VonBIOS is of view that we must do our utmost to deliver the best possible working line German Shepherd Dog Puppies that we can. This means that we must continually research what is happening around the world to achieve the best possible results in the development of our puppies.
It is a widely held opinion that many canine "behavior problems" are created initially through the influences of a canine's genetics and now through the more recently identified science of epigenetics.
Likewise, it should be noted that in many cases, this genetic/epigenetic natural factor can be and is in many cases, compounded by breeder puppy management
inadequacies and understandably, by inexperienced new puppy handlers, during a puppy's first 12 to 16 weeks of life.
The "Critical Period" of canine development has been researched and documented primarily on the work of Dr. John Paul Scott and John.L. Fuller in the forties, fifties, and then the sixties by Clarence Pfaffenberger's and his book, the "New Knowledge of Dog Behaviour", which I first read in mid 1970's.
This primer on "Critical Stages of Development" is an attempt by others, with a little contribution from ourselves, to consolidate information appearing in a variety of publications from a number of authors, and to tailor that information specifically to the needs of Breeders.and early life puppy Trainers.
It should be noted that CONSISTENCY and PRAISE are essential in the consideration of any canine training.
Critical Stages of Canine Development
Several breeders and trainers, going back a couple of decades, like Jack and Wendy Vollhard popularised puppy aptitude testing based, in part, on Scott and Fuller's work. Dr.'s Michael Fox and Ian Dunbar, initially studying canine development and behavior in clinical settings, have written for the lay press regarding puppy socialisation.
Some writers, unfamiliar with the original research, have possibly led new puppy owners into believing that a puppy purchased at an age older than exactly 7 weeks will bond less well and be less trainable than a puppy purchased at exactly 49 days (7 weeks) of life. Here in Victoria, Australia, the governing body, "Dogs Victoria", regulate that Breeders should not release puppies earlier than 8 weeks of age.
The Critical Stages of Canine Development are categorised as follows -
1ST PERIOD (Neurological Stimulation) - Birth to 21 Days;
2ND PERIOD (Tactile Stimulation) - 21 to 28 Days;
3RD PERIOD (Social Awareness) - 21 to 49 Days;
4TH PERIOD (Learning Enhancement & 1st Fear Period) - 7 to 12 Weeks;
5TH PERIOD (Hierarchial Positioning) - 3 to 4 Months;
6TH PERIOD (Flight and Pack Assertiveness) - 4 to 6 Months;
2nd Fear Imprint Period - 6 to 14 Months.
FIRST PERIOD–BIRTH-21 DAYS
1) Neonatal sub period 0-13 days
Characters: Puppies at birth can not see, hear, regulate their own body temperature, or aclimate without stimulation and are totally dependant upon their mother.
No emotional development, social attachment, or learning takes place during this period. Puppies brain waves remain constant whether sleeping or awake. Puppies do, however, exhibit reflex reactions to hunger, cold, touch. They pile for warmth or spread out if too hot but cannot regulate their own temperature by shivering or panting.
During this neonatal period puppies will crawl backward and forward and will swing their heads from side to side, often repetitively while making a high pitched crying noice trilling. These movements appear to be involuntary and prepare pups muscles, nervous system, and inner ear for further development.
Breeder Do's: Keep bitch happy, healthy and well-fed. Her physical and emotional well being will supply everything the puppies need during this stage.
Neurological Stimulation exercises (also known as "Bio Sensor" stimulation), are undertaken by many Breeders during the period Day 3 to Day 16, to develop the puppies brains
1. Tactile stimulation
2. Head held erect
3. Head pointed down
4. Supine position
5. Thermal stimulation.
Observed benefits for canines exposed to Neurological Stimulation exercies ("Bio Sensor") being -
a) Cardio Vascular and Heart Rate performance improvements;
b) Adrenal Gland strengthening;
c) Stress tolerance improvements; and
d) Desease resistence enhancement.
More information can be found in an article by Dr. Carmelo Battaglia.
Handle puppies very gently with very slow massaging movements. Very light stimulation of the nervous system ("called pre-stressing") may be beneficial when applied during the second week of life. This could involve rotating the pups gently in your hands, applying light pressure to the ear leather, and holding each pup gently on its back for a few seconds each day.
Pups should, of course, be weighed daily, though I prefer twice daily, to monitor and manage growth and this would be a good time to handle each pup. THIS IS NOT SOCIALISATION OR TRAINING. Pre-stress does, however, assist in developing brain cells.
Breeder Don'ts: Don't allow visitors (human or canine) during this period. Avoid anything that will stress the bitch (house guest, parties, home repairs, etc. Try not to move puppies or remove mother from the litter at this time. If the pups or dam need to see a Veterinarian, arrange for a home visit. Despite the common practice, this is not a good age to take a litter to a dog show in a van, trailer or motor home.
2) Transition Sub Period 13-21 days.
Characteristics; Eyes and ears open and pups slowly begin responding to light, movement and sound. Puppies become more mobile as they gain awareness of their surroundings, their mother,litter mates, and objects. Pups may also begin to alert to human presence during this period. This is still a reaction to stimuli rather than a social bond or emotional attachment.
Pups will attempt to get up on their feet, but continue crawling backward and forward. They may begin trying to get out of whelping box toward the end of this period.
Breeder Do's: Introduce toys as obstacles to climb over or bump into.
This helps pups develop spatial awareness. Some pups may begin briefly interacting with toys near the end of the third week. Continue handling pups daily using slow, massaging movements. Pups are growing fast and need frequent nail trimming. Introducing brushing with soft brush. Again, this is not training, but stimulation.
Breeder Don'ts; Avoid startling pup with loud noises or sudden movements while hearing and eye sight are developing. If you must move or change puppies environment, this is the time to do so. Do not remove dam.
SECOND PERIOD 21-28 DAYS
Characteristics; Most important period with rapid sensory development. Puppies are fully alert to their environment and will startle easily at sudden sounds and movements. During this time they are able to recognize their breeder and other significant humans by smell, sight and sound. However, they have lost the natural insulation of the neonatal period and negative events can easily imprint basic behavior during this period.
Social bonding begins to occur during this week.
Neonatal behaviors such as head swinging, mewing and crawling back and forth stop. Pups are more active and moving well on their feet. This is a time of rapid physical change. There are also significant changes in brain waves during this period and pups are now able to learn from experience and to retain what they have learned.
Breeders Do's: Introduce new tactile sensations in puppies box. Pups enjoy burrowing in shredded newspaper, for example, or crawling over a rolled towel or blanket. Continue daily handling, adding new sounds and sights to the environment radio, TV, telephone, computer and printer. Introduce toys and make sounds.
Pups can be removed from the box and placed on new surfaces. Do this with two pups at a time rather than separating from litter.
Breeder Don'ts: AVOID LOUD NOISES OR SUDDEN CHANGES DURING THIS PERIOD.
Negative events can permanently imprint on the pups during this week. Do not run vacuum cleaner around pups, blow hair dryers, run clippers etc. Postpone having work done on your home and ask prospective purchasers or curious friends to wait to the end of the 4th week to visit puppies.Do not move puppies or separate from dam during this week.
THIRD PERIOD 21-49 DAYS
Characteristics: Social awareness, learning to become dogs (first week of this critical stage of development, overlaps with second period of development). Play fighting behavior becomes increasingly intense. Pups are developing problem solving abilities, physical coordination, bite inhibition. Mother begins weaning pups during this period, those beginning to initiate discipline. During this time puppies will begin to move to the far corners of their bed, box or pen to urinate and defecate.
House breaking can begin!
Breeder Do's: During entire period leave pups together as litter and allow dam free access to pups.
During 4th week (21-28 days) introduce food to pups without removing the dam. You can feed her in the litter box at the same time. Begin escalating sensory experience (see notes on critical period). Continue daily handling by breeder and family members.
During 5th week (28-35 days) Introduce pups to the outdoors. Take them outside to urinate and defecate after drinking or eating. When this is not possible provide pups with a designed bathroom spot to begin the housebreaking.
Begin handling pups individually away from litter mates and dam for at least 10 minutes each day. Enlist the help of family members, friends, neighbors and prospective puppy owner in this process. If you cannot handle 10 minutes each day, do 5 minutes. Daily experiences away from litter mates are crucial.
During the 6th and 7th weeks (35-49 days) Increase sensory experiences with brief car rides. Introduce pups to vacuum cleaner. Puppies can begin simple training routines using food lures and social attraction at this time. Start teaching pups to stand on grooming table to be examines or to be brushed.
This is the prime socialisation periods. Introduce new people, especially children. Pups enjoy interaction with a gentle adult dog kindly auntie or uncle who will baby-sit with patience. Introducing situations that will stimulate problem solving behavior- - tunnels, cardboard boxes, gates. steps, fences, logs, etc.
Allow pups to have successes and reinforce these successes with food.
Breeder Don'ts: DO NOT REMOVE PUPPIES FROM LITTER DURING THIS PERIOD!!
Do not completely remove mother. Do not correct for play fighting, housebreaking errors, or mouthing.
FOURTH PERIOD 49 DAYS TO 12 WEEKS
Characteristics: Enlarging social awareness and bonding outside of litter. Mental abilities are fully formed but pups lack experience. This is the optimum time to teach new things and is, in fact, the period of fastest learning. Research has shown that behaviors can be shaped and modified most easily during times when learning is occurring most quickly. Training during this time will actually increase the capacity to learn by increasing brain cells in the appropriate regions of the brain.
Bladder and bowel control developed and pups are capable of sleeping through the night without accidents.
Breeder Do's: Greatly enlarge the puppies world between 49 and 56 days. Begin puppy rotation, playing and sleeping in smaller groups. Pups that remain with breeder can be created with one or two other pups. Be sure to switch puppies around.
Continue individual grooming, play and training sessions with each pup. Gentle but firm discipline from humans may be begun. Begin teaching response to simple commands such as sit, down, stand, come, walk on lead at this time. Pups during this period can learn complex behavior chain and can make associations.
Breeder Don'ts: Do not isolate from humans or unnecessarily restrain during this period (only restraints should be crate or necessary fencing). Avoid inadvertently reinforcing fearful responses.
FIRST FEAR IMPRINT PERIOD OCCURS BETWEEN 8-10 WEEKS, AVOID PLACING PUPS DURING THIS TIME. AVOID SHIPPING PUPS, EAR CROPPING OR ANY TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES.
Pups that have been properly socialised and bonded with breeder can be successfully placed at 10-12 weeks after they have passed the fear imprint period and while they are still young enough to be " babies".
FIFTH PERIOD 3-4 MONTHS
Characteristics: Dominance period where pup solidifies position. Pups will begin testing their place in the world during this time. They tend to become emboldened. This is a period of very fast physical growth.
Breeder/Owner Do's: Pups must be treated as individual dogs. If they are still with the breeder they should no longer be treated as part of a litter and should sleep alone in individual crates at night and all training and grooming sessions should be individual.
Introduce behavioral dominance exercises, "Alphabetise" yourself and your family - feed pup after you eat, move crate to different locations so pup doesn't become site protective, take food and toys away while pup is eating or playing.
Continue socialisation and obedience training providing slight distractions. TEACH THE RECALL AND PRACTICE IT SEVERAL TIMES EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!! Do this before pup enters the "flight period" at about age of 16 weeks.
Breeder/Owner Don'ts: No tug of war games. Do not allow pup to sleep in bed with humans. Absolutely forbid all chasing games with children.
VERY, VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: DO NOT RAISE LITTER MATES OR TWO UNRELATED PUPPIES TOGETHER DURING THIS PERIOD!!!
SIXTH PERIOD 4-6 MONTHS
Characteristics: The flight period, corresponding to teething. Pups begin testing limits. May attempt to assert dominance over human pack members (especially children). May "forget" housebreaking.
This period is characterised by independence and willfulness. Owner or Breeder is no longer a mother substitute.
Breeder/ Owner Do's: Keep pup on lead when outside fenced enclosures. Continue recall training and response to commands. Continue dominance exercises and handling all parts of pups body.
Breeder/ Owner Don'ts: Do not let pup off lead if at all possible. Do not chase pup or play chasing games.
SECOND FEAR IMPRINT PERIOD 6-14 MONTHS
Characteristics: Sexual maturity, hormonal changes. Fearfulness of new situations, objects, people, other dogs. Male doge begin lifting legs.
Some individuals will pass through this periods faster than others, often with no noticeable problems. Others may display marked changes in behavior in strange situations.
Reinforce the behaviors you want: do not reinforce fearfulness by coddling to protective behavior. Avoid punishing fearfulness. Try to adopt a firm but patient and kindly attitude to the pup's fearful behavior. Continue socialisation to humans and other dogs. Avoid or postpone extremely stressful or traumatic experience for the animals that appear to be in the fear imprint period.