NOW that you've paid more than three digits for your new puppy, learn how you can aid your puppy with developing into a working dog. Choosing a dog with a strong genetic background is vital and important but genetics alone do not make a good working dog. Without proper training and upbringing, your new puppy is not likely to reach his full potential. Whether your goal is to raise a pet dog or a working dog, agility or obedience in the first year of your young dog's life is most important. Within the first year he will learn how to view the outside world, how to interact with other animals and how to view people.
Up until the age of eight to 12 weeks, depending on the breeder, your puppy has received structure from its dam (mother) and litter mates. Within these first weeks, puppies learn how to interact with litter mates and adult animals such as the dam or other dogs in the kennel. From the time the puppy is born its litter mates and dam are a security blanket - a source of strength. If you have ever watched a litter interact, you will notice they stick very close together and rarely wander off within the first six weeks. Many different types of puppy tests focus on this interaction within the litter and how each puppy handles itself without the litter. A litter of puppies sometimes reminds me of a gang of kids - what one kid might not do alone, he is more likely to do within a group because he feels more brave when around peers.
Even today's top working dogs needed positive reinforcement at a young age. Imagine yourself as a puppy for a moment. One day you're happy-go-lucky and feeling comfortable in your surroundings, then out of the blue, you're swept up and shoved into a box only to end up in a alien environment without anyone you know. Even the best puppies feel some stress when this happens. In my opinion, puppy-raising is all about teaching a puppy to deal with stress. Have you ever noticed what a puppy does when you first bring him home and he meets your cat or a strange dog?
Unless your puppy is rock solid in his ability to handle stress, you will see him bark in a different manner and the hair on the back of his shoulders might stand up. These are both signs of stress and not knowing how to handle a situation. However, in a dog this young, this type of behavior is not bad and expected in some cases. New dog handlers often misread this as aggressive behavior, but when the puppy shows these types of signs he is not saying "I want to attack" - in most cases he is trying to make himself look bigger and more formidable. He hopes the stress will go away.
Now that you have a little more understanding of stress and what some of the signs are, how can you help your puppy deal with it? One of the worst mistakes we can make in raising a working dog is not helping a puppy get over his fears. Puppy-raising is much like cooking, you know what you would like your end result to be, you just have to add the right ingredients to get it. Case in point: puppies are notorious for barking at fire hydrants even though they pose no threat. To them, it's a predator that's just waiting to pounce on them. If your puppy goes through life not getting over this fear of strange items like the fire hydrant, his working career will be short.
Remember what I said about how a puppy views his dam? Well, now he's going through life without that source of comfort - or is he? Although his new family mates are not of the canine family, the same pecking order and source of comfort exists. Picture the litter and its dam walking down the street and they come across this strange object in their path. Most likely the puppy would not think twice about approaching it. Why? Because mom has no problem handling it, that must make it ok. This same analogy applies to owner-puppy relationships.
Not sure what you should do? If you're thinking you have to get down on all fours and bark at the object, not quite, but close. As humans there is only so much we can understand in how a dam raises a litter, but we can learn from watching her. In many aspects the dam is telling her young puppies "OK, watch me. This is how you do it ". We can see this in her body posture and the sounds she makes. If your puppy is nervous about something, you need to take on this role of motherhood by saying something like "C'mon puppy, it's ok. See? This will not hurt you". Also make sure you go over to the source of stress to show the puppy that you are not afraid, and it will bring him no harm. These two things are very basic. Depending on your puppy's temperament it might take much more.
When helping a puppy overcome stressful situations, one thing that helps is to keep the puppy's attention on something besides the stress, such as food or a toy. If the puppy does not try to approach the stress, try taking a ball and playing with him first at a distance away from the stress then getting closer and closer to it as his focus stays on you and the ball or food. When your puppy learns the source of his stress is nothing at all, be sure you enforce this overcoming of his fears by praising heavily or rewarding with food. If all this is done correctly, he will look to you as a source of comfort and strength that will, in return, carry into his adult life.
Here are a few key notes to go over before closing. Every puppy will handle stress differently, you must learn how to read it in your puppy and learn different ways to help overcome it. If your goal for this puppy is to be used for breeding, you will want to learn more about temperament. If you have to spend months and months helping your puppy overcome stress, you may want to have his temperament evaluated by a professional who knows how to test puppies. Not handling stress is indicator of a weak temperament and that should not be promoted in any breeding programme. Every puppy in a litter has a different type of temperament. Before choosing your next working dog, learn how to test for a solid temperament. It will save you from spending more time on overcoming stress than actual training. You can view more at www.prodogz.com.