Friday, April 4, 2008

Puppys' First Nights Home

(This blog originally posted on 6/18/2005.)

Almost everyone who gets a new puppy is advised by friends, family and the breeder about how to handle puppy's first nights. Usually the advise goes like this: place puppy's bed, toy, pee-pee pad in a safe, enclosed area, turn out the lights and leave him alone until morning.

It is expected that puppy will bark and whine and carry on, and new owners are admonished to ignore this behaviour and eventually it will go away.

Sometimes alternate advise is given - the Monks of New Skete, in their book "The Art of Raising a Puppy" write

"The best method we have found to prevent night trauma is to let your puppy sleep in your bedroom on an old sheet or blanket, tethered next to your bed. This works because the pup will want the security of being with you. ... This does two things: first, it helps the pup to adjust to you as part of his new pack. ...Second, it prevents the puppy from getting up in the middle of the night to eliminate away from his bed."

But why? For the owner to make a really educated decision about raising and training techniques, he needs more insight than the "how\'s" of techniques.

So let's look at an educational source. "Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog", by John Scott and John Fuller.
"Puppies left alone in their home pens do only a moderate amount of yelping at 3 weeks of age, and this tends to decrease as they grow older. However, a puppy left alone in a strange place yelps loudly and continuously, producing the maximum number of vocalizations when it is 6 to 7 weeks old and gradually decreasing them thereafter. By 12 weeks it makes very little noise in a strange place. This trend reflects a process of maturational change rather than becoming habituated to the situation, because a puppy given the experience for the first time at the later ages shows much the same yelping rate as those which have been isolated before."

Now we can put all the advice in perspective.

In the first advice, the admonition to 'leave the pup alone' is given because dogs (and people and cats and just about everything) do what is re-enforced. Even though the yelping is simply a part of the puppies development, if it is reinforced by attention, it becomes a learned behavior and then doesn't fade as the pup matures. So with this advise, if the pup is purchased at 6 or 7 weeks the owner is in for a few rough nights, until the surroundings are no longer unfamiliar. If the pup is purchased younger, or older, his tendency to vocalize is less and by the time he hits 6-7 weeks he is no longer in 'strange surroundings'.

The second advice is designed to avoid the yelping at any age, by keeping the pup near it's "pack", so that it is not disturbed by strange surroundings. Using this technique through the critical 6 and 7 week period, should allow for a relatively quiet transition to the permanent sleeping quarters (kitchen, living room etc) when the pup is 9 or 10 weeks of age. The drawback is if the owner doesn't get up and take puppy outside when he's restless, the owner might be in for a stinky nights' sleep, and a pup that has learned to poop in the bedroom.

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