Thursday, 8 October 2015

Puppy talk and how it relates to LGD

Nothing is more endearing than a sweet, fluffy puppy. 

They melt your heart and the desire to go in and hug it, and mother it, and baby it, seems to take over. 

The problem that arises from following the heart, and not the mind, is that we potentially set the pup up for failure before it even has a chance to work.

Walk away from breeder that insists that a pup should leave the litter at 6 weeks of age or younger!

Even if the mother dog dies, the siblings will still play an important role in helping to shape the behavior of the pup.

Too often, I see posts of people all excited about getting their very young pup, many do not even recognize the importance of what a mom and the siblings teach the pup and how it shapes its future behavior.

We want our livestock guardian dogs to be tough on predators, be protective and be confident in what they do. 

Taking on formidable predators, requires the dogs to be savvy, street wise, understand canine language, work together in a pack, be confident, brave and unwavering.

On the other hand, we require them to show nurturing behavior, read the body language of the livestock and be attentive to the livestock, be calm, steady and reliable. 
We need a dog that is super stable in temperament, and confident in its ability.

To get this ideal, we need to place emphasis on both the genetic background of the dogs, as well as how they are raised. ( Nature and nurture).

We need to optimize the chance of success for the pup, and the livestock, it will guard down the road.

Too often, we see that pups are removed from their moms at 4- 6 weeks of age, 
this is simply too young. 

Some of the behavioral problems exhibited by pups removed  too young from their mom and siblings  are:
exhibit appetite and weight loss, 
increased distress, 
higher mortality rates 
higher susceptibility to disease
more sound phobias 
no bite inhibition (needs to be learnt from the siblings and the mother of the puppy and this can not happen if it is removed from the nest too early.)

Pups will not learn how to play fair and will often be very rough in how they play.

Puppies can also become too clingy to their new humans and have serious issues of separation anxiety. 


Very whiny, crying behavior - pups are often not consolable.

Higher chance of becoming fear biters.

Do not understand social hierarchies and canine interactions.

Show unwarranted aggression or misguided behavior to other dogs.

In many places, it is illegal to sell a pup under 8 weeks old.

The only benefit for selling a puppy before the age of 8 weeks will be for the breeder of the pup; they have less costs with added food, vet care and time investment. 

So, what do these extra few weeks teach the pup:

From about 6-8 weeks the mother, starts to interact, play and handle her pups very differently than before. The puppies are no longer allowed to nurse "on demand" and the weaning process is started, as they are now eating solid food. Mom’s job  has changed from physically nurturing the puppies, to being their teacher and providing them an education in how to be a well adjusted dog, giving the puppies their first lessons in obedience, submission, compliance, social order, social ranking, and hierarchy. 

Puppies that once climbed all over the mother, chewed on her, hung from her ears by their teeth, swung on her tail, are now physically, shown that this behavior is not acceptable. She becomes less tolerant of these shenanigans. The mom will snarl at the pup, give them a dirty look, she will paw them, she may even "tell them off", she is not hurting the pup, she is teaching him.
The pup will learn to respect her space, boundaries, food and will learn to understand the overall "tone" of the mature dogs and where the limits are.

Vuk telling Candy she needs to back off.

The pups learn in this stage, how to behave socially within a pack and they learn to read the body language of the mother and other pack mates. She will correct an unruly pup regarding dog behavior. Most moms will not really discipline a pup for incorrect or inappropriate stock behaviour, she leaves it up to you to do!

The pup learns from the mother how to behave around stock, when to bark, where to look, how to walk quietly and confidently through the stock, not to be fearful of the stock, how to get out of the way, fence checks and be submissive to the stock.
They will be more comfortable around the stock and be confident as they know,
mom has their back. If the pups see her doing what she normally does, they will mirror her behavior.

Sadie, watching her mom Lucy interacting with the lambs, every opportunity is a learning opportunity.

They learn to play fair, and bite inhibition is taught by their fellow litter mates,
making them less chewy, rough and rude. If one pup is always the dominant play mate, the other pups soon learn to stop playing with it. research has shown that "fair play" is part and parcel of puppy games.

The added age allows for them to be fully vaccinated ( often 6 week old pups, do not come with appropriate vaccinations or deworming) and can be thoroughly vet checked.

A better assessment of the temperament of each pup can be made, allowing for a breeder to better place pups in appropriate places.

Pups are generally more confident, relaxed and more easy going, when they leave at an older age.
This makes them easier to raise and handle.

Exploring the environment and the livestock is done in a safe manner, with mom watching over and leading them.

Slow maturing breeds need to stay longer with their mom and siblings, a border collie pup is a fast maturing breed and can leave at 8 weeks old, whereas the livestock guardian dog breeds should stay longer, as they are overall slower in their development. They need this added time. 

Ideally, the breeder will have calm, friendly stock for the pups to interact with, so the pup feels confident in bonding with the stock. A fearful pup, will not bond to the stock and will often look for ways to escape or avoid contact with the stock.

So, just because the pup can walk and eat on its own by 6 weeks, does not mean that it should leave its litter mates and its mom yet.

It really saddens me when I see very young pups removed from the litter, as I believe that is a big part of shaping the pup into a confident adult guardian dog. 

 on problem behaviors associated with early removal from a litter.

Prevalence of owner-reported behaviours in dogs separated from the litter at two different ages. Pierantoni L, Albertini M, Pirrone F. VET REC 169:468, 2011.

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