies. My job is to repeat these exposures so they learn to be confident and resilient to these stimulus. I strategically work to optimize this magical window of opportunity during this time that I have them here. 


As she talks about how puppies brains work she mentions, "Neural circuits are formed and stabilized by the sensory activity the environment evokes"


This crazy sensitive timeframe is a unique stage of development for a puppy and one that has a massive impact on their long term well being. 

Kerry does an exceptional job at bringing light and important awareness to this topic in this time.


I truly believe when I raise all my pups here in the way I do with a stimulus rich environment that they become fabulous learners who are emotionally balanced family pets with a socially rich life ahead of them.

As I float and read, I pull sections of her book that designate with me.


"One of the biggest gifts you can give your pups is to be boring when you are coming and going"

Easier said then done I know. This is so hard to do especially with a new puppy but one step that I find incredibly important as well. 


"It is easier to build a behavior than to fix a behavior"

Absolutely agree 100%


"Dogs repeat what they rehearse"

Keep in mind, this applies to behaviors that you favor but also to the behaviors that aren't as favorable. Leading to the importance of a successful set up.

"The hitch is that many behaviors go unnoticed until they become a problem. And once they become a problem, the grooves for that behavior are already embedded in the brain. 

We need to break the process of rehearsing undesirable behaviors. 

If we arrange their environment so they can only make good choices, you are setting him up for success"


So incredibly important and a concept I try to educate every family on.


"Let's change our mindset about behaviors. We need to realize our dogs are dogs, not humans, so let's honor our dogs and let them be dogs. If we think our dogs are being 'Bad', 'naughty' or 'stubborn' we are imposing human value judgements on canine behavior. Not only is it unfair but it also shuts down inventive thinking that could present a solution."

Another concept that people have a very hard time wrapping their head around. They humanize their new pups and very much impose these human judgements on them. Pups become people's 'babies' very quickly and forget that they are still dogs.

Here's a topic that I try to convey to my future puppy families early but have a difficult time getting across at the level of understanding that I would like. 

"Preparing mentally: managing expectations.

Puppies are going to be puppies.

Yes they are going to bite, chew, jump and be a bit crazy at times. These are developmentally common behaviors that are perfectly acceptable and normal in the canine world. We must adjust our human expectations that they will be anything other than puppies."

I work with my pups here from day 1 and pour my heart, soul, time, effort, dedication, education and guidance into them. A common misconception for people getting a pup from me here is that since I've worked with these babies to these great lengths is that these pups will be perfect little fluff balls that will behave and mesh into families seamlessly. 

They are very much still going to be puppies. Also remember that I spend many many hours with these babies and have built a strong trusting relationship with them. They also have a safe environment that they know and have gotten into the routine of flowing with day in and day out. This needs to be rebuilt with their new people in life, in their new environment. So have patience. 


"At the end of each day, reflect. Take note on what went right today, what you didn't quite get right yet and what you can change to create more harmony tomorrow."

So very true. 


Remember, this puppy stage will not last forever. In the blink of an eye your darling fluff ball of a pup will be grown before you know it.... and yes, you will very much miss the chaotic bliss of puppyhood.

Here's a glimpse on Kerry's thoughts on obedience and training when it comes to a new pup. It's a common question I get as well... 'when do I start training?'


"During the first 14 weeks of a puppy's life, we are helping them figure out how to feel about the world. During the rest of their lives, they will live out those feelings."


Often people miss the 'how to feel about the world' part all together. 


"Mental preparation in advance of their new puppy's arrival will have a bigger impact on who your puppy becomes than any particular 'How-to' possibly could. If you can see your puppy from a canine perspective and meet their needs, then you will communicate and interact in a way that maximizes his natural inclinations and builds emotional resilience. You will facilitate the process of his learning to trust his inner voice and help him to trust you. 

Your heart is already full of love and joy for your new pup, and now you need to give your puppy time to arrive at the same conclusion about you. Honor your new puppy and help him trust you and then you'll be well on your way to a long lasting beautiful friendship."


Wonderfully put.


"The first few weeks home your goal for your new puppy is to conclude that learning is fun, not necessarily that what he is learning is fun. It's about creating positive feelings about the process of learning"

Again agree with 100%

I will conclude my PUPPY BRAIN book review there and now simply recommend that you all go and float off into the Lily pads or curl up in your favorite cozy spot and read Kerry's book. 

For my upcoming puppy families.. this is a great start as it guides you right from, well.. before the beginning of life, which we are at right now. She explains things very much the same way as I guide you along my journey here with you. Making every word file with passion and love but making it very clear on the expectations ahead.


For my current puppy families, this is still relevant information as she puts great weight on connecting with your pup in a way that you both will understand and in a way that will work. If you can start to understand how a puppy's brain works your mindset will shift, your heart will soften and your understanding will broaden. 


Thank you Kerry for the opportunity to be part of your world, part of your program and to expand and improve my own program always as I take in everything and anything a great fellow breeder has to share.


So as I close this book and put away my boat.. until the next sunny day, I bring my focus and attention back to improvements, upgrades, tasks to be completed and practicing my own patience while I ever so eagerly anticipate heat cycles to show up. 


The garden is growing taller and more abundant by the day which makes glorious salads for the dogs daily. 

Upgrading health tests are booked and are in place.

Puppy files are improved and added to constantly.

Sunshine patches get taken full advantage of and get absorbed as much as possible. 

The pool indeed got brought out this week and all the dogs loved the incredibly fun pool party that was thrown. Meiko loved to splash, Leia likes to dig the water out, Isla is my full blown lay down and flip and flop around in the water girl and Tonka enjoys a steady down fall of water from the hose from above. 

Lots of fruit salads got consumed with the anticipation of whole apples soon from the nearby apple trees. (Yes they eat the apples whole, seeds and all) I tested out frozen meal dishes which were a great hit!

2 bowls inserted within each other with fruits and veggies frozen for the walls. What a fun idea! A bit time consuming to make for a one time meal but the entertainment it brought was well worth it.

Our annual reunion is right around the corner! Make sure to have it marked on your calendar bright and clear! Sat. July 20th 12-3pm. Marymoor Dog park. Mark your dog so it doesn't get lost in the area of white! The entertainment and social aspect of this day is the highlight of the year for so many. I know it's one of my favorites for sure. So whether you are an OG, a recent puppy family or a family getting itchy for pups ahead, I can't wait to see you all on July 20th!


Happy reading everyone. Enjoy the sunshine. Shift your mindset in the right direction. And go off and do the happy puppy dance so maybe we can encourage these girls to get this show on the road for pups to start oh so soon!!!


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