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    How dogs learn

    Steve-King

    There is a feeling of excitement in the air: today is the day when mom is expected to give birth to her litter. The whelping box is clean and ready and now you wait……

    The puppies arrive and mom starts what is going to be a demanding period for her. Over the next few weeks, she will attempt to impart life skills to her pups and teach them the “rules of the canine world”, whilst nurturing her pack.

    She will “walk the tightrope” between setting the boundaries as apply to her pack and letting her always inquisitive puppies experience their first taste of the outside world. Push the boundary too much and mom will not hesitate to correct their ideas with a verbal correction, a physical connection with the paw or lifting the puppy by the scruff of the neck. Furthermore, a form of partnership is developed between mom and the breeder, both playing their part in helping the puppies become aware of the new world they now live in and developing good socialization in the puppies.

    Puppies are born blind, deaf and toothless but they instinctively know how to “latch on” to mom through smell and through their ability to shuffle around. In the first 2 weeks, life for a puppy is all about feeding and sleeping (90% asleep). During this time, mom will lick the puppies to keep both the puppies and the nest clean and also to stimulate the puppies to pee and poop, which at this point they are unable to do on their own. Moreover, the breeder can help stimulate the puppies by handling them a few times a day, introducing warm or cold towels to the puppies and exposing them gently to a variety of sounds which will help make a positive impact on a puppy’s resistance to disease, emotional reactivity, and adult learning and problem-solving ability.

    Once sighted (from 2 weeks onwards) they will both see how their siblings, and mom, behave in the immediate environment and will also learn to communicate through their tail. With their hearing now developed, the puppies will begin to verbalise their thoughts on life by expanding their vocabulary from grunts and mews to yelps, whines and barks. Watching young puppies play is invariably both entertaining and informative. Their individual characters start to show themselves during play time, indicating which pups will be taking on a leadership role compared to others who will be more submissive. Breeders should be taking careful note at this time of these characteristics as part of the process of matching the personalities of the puppies with the personalities of future owners.

    The breeder plays a significant role by, for example, exposing the puppies to different floor coverings, other friendly, healthy dogs and allowing the puppies to experience the outdoor world (weather permitting!)

    Next week we’ll look at how the puppy learns once it’s joined the “human pack” in its forever home.