For over two decades, George Hickox has shown all levels of owners how to train great bird dogs. More often than not, the secret to a successful day in the field starts with a solid upbringing. Learn what small steps to take early on in your dog's development to ensure many happy memories are made on the hunt.
The first twenty-week period of the dog’s exposure to life is referred to as the imprinting stage. During this psychological developmental stage the canine youngster can develop good habits through proper training and environmental control. Puppies are monumentally impressionable during this critical period of the imprinting stage. It may only take one repetition of a negative association to forever scar Pupster.
During the imprinting stage, there are a number of well-documented critical periods. The ability of a canine to learn to live with people and other dogs is substantially diminished after twelve weeks of age. The most critical period for the youngster to develop a positive association with humans is from six to eight weeks. A dog denied positive human contact until the post twelve-week periods will very likely make a not as good a companion. Studies have shown that human contact for only twenty minutes at a time for only a couple of times a week is adequate to create normal development.
Owners should implement a program designed to maximize the dog’s ability to learn. Stages are not finite in each dog. It is important to recognize that each pup has unique prenatal and neonatal stimuli and is influenced by his own genes as well as his mother’s hormones. However, the concept of critical periods and the sub stages can serve as an excellent guideline.
The prenatal period is the time the fetus spends in Mom’s womb. There are indications that mothers that experience high levels of stress during pregnancy produce pups with a decreased ability to learn and demonstrate behavioral extremes. A healthy mother, properly fed, exercised, and housed in a proper environment is important. The neonatal period occurs from birth to two weeks of age. At whelping the pup’s brain is not fully developed. During this period the sensory abilities of scenting, hearing, seeing, and touch are poorly developed. The way mom treats her pups during the neonatal stage will affect the pups in later life. These early experiences have a tremendous effect on the dog’s mind.
The transitional period is the time the sensory abilities turn on and the pup’s awareness of the world around him begins. The pup receives stimuli from his environment, which can affect him the rest of his life. During the neonatal and transitional periods, people play an important role in developing the puppies’ bodies and minds. By the transitional period puppies should be regularly handled and picked up.
The U.S. Military’s “Super Dog” program demonstrated that neurological stimulation occurring from three to sixteen days following whelping have a profound effect forever. Recommended stimulation involves tickling between the dog’s toes, holding the pup in both a vertical position, perpendicular to the ground, with the head up and the head down. Further exercises should include holding the pup in the palm of the hands with the nose pointing to the sky. Puppies exposed to stress during this period are more adept in handling stress when exposed to new situations, training, or corrections down the road. Not only does the breeder determine the pedigree, the breeder should prepare the pup from birth until the buyer takes possession of the hopeful.
The socialization period occurs from four to twelve weeks of the pup’s development. Weaning from mom’s milk, exposures to outside influences, or lack of exposures, are critical to sculpturing the pups’ personalities. If a pup from four to six weeks of age misses socialization with other dogs, the pup is more likely to be fearful of dogs. Correspondingly, if the youngsters are denied people contact from six to twelve weeks, the dogs will lack proper social skills with humans. The greater the exposures the pup encounters during this critical period, the more likely the pup will demonstrate improved social skills, emotional soundness, and an open mind towards new learning.
During the socialization time frame a fear period occurs normally around eight to ten weeks. During this fear factor stage, the pup is much more inclined to permanently associate fears. The pup that is frightened during the fear factor stage may take a long period of time to return to normal, if ever. If the pup has not been properly developed prior to the onset of the fear stage anything that the pup associates with the fear with may always be a fear stimulus throughout the dog’s life.
After sixteen weeks, the pup becomes less susceptible of the paired association. After twenty weeks, the imprinting stage is really on the down side. A dog’s personality is pretty much made by five months of age, the rest is teaching. After twelve weeks of age, the pup should explore independence. The pup that bonded with you and stuck with you like glue would rather run through the fields with no never mind to what you want. If the pup has been properly developed in the neonatal, transitional and socialization periods, now is the time to lay the groundwork for more advanced training that lays down the road. Basic obedience, and creating good habits and behavior are all taught to the dog in the twelve to twenty week period. A dog that has heard “Here,” “Here,” “Here,” and did not respond and got away with non-compliance is a big deal. It will require more pressure later on to enforce compliance. And no dog exhibits more style and more confidence with more pressure. By introducing good habits, enforcing an effort to respond in a timely fashion to a known command and rewarding success we can mold the dog into the partner we are seeking. Don’t baby the dog, spoil the dog, and let the dog blow you off. Short repetitive sessions of yard work will pay huge dividends down the road. If the dog does not learn to learn, take mild pressure, handle stress, and look to the owner for direction at this time, a window is forever lost. By implementing yard work at this age, you will train with less pressure. And less pressure is better.