Sunday, March 23, 2014

Before the pups are weaned at seven weeks, they need to be handled by people. Puppies not exposed to people from five to twelve weeks of age will have over-socialized with dogs and under-socialized with humans. This is called the “sensitive period” for dog-human bonding. Dogs that do not meet people until after the socialization period can be antisocial, hard to train and spooky. Some dogs will never be able to react normally to people throughout their lives; others may even develop a lifelong fear of humans if they are not properly exposed to us during these critical weeks.
  Physical Contact with People
In order for puppies to adapt to living in human families, people should touch them starting at five weeks—but only for short periods. It is extremely important that the affectionate handling by  people only happen once a day, briefly, so that the puppy can remain with her litter the rest of the time. This ensures that she will be well adapted to both people and other dogs.
The delicacy of timing and intensity of these human interactions with puppies are two of the many reasons that puppies born in huge breeding facilities are at a distinct disadvantage: “puppy-mill puppies” do not get these important benefits.
  The “Sensitive Period” Cannot Be Made Up Later.
Once gone, that five-to-twelve-week window is gone forever. The loss of the individual development that comes during this period is probably going to leave a dog with behavior problems. It is believed that environmental circumstances explain most canine behavior—that means that the nature vs. nurture question falls heavily on “nurture” where dogs are concerned. Experts do not believe that a puppy’s personality problems can be inherited or that a puppy’s genes determine his temperament—his character is shaped by the environment he grows up in, particularly during this crucial sensitive period. A pup’s temperament is not “written” in his genetic code. Puppies are known to copy their mother’s behavior; they may mimic a growling or overly assertive mother, but the undesirable traits they mimic can be unlearned.
Between Three and Eight Weeks a Puppy Needs Exposure.
During these weeks a puppy needs to be exposed to a wide variety of things that she will encounter later when she has left her canine family. Puppies from mass-production breeders have no prayer of being shown potentially frightening objects and noises. With a responsible breeder you can hope that the litter has been exposed to stimuli such as vacuum cleaners, aerosol sprays, children, mail deliverers, cats, vehicle noises, etc. This exposure should optimally continue up to twelve weeks of age and then on into the juvenile period.
  Taking a Puppy Home at Around Eight Weeks
A puppy taken home at eight to twelve weeks has the best chance of fitting right into the new human family he is joining. By sixteen weeks it is already a more difficult transition, and eight weeks is considered the prime time—a puppy has the best chance of becoming a well-adjusted adult dog at this age. Human socialization begins during the end of the canine socialization period. During this time any good breeder knows the importance of handling the puppies frequently, showing them that contact with humans is a pleasurable event. Handling also lowers the puppy’s level of stress with new sensations and experiences, which helps prepare him for stressors in later life.
Copyright © Tracie Hotchner – Originally appeared in The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know by Tracie Hotchner

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