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Puppy Development Studies
(The Science Behind Early Puppy Education)

At Dacher we have been fascinated by advances in animal development and have tried to use this information in rearing our puppies. A brief synopsis of the significant scientific research in the last century appears below. References are available at the end of this section and in the resources section if you want further information.

Animal behavior develops as a result of the interaction between genetic and environmental influences. There are two types of recognized behaviors, instinctive and learned. Instinctive behaviors are genetically programmed and are minimally influenced by experience or learning. These are part of a constellation of skills that are essential for life and survival. The sucking behavior of puppies is an instinctive behavior. Learned behaviors are usually more complex. Many learned behavioral patterns are dependent on genetic mechanisms. A kitten has the brain mechanisms for hunting rats, but it must learn how to use them with its mother cat. The same happens with some songbirds. They must hear others of their species singing otherwise their singing patterns will come out garbled and unrecognizable. Konrad Lorenz Followed by Goslings

An amazing and curious example of genetic and environmental influences on animal behavior is provided by imprinting. This is a phenomenon exhibited by several species of birds when young such as ducklings and chicks. Upon coming out of their eggs, they will follow and become attached (socially bonded) to the first moving object they encounter (which usually, but not necessarily, is the mother duck or hen). The Austrian physician and naturalist Konrad Lorenz carried out the first scientific studies of this phenomenon.
In 1935 Lorenz reported that if he reared greylag geese from hatching, they would treat him like a parental bird. The goslings followed him about and when they were adults they courted him in preference to other greylag geese. He called the phenomenon "stamping in" in German, which has been translated to English as imprinting. The reason for the name is because Lorenz thought that the sensory object met by the newborn bird is somehow stamped immediately and irreversibly onto its nervous system.

His work created a great deal of interest in Germany. The Max Planck Institute in Berlin established an institute for the physiology of behavior for him and another researcher named Erich von Holst. He continued these studies and in other experiments, he demonstrated that ducklings could be imprinted not only to human beings, but also to inanimate objects such as a white ball or flashing white light. He discovered also that there is a very restricted "window" of time after hatching that will prove effective for imprinting to take place. Lorenz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 1973 for this work.

Konrad LorenzLorenz's work also provided startling evidence that there are critical periods where a definite type of stimulus is necessary for normal development. Since repeated exposure to an environmental stimulus is necessary, imprinting is a learned behavior with a very strong genetic element.
In nature behavioral imprinting acts as an instinct for survival in newborns. The offspring must immediately recognize its parent, because threatening events, such as the attack by a predator or by other adults could occur just after hatching. Thus, imprinting is very reliable to induce the formation of a strong social bond between offspring and parent, even if it is the wrong one.

Imprinting in mammals is fairly rare. Dogs are altricial animals, that is, they are born in a very "incomplete" state, with an exceedingly immature brain that will take several weeks to become fully operational, alert and active with all its senses and actions. Therefore the mother is the supreme caretaker and protector, and mother-pup bonding takes place via other processes than imprinting. However during the fourth week, species identification imprinting occurs. Puppies learn that they are dogs. It is therefore essential NOT to separate them from their dam at this time. Even if the litter is bottle fed, the mother should remain with them for social interaction. If the pup is orphaned it is especially important to provide orphan pups with an adult dog (of either sex) that will behave appropriately towards them during this time.

Beginning in the early 1950's Drs. John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller began studying puppies of multiple breeds at the Animal Behavior Division at Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbour Maine to determine what hereditary does to behavior. In 1958, J. Paul Scott described "Critical Periods in the Life of a Puppy", and reported some of the initial findings of the heredity/behavior project. The complete studies of thirteen years were published in their classic book Genetics and the Social Development of the Dog, University Chicago Press in 1965. If you have a scientific bent this classic has been reprinted several times and is still in print. These exhaustive studies of puppies found that genetics have a very clear and definitive effect on behavior.

In the late 1940's Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael was experiencing an unacceptable failure rate in training their guide dogs. They approached Clarence Pfaffenberger, a retired high school San Francisco journalism teacher, who was also an accomplished dog breeder to improve their selection and training of guide dog puppies. He spent the next twenty-one years breeding and studying these puppies. He was able to put the critical stages of puppy development into practical application in the breeding program of Guide Dogs for the Blind. He used Scott and Fuller's research and supplemented it with a specially developed puppy test to pinpoint the potential guide dogs in a litter at approximately 8 weeks of age. He based the test on the personnel tests used for pilots in the U.S. Air Force in World War II. These tests simulated the things that would be expected of the pilot taking the test when he was actually accomplishing a task. Through planned breeding, careful attention to development, and puppy testing he raised the percentage of successful guide dogs in the breeding program from 9% to 90%. His extensive puppy behavioral observations and testing scheme was published in 1963 in his book New Knowledge of Dog Behavior. Pfaffenberger is his book goes into great detail of his guide dog testing.

A number of other dog behaviorist have adapted this original test. Susan Clothier has written a puppy-testing booklet. Carol Lea Benjamin also has developed one. William Campbell's classic book "Behavior Problems in Dogs" includes a puppy temperament test. However Wendy Volhard has developed the best-known test the Volhard's Puppy Aptitude Test. This is the test we use to assess puppy temperament. We always administer it on the 49th day of life. Over the 19 years we have bred Portuguese Water Dog we have found that is reasonably reliable in predicting the adult dog's eventual personality. One caveat is that environmental factors, i.e. neglect, severe aversion training, and lack of socialization can cause the intrinsic potential adult personality to fail to develop.

A number of more modern scientists including Dr. William Campbell, Dr. Michael A. Fox and Dr Ian Dunbar have added to this information. Their books are noted below and are easily obtainable at most libraries.


Lorenz, Konrad (Marjorie Kerr Wilson, Translator) Man Meets Dog. 1994 (Kodansha Globe) (Paperback) ISBN: 1568360517
Originally published in 1954, Nobel laureate Lorenz's classic look at complex human-canine relationships includes a new introduction by Donald McCaig.

Scott, John Paul and Fuller, John L. The Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog. 1998 New Edition University of Chicago Press (Paperback) ISBN: 0226743381
This pioneering research on dog behavioral genetics is a timeless classic for all serious students of canine behavior.

Pfaffenberger, Clarence. The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior. 2001 Dogwise Publishing; Reprint Edition (Paperback) ISBN: 1929242042
The story of Pfaffenberger's search to develop a test for puppies to determine which would ultimately become good guide dogs is another classic. A MUST read for the dog breeder and trainer.

Campbell, William E. Behavior Problems in Dogs. 1999 Dogwise Publishing; 3rd Rev edition Originally Published 1975 ISBN: 0966870506
One of the earliest books addressing behavior problems in dogs: it has excellent insight in nonverbal thinking i.e. imagery and perception in dogs. The earliest behavior book to debunk the "alpha roll" submission training.

Fox, Michael W. DVM. Understanding the Dog. 1992 St. Martin's Press Revised & Updated Edition Originally Published 1972 ISBN: 0312071086 Excellent resource by veterinarian/psychologist who popularized pet behavior therapy on many television programs.

Dunbar, Ian DVM, PhD. Before & After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy & Well-Behaved Dog. 2004 New World Library ISBN: 1577314557
Most recent book by the founder of Sirius Puppy Training covers puppy development & training. Wendy Volhard's most recent 2003 version of the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test.

Created March 2006
Modified May 26, 2009