There are a few predictors of aggression in adult dogs that we can easily attempt to prevent in puppyhood. These are resistance to being handled or submitting to husbandry procedures such as ear cleaning, nail clipping, or brushing and combing; guarding of resources such as food, toys, space, resting spots, or the owner; and fear of novel stimuli such as children, loud trucks, men with beards, etc.
When puppies are between age 8-17 weeks of age, the time is ripe for introducing them gently to the things they will be expected to tolerate when they are adults. This window does correspond with a stage when puppies are also at risk for diseases to which they haven’t yet been vaccinated against or built immunity to. Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom now, according to veterinary behavior experts, is that we must still provide these early socializing experiences. The Pet Professional Guild has made things easier for pet owners to get started with their puppy education series of resources. People can also find a puppy class by searching their dog trainer directory.
A well run puppy class is worth its weight in gold. Puppies will be given opportunities to play off leash with compatible puppies, but a good instructor will help insure that pups aren’t frightened.
Owners are confronted with a wide array of puppy books, but there’s one that stands above the rest because of its attention to the puppy’s perspective, and that’s “Life Skills for Puppies” by Helen Zulch and Professor Daniel Mills.
Many trainers have this one on their bookshelves with good reason. The anti-guarding protocols developed by Jean Donaldson in “Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs” are useful in curbing a dog that’s already guarding, but is even more useful as an insurance policy to prevent puppies from becoming guarders. Misguided owners often create guarding when they try various ill-advised techniques, such as pulling forbidden items out of puppy’s mouth, or taking the food bowl away repeatedly. This book will help avoid those errors and create a dog that willingly allows humans to approach his “stuff.”
Teaching puppies to like necessary procedures is so important as well. Here’s Kelly Shutt Cottrell using a classical conditioning technique to help her foster dog learn to enjoy getting his nails trimmed: Nail Trim Video.
More to come!