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Where is my puppy at when I bring them home?

We tend to bring a puppy home when they are between 7-12 weeks old. Let us look at what we should be looking at as far as developmental stages at which the puppy finds itself at this time:

3 - 7 Weeks - Socialisation (Canine)

Body language and specific behaviours is learnt from surrounding dogs (dam etc.)

Status behaviour present

Dam’s authority and reactions to it become discernible

Bite inhibition learnt through play with littermates

Social hierarchy and relationships learned

Dam begins weaning pups

7 - 12 Weeks - Socialisation (Human)

Pup-human bond starts to develop

Mental development

Fully weened and ready for re-homing

8 - 11 Weeks - 1st Fear

Through various stimuli, some can cause a fear reaction

There is potential for trauma to occur which can result in later difficulties for the pup

Careful and positive connection should be established for new stimuli such as thunder, cars, people etc.

Obviously we must learn to temper our theory with reality, not every pup develops at the same rate and these stages should be viewed more organically than many textbooks might sound.

Why don’t we have a look at the individual stages with a little more detail?

During the Canine Socialisation stage, the puppy is learning to effectively communicate using canine body language. Postures such as rolling onto their back or sitting for example begin to take a specific meaning as part of their physical vocabulary, rather than being spontaneous movements. You could imagine that this stage is similar to a baby first learning to play peek-a-boo, at first they will smile and not really know what is going on, but soon enough they understand the sequence of events that cause that happy smile. Same with puppies! They learn how to coax play out of other dogs and they also learn to stop when they are told by other dogs. These associations combine together to form the beginnings of social etiquette when amongst other pups and dogs. Pups can get away with much, I have had pups bite the eye-lids of other dogs and that has been ok, but at some point the other much larger dog has had enough and will either get up and leave or paw/bark at the pup to calm down, which they do. Eventually the pup learns to moderate their behaviour, it is important for us to oversee as much of this as we can. I have seen more than a few dogs that have a very disciplinarian attitude and others that will be excited by the pups increased level of play. Just like kids in the playground, they can start to play rough, but at some point intervention is going to be needed to stop things getting out of hand.

There is much more that goes on but just from the above listed few points, I hope to be able to show you how important it is for puppies to be with their litter, or surrogate litter for as long as possible. If they miss this stage their later learning and interaction, whilst still possible, is slow and cumbersome. Dogs that have been removed too early from their litter may well appear aggressive. They are actually fearful of other dogs, very similar to us humans that have not had much exposure to dogs, we get a little nervous to.

The Human Socialisation phase is where the foundations of the pup to human relationship is laid. It is important to provide a positive environment with plenty of together time and purposeful training at this stage. They pup will be learning at an insane rate and you only get one really good crack at forming a solid relationship, after that it becomes a little harder as the puppy has developed a very specific opinion about you and perhaps other people. It is usually during this stage that pups find a new home. They are brought home and then given the entire house and maybe even garden to roam around in. This is often not optimal, with so many distractions it becomes hard to maintain the puppies’ attention on you, as a side effect training can tend to suffer. It also makes housetraining a little more difficult, with all that freedom to roam the pup can literally go anywhere and leave little notes for you to pick up.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, limiting the freedom to roam is actually very important for the pup. Having the pup on a lead attached to your belt means that it has to follow you around all the time, this builds a very strong bond and also allows you to speed up the toilet training of your pup, without the sudden rush of activity when the puppy does start to go to the toilet. This may seem very limiting and I am certain that not every person will be able to do this, it does have its merits and it certainly reinforces the puppy-human bond, whilst minimising the opportunities that puppy has for getting itself into trouble.

It is also important that the puppy become familiar with many different types of people. It is critical that the puppy be exposed to men, women, boys and girls. Not just in High-Tea and other low excitement – as far as the puppy is concerned – situations, but also in situations where young kids are running and shouting, tradies are working or Netball games. Exposing the puppy to high excitement – as far as the puppy is concerned – situations and coupling these experiences with positive rewards such as food and play will go a long way to preventing your puppy becoming a kid chaser later in life, or becoming fearful of bearded men wearing baseball caps. It sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t really. We don’t need to know exactly how specific our puppies are now, but we should make an attempt at giving them lots of social interaction, attached to us.

The first Fear stage can largely go unnoticed, many pups simply run away from certain situations, or worse they will shut down. It is very hard to retrain a dog to accept cars as a viable form of transport when they are petrified of them, it is also hard to train dogs to ignore thunderstorm, they don’t exactly happen every day. However, without adequate attention it is possible that your pup will form a fear for these two situations and both of them can have serious consequences. On one side the dog is petrified of getting in the car and a tug of war ensues, or the dog drools egg whites all over your interior, on the other side, your dog can bark, howl and even run away during a thunder storm. None of these situations need to occur, if you’re attentive enough to provide as many situations to your puppy and connect them with something the puppy enjoys - at this stage food and play are huge - then the puppy will learn to accept those aversive situations as normal. Sometimes there can be actions that are too sublime for you to notice, these will reappear later in the dog’s life and can cause serious issues. That is why Barefoot Paws is here, to help you help your dog.

I hope this article helps you understand the phase of learning that the puppy is in when you are most likely to bring them home. I also hope that this article give you a clearer understanding of how important it is to pay attention to our puppies and to fill them with confidence, rather than keep them locked up in the backyard.

If you have any questions about this article, feel free to contact us. Click on the Contact tab at the top of the page and send us a message through the online form or send me an email. Alternatively, feel free to call me.

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