I get a few inquiries now and again about aggression in puppies. The owners who wind up with an aggressive pup can’t help but wonder why me?
While there can be many reasons behind this aggression, hopefully the following offers up at least one reasonable explanation – the sometimes bad effects of taking pups from the litter too soon.
Early, and I do mean the early most important socialization starts at birth. Some say it really starts before birth where the puppy makes a chemical association to the mother. The critical period period goes from that point in time all the way to 12 weeks of age.
In this critical period, all of a puppy’s senses are gradually developed and become refined: their sense of smell, touch, hearing and finally vision. Oh yea, there is also motor co-ordination. You probably thought it was cute how a new pup stumbled around – kinda like a sailor getting his sea legs grounded.
Also during this critical socialization period, they learn to communicate with their litter mates. They learn the language, how to appropriately respond to body language – send and receive good body language signals to turn off any potential bad behavior.
The most critical weeks for learning this is from 7 weeks to 10 weeks of age. Getting this continuous and uninterrupted time in on socialization with their mother and litter mates is critical.
When puppies are pulled out at 6, 7 or 8 weeks of age, it all stops so they miss out on 4, 5 or 6 weeks of critical, continuous socialization. This continuous level playing field cannot be replicated by other dogs later or by well-meaning family members. There certainly are variances in aggressiveness across the breeds, in litter mates and in gender.
And some dogs, like people, have short fuses while some have longer burning fuses. Primary socialization in puppies – if cut short – is gone forever.
Training can certainly help but it’s not the dog’s natural behavior. And I’m sure you would have to keep an eye on your dog to circumvent any challenge on the playing field. Many do adjust well to life outside the litter but leaving them in the litter until at least 10 weeks will give them a better chance to do well socially in their new life at home with you. Then once you get them home, be sure to set them up to succeed like we talk about in our Nose To Tail Puppy Training.
Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”