An introduction to developmental problems in puppy hood

01 July 2013
19 mins read
Volume 4 · Issue 6


Many veterinary staff wondered why the Companion Animal Welfare Council, that conducted independent studies into the welfare, care and treatment of companion animals, concluded that the minimum standard of accredited qualification for professionals instructing a puppy class should be at level 4 to 5, i.e. equivalent to a foundation degree or early years of undergraduate level study. It is intended that this article will go some way towards explaining the complexity and variety of problems that can be faced by the young puppy and why it is essential for veterinary staff in charge of this part of a dog's emotional and behavioural development to be able to recognise problems and give appropriate advice to owners. To fail to intervene appropriately in this essential aspect of preventative behavioural medicine can lead to permanent and irreversible behavioural problems. In turn such problems may lead to abuse, relinquishment or euthanasia of the dog and to potential injury to owners. Put simply, there is more to preparing puppies for life than opportunities to play together and it is particularly inappropriate to encourage a party atmosphere of excessive emotional arousal.

It must be at least 20 years since enlightened veterinary practices began to use Scott and Fuller's (1965) research to inform their work in introducing puppies to the veterinary environment and the world at large. These puppy classes became increasingly popular, becoming known as ‘puppy parties’ due to the opportunities for puppies to play together, and the upbeat title seemed to encourage owners to engage with the concept of attending the gatherings. Despite the gradual spread of practice puppy classes, behaviour counsellors continue to encounter clients with dogs for whom a lack of appropriate early exposure to the world forms a predisposing factor in the development of their presenting behaviour problem. More worrying is the increasing number of dogs presenting with such a predisposing factor, who have attended puppy classes (Seksel, 2012a) and despite the current popularity of veterinary run puppy classes, behaviour problems remain the most common reason for canine euthanasia reducing the average age of dogs to 3.5 years (Seksel, 2012b). If puppy classes are being run with the specific aim of improving canine welfare, something must be going wrong! This article examines some of the influences that create behavioural and emotional problems for the young dog and their families, yet may be accidentally overlooked in veterinary led puppy classes. It is not intended as a guide to what should be done within puppy classes, but it is hoped that it will encourage veterinary staff to think more laterally when encountering puppies who seem to fail to fit into the concept of what is normal behavioural development.

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting The Veterinary Nurse and reading some of our peer-reviewed content for veterinary professionals. To continue reading this article, please register today.