Fact 1: Puppy’s brains develop rapidly. The first three to four months of a puppy’s life is like the vital period of development in a child’s first two years! Supporting your puppy to develop positive skills and behaviours in these early days is the most important task you have as a responsible dog lover. There is no time to lose!
Fact 2: One in five puppies are born with a genetic tendency to develop an anxiety or fear disorder. We can’t genetically test for mental illnesses so we can’t predict which puppies are the more sensitive ones. All puppies should be treated with extra care so they don’t experience fearful situations which put them at risk of developing behaviour problems.
Fact 3: Puppies needcontrolled positive exposure in this sensitive period. This allows their brain to develop the appropriate nerve pathways to for them to live in harmony with humans. Your puppy should have a positive and calm experience with many people, children, sights and sounds in the first four months of their life. Why not provide a valuable experience for your puppy by throwing it a party at home to celebrate its arrival a few weeks after it settles in?
Fact 4: More puppies die due to behavioural problems than parvovirus! Exposing your puppy to safe environments using safe methods is crucial. With care, this can be done even if they have not had all their vaccinations! Use common sense to decide which areas and situations are safe. As a general rule, stay away from beaches, dog parks and pet stores until your pup is fully vaccinated.
You can take your puppy in your arms around the block while feeding them a favourite food to make this a positive experience. You can let them sit in your lap and chew a raw hide at the local park. Let them take in the environment inside and outside of their home in a gradual and positive way. Create a love of cars by helping them having short, postitive trips or just feed them in your car parked at home! All of this can be done safely before your puppy is fully vaccinated. For more information on socialising your puppy see the AVSAB statement for puppy socialisation: http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/puppy_socialization.pdf
Fact 5: Dogs communicate with body language. They can’t speak to us with words so it is critical to understand your puppy by learning the subtle body language signals they use to show their emotions. Try this app to have fun decoding your dog: http://www.dogdecoder.com/
Dogs initially express fear by rolling on their back when approached, with their legs and tail tucked in. Later they may freeze in one spot, run away, hide, snarl, growl, snap or bite. This “ladder of aggression” often develops if we don’t notice early subtle body language signs of fear. Understanding early signs of fear allows opportunities to help the puppy learn to cope.
Helping puppies through these new and initially scary situations, by showing them they can feel calm can prevent self-defense behaviours which can gradually develop into aggression. If these fear responses are ignored or even worse, seen as the puppy being “naughty” then punished, there is a very high risk of the development of aggression or anxiety problems.
Fact 6: There is extensive scientific evidence about correct methods for “puppy socialisation”. You wouldn’t let a child loose in a playground full of kids without supervision for the first time. Similarly, it is no longer acceptable practice in the doggy psychology world to let all puppies play freely off the lead.
A puppy could get bullied and frightened by larger or more boisterous puppy. If this happens during a puppy’s sensitive period during the first three or four months of age, the puppy could develop a permanent negative emotional connection to seeing other dogs. They may continue to be scared in the presence of other dogs into adulthood.
Some puppies, especially ones from pet store box environments, have had few opportunities to learn how to interact appropriately with other dogs. “Free for all” play can then be a recipe for disaster. Modern trainers strive to “First do no harm” and a structured program with reward based training. This is greatly beneficial as it “does no harm” rather it provides positive experiences and learning.