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That puppy is not your dog.

December 26, 2017

 

Ok, hang on. It is your dog. But it’s not the final iteration of the dog you will be spending your days feeding, scratching, and calling 1,000 nicknames. That ball of cute with the intoxicating breath is just a version of your adult dog. 

 

There a lot of things that go into raising a puppy to be a well-balanced, adult dog. So, if you choose to accept this mission, you will need to avoid the temptation of being lulled into a false sense of perfection as you snuggle your little pudding-bellied puppy. Your "little" will hypnotize you with their ability to sleep like the dead, their cute follow-waddles, and lack of barking (unless you have chosen a corgi or a dachshund). In just a few more weeks, they will be chewing up the house, taking off on you, jumping on everything, and running full speed around the house with their little bum bums tucked up tight. All the while you will be there, wondering why in God’s name your hand has so many bloody little holes in it.   

 

I am convinced that puppies come preprogrammed with the ability to shut off all human objectivity. Then BAM! Your puppy in no longer a baby but now a juvenile and then no longer a juvenile but a dreaded adolescent. And just when you think you are out of the woods, we have the 2nd birthday (on average), also know as social maturity. This can take place anywhere between 18 and 36 months. Out go the days of tolerance and plasticity and in come the days of predictable behavior and the fixing of personality - for better or for worse. Developmentally, from 3 to 16 weeks of age, puppies probably learn more than they do during the remaining course of their lifetime, forming lasting lifelong cognitive and emotional impressions.1 If you can avoid the temptation of thinking you have just acquired an actually perfect dog, you have a really opportunity to take advantage of your little sponge.  

 

The priority for dogs 8 to 16 weeks old is indisputably socialization. This is a period that puppies will be making determination about the things they are exposed to. Our job is to making every experience positive. Having neutral experience is not enough. One critical element in your dog’s socialization is spending time with other dogs. Whether it is puppies with other puppies or safe, well-socialized adults with puppies, dogs teach each other in a way that we can only attempt to mimic. It is absolutely necessary for dogs to learn how to read the body language of other dogs and, even more importantly, bite inhibition. Puppies learning how to mitigate their bite and control damage by getting feedback from other puppies, dogs, and humans are less likely to do damage when they need to communicate with their mouths. Puppies that do not get this opportunity are most likely to cause physical damage if they bite as an adult. The ones that do not learn good social skills are more likely to be involved in aggressive incidents with other dogs.2

 

If you would like to know more about the things puppies should exposed to and how to turn a neutral experience into a positive one, I recommend downloading Dr. Sophia Yin’s Socialization Checklist.  

 

Here are some key points:

  • The socialization period is the most important period of development pertaining to the prevention of future behavior disorders. 

  • A fear period occurs between 8 and 10 weeks of age. 

  • Traumatic events during fear periods can have a profound impact on future behavior. 

  • Socialization vaccinates your puppy against behavior problems.3

 

While you are working on socialization, it is also important to put some solid foundations in place while your puppy is most absorbent. Many owners ask when you should start training. Based on EEG (electroencephalogram) and multiple behavioral studies, the brain is adult-like at 8 weeks of age, and puppies function at an adult level in terms of learning ability.4 

 

"In general, puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class."

- AVSAB, Position Paper

 

Let's look at a few key behaviors:

 

SIT MEANS A LOT

Teaching your dog to sit to ask nicely for something or as a precursor to anything the he/she wants will play a big role in the life of your dog. Sitting can be a deference behavior, deferring to you for help or more instruction. It can also mean, “Please.” Having your dog learn to actually CHOOSE to sit to get your attention can stave off many annoying demand behaviors that you will unintentionally reinforce because they are cute at 8 weeks and become a problem at 6 months. It is easier to train the appropriate communication skills than it is to unring the behavior bell. 

  

RECALL

Your little pumpkin is a consummat follower. Most will interpret that as the dog already knowing how to come when called when in reality they are doing what comes naturally. With a little positive reinforcement and adherence to a few rules, you can establish a solid recall by the time the dog reaches adolescence. Once they hit the “teen” years, there will most likely be a couple of hiccups but you will have a solid foundation to work from. 

 

CRATE TRAINING

Oh so much benefit from teaching your dog to relax and spend quality time in their crate. It can also be an invaluable tool for house training. The key for really good crate training is to start immediately and train each phase patiently so that your dog builds a positive association with crate time. There are many missteps that leave dogs thinking their crates are predictors of isolation and deprivation. You can properly crate train your pup over a weekend by following some simple steps and adhering to a few rules. 

 

STATIONING (Targeting a mat or a bed)

Going to a mat or a bed is a helpful skill for all dogs. Used in conjunction with relaxation or settling exercises, this is a go-to behavior used to address a multitude of situations, like people entering the home, eating or prepping dinner, and even vet visits. 

 

16 week old English Bulldog Puppy learning how to station for meal prep. 

 

 

LEASH MANNERS

Getting your little bundle used to a leash and not pulling you down the driveway is far easier when your dog requires very little physical activity. You can spend time in your driveway and right in front of your house teaching your rolly-polly how to walk nicely and showing them gently that pulling will not get them anywhere fast!

 

As you can probably glean from this post, there is a lot to consider when committing to raising a puppy. Puppies should be a careful consideration, a planned addition to your family. Springing a puppy on a friend or family member may put that dog at risk if the recipient is not completely prepared to receive such an life-changing gift. 

  1. Scott JP. 1958. Critical periods in the development of social behavior in puppies. Psychosom Med, 20:42–54.

  2. Martin, Kenneth; Martin, Debbie. Puppy Start Right: Foundation Training for the Companion Dog (Kindle Locations 203-207). Karen Pryor Clickertraining. Kindle Edition.

  3. Martin, Kenneth; Martin, Debbie. Puppy Start Right: Foundation Training for the Companion Dog (Kindle Locations 203-207). Karen Pryor Clickertraining. Kindle Edition.

  4. Lindsay SR. 2000. Handbook of applied dog behavior and training. Volume 1, First edition. Iowa State University Press. p 63.

 

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