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How to ensure your new puppy is well-adjusted

Pet Tales

by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

To improve the chances of acquiring a puppy that will be a happy, well-adjusted member of the family, there are a number of things that veterinarians and pet behaviour specialists recommend. It is always a good idea for potential new dog owners to consider their own life and lifestyle before selecting the dog. If you're a couch potato, yourself, it does not make much sense to choose a border collie or a boxer or another active, 'on the go' breed.  Additionally, always remember the best way to predict what a puppy will become is to see its parents. Hence, if possible, buy from a breeder. Study well - by reading, visiting dog shows, or other means - the characteristics of the breed you are considering. It will certainly help you know what you are getting. All the above, are helpful tips to follow. 

A recent study in Italy has now revealed another predictor of a successful pet relationship. Puppies separated from their litters early on, are significantly more likely to develop potentially problematic behaviour as adults than puppies that stay with their litter for at least two months, according to this newly published report.

The study examined the prevalence of certain behaviours in 140 dogs, half of which were separated from their litter at 30 to 40 days and half of which had been taken from the litter at 60 days. Owners were asked to complete a telephone survey about their pets, which were at the time between 18 months and 7 years old. Half the dogs had come from a pet shop, one in three had come from a friend or relative and the remainder had come from breeders. Information was collected regarding potentially problem behaviours. Such behaviours included destructiveness, excessive barking, possessiveness around food and/or toys, attention seeking, aggressiveness, play biting fearfulness on walks and reactivity to noises. With the exception of stool-eating, aggression toward the owner, paw licking and shadow staring, all behaviours were significantly more likely to occur among the dogs that had been separated from their litters before 60 days, irrespective of their breeds, sterilization status and size, according to the study.

Puppies go through a primary socialization period which probably begins to wane soon after three months of age. This is a very sensitive time period during which social experiences and stimuli have a greater effect on the development of their temperament and behaviours than if they occur later in life. It would seem that being in a stable environment with their mother and littermates during a good portion of this critical time is quite important in determining who a puppy will become.

Therefore, age of separation from their litter, becomes something else to consider when selecting a puppy. This is likely relatively easy information to get with some puppies but may be more difficult with others. In my opinion, it would not rank higher than other factors determining puppy selection. It is also important to remember that behavioural intervention can address the development of most problem behaviours and improve the relationship with owners. I believe puppy behaviour classes are the best way of supplying such intervention. It certainly is worth every effort to prevent problem behaviours in our pets. They seriously interfere with an enjoyable and sustainable relationship with a dog and ultimately become responsible for many dogs being relinquished or abandoned by their owners. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital.ca