The Power of Fifty-Six Days: A Puppy’s Critical First 8 Weeks

January 7, 2013 — 3 Comments

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.

Cute but also very busy developing day-old puppies

Cute but also very busy developing day-old puppies

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.

By then, we are in love.

By then, we are in love.

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).

Gayle

Posts

3 responses to The Power of Fifty-Six Days: A Puppy’s Critical First 8 Weeks

  1. What a great reminder of how important those first two months are for the puppies we bring into this world. What I like best is the way you back up your statements with science. Having been to seminars given by Ray Coppinger and Ian Dunbar, what you say is so true. Yet so many breeders choose to isolate their puppies during those formative weeks. I hope your blog helps to get the word out. Hopefully others who read it will share it!

  2. “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.”

    Is this part meant to be taken literally? Did Dunbar say these things aren’t seen in puppies under 20 weeks? Or that there are other ways of categorizing behavior in younger puppies?

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Denise Atkinson January 24, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    I am sorry I can’t attend Gail. I will be working at a match. I am sending the link to all my friends in Canada, USA and Eueope. You have a very nice day :) Sunshines only to a very special Lady :)

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>