I just sent Ivy’s puppies to their new homes and am starting preparations for Peach’s upcoming litter. As a result, I have been reviewing what I do as a breeder during the 8 ½ weeks the pups are with me.
Although that time is brief, I have long believed that it is the two most important months in a dog’s life, making my job as a breeder pivotal to the lifetime health and happiness of each Gaylan’s dog.
During its first eight weeks of life, each dog experiences the majority of his brain[i] and social skill development.[ii] In these first few months, his brain undergoes 85 percent of its growth in complexity and size. He figures out who will be in his social world—dogs, cats, people, strangers, horses, sheep, ducks and more. His body develops to match these brain and behavioral skills since his muscles, nerves, eyes, ears, nose and internal organs are all changed by his brain and social development. Therefore, these early life experiences, or their lack, will have large, lifelong and almost irrecoverable effects. In many ways, they will define him once he is an adult.
Our challenge as owners and breeders is that most 2- or 3-month old puppies look the same. Barring extreme abuse, all young pups are cute, happy creatures with wagging tails and quick tongues. Some are reserved and others are bold, some have spots and others do not. We cannot tell from looking at them which have had good developmental experiences and which have not. In fact, it will be months or even years before developmental deficits appear. Fearfulness, environmental sensitivity, stranger aggression, poor social skills and bite inhibition, lack of natural working ability, and poorly developed senses do not begin to show until 5 months, a year or even five years later.[iii] By then, we are in love.
Two months, eight weeks, fifty-six days, 1344 hours can make or break a puppy’s future! How exciting is that?
[i] Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger, Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origins, Behavior & Evolution (New York: Scribner, 2001) pp. 111-115.
[ii] John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller, Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog: The Classic Study (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1965), chapter 5, “Critical Period.”
[iii] Ian Dunbar, Canine Reproductive Behavior & Physiology for Veterinarians & Breeders Seminar (Bedford, MA, 2012).