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How early experiences can shape your dog

Did you know that like people, dogs have what we will call 'core memories'? These are things, experiences and connections that happen early in life that can shape how they act and feel about a particular thing or situation. Have you ever had a rescue dog that came from a bad situation with little to know details? And as time goes on you discover that they have a low tolerance and high stress response to what we see as irrational. For example, I once had a rescue dog who was reactive to anyone outside of the family who approached with any object in hand above the waist. Weird right? Maybe. But as more of his history was pieced together through vet exams and diving into his behavior, picky it apart and asking the previous owner the right questions it was discovered that he was originally adopted with a listed abusive past as a young puppy. Less than 6 months old. So it stands to reason that he was abused with an object rather than a hand or foot. Now this behavior did improve with training and time but it stemmed from an early experience in his life. He was 4 years old when I got him and this early experience still plagued him as he had never had anyone help him work through it.

These core memories start to form from a very young age. I am talking weeks, probably even days old. Dogs that come from undesirable breeding situations and honestly even some good breeders can be missing out on a very important opportunity to be set on the right path to becoming a confident dog. For example, a puppy that spending it's first weeks of life in seclusion say in it's whelping pen/room with little to no exposure to the world outside of that space is very likely to have a nervous disposition and low threshold to stress and without the right steps put into place can easily become reactive. That is not to say that this behavior can't be avoided or corrected, but you will have a lot more work ahead of you then if you brought home a pup that was given early exposure to as many sights, sounds, people and objects as possible. Now the key thing to remember is not all exposure is equal. What we are looking for is positive experience. Not negative or stressful.

So how do you do this? Well, if you are looking at getting a puppy from a breeder, look for a breeder that follows a puppy culture program. This provides their puppies with a wide range of exposure, experiences and enrichment activities that build positive core memories with those things. This sets the foundation for an emotionally stable and confident pup. So what do you do if you already have a shy, nervous pup who lacks confidence? First, don't stress. All is not lost. Many trainers, like myself, have a solid and proven program in place to help both dog and owner achieve success in this and many other areas. Just remember that success from one dog to another does not always look the same. The timeline and process from one dog to the next does not look the same. The key to progress is going slow, focus on the basics and don't rush the process.

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