In the period from birth, an amazing process takes place in the puppy's brain - connections between brain cells are formed. Never before and never again (after the end of the critical period of development) will these connections be formed at such a dizzying pace.
Too many stimuli, or their lack will affect what kind of adult dog your puppy will be.
Whether he will be fearful, aggressive or maybe he will have various types of phobias, whether he will be a balanced, self-confident dog, is influenced by the events that will take place during the critical period of your puppies' life.
Therefore, we pay the main attention to what and how we do with puppies and in what period of their life. At different stages of development, puppies are sensitive to different stimuli. When they are born, they have the following senses: thermal, touch, smell. So it makes no sense to tune them to auditory or visual stimuli. But already in this first period we can work on their proper development.
PRENATAL PERIOD (from conception to birth)
During this period, puppies are still in the womb, but already on the 45th day of prenatal life they are sensitive to touch. Our safe touch of the bitch's belly (provided that it has a relaxing effect on her) is very important for the proper development of puppies in the mother's womb. In the third trimester of pregnancy, stress experienced by the bitch adversely affects the puppies in the mother's womb. We should never take a bitch to places where there is a high probability that she will not feel comfortable. During this period, she should be provided with peace and a lot, a lot of endorphins that are secreted under the influence of experiencing pleasant sensations. They directly affect the developing fetuses.
When our female dogs are pregnant we don't make any changes to the environment, everything stays as it was. We don't do exciting family getaways. We care about a peaceful environment, sniffing walks. We don't take bitches to friends to show off their growing belly. We also do not do ultrasound examinations to confirm the number of puppies (unless there is a threat to their health), or to satisfy our curiosity. Even this few minutes stress related to shaving the tummy, applying the head, cold gel can affect the developing fetuses. We are patiently waiting… until the right time comes.
Therefore, I am personally against foster homes for Australian Labradoodle bitches. A supposedly noble goal - "we want to provide the bitch with a loving home" Only under this goal there are such unpleasant consequences. A bitch taken to a new home in the last trimester of pregnancy secretes very large amounts of the stress hormone - Cortisol. Cortisol directly affects fetuses. Unfortunately, this will then affect the mental and physical health of the puppies. Of course, the breeder does not need to see the results of his actions right away. They can reveal themselves only after several years of Labradoodle adoption. But then who will realize that the breeder is to blame? The breeder's explanations that the female dog knows our home are inappropriate because she will still suffer from the stress of taking her from the nest where she felt safest. If you are interested, I advise you to read about the impact of cortisol on the health of our dogs.
THE NEONATAL PERIOD (from birth to about 2 weeks of age (the moment of opening the eyes))
A puppy is born with its eyes and ears closed. Research has shown, however, that despite such immaturity and the associated limitations, puppies are extremely sensitive to thermal and tactile stimuli. Therefore, in this period of life, it is already possible to work on early neurological stimulation. What is it?
It is a set of five exercises (puppy head up, puppy head down, puppy on the back, tickling on the tips of the paws, laying on a cold towel). All exercises can be performed for a maximum of 5 seconds each.
Because there is too much risk of overstimulating a puppy, I recommend beginner breeders of Australian Labradoodles (as well as the rest of any breed) to train on ... a mascot. Stimulation seems easy, but my observations show that in inexperienced hands the time of individual exercises is prolonged. Too many stimuli during this period will have a very negative effect on their further development and will cause extreme disinhibition of the nervous system. It is very easy to cross the fine line of 5 seconds, so I recommend doing the exercises for 3 seconds each.
Well done Early Neurological Stimulation brings the following benefits:
1.Improving the functioning of the heart vessels
2.Strengthening the circulatory system.
3. Strengthening adrenaline secreting glands.
4. Increased resistance to stress
5. Greater disease resistance.
This is what Neurological stimulation of puppies performed in our Australian Labradoodle kennel looks like:
As a zoopsychologist, I help Polish breeders in the socialization of their litters and conduct puppy temperament tests. It is based not only on the results of research and experiments carried out by specialized organizations but also on my own observations of socialized litters in Polish kennels. My observations show that well-conducted neurological stimulation brings far-reaching benefits for the development of the puppy's nervous system. Puppies subjected to this stimulation are more active and exploring than those that have not been subjected to this stimulation. The desire to explore is directly related to the fact that puppies experience a lot. Gaining experience, on the other hand, builds the image of their future self.
What if "no" early neurological stimulation? In the case of inexperienced breeders, I recommend taking puppies in your hands, gentle stroking (good touch) during everyday activities such as weighing. Puppies already in this period of life need to undergo stimulation in order for them to develop well. Therefore, I strongly encourage tactile stimulation, however, you must remember that touching should not be overdone either, as it may bring the opposite effect to the expected one.
During this period, the excretory processes of puppies are mainly regulated by the mother. The latter licks their bellies to stimulate the bowels - later, the position "on the back" becomes the signal of the greatest subordination and the strongest calming signal.
TRANSITIONAL PERIOD (from the 2nd week to about the 21st day - the moment of opening the ears)
During this period, the optic ducts open. So we can introduce visual stimuli slowly.
Until the 16th day of life, early neurological stimulation is still in progress, so let's not introduce other stimuli right away. After the 16th day of life, when the stimulation ended, in our Australian Labradoodle kennel, we introduce a different type of touch - massage (especially Shantal's massage). My experience shows that Labradoodle puppies that are set on this type of touch, approach stressful situations in a more relaxed way. The body is tense due to tensing muscles in stressful situations. Relaxed muscles mean a relaxed body. As a zoopsychologist in the therapy of fearful dogs or dogs with phobias, I use massage as an auxiliary therapy. After such a massage, it is easier to work with dogs, because their muscles are relaxed - then they are easier to undergo training and therapy.
So why not take advantage of the goodness that massage gives us in such young puppies?
“In the animal world, the first thing a female dog does when her young is born is to lick it from head to toe. Her tongue conveys to the puppy's brain the initial image of his self. Additionally, if several puppies are born in a litter that are constantly rubbing against each other as they try their first steps, every millimeter of their bodies absorbs further knowledge of what they are and how they function. This reinforces the formation of their overall self-image.”
quoted by Ruthy Alon
Here are photos and video of the massage being performed.
During its performance, we play a CD (puppies will hear sounds only after opening the ear canals) with prenatal sounds (the sound of amniotic fluid and heartbeat) that have a calming effect on puppies.
How does the massage work?
It soothes, relaxes muscles, builds a positive bond between the owner and his dog, the puppy recognizes it as the first safe human touch. The massage also has many other properties depending on which part of the body is massaged:
– chest massage: beneficial effect on the work of the lungs, stimulation of the heart, stimulation of circulation, relaxation
– abdominal massage: activation of the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates digestion, improves the work of the large intestine (the effects of this massage can be seen ... or rather felt right away
–massage of the forelimb: elimination of muscle tension, relaxation of joints, stimulation of circulation, relaxation
– massage of the hind limb: elimination of tension, relaxation of joints, stimulation of circulation, strengthens bones,
– back massage + tail: strengthening the back muscles, reduces tension in the neck, back and croup area, relaxation
– mouth + ears massage: releasing tension, increasing blood circulation, eliminating headache, soothing, relaxing effect
During this period, we also introduce olfactory stimuli - scents collected in vials. Smells of animals, nature, objects, strange smells.
PERIOD OF SOCALIZATION (from the 3rd week of life to about 12 weeks) This is my personal horse. I love this period! So much is happening, so many changes are taking place, and so much can be recorded on blank puppy cards.
During this period, all the stimuli to which the puppy will be exposed will affect its later life. All stimuli the puppy will not be exposed to (poor environment) as well. We must be aware of this - everything that our puppy will be depends mainly on us - the breeder and the owner.
According to some sources, the socialization period lasts until 12 weeks of age. However, many years of research by well-known ethologists, e.g. Raymond Coppinger confirm that this period can last differently - depending on the breed. Breeds such as German Shepherds have a socialization period of less than 12 weeks, breeds such as Labradors longer and can extend up to 18 weeks. Okay, so how do we know when this period ends? It seems to be much easier than we think.
Each dog goes through four periods of anxiety, each lasting approximately 2 weeks. During the medication period, our dog starts behaving strangely. He may be afraid of things he has never been afraid of before, such as the shuffling of a chair. This is a normal stage of development - it goes away on its own unless the fear is reinforced by the owner. Periods of anxiety appear: around the 8th week, around the 12-18th week, around the 8th month and around the 13th month. When the period of the second fear appears around 12-18 months, it is a sign for us that the period of socialization has just ended. In my experience, the socialization period of Australian Labradoodles lasts until about 16 weeks of age.
During the socialization period, it is important for the dog to know what species it belongs to, and to know the species with which it will share its life in the future.
It is very important that the puppy is placed in different situations that it may encounter in the future. What do we do during socialization?
1. Labradoodle puppies open their ears and start jumping up to different sounds. During this period, we introduce the first calm sounds in our kennel. And here - surprise! The first sounds puppies hear are the sounds of prenatal life. The hum of the amniotic fluid and the mother's heartbeat played on specially designed CDs. The first sounds that puppies hear from us are the sounds they already know. Thanks to this, we introduce them to our world calmly - they get to know it from a safe side.
Then we introduce various other sounds from the CD. These include: vacuum cleaner, trucks, helicopters, gunshots, barking dogs, clapping people, dryer, howling wolves, train, tram, crying children, ambulance, police, fire brigade, washing machine, mixers, thunderstorm, fireworks. And many others. There are over 200 different sounds on all tiles inclusive.
This is only the beginning, because the sounds from the CD will never replace the stimulus of a real object that, in addition to making certain sounds, has certain sizes and moves. We take care of that later and the CDs are only an introduction to further work.
Note: play the records very softly at first, gradually increasing the volume, otherwise you can cause the opposite effect to the intended one and as a result adult dogs will be afraid of these and other sounds.
2. Massage. We continue the gentle massage of the whole body from the transition period throughout the socialization period, when Labradoodle puppies are with us. Photos and video above
3. Puppies should meet different people. Keep in mind that the dog does not classify all humans as one species. For him, a baby, a child, a teenager, a boy, a girl, a man, a woman, an old woman with a cane, a man with glasses, a man with a beard, a policeman, a postman, a priest - these are all representatives of different species. All these people should be met by the puppy during this period. Do you know why dogs bark at postmen?
In our Australian Labradoodle kennel, we focus puppies on contact with various people - even the strange ones. Thanks to that (if still practiced by the owners) strange people do not impress them.
Tone of voice is also the key here. Dogs recognize high-pitched voices as exciting and low-pitched ones as aggressive (this is why many dogs are afraid of male voices or feel more respect for them)
4. Other dogs and animals. Puppies should be exposed to contact with other dogs and puppies. Dogs in the kennel are not important, because the puppy treats them as his herd. The most important thing is contact with other dogs. Note, however - these dogs must be SAFE. The breeder must properly safeguard such contact and read the signals sent by an adult dog and a puppy. Only then does the puppy learn that other dogs are safe. The continuation of such meetings by the owner is very important. The contact must be safe and must not be interrupted when the puppy does not feel completely confident yet, because we will strengthen his insecurity, which may contribute to fear of other dogs.
5. Various substrates. According to Margaret Hughes' rule of the golden twelve - dogs should put their paws on 12 different surfaces here. We build our little Labradoodlom so-called. learning paths that consist of different substrates and the puppy has to go through them. It is reinforced along the way with rewards. We also take puppies to different places so that they can get to know different substrates.
6. We start training Australian Labradoodle puppies in the 6th week of their life. Sit, lie down, high five. Why are we doing this? Puppies already learn the principles of positive training, they learn that it's fun to work with people. When they go to training with their new owners, they know these rules, thanks to which working with them is easier and more pleasant. They are more focused on the guide. Our puppies also practice agility - an obstacle course. We do everything for fun. It should be remembered that such an obstacle course was made for accuracy, not speed. Speed raises adrenaline, which takes up to 1 week to drop to an acceptable level. Without killing him, we'll have a hyperactive dog. So be careful here too.
7. Our Labradoodles are placed in the presence of various strange stimuli that they may encounter in the future. Bags, balloons, boxes, jars, bells, bicycles, decks, umbrellas, glasses, masks. They learn that something strange and surprising may appear in the environment in the future and they should not be afraid of it.
8. Enriched environment - it's different items that we spread around the house, different materials. We hide treats in these materials. Puppies' job is to sniff, search and eat. What is it for? Not only learning new things, but also calming down. 10 minutes of sniffing tires the dog more than an hour of running, which raises the level of adrenaline
9. Labradoodles learn how to solve problems. Enter the box, the box, how to go down the hill, enter the water? Thanks to this, they will be able to solve problems that may arise along the way in the future.
10. Puppies should get to know different weather conditions, snow, rain and storm, they should go out at night
11. In the third week of life, for one week, we do diaphragm exercises in puppies once a day. Thanks to them, puppies do not suffer from motion sickness and tolerate car driving very well. Breeders who do not do these exercises should take their puppies for car rides.
All this should be done by the breeder and the owner should continue his work intensively even until about 16-18 weeks of age (of course, learning lasts a lifetime).
The poor environment in which the puppies stay at the breeder (in the so-called cage kennels) will adversely affect the mental health of the dog. But not only. Also inexperienced breeders who want to protect their puppies from all kinds of noises and stimuli will unconsciously act to their disadvantage. Sometimes it also happens that at the instigation of a veterinarian, the owners do not go outside with their puppy until 12 weeks of age (due to the lack of vaccinations). However, such actions reflect on the psyche of an already adult dog.
We have to make HABITATION happen, i.e. getting used to a specific stimulus. We do not want to allow SENSITIZATION - i.e. sensitization to a specific stimulus.
To get used to a particular stimulus, it is important to meet several conditions:
– the stimulus is first presented with a low intensity
– the puppy must be able to move away from the stimulus freely
– contact with the stimulus must be repeated.
If these factors do not occur, then there will be SENSIBILIZATION - that is, sensitization to the stimulus and in the future our dog will be afraid of it, what's more - it will generalize and all other similar stimuli will cause anxiety reactions.
Appropriate knowledge of the critical period of development, intuition and common sense are essential in the socialization of puppies. Every pup is born a blank, blank slate. During the first weeks of life, there is an intensive development of connections between brain cells. What a puppy will experience during the first weeks of his life IT WILL AFFECT HIS BEHAVIOR IN THE FUTURE.
Zoopsychologist, animal behaviorist
Australian Labradoodle Kennel in Poland