Dog’s Eye View: Window of opportunity | SteamboatToday.com

Dog’s Eye View: Window of opportunity

Laura Tyler For Steamboat Today

Dog's Eye View Laura Tyler

Some studies have shown that litters deprived of stimulation and interaction during early development are less likely to cope, adjust and later adapt to everyday situations as adults.  This first window of opportunity occurs from the third day of life to the 16 day of life.  This is the optimal window of rapid neurological growth and development.  

Remember when we just let them be and didn't start training them until they were six months old?  We've come a long way in understanding how dogs learn and how crucial that early phase of life is for helping our canine buddy grow into a confident and reliable dog.

A behaviorally healthy puppy starts with a knowledgeable, educated breeder.  There's more to it than mating two pretty dogs or two friendly dogs.  That's just one tiny piece of the puzzle.  Because they have papers doesn't mean they are not carrying genetic inheritable diseases.  

The way the litter is raised is more important than seeing what you get by mating the two.  The three- to 16-day first window of opportunity can help the puppy build lifelong learning, coping and social skills.  Brain stimulation and very mild stressors trigger brain development during this window. 

The dogs raised behind the barn miss out on some of this.  Human handling and physical touching are crucial to the human/animal bond.  Puppy mills create dogs who are deprived of this critical developmental period and might never reach their true potential. 

The dogs they breed are a commodity and their mental health and physical health means nothing to them.  It's up to all of us to educate ourselves and spend money buying the whole package. 

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Good health, great breeder, transparent breeding program and your breed knowledge will help to stop puppy mills and endorse healthier puppies.

Our second window of opportunity is all about socialization.  Once again, the breeder's role comes into play.  The fourth to 16th week of life is the optimal opportunity for human socialization.   Puppies should be introduced and handled by many different people. 

They need social and tactile stimulation to continue optimal brain development and coping skills.  Minimal to moderate stress, depending on the puppy, increases adaptation, flexibility and coping skills. 

If these puppies are left alone with little social development, they cannot function or interact successfully with novel stimuli.  The side effects of seclusion and boredom trigger unacceptable behaviors such as digging, barking, housetraining problems and destructive chewing. 

After 16 weeks, this window closes.  We can start up a remedial socialization program but, the dog might never reach his full potential.  We can help the puppy overcome some of this with our educated home program including proper management and early training.

Our third window of opportunity is called enrichment.  “Enrichment is a term which has come to mean the positive sum of experiences which have a cumulative effect upon the individual,” said Dr. Carmen L. Battaglia Ph.D, of breedingbetterdogs.com.     

This might include opportunities to freely investigate novel textures, sounds, sniffing opportunities and suitable playmates.  Walks, hiking, camping, obedience, agility, sniffer dog classes, playing in parks or healthy dog park activities are typical enrichment activities. 

Mild stressors can be beneficial in building confidence and social acceptance.  Many who choose to adopt a dog with an unknown background have this final window of opportunity to help our dogs adjust to a better life.  They are the needy ones. What works for one might not work for another. 

It's up to us to educate ourselves and be mindful of the possible limitations of the individual.  We can work to help them cope but might never make social butterflies out of them. 

They might not ever turn into a go-anywhere-do-anything dog.  This should not limit their lives.  We need to determine which social activities they turn on to and the social activities they can't cope with.

There is great information out there to help breeders provide the most crucial early neonatal stimulation and development.  Keep your eyes wide open if you spend your money buying a dog from behind the barn or from a breeder who won't let you come see the puppies and meet the parents or at least the mom.  By observing her interaction with the puppies and with you, you can determine some social characteristics.

If you choose a sight unseen puppy with little feedback from the breeder about early stimulation and development then know what you are getting and make that first few weeks in your home happy, stimulating and only mildly stressful. Slow and steady exposure to new and novel sensory stimulation and a well-run puppy class will help build needed confidence and social skills.

For those adopting dogs from rescue or shelters, enrichment is the golden rule.  If possible, a well run basic obedience class will help to guide communication and expectations with your new companion. 

If your new dog is fearful or reactive around other dogs or people, bonding and learning to trust you will help him to cope.  Seek out a certified behavior specialist for help.  Enrichment should be carefully selected and implemented during the least stressful state possible.  Their skills will improve and owners will learn what they need and how to help them become great companions.

The resource I compiled this information from was written by Dr. Carmen L. Battaglia Ph.D.  His website is breedingbetterdogs.com.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 30 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants as well as certified nose work instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work.  She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.