Breeding for Temperament

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above:  Izat Simply Scandalous - photo by Pet Action Shots


All breeders should be concerned about the issue of temperament. Many people think temperament problems are simply displayed as dogs who "bite" or seem "excessively shy". This breeder views temperament problems as any which deviate from the essential loving, friendly and secure nature of a well-bred Italian Greyhound. One of the dogs at our kennel is beautiful so far as conformation is concerned. She's also an excellent pet. She loves us and is certainly wonderful in most ways but she is scared to death of "strangers" and has been that way since birth. She's spayed because that is an undesirable quality and should not be passed on to others in the breed.

The Above is Guido - owned by Phil and Edith Snyder

 

What caused this dog to be afraid of strangers? Perhaps it is genetic. It may be that her brain is "overly sensitive". This is to say that her brain cannot compute new sights and sounds and therefore reacts negatively to these situations. Our findings with her conclude this to be the case. It is interesting to note that in further support of this theory ... her attitude towards strangers does change given time. If a new-comer is in her vicinity for more than 1 hour she will approach... and if longer than  2 hours, she will snuggle with them. She remembers these "former" strangers and while she may initially react in a negative fashion after meeting them again will... after "computing" the information... run and snuggle with them within the space of a few minutes.

There are some breeders who would not consider this to be a "temperament" problem. It is! However, it is not the only type of temperament problem. Besides the obvious problems of hyperactive, fearful, biting dogs...there are other temperament problems that should be considered. Dogs that are hard-headed and simply won't listen or are behavioral "morons" are just as much a temperament problem as one who reacts to everything. It's a fine line.

Canine behavior is of special interest to us here at Izat Kennels. We have studied "pack behavior" extensively. Below is a discussion of puppy "education for temperament" and socialization. Even though the fundamentals of temperament are genetic we feel that puppies can be gently pointed in the "right" direction with proper education.

Birth is the time to start puppy education. At Izat kennels we've started a routine that has helped tremendously to produce well-adjusted puppies. While it is NOT scientific, the results have been good. These results MAY be skewed because we breed only for the temperaments that we feel are appropriate and have never attempted this routine on puppies bred from less than desirable temperaments. However, * please note * this routine was started AFTER our one pup's problems. Since beginning the routine there has been no hint of temperament problems with any of our pups. The dam who produced the initial "fearful" pup has been bred since (although not to the same sire and sire has never produced this temperament since) and produced 100% puppies with beautiful temperaments.

From birth... all our puppies are handled. There has been a current study in humans which suggests that mothers who handle their babies - stroking and cuddling, help stimulate the babies' brain growth. Infant brains are immediately taught to react to stimuli and the infant learns to "cope". The theory is that babies learn to deal with stress.


photo by C. Dominy with Tigger, Reddy and Flicka

With new-born puppies the first few times this is attempted some puppies attempt to squirm away from the hand contact. We perservere, however, and stroke the puppies within the box for perhaps 5 minutes about 4-5 times a day. We do this continually throughout their first 15 days of life. This is intermixed with picking them up and holding them in different positions, ie... head facing downward, on their backs, sides, etc. This is done gently and not for long periods of time. There is also a great deal of gentle stroking.

Before ears and eyes open the puppies are exposed to music, TV background noise, and even the vacuum cleaner. This type of stimulation is continued when their eyes are open. One wonderful resource is the public library. The library offers recordings of music called "Sound effects". Recordings such as these are mainly used for movies and these sound effects can be anything from horses running, to a busy street. Playing these recordings at intervals during the day helps to provide gentle stimulation.

When the puppies are up and on their feet it is time to effect a few changes within their pen. Altering the position of the whelping box is one tactic. One week (or day) the whelping box entrance may face one way and then changed in order to face another way. Or the entire whelping box may be moved to a different location within the pen. This helps the pups cope with changes within their environment and translates into puppies who grow up with the ability to cope with changes.

On another front, we here at Izat kennels NEVER wean a pup. When it is "time" the IG mother makes that decision. We've found that our mothers like to nurse well into the 8th week of the pups' life. While mothers are not made to stay with their puppies there is constant access to each other allowed during the entire time the pups are here. We feel this interaction is necessary to proper adjustment.

When puppies react negatively to a new situation we have a sound signal that has been taught almost from birth - a clucking sound. This is a comforting sound to them and provides a positive influence. If the puppies are timid about something... we cluck away... which immediately distracts them from the scary situation. They take comfort in the sound and are then ready to investigate exactly what has scared them. It's a fine line between giving too much comfort and not enough. Cuddling them in scary situations can sometimes effect the opposite reaction of what might be considered desirable. In other words, puppies can decide that being scared is the "correct" reaction instead of coping with the new situation. It is wise to always distract first with the sound they associate with comfort and then let them deal with the new situation in their own fashion. Nine times out of ten they will investigate the new "situation" or they will completely ignore the new situation, and continue with their play after they have been "assured" that nothing is wrong.

Using the above methods creates  puppies who learn to cope with mulitiple situations. This is invaluable training for the real life situations that they will have to face later. Usually we find that by the time they are old enough to go outside they will burst out the door entusiastically and are ready to explore the "new" world without worry. It's an ongoing process.

 


Above - Clara - NOT camera SHY!

The following information is for those interested in the developmental stages of puppies.

The neonatal period

This period of time is from birth to age of eyes opening. Dogs have no ability to regulate heat at this age. Sense of smell is limited. The puppy possesses a good sense of balance and has the ability to taste and touch... This ability is limited to hot/cold pain/pressure. Motor skills are limited to slow crawl using front legs. Sucking and licking are also motor skills they possess. Neonatal pups respond to very little outside stimuli. Their ability to learn during this period is limited.

The Transition period:

From age of eyes open to 20 days.

Pups see very poorly during this time frame. And are not able to perceive forms very well. They began to stand at this stage, some amount of growling can be seen at this stage. Some chewing (like grabbing bitch's neck or littermate's neck) can be seen.


Above photo of a wild rabbit meeting dog and cat thru the fence!

The period of Socialization: 21 days to 12 weeks:

On day 21 usually ears open and mark the end of the transition stage. Rapid development of social behavior patterns developed. Emotional attachments to places and humans begins during this period. It is perhaps the MOST VITAL time in a dog's life and makes the difference between a good dog and an unsocialized dog. During this stage, the dog learns submissive behaviors, dominant behaviors, and agonistic behaviors. Behavior patterns, particularly abnormal behaviors would be noted at this time. From extreme submissiveness to over aggressiveness. A wild puppy who suddenly begins to bite you in a "rage" and continues to bite you even when you attempt to subdue the puppy, or a puppy who does not submit to the mother (if that happen to the mother, the mother would more than likely kill the puppy in an attempt to subdue the puppy) would be considered abnormal behaviors.