We’ve all seen the kids and dogs videos and pictures on Facebook where the baby is lying on top of the dog, or a small child is holding the leash of a huge dog…dogs in cribs with infants, and dogs and kids playing tug-o-war. I will be the first person to admit that I find these images cute, but then the dog trainer in me kicks in and I look critically at the pictures to see the expressions on the dog’s face and even more importantly their body posture.
Most dogs don’t like it when we goofy humans reach over them for a big bear hug. Dogs can however learn to tolerate this behavior from their people. But, be aware that your dog who tolerates and even likes being close to you and your family may not have the same level of tolerance for someone she does not know.
Dogs are so good at reading our expressions, body language, tone of voice and our scent at any given moment. We however frankly stink at reading them. We tend to anthropomorphize everything they do, meaning we try to attribute human thoughts and feelings to our dogs. They are not furry children and the goal of any training program should be to learn more about why dogs do the things they do, with the hopes of giving them some guidance to living in our noisy, smelly, confusing world.
I don’t even like to call what I do dog training anymore. Rather, I like to think of opening channels of communication with my dogs. Dogs like predictability. They can be creatures of habit and those habits can be good or bad and its our job to help them understand how to form the good habits.
Imagine a single dog, living with a single woman in a rural setting. This gal loves to walk and takes her dog to neighborhoods nearby, but each time the dog sees other people and dogs she goes nuts…let’s break down why this might be happening:
- Did the human member of this team expose her puppy to all sorts of people? Dogs must meet men, other women, people of color, kids, old folks, people in uniforms etc. All puppies have a learning window of opportunity that allows them to accept new people and situations, and that windows starts closing at about 12 weeks. It’s critical to expose puppies to as many novel things as possible between 7 and 12 weeks.
- Does this dog ever get to engage with members of her own species? Imagine a puppy taken away from mother and litter mates, only to never see another dog again. Dogs learn by observation and isolating a puppy from other dogs can cause a severe handicap. The dog will never learn “dog manners.” This can cause some dogs to go crazy when they do finally meet other members of their species…they don’t know how to act so may play to hard, or be fearful and these behaviors actually push other dogs away or worse can cause fights to occur.
Just like humans, dogs go through several stages of development both physically and mentally. Providing the proper nutrition of course facilitates the physical growth, but exposure to the world at large helps puppies understand their environment.
According to animal behavior experts there are critical periods in puppy development:
Neonatal Period (0-12 Days):
The puppy responds only to warmth, touch, and smell. He cannot regulate body functions such as temperature and elimination.
Transition Period (13 - 20 Days):
Eyes and ears are open, but sight and hearing are limited. Tail wagging begins and the puppy begins to control body functions.
Awareness Period (21 - 28 Days):
Sight and hearing functions well. The puppy is learning that he is a dog and has a great deal of need for a stable environment.
Canine Socialization Period (21 - 49 Days):
Interacting with his mother and litter mates, the pup learns various canine behaviors. He is now aware of the differences between canine and human societies.
Human Socialization Period (7 to 12 Weeks):
The pup has the brain wave of and adult dog. The best time for going to a new home. He now has the ability to learn respect, simple behavioral responses: sit, stay, come. Housebreaking begins. He now learns by association. The permanent man/dog bonding begins, and he is able to accept gentle discipline and establish confidence.
Fear Impact Period (8 - 11 Weeks):
Try to avoid frightening the puppy during this time, since traumatic experiences can have an effect during this period. As you can see, this period overlaps that of the previous definition and children or animal should not be allowed to hurt or scare the puppy -- either maliciously or inadvertently. It is very important now to introduce other humans, but he must be closely supervised to minimize adverse conditioning. Learning at this age is permanent.
This is the stage where you wonder if your dog is going to be a woosy butt all his life. Also introducing your puppy to other dogs at this time will help him become more socialized. If available in your area, a doggy day care is great for this.
Seniority Classification Period (13 - 16 Weeks):
This critical period is also known as the "Age of Cutting" - cutting teeth and cutting apron strings. At this age, the puppy begins testing dominance and leadership. Biting behavior is absolutely discouraged from thirteen weeks on. Praise for the correct behavior response is the most effective tool. Meaningful praise is highly important to shape positive attitude.
Flight Instinct Period (4 to 8 Months):
During this period puppies test their wings- they will turn a deaf ear when called. This period lasts from a few days to several weeks. It is critical to praise the positive and minimize the negative behavior during this time. However, you must learn how to achieve the correct response. This period corresponds to teething periods, and behavioral problems become compounded by physiological development chewing.
Second Fear impact period (6 - 14 Months):
Also called, "The fear of situations period", usually corresponds to growths spurts. This critical age may depend on the size of the dog. Small dogs tend to experience these periods earlier than large dogs. Great care must be taken not to reinforce negative behavior. Force can frighten the dog, and soothing tones serve to encourage his fear. His fear should be handled with patience and kindness, and training during this period puts the dog in a position of success, while allowing him to work things out while building self-confidence.
Maturity (1 - 4 years) :
Many breeds' especially giant breeds continue to grow and physically change well beyond four years of age. The average dog develops to full maturity between 1-1 1/2 years and three years of age. This period is often marked by an increase in aggression and by a renewed testing for leadership. During this time, while testing for leadership, the dog should be handled firmly. Regulars training throughout this testing period, praise him for the proper response. Giving him no inroads to affirm his leadership will remind him that this issue has already been settled.
Taking the time to understand dogs can greatly enhance the relationship you have with your pet and ensure you have a partner for life.