In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Puppy Socialization

Puppy Socialization
In response to a behavioral question about how to pick the pick of the litter and the appropriate socialization of Border Collies with people and livestock, I would like to share my experience. The dog and horse people (the Blackfeet Indians) allowed my current Border Collie, Spek, to stay with his litter until he was 15 or 16 weeks old. I must say the socialization he experienced with the litter on a ranch with cattle proved invaluable. He knows himself, and has turned out to be the best learning, most well-adjusted dog I have yet had the pleasure to partner up with.
At 6 weeks I can't perceive an adequate amount of individual puppy personality to determine future suitability (you'll have to use the black mouth rule then; pick the pup with the most black pigmentation in the oral cavity to insure you get the smartest one). On the other hand, when observing the puppy and bitch socialization through 16 weeks, the personalities of the littermates become quite clear and distinct. That is the time to pick a dog to match your demeanor, when possible, it seems, despite the pressure to choose early.
When advocating adequate socialization of puppies, I think of littermates living and learning together until 16 weeks of age, during which time the litter freely socializes with one another in an adequate environment along with select, knowledgeable dog people and children. The pups watch and eventually help the bitch work cattle and sheep at the gentle hand of their human leaders.
For happy, knowing sheepdogs, I encourage late weaning and a proper and spacious growth environment. I attribute the personality and intelligence benefits to littermate socialization and bitch teaching, along with human/bitch observation, which becomes focused by 10-12 weeks. The pups learn about people by watching their well-trained mother interact with experienced dog people. The bitch does a lot of the pup training.
In my experience, cowdog pups allowed to hang in the litter for 3 to 4 months seem to easily develop willing human partnerships. They get along not only with people, but nearly all other dogs. The most impressive aspect to me is they do not seem to need food as a motivator, and can be trained on a "willing to please" basis, which for me, is not only preferable, but delightful.
Pups weaned and separated at 6-9 weeks appear to me to be the ones that develop the more pressing behavioral issues, I assume in large part because of deprivation from their species at critical psychological developmental and learning stages. With horses we are always always attempting to look at "natural" behavior in feral settings, hoping to apply our knowledge to husbandry and training. With pups, weaning at 16 weeks seems "natural" if one wishes to extrapolate wolf behavior.
Nice thing about living in Montana is that we have both wild wolves and wild horses to observe. We do this atop our horses with our dogs at our side, the domestics watching the wildlife as we watch, and the wildlife in turn observing all of us.
Indeed, there is no dominance.
Regards, Sid


Dr Gustafson provides insight regarding the inherent nature and behavior of horses and dogs in response to people. He offers consultations and management assistance to create and sustain natural approaches to animal training, health and welfare. DrSid teaches equine behaviour for the University of Guelph. In addition to practicing veterinary and behavioral medicine, DoctorG is a novelist, social commentator, and journalist.
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