The Formative Period – Overview
This is the most important time in your dog’s development in life. This is the best time to prevent most of the common behaviour problems that people have while raising their puppies. It is also the best time for you to create a strong bond with your pup – among other things.
The formative period is the 2-4 month old age period. The reason this is such an important time in your dog's life goes back to the origin of the wolf.
The wolf is the ancestor to the dog, and almost all of its behaviours are similar, or even identical, to those of the dog - even today, some ten to fifty thousand years after they have evolved from the wolf.
The most important thing to do is get the pup at the right time. The best way to understand the importance of this timing is to look where these behaviours came from. In the wild, the wolf hunkers down into what is known as a rendezvous den for four months. This is where the dam whelps and rears her young for about seven weeks in the den. Then the transition period starts; this is when the pack bonding begins, and they are most sensitive and able to transfer from Mum to the pack – that’s why you get your pup from the Mum at this transition period (7-8 weeks).
This is now the formative period. The pup starts to learn about social order, where to toilet, bite inhibition, travel, hunting, playing, danger, aggression, dominance, hierarchy, and everything important to the wolves. This is when you get the chance to really shape the pup into the dog you want. The pup can learn about your pack's needs and wants, or your lifestyle and situation.
This is, in essence, when they are learning who their family is, and the broader this experience is, the better - for example, different age groups, different races, different species of animal, different experiences, and novel situations. This is when the puppy develops its ever-important coping mechanisms. If you kept the pup isolated with only you, it would grow up very protective and weary of strangers, and be socially inept.
Mal-socialization syndrome is one of the most common forms of aggression. We see this can manifest as dog-dog aggression, people aggression, and also predatory aggression. It is primarily from lack of socialization with a broad range of people, dogs and other animals in this formative period.
Cross-fostering refers to the introduction of other species into the pup’s life, and is especially important if you live around other animals or have a hunting breed of dog. For this, we like to introduce cats and other common animals into the pup's life. Simply by letting them interact together, the pup will learn that other animals are not prey and are not a threat to the pack, but are actually an extension of the pack.
Remember, behaviour problems cause more euthanasia than any other problem in dogs. What I mean is, dogs are more commonly put down because of their bad behaviour (normally aggression) more than any other cause worldwide.
What the next episodes will look at is how to prevent all these points from developing into problems. From toilet training to racial acceptance, each episode will delve into a particular topic in more detail.