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Lately I have been doing a few consultations with young adult dogs with fear issues. Why is this related to ‘when to adopt a puppy’?
It seems to be a common practice these days for breeders to let puppies be adopted at week 8, sometimes even week 6 or 7.
I am not at all keen on this practice and let me share with you how I learnt “why”:
Just like with little baby-humans, the early development stage is a crucial learning time for puppies. While in their newborn stage of weeks 1 and 2, still blind and without hearing, they already have the ability to smell. They need the warmth and love of their mother and littermates, food, calmness, rest and lots of sleep. In the wild, the dog mum would have her young in the den and let no one in. The father dog will hunt food and leave some in front of the den for the mother to eat.
In week 3, the young begin to see and hear. They are starting to take in the world with all the senses. They get more active, start playing and moving about trying out their signs and sounds with their mum and mates.
In the wild this would be the time when socialization with the other family members begins. One by one the mother would let a pack member in to meet the new furry additions.
From week 4 or 5 onwards the puppies now learn to move their bodies around outside, go exploring but more impotantly they start learning their language – signs, sounds.
They learn from their mother to respect others’ properties; that when she has something they can’t take it off her and if they have something she can’t take it of them. They also learn redirective behaviour.
More importantly, from around week 6, 7 and 8 onwards, the puppies learn bite inhibition and aggression inhibition. This is the most impotant time for puppies, learning about their social behaviour within a group. To learn inhibition is to learn to keep the family pack save. Fights within a pack are dangerous. If a pack member is hurt this could actually be destructive to the family. It is the equivalent of a child learning the social right and wrongs to be able to function in the family and in society.
To take a puppy at 8 weeks or younger is a rather bad time to adopt and take it away from the litter because it has not fully learned to inhibit its bite and inhibit its aggression.
There is another reason to wait until after around week 10 to take your bundle of joy home with you:
At exactly 8 weeks old, puppies have their first ‘fear period’. It only lasts for a few days but the puppy needs to be with its mum and mates in a calm, familiar and safe environment. Taking a puppy during this fear period in week 8 can have a very negative impact leading to fear behaviour problems later on.
In a consultation with a young dog my first question is always: ‘how old was the puppy when you adopted him?’
Some may say; fear behaviour is just that, we can use the same techniques to conquer the problem and lead the dog to success.
That would be like saying; it doesn’t matter what trauma an adult human experienced as a child, we just use conditioning techniquest for the adult to overcome his/her issues.
The “why” is always very important because you become to understand the dog or in the human world, the person. It can give you ideas of how this dog will approach the surroundings with a more timmid or fearful apporach and how to work with him in the least stressful way possible. We don’t just modify a behviour, we are actually trying to change an emotion. A lot of training techniques change the behaviour the dogs show but not the emotion. That is treating the symptom but not the cause.
During the development time from puppyhood to adult dog there are more fear periods:
around 9 – 10 months
between 13 – 14 months, which is hormon related
around 17 months, seldom
Just as the first fear period, it only lasts a few days. Your dog may suddely show fear behaviour towards an object or being it was fine with before. During these days there should be no changes in the home and no new scary additions or training. Stay calm around the object or being and by being calm and interact as normal you show the puppy that all is safe and fine.
There is always people who have a ‘yes, but…’ story.
There is no ‘but’- healthy dog mothers show us how to bring up healthy, well balanced pups. It is “us” humans who are the ones creating the problems.
A great example is, how we change what the pup has learnt about respecting others properties. They learnt from mum to respect whats hers and she’ll respect whats theirs and then we humans come along and take things from the pup all the time. We don’t need to do that, we can use their redirective behaviour and curiosity to get them away from something their chewing on that is not safe, like a power cord for example.
Be clever and safe rather then sorry later on, and ask the breeder to let the pup be with its mother a couple weeks longer
Turid Rugaas: Puppies