Puppy Crate mate!

CratemateI always recommend that when bringing a new puppy home, owners find a stuffed dog for their new addition. Sometimes I get the feeling that people think this is a tad crazy! However, the puppies do appreciate their new buddy and most bond with it quickly – this has even been demonstrated with wild or captive bred animals, such as at zoos and rehabilitation centers.

 Try to remember that your puppy is likely leaving behind a litter of buddies and that the transition can be stressful on a number of levels. Puppies tend to sleep in “pig piles” when they’re together; completely on top of each other and cuddled up close for comfort. Suddenly, mom is gone, as are all the familiar sights, scents and sounds and they’re all alone in their crate or bed.

At this age, puppy vision is not highly advanced and they tend to see more generalized outlines and recognize color shades. So if you find a stuffed dog with similar size and coloring to their littermates, and the same type of ears – floppy or up – puppies will recognize them as their new buddy.

Help your puppy have a positive transition! Pick up a crate mate before bringing them home. Ideally, send it to the breeder in advance to be placed with the litter, or even just bring it on the day you pick up your puppy. Scent is the most advanced sense that dog’s have, even as puppies! A familiar item and scent will go a long way to reducing the stress of what can be a difficult transition.

Here’s Dante, happily curled up with a very chocolate lab looking toy!

Those mouthy puppies!

All puppies like to explore their environment with their mouths and when playing with other puppies they do this constantly. Unfortunately, when playing with their human companions, this can be painful, as we don’t have the fur to protect us from those sharp teeth and our clothing can seem so very fun to pull on!

When puppies are under 16 weeks of age, they are learning what is called ‘bite inhibition’. This means understanding how to use their mouth in contact with other living things, without biting too hard. This is best taught to them by another puppy, which will respond with a high-pitched squeak when the playmate bites down too hard. The puppy brain is hard wired to understand this sound and lighten the pressure. If they don’t, the other puppy will stop playing with them, teaching them that if they don’t play nicely – they don’t get to play at all. Owners can use these same strategies; squeak when the puppy bites too hard, and leave the area when they won’t stop. One very important element that has to be added in for human/puppy play is redirecting the puppy’s mouth from the skin to a SOFT toy, where they get the same sensation as playing with a puppy. Make the toy more interesting by flopping it around, so that the puppy wants to grab it, not you.

There will be times when the puppy just gets overexcited and can no longer think clearly – they go into what I call the shark stage! This is notable for non-stop grabbing at hands and clothes, possibly vocalizing and being unresponsive to anything you say. There is no point at this stage in trying to discipline, or even interact with the puppy, as they are too aroused to learn anything. Any type of physical intervention, such as grabbing the muzzle, or holding them down on their back, will usually result in a more aggressive response from the puppy. The best thing to do at this point is to either remove your self from the room that the puppy is in, or put them calmly in their crate to settle down. This is NOT meant to be punishment and they can have a busy toy, such as a stuffed Kong in the crate to help settle them down. They need to be quietly in there for at least 10 to 15 minutes and then when releasing them, be sure to be very calm with them so that you don’t get them all excited again.

Take note of when this happens most frequently, as there is usually a pattern. Often if a play session is too long or too exciting, the puppy gets over-stimulated. Be sure to have pause in play, where you work at just gently petting them, so that they learn to quiet nicely. End of day and just before bed are other likely times, as the pup is tired and more likely to act inappropriately – just like a tired baby! Anticipate this and have a good busy toy ready to give them in a quiet place, before they get riled up.

Sensitive Learning Stages in Puppies

An excerpt from a full research study: Effects of Early Social Stimuli on Adult Temperament in Dogs (Canis familiaris)

There have been numerous studies on a variety of species investigating the positive affect of early socialization and exposure to novel stimuli, and their impact on development (Hebb, 2003; Hubrecht, 1995; Fox, 1971).  In dogs, this highly sensitive social learning stage has been found to fall between the ages of 7-14 weeks  (Battaglia, 2009).   Pups that remain in the breeder’s facility during this stage need to be actively socialized with other breeds of dogs and places.   This period also coincides with the age when many pups are moved to their new homes, raising the potential for behavioral issues if not handled appropriately.   Classes and educational materials delivered during this period from the breeder, Veterinarians and professionals can help ease this transition (Gazzano, 2008).

The predisposition to a particular temperament type in dogs is considered to be inborn, (Slabbert, 1999; Svartberg & Bjorn, 2002), which can run the spectrum from a confident and pro-social attitude to one predominated by anxiety and neurosis (Coren, 1999).   Research supports the concept that there is a strong inter-relation of disposition, environment and learning stages that work to produce the mature animal.  In the case of dogs, an anxious temperament may manifest itself in acts of aggression towards people or animals, which increases the risk of surrender.   Working with a young, developing puppy with gentle exposure to many different experiences in the period of 5- 14 weeks has been shown to be an effective and pro-active method to prevent behavioural problems.   Positive early experiences can have a protective effect on the adult animal.   It is not possible to fully recreate this important effect after 16 weeks of age.

Research completed by Fox (2010) suggests that the early learning period is a crucial factor in the development of brain architecture, which provides for proper processing of novel stimuli and a reduction of stress behaviours.  Without this exposure, the dog does not have the opportunity to build sufficient coping mechanisms, which can translate to fear or aggression in the adult animal.  Animals that receive formal socialization classes during this stage have the opportunity to build a wide range of positive associations (Seskel, 1997) and thus are far more prepared to confidently handle real world situations.

Since 2008, the AVSAB has approved of the outside socialization of young pups from as early as 10 days after receiving their first set of shots and going to their new home. The maternal antibodies present and the effect of the first shots provide sufficient protection for such experiences as going out for a walk, or going to puppy socialization classes in accredited facilities.   Research demonstrates that under-socialized animals experience difficulty in accepting novel stimuli with confidence, with potentially long-term effects on their interpretation of common world experiences, such as strangers, bikes, trucks and other dogs (McMillan, Duffy, Serpell, 2011; Battaglia, 2009).

Studies support the concept that through class participation, a reduction of aggression in dogs and increased retention in the home can be achieved (Casey, Loftus, Bolster, Richards & Blackwell, 2014; Duxbury, Jackson, Line & Anderson 2003).  There is a great deal of scientific evidence supporting the idea that social exposure in sensitive stages translates to minimized unwanted behavioural issues, particularly anxiety induced ones.  Introduction of a heightened program of early socialization during the fear onset stage of 7 – 14 weeks has been shown to promote improved interaction skills with both people and other dogs (Duxbury et al (2003).

While formal training classes are generally deemed a positive experience (Duxbury et al, 2003), all classes are not based on the same learning principles, or quality of instruction.  Classes that are overcrowded, or employ aversive techniques can potentially have a highly negative affect on an animal’s perception of social arenas.   Owners need to fully investigate local training facilities to determine their methods in advance.  A well-versed owner can also provide their pet the same level of exposure and positive training methods, while not enrolling in a formal class.

It is so important for breeders to start the exposure process while the pups are still with them, from as early as 3 weeks of age.  Information on gentle exposure should be provided new owners, in order to help with important transition period.  Reducing stress of the move can also be achieved through the use of Adaptil collars in the first month in the new home, and by sending home an item with the familiar scent of the litter.