Updated: Jan 23
Puppies between three and twelve weeks of age are amazing learners.
An eight-week-old puppy has the learning potential of an adult dog. Training done during this precious time frame actually increases the number of neuro-pathways in the brain. It increases the physical size of the pup’s brain and increases the potential for intelligence - forever.
This early programming changes the quality of the dog’s life; it shapes his future. A puppy raised this way meets new situations throughout his life with confidence and curiosity rather than fear, frustration, or aggression. What an amazing gift to give a pup, and his fortunate owner; living with an LGD who is discerning rather than reactive is a true joy. This work is unbelievably valuable to the pups. A confident dog is much more likely to be successful as a working dog than a reactive one.
Fear and reactivity are normal emotional responses in pups lacking socialization – mindful exposure to new things. As adults, dogs raised without this exposure bark more and are more likely to show resource-guarding behaviors, again because these behaviors are based in fear. Most aggressive behaviors dogs present began as fearful ones.
For LGDs, there is the additional component of fostering their natural tendency to bond with livestock. It is critical to the future of working LGDs that they be exposed to livestock from a tender age, however, a learned fear experience during this impressionable age will stay with that pup forever.
It is imperative that puppies be emotionally supported, and their bright minds cultivated, during this truly magical window of time. I believe the most critical developmental period in a dog’s life is between three-eight weeks of age.
The following are quotes from Jessica Hekman, DVM, Ph.D., and Linda Lombardi, in her article Fear, Stress, and Puppy Brain Development: What To Know, January 21, 2019. Dr. Hekman’s statements are in quotation marks:
When puppies first begin exploring their environment when they are about three weeks old, their brains start laying down important associations that essentially teach them that home is a good place to be. “Their brain makes the assumption that this space around me is a safe place and this is what is going to be normal for me in my environment.” This assumption is so strong that puppies actually don’t show a fear response at that age. “You can show them something totally new that they’ve never seen before and they don’t care. They’re not afraid at all.”
Folks, you don’t get a do-over – this time is golden!!!