Twelve months ago I wrote this blog post sharing an update on how my pup Blaze was progressing and detailing how and why we do specific things when Raising a Puppy.
A year on, and everything I wrote in the blog post from last year could not be more true as I find myself with an adolescent dog coming in to maturity.
One thing we repeat to our puppy buyers and clients with pups is that you cannot underestimate the importance of the first 12 months of your pup’s life. Foundations – foundations – foundations!
The things that you teach your pup in this period can stay with them forever and anything they learn in this period will show ten fold as they enter maturity.
This is particularly true with our Malinois and other high drive working line dogs as they get older and head into maturity. Age makes them stronger, harder and more driven.
What does this mean exactly?
We use the analogy that a raising a puppy can be a bit like building a concrete path way. When you pour the cement in, it is soft and malleable and you can shape it to the direction you want it to be in. As time passes, the cement hardens and it becomes extremely difficult to shape it or move it.
Puppies are the same – when raising a puppy, we have the ability to shape them and develop them to their potential. But if we get it wrong, once maturity comes they are much harder and it is much more difficult to get them going in another direction.
At K9Pro/Steve Courtney Dog Training, we work with a lot of clients who have extremely dog aggressive dogs, and as we progress through training I often need to bring Blaze out into a consult where another dog may initially be lunging, barking and growling at her quite aggressively, so we can teach that dog how to behave around other dogs.
I often have clients ask why Blaze is not only non-reactive to their dogs, but completely disinterested in them. The answer is a combination of factors – genetics, socialization and training.
Anyone who follows our blog would be familiar with neutralization which is a concept Steve developed to explain how we like to make sure our pups are socialized appropriately and assign the correct value to different experiences. You can read more about there here.
When I raised Blaze, I knew I wanted her to be as neutral to other dogs as possible. I didn’t want her to dislike other dogs, but I didn’t want her to have a high value for them, either. Over the past 18 months of her life, she has been around hundreds of dogs of all different kinds, and has probably only actively played and interacted with less than 10.
This means she knows how to interact with and play with other dogs in a manner I would consider appropriate, but she has no real desire for interaction. This low value for other dogs makes it easy to control Blaze in public and in private consults with clients whose dogs need to learn how to behave around other dogs appropriately.
Many of our clients who have seen Blaze work would know she has a very low threshold to aggression and when I ask her to turn it on, it is there instantly – but only when required. Knowing she had the ability to bring aggression easily is one reason why I focused heavily on life skills over the past 12 months.
Now she has well and truly entered maturity, those foundations I shaped when she was a pup are strong and can hold up to the extra drive, strength and hardness she is gaining.
The benefits of having a working line dog with loads of drive and grunt are obvious, but more and more we are hearing from owners with young adolescent working dogs that are completely out of control. They have liked the idea of having a working line dog but without understanding what is really required to raise and develop a pup into an outstanding dog – or even just to raise a dog that doesn’t become a liability.
Those traits that we love with high drive dogs work against us if we don’t shape them properly early on. A perfect example of this the working line German Shepherd Dog, Hunter, we have been sharing updates of recently. You can watch his video updates here on our YouTube page.
One thing we haven’t mentioned about Hunter is that another one of our clients has his half brother. These are two dogs with the same breeding, from the same lines, but behaviour wise they are polar opposites.
Hunter’s brother is owned by a client who had never owned a working line dog before, and had no experience with them, but worked with Steve from the time her pup was 8 weeks of age. He is now a successful competition obedience dog, trick training dog and has done demos at K9 Pro workshops in a number of different states as well as featured in the newspaper and in film. He is social and easy for his owner to control.
The only difference between Hunter and his brother is how they were raised, socialized, managed and trained from the time their owners bought them home. And while of course these things are important when raising a pup of ANY breeding, the consequences of getting it wrong with a dog that has higher drive, more aggression and low thresholds to these drives can be severe.
People may think that as long as they do nothing wrong, they will be ok, in fact you need to do a lot right.
Just like I wrote in the blog post from 12 months ago, socialization alone is not enough. We had a number of questions about Hunter asking whether he was abused or what kind of trauma happened to him for him turn out the way he has, but the fact is that the vast majority of dogs we work with have been with their owners since puppyhood and have never been physically abused or intentionally neglected.
Socialization alone is not enough.
But how can that be? How can you raise a dog from puppyhood in a loving home, and have it turn into an out of control, aggressive dog? Surely it must have been abused, or rescued from a horrible situation? If you raise a puppy from early on, and don’t expose it to abuse, how could they end up with such severe issues?
There seems to be a gross misunderstanding that if you raise a dog from puppy hood it can’t develop behaviourial problems, unlike rescue dogs which many people assume come with a list of behaviourial issues. All too often we work with puppy owners or owners of adolescent dogs – many from working lines – who have some training problems we can clearly see will become severe behaviour issues if the dog doesn’t get the right training, and now.
Easily 90-95% of the dogs that come to us for serious behaviour modification are dogs the owners have owned since they were pups. Raising a dog from puppyhood is not a free pass to avoid having a dog that can be reactive, dog or human aggressive, anxious or fearful. It can be a challenge for owners of low to moderately driven pet dogs to get raising them right, so imagine how challenging it is to nail this with a working line puppy without guidance from a professional who has a lot of experience successfully raising pups.
We offer a detailed course here at K9Pro in which there are 6 sessions carried out over the first 6 – 12 weeks that you get your puppy, we find this course invaluable and this gives us a much better chance of getting puppy owners on the right track from the start.
This should be a first port of call for puppy owners because we can design a management and training plan to help you achieve the best you can when you are raising a puppy. It doesn’t matter if you are raising a dog for a job or as a pet.
Make no mistake, the pay off is huge when you get a super pup and raise and develop it successfully. But the consequences of getting this wrong can be severe. Don’t wait until you see problems occurring to get professional help, start off by getting professional guidance to raise your pup the right way so you can avoid problems developing.