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Rufnit Kennels Braque du Bourbonnais - "Vital Periods in Your Puppies Growth"
Vital Periods in Your Puppies Growth

by Stan Rawlinson - DogListener

Critical Periods in Puppies Psychological Growth

(Part One )

One of the most important and comprehensive studies on the development and behaviour of the domestic dog from birth to one year old, was researched at the Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor Maine. This groundbreaking series of experiments lasting 13 years, culminated in a book by the two main scientists involved. Drs. John Paul Scott and John L Fuller, published in 1965 called “Genetics and the Social Behavior of Dogs.”

The idea behind this massive study by Scott and Fuller, involving many hundreds of crossbreed and purebred dogs. Was to answer a number of fundamental questions about the psychological behaviour of our pets. It also gave us a template to breed, rear, socialize, and train our dogs with more certainty of success. The fundamental issues were not “Is behaviour inherited," but "What does heredity do to behaviour?"

What was clear from these experiments and studies is that puppies have distinct and clear windows of opportunity. If we do not understand or utilize these opportunities correctly then the possible outcome could be the cause of many of the common behavioural problems we see in later life.

Vital Times for Your Puppy

The critical periods are well named, yet not universally understood, by many breeders, trainers, and behaviourists. These effectively start from birth; this is known as the neonatal period. The pups are born blind and deaf but with an incredible sense of smell. This period is distinguished by almost constant sleeping and nursing. It is at this time that the pups gain an olfactory map of their surroundings, the nest and their mother.

They cannot even toilet on their own it requires the mother to stimulate them to pass feces and urine, she then eats and drinks this (nice eh!) These instincts are nature’s way of keeping the nest clean, dry, and free of bacteria, also to cut down possible smells that could attract predators. We know that no predators are going to attack the pups but try telling the mother that.

Early Toileting Training

After three/four weeks the pups can scamper and run around on their own, the nursing bitch then trains the pups not to toilet anywhere near the nest, she instills this discipline quite forcefully this is the time when some initial toileting problems may be caused. The inexperienced breeder may see this as overt aggression towards the pups and separate the mother and youngsters, depriving them of a valuable lesson often causing other behavioural problems later in life. This is also a problem with “Puppy Farmed” dogs as these idle useless breeders are too lazy to clean the mess when mum stops cleaning up they then sell them on far too early.

The action of separating the mother from her pups is one of the main reasons that pups soil in their crates and have difficulty learning toilet training. It is natural for pups to want to be clean in the house. It is both instinctual and learned because of the evolutionary context from which he comes. On the other hand, the chimpanzee is almost impossible to train to be clean indoors. He may be much smarter than the dog but in his evolutionary biology, alimentary functions and control have not been selected. You cannot overcome nature. The same as you cannot teach a pointer to point or a border collie to clap.

The words “clap eyes on” comes from what collies do when they herd sheep: it’s the eye, that hard stare that called a clap, either they do or they don’t, nothing we can do would or could alter that automatic biological action. Once again, this is nature at its strongest and very little to do with nurture. Nature is genetic nurture is socialization.

Handling

Another problem with puppy-farmed dogs is they are rarely handled during this important critical period. The only senses they have until, about three weeks old are olfactory and tactile. Humans handling pups at this time provide a mild stress response, which acts to improve the puppies both physically and emotionally. Pups that are handled during the first two weeks of their life mature and grow quicker; they are more resistant to infections and diseases, are generally more stable, handle stress better, are more exploratory, curious and learn much faster than pups that are not handled during this period.

Senses

From about 3 weeks old the pups start to get their other senses, including sight, hearing and balance, eyes start to open first, then about ten days later hearing starts to kick in at the same time as kinesthesia ie balance and mobile awareness. This allows them to move confidently rather than wobble. It at this time they really start to socialize with their mum and siblings.

They now learn to be dogs rather than the mewing, gurgling, cat like creatures we saw in the first few weeks, they also start to understand the big world around them, strangely enough they have no fear at this time only mild startle responses; the fear periods are still a few weeks away. Handling at this time is necessary for human socialization and imprinting to take place.

First Fear Period

Fear or hazard avoidance starts at around five weeks, it peaks at between eight and ten weeks, which coincides with the time we normally pick up the puppy. Is it any wonder that they become fretful in cars (car sick) which is generally stress not motion related, and end up with a lifelong fear of the Vets surgery, we inject them and sometimes tag the larger breeds during this all important fear period.

This first fear period is probably instrumental in many of the fear and stress related behaviours we see in adult dogs, any startle or fearful stimulus at the crucial 5 to 10 week period could have a long lasting and negative effect. I noted on Roger Mugfords web site that he proposes the following:

For the dog that insists on jumping up, there should be some well-timed punishing intervention. The punishment of choice is a soft drinks can with three pebbles inside, firmly dropped or thrown by puppy's feet at the moment he jumps up, in fright he will move back. You can then reward him for having four feet on the ground.

There is no mention of fear or hazard avoidance periods or what age you should practice this. Be very aware that if you follow this advice and it is in this crucial period you could easily make your puppy noise aversive in the extreme.

I have written a further article showing the critical periods from birth to maturity which tells you what to expect from your dog during these vital times:

(Part Two)

0 to 7 Weeks

Neonatal, Transition, Awareness, and Canine Socialization. Puppy is with mother and littermates up to seven weeks . During this period, your puppy learns about social interaction, play, and inhibiting aggression from its mother and littermates. Puppies must stay with their mother and littermates through this critical period. As the puppies learn the most important lesson in their lives--they learn to accept discipline. It is at this time that they also learn not to toilet in the nest.

7 to 16 Weeks

Human Socialization Period. The best time to take a puppy home is 7 weeks then you have nine whole weeks to work with the dog over this incredibly important period. The puppy now has the brain waves of an adult dog, but his attention span is short. This period is when the most rapid learning occurs. Learning at this age is permanent so this is a perfect time to start training, but make it fun. This is also the time to introduce the puppy to things that will play an important part in his life. Different people, places, animals, hoovers, washing machines and unusual sounds, in a positive, non-threatening way.

8 to 10 / 11 Weeks

Fear Imprint Period. Whilst the Pup is going through human socialization it also go has an important fear/hazard avoidance period. This starts at 5 weeks and peaks between 8 and 10.5 weeks. Any traumatic, frightening or painful experience will have a more lasting effect on the puppy than if it occurred at any other time in its life. This period if you do not handle it correctly could give your dog a lasting fear of say traffic, the Vets or other frightening noises or events. Never ever praise or sympathize with your pup when it is showing fear. This only serves to confirm the fear.

13 to 16 Weeks

Seniority Classification Period. Puppy starts to cut teeth and apron strings! Puppy begins testing its position in the family unit. You must discourage all biting; the dog should have started to learn and understand bite inhibition by this time! It is important that you are a strong and consistent leader. The period between 0 and 16 weeks is the most important period in your dog’s life. He will learn more during that short space of time than at any other time in his life. Other windows of opportunity for learning will open during your dog’s life. However, what you see at 16 weeks without extensive training and behavioural modification is about what you are going to get as an adult. Therefore, work hard on giving your pet the best start in life.

4 to 8 Months

Play Instinct Period. Flight Instinct Period. Puppy may wander and ignore you. It is very important that you keep the puppy on a leash at this time! The way that you handle your pup at this time determines if he will come to you when called. At about 4-1/2 months, your puppy loses his milk teeth and gets his adult teeth. That's when he begins serious chewing! A dog's teeth don't set in his jaw until between 6 /10 months. During this time, the puppy has a physical need to exercise his mouth by chewing. Training must continue through this period or all your good work may revert back to stage one. Occasionally the puppy will start to urinate in the house again if this happens, just go back to basic toilet training.

6 to 14 Months

Second Fear Imprint Period or Fear of New Situations Period. Dog again shows fear of new situations and even familiar situations. Dog may be reluctant to approach someone or something new. It is important that you are patient and act very matter of fact in these situations. Never force the dog to face the situation. DO NOT pet the frightened puppy or talk in soothing tones. The puppy will interpret such responses as praise for being frightened. Training will help improve the dog's confidence. This fear period is normally more marked in male dogs.

1 to 4 Years

Maturity Period. You may encounter some increased aggression and renewed testing for position and authority, however if you have spent lots of time with your dog and trained consistently and regularly, then this should not present itself as a problem - in fact you may hardly notice this change, it is just something to keep in mind. Continue to train your dog during this period. It is possible that your dog may have another fear period between 12 - 16 months of age.

Regardless of your reason for acquiring a puppy, you'll have to win it over. You, not your dog, will have to create a safe and secure environment with ongoing training if your pup is to develop into a well-mannered family member instead of a thug or a burden.

Dogs are animals, not human beings. They are instinctively pack animals. In every pack there is at least one sometimes more than one leader, who tends to make most of the decisions. Usually the pack will have at least one alpha male and an alpha female. All the other members of the pack form a hierarchy in which everyone has a place. Your dog is not a wolf, and though we have tended to think Alpha is important position, new thinking and study has somewhat disproved this idea.

That is not to say you should not show leadership in a fair and equable way In your home, you and your family become your dog's family, as do any other dogs you may have. It is therefore your responsibility to establish yourself in a position of authority and trust. If you fail to do this, your dog may question your requests and authority. Many people assume that they are automatically the lead figure just because they are humans, are you really the leader? Does your dog know it and respect your wishes and commands?

Being the leader does not mean you have to be big and aggressive. Nor does it mean that there has to be a battle of strength or wills, after which you emerge the victor. Anyone can be the leader. It is an attitude an air of authority. It is the basis for mutual respect, and provides the building blocks of communication between you and your dog. It never means punishment or overt aggression.

© Stan Rawlinson 1998
Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer
www.doglistener.co.uk
0208 979 2019

Previously Published:  
http://www.doglistener.co.uk/puppies/criticalperiods1.shtml
Permission to post/reprint on this site graciously granted by Stan Rawlinson - DogListener

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