The Breeder’s Role in Puppy Development


Clarice Rutherford, along with most other experts on dog behavior and development, believes that the formation of a solid personality in a dog begins shortly after birth, and has a lot of evidence to prove it.

In How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With, Claire explains that the need for human attention begins almost as soon as the puppies are born. That is why it is important to plan your litter and time the arrival when you will have adequate time to spend with them. If your schedule is full of dog shows or family activities or an unusually heavy workload, try not to have puppies arrive during that time. “The breeder who is not willing to give some time to the puppies should let someone else do the puppy raising,” advises Claire. You don’t have to give up your normal activities to do this, but you do need to be aware of the litter’s developmental stages and their needs during each short of these short, but changing, periods.

“The puppy’s central nervous system, and therefore his behavior, develops in a wondrously particular and precise pattern,” she states in the book, “and each stage of growth has an effect on the puppies’ actions. If the pup doesn’t have his physical and social needs satisfied during any one of these periods, certain characteristics of his personality will be stalled at that particular stage of development. This, in turn, will have an effect on how the dog will behave when he is older.”

As a breeder of Shelties for over 40 years, I can attest to that. The best companions and performance dogs are usually those that had some extra attention and bonding, and whose socialization was done during all of the early stages of their life. A little work in the first weeks of a pup’s life can do wonders for his self esteem and ability to learn later.

Puppies that are handled during the first three weeks and exposed to mild stress on a physiological level are better adjusted as adults, learn quicker, and are less hyperactive and more responsive to new experiences. Hold each puppy, both on his back and on his tummy, then head down and upright. Touch each foot.  Weigh him if you desire, then place him back with the litter. Once a day is enough. Too much handling is as bad as too little.

At three weeks you can begin to  pick up the puppy and apply light pressure to an ear or a foot. If he squeaks, he should calm quickly. Touch them again with no pressure at all, and progress to slight pressure the next day.

By four weeks old you can begin removing each pup one at a time from the litter and placing him on a different surface than he has experienced before for three or four minutes a day. Introduce new objects such as a chair, a box, a toy or a jacket on the floor. Record how he reacts to being alone, how quickly he begins to cry, whether he investigates or stays in one place. Observe the puppies and begin to record which ones are the most aggressive feeders, which ones loose out in competition, which ones are noisiest, shyest, which ones like to be held and snuggled and which ones resist.

At five weeks, begin to give mild auditory and visual stress. Flick lights on an off, play a radio, introduce other sounds like a vacuum cleaner, a telephone ringing, a doorbell, etc.  Also at this age each puppy can spend a longer time away from his dam and littermates and in the company of people. This is a good age for new people and children to play with the puppies. By six weeks they will probably begin to run toward people and climb into their lap. They also begin to learn to come when called, to play, and to listen to your voice.

Environmental stimulation is also important. If your pups play in the backyard the lawn furniture provides stimulation, as does moving a wheelbarrow around or using gardening tools. But if they are kept in a pen set a couple of old wood stumps and cardboard boxes in the area. Toys should be safe and not breakable or sharp. A good toy for a young pup is something he can pick up in his mouth or push or roll with his nose. A small plasic bottle with a pebble in it for noise is great fun for a puppy. Knotted socks of different textures a good, also. Rotate the toys so that a different selection is available every few days.

Before they go to their new homes puppies should be accustomed to wearing a light collar and at least starting to walk on leash. They should come when called or for feeding. They each should have spent several nights alone in a box or crate in the house. And they should have been exposed to anautomobile ride, new people, walking on wood, cement, carpeting, grass, and gravel, and being left alone in a pen for at least short periods of time. A well socialized puppy at weaning age is a big step toward a happy, well-adjusted adult dog.

While How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With covers a puppy’s entire first year, so much of what Clarice says is so important to breeders that I hope everyone will read it. You can find it on Alpine Publications website at


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