God’s design in everything is most fabulous. So much we can learn, if we just pay attention. So much will go smoothly, if we only abide. That includes raising puppies! If we are going to prep our pup properly, it is imperative we pay attention to and heed this marvelous design. Unless, that is, we want behavior issues in the long-term.
From birth to around sixteen weeks of age is “the” crucial time for puppies. Just as important as the sustenance and warmth they receive from their mothers, pups learn acceptable behavior and boundaries. Alongside this, as they grow with their litter mates these boundaries and behaviors are further refined. The natural competitiveness of these animals also encourages and strengthens them as they grow into healthy, well-balanced puppies. As the mother (or breeder) weans them, usually beginning around their fourth week, it is a smooth, gradual transition (usually lasting about 2-3 weeks) intended to help them grow independent, yet cooperative among the pack. This entire process, by design, is a marvelous thing to behold. If the natural process is heeded, builds a strong foundation for a damn great dog!
However, when pups are weaned too soon, for whatever reason, they can suffer effects beyond physical. Similarly, when pups are separated too early, even if they were weaned appropriately, the effects can be troublesome and lasting. There is no way to overemphasize how gravely important growing together is for young puppies, especially during the first ten to twelve weeks, ideally even up to sixteen weeks. Much like singleton puppies (only one pup born or survives), pups that are separated upon or shortly after weaning can develop behaviors that may become problematic.
Tale of Two Pups
Each of my dogs represents both of these backgrounds.
Mia, my Pit Bull, was from a “backyard breeder” that weaned her too early. Granted, I did not know this until the vet pointed out that she was “much younger” than I was told. The day I picked her up I was told she was ten, “almost 11” weeks old. Not a full week later, the vet informed me that she “had to be” at least 3-4 weeks younger than that. Thus, when I got her she was actually 5-8 weeks young.
Hanani, my Dutch Shepherd, came from a breeder-trainer that specializes in top-rate protection and police dogs. She was separated from her littermates very early for imprinting (conditioning a pup in its earliest stages for a particular work/purpose). Thus, Hanani did not have the full benefit of learning from other pups. Her human contact consisted of primarily feeding time and being enticed to build the drive dogs need for protection work (imprinting).
While I had no idea what Mia was coming from, I had full knowledge of Hanani’s background. I must state at this point that I do not mean to infer that there was intentional harm done to this or any of that breeder-trainer’s pups. She was and is a healthy, well-bred dog. However, to fully understand a dog’s behavior issues, we must account from where they came, as well as other factors. Again, note that I knew what I was getting and had the skills and experience to deal with whatever issues arose.
And that is the point here. When choosing a pup, as much information as possible is necessary to determine what it is you are getting. This includes your background, skill, knowledge and, most importantly, your determination to follow through.
Here we have two dogs, both had what can be considered a difficult start. In those crucial, formative weeks neither had the full benefits of romping with siblings. One grew into a soft, but well-rounded 6 1/2 year old (as of now, 1/2019) Bully that can hold her own. The other grew into a fear-reactive, 91 pound, high-drive Shepherd that must be muzzled around strangers. Neither one was abused in any fashion.
So, what happened? What are the differences?
Mia was so young–still in those critical weeks–when I got her, still malleable. This is on top of the fact that, from day one, she was with me always. Everywhere I went, she went. And not just along for the ride. Everything, everywhere was a training experience for her. The time I was able to put into molding and training her formed the basis of who she grew into. She has never bitten anyone (even when she should have). Never had to be muzzled. The worst thing she has ever done is steal food out of my son’s hand.
…his bagel was nose-level and he was distracted 😉
Hanani came to me when she was 4.5 months old. Those sixteen weeks had passed by the time I got her. She spent this time being prepared, prospectively, for a life of protection work. From the day I got her, we spent much time in simple, foundational, “normal” puppy manners, as well as frequent outings. In fact, the first day I brought her home, Mia and I spent over 5 hours just to get her to settle in enough to not tear into her (Mia) or anything that moved. We picked her up at the airport about mid-afternoon and late into the evening we finally got her to at least not attack Mia. This may sound terrible to many folks, and those folks need never obtain an older pup from a breeder who trains/raises protection dogs. I knew what I was getting and what needed done with her.
The problem is, shortly after Hanani came to us I fell ill, which put a huge dent in the time I could work with her. For the past year and a half, my work time has been cut short due to bi-weekly (sometimes weekly) migraines that took me out for 1-3 days at a time.
So, the biggest differences are:
- 1. The ages I obtained the pups, and
- 2. The time spent working with them early on.
Had I been able to invest the time in working with Hanani like I did with Mia, she would be a more well-rounded dog at her (now) 25.5 months. Though I am getting better, I now have a massive, fearful monster that I dearly love.
It’s All About Quality Time
Granted, this article is about preparing your pup and provides a sample of basic information regarding these “crucial”, formative weeks. Additionally, however, I need to emphasize the fact that almost any dog can be reformed. Almost all behavior problems in dogs can be traced to some responsibility of a person in their lives. And when I say “almost” I mean about 98%.
Though it is important to know where a dog comes from, his background that can reasonably explain any issues,
~what you do with that dog or pup from the moment you get hands on him is what will determine the rest of his life~
Sure, I do not agree with isolating pups from their litter early on. But I dropped the ball with my girl when it comes to the fear-reactive behavior issues she now has. At the same time, I could have obtained a younger pup, one that was still with her litter and not taken for extra training/imprinting. The problem there was as soon as I saw her photo (above), I just could not resist! 🙂 I just had to have that particular pup!
The bottom line is, just like I elaborated in my previous article (Picking a Pup), do your research. Know what you are getting…and getting into…and be prepared to follow through. If you do not want (or cannot) to do the extra work necessary for pups that have been separated (for whatever reason) early, find another pup.
Here We Go!
From this point on, come along with Hanani and I as we work on “her issues.” Much like Tyler Muto, the trainer in New York (Upstate Canine Academy) that specializes in dogs with issues, let’s focus on the fact that there are “No Bad Dogs.” Just bad experiences and, sadly, bad training.
Even though I dropped the ball with my girl, hope is not lost. Like I mentioned earlier, almost all behaviors can be changed. Follow along and let’s watch how well Hanani does as I put the time in with her and help her out of this fear-reactive behavior.
Thanx for stopping by!