It is generally accepted that puppies need the discipline of their mothers and siblings in order to grow up to be well adjusted adult dogs.
Experts say that the best time in a puppy’s life to learn social skills is between 3 and 16 weeks of age. Some puppies arrive at the SPA very young, and this is why, where possible, they are looked after by foster families (preferably those who already have a dog or dogs to act as tutor). If they stay at the SPA, they are kept with their siblings. If you have a puppy from eight weeks (which is the youngest age at which we allow pups to leave the SPA), be prepared for more work than you would for an adult dog. That is where puppy school comes in, of course, and regular attendance can ward off many future problems, as can having an older, settled dog already in residence.
As an administrator of the SPA Facebook page I quite often see requests from people who want to wean a new-born puppy themselves, using a bottle and artificial milk. They think this will create a strong bond between them and the dog. No No NO! You are asking for a whole world of trouble. Maybe not initially, but studies show that many of the social and behavioural problems seen in adult dogs have their roots in too-early separation from the litter. Such dogs are frequently nervous, more prone to barking and biting and have a more difficult time with socialisation and training. And we know what happens when dogs start to misbehave in adult life….They are brought back to the SPA!
Males and females are not mixed at the SPA, unless one of the couple is neutered, so I am not sure where people think the new-born pups are coming from in any case! And no, we do not breed puppies to “sell”. Quite enough arrive as it is, thank you very much; why do you think all our adult females leave sterilised and that we insist that our female pups are sterilised at the age of six months?
One example of a skill taught by the mum is bite inhibition. This is where puppies are shown how hard they can bite without hurting the animal or person being bitten. If they are removed from their family too young, they are often teething. As with human babies, puppies’ mouths hurt and so they want to bite. If your hand or toes (or those of your children) are in the way, they will be bitten. And if your puppy has not learned any better, that bite will hurt. That is when problems arise.
New owners may think they have an aggressive puppy, whereas all they have is a baby needing the discipline they would have received from their mum or siblings had they not been taken away too early. Experienced owners can usually handle this quite well; however, new owners don’t know how to deal with it, and treat it as bad behaviour, often using “negative” disciplinary methods. Unfortunately, the negative corrections only make the problem worse and it becomes a vicious circle.
Now of course patience and dog training school can help you overcome these problems, and “club canins” are all over France. Please try to find one that uses positive reward-based training, not choke chains and punishment. But why go looking for problems by deliberately taking a puppy that has not had the basic skills taught to it by its mother?
Of course the problems of puppy trafficking are well known, and if you buy a puppy from anyone other than a reputable breeder, you have no idea where the pup comes from and what age he was when he was taken from his mum. Many puppies are brought to France from Eastern European and other countries’ puppy farms, where breeding mums are kept in appalling conditions. Don’t be fooled by the fact that you are buying the dog from a well-known shop. Gardening and DIY shops have no business selling puppies, in my opinion, and they are quite often unaware or indifferent to the origins of the pups. Go to a reputable breeder only, where you can see the mum with her pups!
Or better still, adopt a pup or adult dog from the SPA and be prepared to take him to puppy or adult dog school if necessary. At least you will not be putting money into the hands of dog traffickers, and you will be saving a life
PS If you are reading this in the UK (and I know we have followers there!) I am informed that many vets run puppy socialisation classes, as opposed to training per se. The pups get to play whilst the vet nurses explain what is healthy play, when to interrupt and why, and how to deal with mouthing etc . Once this socialisation has taken place the pups then go on to puppy class. However vets all agree that in terms of socialisation, nothing beats the firm but fair paw of a mother’s love!
These dogs are not at the SPA, but who can resist a beagle?!