Puppy Psychology

During the first days of its life, a puppy spends 90 percent of its time sleeping and the rest seeking its mother’s teat to feed. After this period, it grows very quickly. At three and a half weeks, it begins exploring its surroundings. Then comes a critical stage-socialization-which will have a strong influence on its future development. It is by playing with its siblings that a puppy becomes fully and finally aware that it belongs to the canine species. At four or five weeks, puppies already show group behavior, tumbling over one another to chase after a ball. The hierarchy that will prevail later in the pack is already developing. The young animals show their aggressiveness by growling at anything they consider unusual or alien.


As with children, play is an essential part of a puppy’s development. Play begins with activities that lead the puppy to discover smells, sights, and tastes. Gradually almost all aspects of adult behavior appear in the play: stalking, chasing game, guarding, shaking a rag held between the teeth to imitate the killing of prey. These games are accompanied by yelping and barking, which helps the group act as a co-ordinated unit. Some experts say that a puppy that does not get enough play may not develop its hunting aptitude and consequently will be unable to defend itself when it reaches adulthood.


Ideally, puppies should be between six and eight weeks old when they start having contact with people. If they are deprived of these contacts, or if they have only short, intermittent relationships, they will have little chance of becoming domesticated. They may well remain timid. It has been noted that puppies fed and cared for in a laboratory, with no other contact with the outside world, are three times more likely to develop viral illnesses than those left with the mother. This underscores the importance of contact, not only with people but with other dogs as well.

When the behavior of guide dogs in training was analysed, it was discovered that young dogs that had stayed in the litter for over twelve weeks without human contact were not good subjects for training. However, if a puppy is separated from the litter too soon-at four or five weeks, say-and left solely in the company of humans, it will become exclusively attached to its owner. When it grows up, it will find it difficult to relate to other dogs and may even be difficult to train.

Relationships between children and puppies-and even adult dogs-are, as a rule, excellent. Babies and puppies are at approximately the same stage of development and they communicate with each other through play. When a puppy plays with a child, it matures quickly and adjusts readily to life with humans.

However, you should ensure that your child never torments the dog or treats it like a toy. A dog is a living creature which the child must learn to respect.

Some breeds have particular socialization problems in puppy hood. Puppies that mature slowly should not be weaned until they are six or seven weeks old. Nonetheless, make sure that they are able to have sustained contact with humans. A puppy weaned too early or too late will not necessarily adapt poorly. If a puppy weaned too early has frequent contact with other dogs, or one weaned too late is exposed to attentive people, it can still learn healthy social behaviour. Always try to bring out the best in your pup’s natural qualities. If you have an alert puppy, for example, encourage it to play.

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