The fight against fear begins at the moment of birth, when a puppy first experiences a gentle human touch, the security of suckling his mother and drawing in her scent, and the comfort of snuggling with his littermates. Day by day, he experiences new variations on these themes. The world unfolds as his eyes and ears open, he receives more human handling by different people, and he learns lessons about his world by watching his mother, interacting with the environment and the people in it and playing with his littermates.
All of these interactions help to form the puppy’s personality and responses to the world around him. Exposure to the people, animals, and other things in the environment is called socialization. The sensitive period for socialization is during the first three months of life, in particular between the ages of three and sixteen weeks, depending on the individual dog or breed. During this period, more than any other in his life, small, even minor, experiences, good and bad, are likely to have a large impact. Once the socialization period has ended, it takes more effort to make sure that the puppy becomes confident in his environment. Puppies can continue to benefit from socialization through six months of age, but early experiences are the most powerful.
Each puppy is wired neurochemically and behaviorally in his own way. This genetic blueprint will influence how the puppy experiences the world, reacts to stimuli, and responds to socialization. Some puppies’ minds are clean slates when they are born while others are predisposed to fear, anxiety, and stress.
Many factors completely outside of your control affect the likelihood that your puppy will be well adjusted or fearful. If your puppy’s mother or father was fearful, he is likely to be fearful as well. This tendency may be in his genetic blueprint or might be learned from the parents as he watches them interact with the environment. If your puppy’s mother was sick or deficient in certain nutrients when she was pregnant, your puppy is more likely to be fearful and more difficult to train when compared to a puppy whose mother was healthy and gave birth in a warm, comfortable environment.
Puppies who don’t get the best start in life can be more difficult to socialize, showing fear more profoundly than those that do. Socialization is still important for these pups. The work that you will do beyond socialization will be of great importance to help this type of puppy lead a happy life.
Regardless of your puppy’s hereditary predispositions, the best ways to help him be happy and confident in his environment is to expose him to many different positive experiences with people, friendly animals, and pleasant situations and places and to encourage him to explore his environment in an interesting, safe, and fun way.
WIRED TO LEARN
Puppies are born with all of the brain cells they will ever have. The extent to which the puppy’s brain develops depends in large part on the types of environmental stimulation he receives during his first three to four months of life. During this time, your puppy’s brain is most receptive to learning new things. A dog’s breed and individual personality can also affect his development.