What will your pup be like as an adult?

2011-07-28 00:00

A DOG’S mental maturation is only complete at 18 months, which means the puppy learning phase is over and they become aware of themselves as adults. At this time many pets produce behaviours which make owners decide that it is not worth while having them anymore. Dogs are rehomed or euthanased for reason such as growling at owners, fighting, biting people, jumping and soiling indoors. Alternatively, owners will alter their lifestyles to accommodate aggressive or destructive behaviour because the dogs are a crime deterrent. In other words, the once adorable puppy has not only grown up to become an asset, but also a liability. It must be understood that even though 18 months is a benchmark, behavioural issues can surface much earlier.

There are many contributing factors to these behavioural deviations. They are early litter departure, incorrect or a lack of education, trauma, temperament incompatibility, inappropriate breed choices and, of course, one of the biggest in my opinion is the owner’s emotional intelligence. The sight of a cuddly puppy stirs up all sorts of nurturing feelings in us and we succumb to these emotions at the drop of a hat. A puppy does not have the ability to understand why people perceive it as a bundle of cuteness. All the puppy is aware of is that all these new, two-legged “dogs” keep on submitting to it whenever they are in its presence or start behaving in a threatening manner when aggressive or destructive behaviour commences.

Behavioural concerns might not be a big deal at 12 weeks, but if the puppy is going to grow up to be the size of a small Shetland pony then it is important to do everything possible to satisfy the mental needs of the fast-developing canine mind. If pet owners let their emotions interfere with rational decision-making regarding their puppy’s mental development, it is guaranteed that they will have regrets. If we are too immature or are not prepared to provide our pets with a stress-free environment, then at least let’s be fair and say this to it: “As a human I am going to take you home to be my companion and protector. But I must warn you that I am going to take you from the litter before you are eight weeks old; treat you like a human and thereby not respect your different value systems; prevent you from acquiring the necessary social skills and environmental enrichment which will be critical for you to become a well-adjusted adult dog; rub your nose in your pee or poo when you eliminate indoors or smack you if you irritate me; take short-cuts with regards to an education process, or neglect to educate you; seldom or never take you for walks; and keep you in a small area or chained.

“By doing this I am going to put a target on you which one day will probably be hit by a syringe filled with a substance that will end your life prematurely.”

The accompanying photo shows a litter of puppies at five weeks old. There is an established pack hierarchy, where the pups with dominant temperaments appear in front and the submissive ones at the back, or are even trying to hide.

If a puppy’s instinctive intelligence drives it to be a part of a pack hierarchy at a couple of weeks old, then surely it must be critical at 18 months. When puppies are brought to me, I encourage the owners to look ahead to the time when their pet will be fully grown and not let feelings override common sense. I show them video footage and photos of aggressive and destructive behaviour to emphasise the importance of a correctly maintained rank structure.

Thus, in conclusion, let’s act responsibly when making decisions regarding our pets, especially since they are affected by the consequences of our actions. If you have any doubts, contact me or speak to your vet.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted at 083 340 8060 or visit www.dogtorsteve.co.za

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