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!
Dog Behaviour Specialist
Nationally Accredited Dog Trainer