I am convinced that just like me, you want your dog Ti-Loup to be friendly, affectionate and obedient! When Ti-Loup can’t do it and unwanted behavior occurs, your emotional link can weaken and you might think about giving it up or even having him euthanized. We all hope the puppies can stop their unwanted behavior, but let’s face it, he will need your help and we can help. The next few lines might be a bit heavy, but you will understand how important they are to you and Ti-Loup. You will be proud of his accomplishments and thus improve your relationship.
It may be surprising to note that behavioral development is linked to physical development but also to one of the nervous system. It should also be noted that puppies of different breeds can develop at different rates, that certain prenatal conditions (for example, the diet and health of the mother) can influence the development of the puppy and that environmental factors can affect the expression of certain genes. Research on other species has shown that offspring subjected to stressful handling are more sensitive to stress factors at a later age1,2. So it’s no wonder that you feel a little lost when it comes to educating Ti-Loup. We will see here the 4 stages of development of your dog, to help you prevent unwanted behavior.
The neonatal stage extends from birth to about 2 weeks of age; the eyes are not yet open and the ear canals are closed, the puppies therefore discover the world mainly through touch and smell. Despite an immature nervous system, newborn babies react to their environment. Puppies who received more maternal care during the neonatal stage had higher scores for social and physical engagement in adulthood than those raised by less attentive mothers, according to a canine behavior study3. In another study4, puppies handled calmly and gently by humans from 3 days old were calmer and more confident at 8 weeks compared to controls. So make sure that host families and breeders introduce gentle handling of puppies as early as possible.
The transition phase occurs around 14 to 21 days of age and lasts about 7 days. The eyes and ears begin to function and muscle coordination improves. Communication between puppies (eg, growls) and interactions (eg, play) are observed for the first time during this time. Because puppies can move away from their mothers, this is a great time to introduce a suitable potty area.
The sensitive period of socialization in puppies begins at 3 weeks of age and lasts up to 12 to 14 weeks. During this stage it is important for your puppy to be exposed to various species and environmental stimuli. External stimuli will have a long-term effect on the development of the developing dog. Preferences are learned more easily during this period. Puppies that have not been socialized during this time tend to react with fear to new humans or new situations1,2,5. Controlled exposure to humans during the socialization stage is therefore crucial. In one study6, puppies that were not handled before 7 weeks of age were more reluctant to approach humans than puppies handled between 3 and 5 weeks of age. Puppies that were not handled before the age of 14 weeks remained constantly fearful and resistant to handling. Negative experiences during the sensitive period can also have a serious impact on behavioral development. Abrupt weaning, especially when combined with sudden separation from brothers and sisters, can have long-term behavioral consequences. Puppies removed from the mother and from the litter before 6 weeks of age have been shown to be more fearful and exhibited more unwanted behavior as adults than puppies that remain with the litter until the age of 8 weeks old7,8.
The juvenile stage represents the time between the end of the socialization period and sexual maturity. Sexual behavior is usually seen by the age of 6 months, although it can be delayed in large and giant breeds. Dogs remain behaviorally immature even after reaching sexual maturity. Perhaps you can draw a parallel with some people around you? Large breed dogs may not mature socially until they are 18 months or older3. As behavioral issues are frequently reported during this time, visits to your veterinarian should be encouraged. It’s never too early to start socializing a puppy, and as long as the puppy is calm and unafraid, it’s never too late to start.
Create a personalized socialization plan
In order to create an effective socialization program, remember to consider your goals. Ti-Loup could start visiting new places, at least twice a week. However, you should avoid areas frequented by dogs of unknown health status and vaccination. Ti-Loup should be allowed to explore any new place on his own and at his own pace. Bringing treats and toys can make the experience more enjoyable for him. It’s important to go at your own pace, if Ti-Loup becomes too scared to play or have a snack, the session should end and start over more slowly. It’s like daycare, having great new experiences with others will allow a beneficial socialization.
Ti-Loup should be introduced to several different humans, starting with calm adults. Children old enough to be calm and nice to dogs may also be introduced. Remember, every individual is different and therefore the socialization plan will need to be adapted accordingly. If the fear is deep or persistent, a more thorough behavioral treatment plan should be discussed and referral to a specialist behavioral veterinarian is never premature. Remember, repeated exposure to a deep fear can lead to sensitization that might not be reversible.
Puppy socialization course
Puppy socialization classes are an opportunity for puppies to learn to behave calmly around humans and other dogs. Not to be confused with obedience classes where puppies learn basic commands (eg: sit, lie, rest). Puppies who take socialization classes are less likely to develop bad behavior than puppies who do not take similar classes9.
Although puppies do not complete their vaccination until they are 16 weeks old, one study10 stipulates that a puppy’s risk of contracting canine parvovirus in a socializing class is low, whereas inadequate behavioral introduction can result in a failure in his socialization, it will be to your advantage to check the registration requirements for classes in order to minimize the risk of infection for Ti-Loup. Prefer an instructor requiring initial vaccinations and veterinary health certificates. In addition, the lessons should be well organized so that the puppies are not overwhelmed or scared. It is important to know what Ti-Loup will learn but also how! Remember your goal, a happy puppy is a happy pet parent.
Despite the best will and a plan adapted to his socialization from an early age, as Ti-Loup grows up, he is likely to develop new behavioral problems. Remember your teenage years! His behavioral plan should be adapted every 4 to 6 months until his social maturity is reached.
Early and accurate behavioral counseling will increase the strength of the emotional link between Ti-Loup & you, improve his ability to accept excellent medical care, and help create a better dog-citizen in our society.
- Champagne FA. Epigenetic mechanisms and the transgenerational effects of maternal care. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2008;29(3):386-397.
- Braastad BO, Osadchuk LV, Lund G, Bakken M. Effects of prenatal han- dling stress on adrenal weight and behavior in novel situations in blue fox cubs Alopex lagopus. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 1998;57(1-2):157-169.
- Houpt KA. Development of behavior. In: Houpt KA. Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists. 6th ed. Ames, IA: Wiley-Blackwell; 2018:163-190.
- Serpell J, Duffy D, Jagoe JA. Becoming a dog: early experience and the development of behavior. In: Serpell J, ed. The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior and Interactions with People. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2017:93-117.
- Overall K. Normal canine behavior and ontogeny. In: Horwitz D, Mills
- Friedman DG, King JA, Elliot O. Critical period in the social development of dogs. Science. 1961;133(3457):1016-1017.
- Pierantoni L, Albertini M, Pirrone F. Prevalence of owner-reported behaviours in dogs separated from the litter at two different ages. Vet Rec. 2011;169(18):468.
- Slabbert JM, Rasa OA. The effect of early separation from the mother on pups in bonding to humans and pup health. J S Afr Vet Assoc. 1993;64(1):4-8.
- Duxbury MM, Jackson JA, Line SW, Anderson RK. Evaluation of association between retention in the home and attendance at puppy socialization classes. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2003;223(1):61-66.
- Stepita ME, Bain MJ, Kass PH. Frequency of CPV infection in vaccinated puppies that attended puppy socialization classes. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2013;49(2):95-100.