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I started my last article by stating that the best bred tree dog pup would be worthless unless properly socialized, exposed to game and raised in a healthy environment.  This month, I would like to share some information on socialization and picking a pup with the right temperament.  This information was obtained from the book, Superdog, by Dr. Michael W. Fox.  He is an authority on dog behavior and has done countless hours of research to better understand the true nature of dogs and their wild relatives, wolves.

As you will see from the following information, proper socialization of your pup during the first twelve weeks will affect his performance for the rest of his life.  A lot of folks think they can “shut-a-pup-up” until he is old enough to take to the woods.  Then at eight months of age, they take him out of the pen and straight to the woods.  The pup is scared to death and will not hunt.  The owner starts yelling and kicking at the poor ole pup, which only makes things worse.  The owner starts blaming everyone but himself.  He makes statements like, “Boy, I sure got a dud here!  Ole so-in-so breeder sure got me on this one!  I’ll never buy another pup from him and I’m going to tell everybody I know just how sorry that breeder’s dogs are!”  The breeder has to take a lot of undeserved heat.  The sad part is that the pup was well bred and probably would have made a good tree dog if the owner would have properly socialized the pup.

There is also a temperament test to help you pick a pup.  By ten weeks of age, the basic temperament the pup will have as an adult is already well established.  I hope the following information will can help you.

There are three critical factors to consider in raising a pup.  These are socialization, environmental enrichment, and early handling.  There is also a critical period that is the best time to acquire a pup.  Research studies have shown that a pup most readily bonds to people between six and eight weeks of age.

Socialization makes the pup emotionally attached to you, which will make him more trainable.  If the pup is left in a pen for three or four months without human contact, the pup will not bond and trainability will be reduced.  Socialization first involves exposure to humans so that the pup becomes accustomed to human presence and to the behavior, sight, sounds, and smells of people.  Secondly, regular handling establishes a pleasure bond so that later in life the pup will enjoy and regard as a reward a stroke or kind word of praise from its owner.

Socialization includes other interactions, such as care-taking, food, water, shelter, and security. 

The basic temperament of a pup can be improved through optimal socialization and careful handling.  For example, a timid pup, if correctly handled, could be helped to become a more stable pup.  The earlier such pups can be identified, the sooner they can be helped.  Unstable pups, as young as three or four days of age, generally have a slower resting heart rate then their litter mates.

The most outgoing pups, as a rule, have a higher resting heart rate.  Outgoing pups have resting heart rates of 200-240 beats per minute.  Others in the same litter have rates as low as 160-180 per minute and will most likely be shy and easily frightened by sudden or unfamiliar stimuli as adults.  Therefore, these pups will be poor learners.

Also, if a pup is taken away from its mother too early, say between the fourth and fifth week, it can become too people-oriented.  This can lead to problems such as fear or aggression toward other dogs.

Environmental enrichment is the critical period from the seventh to the tenth week of age for a pup in order to learn to cope with unfamiliar environments and novel stimuli.  Any pup kept cooped up in a cage or kennel will often show fear when taken into unfamiliar places or situations.  The pup becomes “kennel shy”.  Many pups get plenty of human contact but they should also be exposed to different environments.

An outgoing pup can recover rapidly from this early deprivation if it is not kept confined more than three or four months.  But with a timid pup, it may be very difficult, or even impossible, to cure this condition.  This problem can be prevented by taking the pup with you everywhere you go and as much as possible.

A pup that is afraid of novel things will be difficult to handle in strange situations and will be a poor learner.  Its IQ will suffer because it will be too afraid to explore and investigate new things and learn in the process.

There are also benefits from early handling which can begin at birth.  This entails simply picking the pup up, turning it around and upside down, and stoking it for a few minutes each day.  The pup can also be placed for one or two minutes on a cold surface to arouse it and induce very mild stress.  With this early handling form birth to four weeks of age, accompanied by a little stress, you can produce a dog that is physiologically more resistant to stress in later life.

On the other hand, there are some things to avoid during the critical period of your pup’s life.  In order to avoid extreme fearfulness and submissiveness, it is important not to be too controlling with the pup.  Training should be done with a very light touch.  There should be no disciplinary training between the eighth and tenth weeks.

The eighth week is an especially sensitive time because this is when the pup will most likely develop an avoidance response, if subjected to physical or psychological trauma.  The aim at this time should be to give the pup a sense of confidence and control of his environment by allowing him to play, explore, and learn.  For when a dog is afraid of new experiences, he is not going to learn and greatly limits his potential.

The basic lesson is that during the socialization period, broadly defined as extending from the first through third months of life, pups should be exposed to all sorts of positive experiences and all sorts of people, while taking care to avoid threatening or stressful experiences, especially during the second month.

Temperament Test

Knowing how to evaluate a pup’s temperament can help you pick the best pup in a litter, since research has shown that by six to ten weeks of age the basic temperament a dog will have as an adult is already well formed.  These tests can be done on pups from six to eight weeks of age onward.  To compute the pup’s rating, simply put down the score for each test and add them up.  A very high score means a strong-willed and outgoing pup; a low score means a shy, fearful pup.  A mid to high score is probably the best, since such dogs would be outgoing, but at the same time, cautious and not foolhardy.

These three basic “grades” correspond to Pavlov’s three basic dog temperaments or “nervous typologies” (the strong, weak, and balanced types respectively).

1.       When called, does the pup solicit your attention (10 points), approach you slowly and quietly greet you (5 points), or shy away (2 points)?

2.      If the pup is with litter mates, does it push its way out first over other pups to contact you (10 points), come up with one or two others to investigate you (5 points), or stay back and ignore you (2 points)?

3.      When petted or picked up, does the pup get over excited (10 points), remain quiet and relaxed (5 points), or freeze fearfully, tremble, or try to escape (2 points)?

4.      When you quietly back away, does the pup follow you immediately and solicit attention (10 points), pause and then follow you (5 points), or go off and ignore you (2 points)?

5.      Call the pup to you.  When it is beside you, clap your hands twice and loudly over its head.  Does it ignore the noise and continue to solicit your attention (10 points), cower and become passive and recover quickly (5 points), or freeze and refuse to approach even when you coax it (2 points)?

6.      How does the pup respond to toys?  Use a yard of string with a four-inch piece of towel or paper tied to the end.  Drag it past the pup as though it were a mouse hopping by.  Score 10 points for an immediate response, 5 points if the pup paws tentatively or crouches and stalks first, or 2 points for no response other than looking at the “prey” or simply ignoring it.

7.      How does the pup respond in unfamiliar places, say outside its kennel or home, in a park, or in a quiet yard?  Does it explore actively but with some caution (10 points), does it freeze, cower, or attempt to hide somewhere (2 points), or does it run around wildly exploring things and not calming down quickly (5 points).    

Research has also shown a relationship between heart rate and temperament.  As mentioned earlier, pups with the highest resting heart rate in a litter tend to be the most assertive and outgoing, while those with the lowest heart rates are the most timid.

Here is something interesting.  I thought that a domestic animal was born domesticated and not afraid of humans, but this is not true.  Dr. Fox researched this and found that pups born with no human contact from birth to 12 weeks of age were just as wild and afraid of humans as wolf cubs.  However, wolf cubs born and raised with human contact were mostly unafraid of humans, as any litter of pups.  This really “brings the point home” about proper socialization for your pups.

I hope the above information was interesting, as well as, helpful. 

Thanks for reading,

Charles Fasola