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Is your puppy worth your annual leave?

(Warning: this blog contains guilty admissions from an honest dog trainer)

Some of my friends wouldn't believe this, but I can be lazy...I know right! Then the regret kicks in

and I feel incredibly guilty that I don't do enough with my dogs. Generally this is in the middle of

winter I might add (excuse no. 1). Seriously though, I know I don't do enough with them, I

haven't developed either of my dogs to their full potential. Don't get me wrong though, they are

happy, healthy companion dogs who are full of vitality and without problems (excuse no. 2).

They're a 10 year old Samoyed and a 7 year old German Shepherd. Both had a large amount of

work put into them early on, particularly my Samoyed, but more recently things have really

slacked off and got pretty complacent. I'm not going to fill this post up with excuses because

frankly we always have choices and priorities and only ourselves to blame. I am at uni part time

too though (last excuse I promise!).

By Gordon Gill

15 March 2016

What I'd like to talk about here is what is known as the critical periods for the dog; this is the

first 16 weeks of your puppies life. It is extremely important, akin to laying the foundations of a

building, and given the scientific evidence the least we can do is take full advantage of this

period. Think about it, 10-15 years is a long time, and without ever knowing exactly what

awaits us around the corner I think the least we can do is get the basics right, give the dog the

best possible start and the biggest tool box to draw on throughout it's life, don't our dogs

deserve this as a bare minimum?

If your about to get a puppy please save up some annual leave, take some time to get the

foundation right, give the dog the best possible start, work your arse off early! Then, if need be,

you might be able to afford to slack off a little bit down the track. At least you will have

hopefully created a fairly bulletproof dog with no behavioural problems. You will have done your

homework early and you've learnt how to effectively communicate/engage with and train your

dog. If so, you've empowered your dog successfully so that it is an active participant in it's own

welfare. Secondly, if behavioural problems do arise down the track they should be much easier

to deal with if you get them at all. I should note also that this DOES NOT mean spending

every waking moment with the dog during this critical period, in fact, that would create

another set of problems so it's actually quite the contrary, but still worth every second of the

annual leave in this dog trainers opinion.

Ok, so some of you may already see where I am going with this? I want to talk about why we

get dogs, and I want to talk about the importance of the dogs critical periods (first 16 weeks of

life). Ask yourself, why did you get a dog? No one say's they got the dog for the dog. The only

time you get close to this is when you speak to people who have rescued dogs from shelters

etc...and good on them, such an admirable thing to do! Generally speaking though, most of us

are getting pets for ourselves and not for the animal. It's not to say we aren't capable and it's

not to say that many of us won't satisfy the requirements of the animal. It's also true that like

me, some may fluctuate their effort with some ebbs and flows throughout the course of their

busy lives. It's nothing new, but in the worst case it can become the dilemma of the backyard

dog which can come complete with potential behavioural problems. The canine-human

relationships has simply evolved in perhaps less instinctually satisfying ways for the dog, so it's

up to us to do the best we can and evaluate carefully before deciding to be part of a dogs life.

Lets not get into how we can further satisfy the instinctual requirements of our dogs, we will

have to save that for another day, I just want to focus on the basics and what I believe to be the

necessity when getting a dog.

If your still reading, you might be thinking “but the vet says I cannot get 'out and about' until my

puppy has had all of it's vaccinations” Right?.....Wrong! This could not be further from the truth

and it's a constant frustration amongst dog trainers. The reality is that it's all about risk

management. The advantage of careful management with maximum exposure far outweigh

the so called 'benefits' of keeping the puppy locked up! Of course you want to minimise the

risk of contagion but this can be done easily whilst you still ensure your puppy is exposed to as

many varied environments, humans, animals and objects as possible. Do all of this as you

teach and train your puppy, creating positive experiences and empowerment.

To wrap up this post I would just like to say the following. First of all, the principles of learning

need to be adhered to and it's important to ensure you have good guidance from a qualified

trainer. It can be easy for the uninitiated to 'burn out' a puppy and therefor it's important too

that we account for not only best teaching practices but for the biological and physiological

requirements of our developing puppies. In many ways too, the priority of engagement

development (with owner/handler), socialisation (people/dogs) and habituation

(environment/objects) actually trump or take precedence over the general obedience to an

extent. Of course the path you take depends on the final desired purpose for the dog you want

to "create" but for most companion or pet dogs a nice blend of the two is all we can ask for

during this period.

Secondly, one day the worst possible scenario may play out and for some reason lets say you

have to put your dog up for adoption, what then? If you have done your groundwork, you can

rest assured that it can be re-homed with ease and be a joy for another family. We don't like to

think about this sort of scenario, but things can happen sometimes and a bulletproof well

trained and well socialised dog will re-home very easily, it will adapt to it's new environment

and live out it's days, happily. So I ask all prospective puppy owners, are you prepared to

give your new puppy your annual leave?

'Experiences the dog receives during the critical periods in development have a much more

profound effect than at any other time. A dog that has had the right experiences early is far

more prepared for everything in life' -  Dr. J. P. Scott

The advantage of careful management with maximum exposure far outweigh the so called 'benefits' of keeping the puppy locked up!


Forget About Labels



Dog Industry



Gordon Gill

Dog Behaviour Specialist

Nationally Accredited Dog Trainer





Dog Industry


Words of Wisdom






Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog

by John Paul Scott (Editor), John L. Fuller

of Canine Origin, Behavior  

and Evolution

by Lorna Coppinger and

Raymond Coppinger

Excel-Erated Learning:

Explaining in Plain English

How Dogs Learn and How  

Best to Teach Them

by Pamela J. Reid

Annual Leave


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