06/23/13

Predicting Adults from Puppies – in 15 Minutes!

A typical vet consult is just 15 minutes. Is this long enough for a vet to diagnose future behavioural problems in puppies? Vaccination consults seem to be an ideal time for vets to assess puppies and make recommendations for the future, but is it really enough time for a vet to reach adequate conclusions?  Pageat set out to find out.

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Rottweiler puppy on vet table having a check up.

 

256 puppies were observed during a vaccination appointment at the vet.  The puppy was first allowed to ‘free range’ around the room, and then the puppy was examined. The behaviour of puppies during this consult was noted.  The owner was also asked to answer 8 questions (on fear, sleep, and self control).

Pageat wondered if the behaviours shown by the puppies and the answers given by their owner might have a correlation between the behaviour (including problem behaviour) the puppy may have as an adult.

Telephone consults occurred 1 month after the vaccination consult, then 6 months after, and then another evaluation was done when the dog came in for its vaccination 1 year afterwards.

Pageat found that there was a correlation, and referred to 6 classifications for adult dogs: ‘normal’, deprivation syndrome, hypersensitivity-hyperactivity, disorder of sensory homeostasis, phobia, and separation anxiety.

This preliminary study showed that there was some merit to Pageat’s ideas. Below are the behaviour classifications that Pageat created and how they correlate to the behaviours and questionnaire responses seen in puppyhood.

 

Normal Dogs

Pups that were likely to have a ‘normal development’, unsurprisingly, displayed normal behaviours in the vet clinic, like:

  • sought comfort from their owner,
  • checked out the room while ocassionally checking in with the owner or vet,
  • sought vet’s contact,
  • had submissive posture when vet reached over the puppy, and
  • sometimes cried when restrained, but soon settled.
  • On the questionnaire, owners said there were no fears, no sleep problems, and no excessive biting.

So: Puppies that act normally in the vet seem to act normally as adults.

 

Deprivation Syndrome

‘Deprivation syndrome’ is the term that Pageat used, which means dogs that are under socialised and so fearful of most things, which in turn leads to fear aggression. (source)

In the vet consult, pups were more likely to grow up with deprivation syndrome if they:

  • were stationary (didn’t move around the exam room),
  • reacted fearfully when touched by the vet,
  • remained fearful even when the owner interacted with them,
  • persistantly tried to escape and bite from restraint, and.
  • if they appeared to calm when restrained, they started fighting again when the restraint was lessened.
  • The owner’s responses to the questionnaire described the puppy as ‘fearful’ towards loud noises, moving objects, and people.

That is: puppies that acted fearful during the 15 minute vet consult will probably stay fearful. They should immediately start an intensive socialisation program to try to reduce their fearful reactions.

 

Hypersensitivity-Hyperactivity Syndrome

‘Hypersensitivity-hyperactivity syndrome’ is basically a dog with lack of control, especially bite inhibition. They are often not-aggressive but nonetheless hurt their owners and others because of their lack of bite inhibition in ‘over the top’ play.

In the vet consult, pups were more likely to grow up with this syndrome if they:

  • were active, ran everywhere,
  • repeatedly interacted with ‘every thing’ they could in the exam room,
  • if this interaction included chewing and often destroying items,
  • immediately started to play during the physical exam,
  • growled and bit,
  • tried to escape restraint by biting, urinating, or defecating, and if this fighting may continue for 30 seconds or more,
  • had an owner who’s presence didn’t influence the puppy’s behaviour, and
  • had an owner who was covered in bites themselves.
  • Owners on the questionnaire indicated the puppy didn’t sleep solidly (i.e. made noise at night) and described the puppy as rough or bitey when playing.

That is: Puppies who seemed hyperactive and orally fixated would stay that way into adulthood. Puppies in this category should be put in puppy playgroups and otherwise taught to inhibit their bite.

 

Disorder of Sensory Homeostasis

This was the most confusing classification that Pageat used. Here are a couple of definitions I was able to come up with in regard to ‘sensory homeostasis’:

  • “the ability to react in a suitable manner to sensory stimulations coming from the external environment” (source)
  • “The normal state can be regarded as the normosensoperceptive [normal sensory perceptive] condition to be maintained in the physiological range by means of various cooperative and coordinated mechanisms” (source)

That is, ‘dealing with’ (behaviourally, psychologically, and physically) the environment in a normal way. So, a dog who has ‘sensory homeostasis’ could be described as ‘a dog that reacts suitably to sensory input from its environment’.

The behaviours of puppies in this group were diverse:

  • Puppies were active, running everywhere and chewing everything – or they did the opposite, staying in one place resting and not moving much.
  • Puppies either began to play when you interacted with them, or just stayed still.
  • These puppies bit when they were restrained – sometimes with urinating and defecating as well, but always did not submit.
  • The owners reported these puppies were fearful, that they didn’t sleep well or were active, and they were rough biting and playful.

As you can see, there is a lot of variety in this category, and I’m not sure what conclusions can actually be reached. This is especially true when you compare with the rather logical and conclusive results made under different headings.

 

Phobic Adult Dogs

Dogs were more likely to be fearful adults if they were puppies that:

  • sought comfort from owners in new environments,
  • if the explored, they checked in with the owner or vet as exploring,
  • adopted a submissive posture during handling,
  • cried softly during restraint, or
  • moved legs when restrained, but soon calms down and is submissive.

That is, the pups that overall seemed quite soft and ‘submissive’ and sought reassurance from people were likely to be fearful dogs in adulthood.  These puppies could also have their behaviour remedied by socialisation where they could learn to be more outgoing (as they realise the world is a not-so-scary place).

 

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is basically a fear of being alone.  Pups that exhibited the following behaviours were more likely to have separation anxiety as an adult:

  • rests as close as possible to the place it was left,
  • vet has to initate contact, and
  • pup exhibits fearful behaviours like escaping, biting, urinating, defecating or anal sac excretion, but when the owner approaches, these behaviours stops.
  • The owner answered ‘yes’ to fearful behaivours on the questionnaire.

A vet could recommend that puppies displaying these behaviours begin to engage in a separation anxiety program before issues become apparent. Undertaking anti-separation anxiety procedures are good practice, anyway, but could be applied with more emphasis in puppies like this.

 

Implications

Unfortunately, this research is almost 10 years old and hasn’t been as revolutionary as first hoped.  However, it shows there is still promise in the original suggestion:  Vets could have a role in preventing problem behaviours from developing or becoming more pronounced by making recommendations based on behaviours seen in a 15 minute consult.  Vets are a major source of information for dog owners, including new puppy owners, and almost all puppies will visit a vet for at least their first vaccination. Because of this, it’s vital that we make the most of these consults and direct puppy buyers to appropriate resources.

 

Links of Interest

Resources for New Puppy Owners

How to Stop Puppy Biting

 

 

Reference

Pageat, P 2004, ‘Evaluating the quality of behavor development in puppies: preliminary results of a new scale’, Proceedings of the 10th European Congress on Companion Animal Behavioural Medicine.

04/22/13

Clean and Kennelled: The Future of Dog Breeding

Many animal welfare groups call for legislation that defines what ‘best practice’ is for breeders.  They state that their goals are to eradicate any suffering of animals used for breeding. While I, too, am concerned about the wellbeing of animals, this concern extends to all dogs, and not only those used for breeding practices.  Because of this, I advocate for animal welfare legislation to be upheld nation-wide.  While I certainly want to discourage individuals motivated solely by profit and romantic ideals from breeding dogs, I do not want to see committed, knowledgable and ethical breeders removed from their hobby.

However, this is exactly what dog breeding legislation seems to be doing in Australia.

Puppies, on grass, with two adult dogs: Sin! According to Australian breeders legislation.

Puppies, on grass, with two adult dogs: Sin! According to Australian breeders legislation.

Nationally, here are two significant pieces of legislation regarding dog breeding, though both are only applicable to certain areas.  There is the Gold Coast’s “Breeder Code of Practice” which targets anyone with entire dogs, and, in NSW, there is the “Breeding Dogs and Cats – Code of Practice“, which targets anyone breeding animals.  These codes seem to have been developed in consultation with one another, because they are very similar in a lot of ways. Significantly, both codes have ‘standards’, which are enforceable, and ‘guidelines’, which are just recommendations on breeding animal husbandry.

 

Commercial Breeding Establishments Only

Both the Gold Coast and NSW document is written in a way that obligates people to keep their animals in kennels and concrete enclosures. They define breeding establishments as being purpose built (NSW), the floor as being ‘non-porous’ (GC), that needs to be disinfected weekly (NSW & GC), and run off into a sewage system (NSW).

I know what this is trying to do – it’s trying to stop people with a large number of dogs running in muddy and faeces-laden runs. However, this legislation targets anyone who breeds dogs (NSW) and anyone with an entire dog (GC). This means that people who keep and raise dogs and puppies in their home are effectively illegal.

For example, my puppies are raised in the dining room – an excellent place for puppies to socialise to general household ruckus. However, my dining room was not purpose built for puppy rearing, it is not disinfected weekly (though it is cleaned daily when housing puppies), and it doesn’t have a drain, let alone a drain to a sewage system. This means I wouldn’t, legally, be able to raise puppies in a home environment while in NSW or the Gold Coast. To follow legislation, my puppies would have to be raised in a purpose built enclosure outside or in a shed, something I think is hugely undesirable and indeed detrimental to the psychological development of puppies (it would produce what Ian Dunbar calls ‘Lemon Puppies‘).

Effectively, both these pieces of legislation have made-illegal the practice of raising puppies in a home environment. The alternative is raising puppies in a kennel environment, and that just doesn’t make sense considering what we know on the importance of puppy socialisation. However, considering the NSW legislation also says that puppies “must not be separated from their mother until 7 weeks”, it seems that the legislation has zero interest in producing amicable, sociable, independent, and well-rounded puppies.

 

Dogs Can No Longer Be Crated

Both schemes specify minimum sizes for animal enclosures.  The Gold Coast calls for the dog to be able to move away from its bed to urinate and defecate. This legislation pretty much means that crates cannot be used, as they are smaller than the minimum enclosure sizes specified. Considering the benefits of crate training, why would legislation be introduced to delegalise it?

The minimum enclosure sizes increase for the number of puppies, which makes sense, except it doesn’t define an age. This means they require a bitch with puppies to be housed in a minimum area of 3.5 metre square area (NSW). I often lock a bitch in a 1 metre square area with their puppies during the first week or two, because otherwise I find bitches neglectful of their puppies. It, of course, depends on the individual bitch, but with legislation such as this in force, I can’t make decisions based on these individuals. I am serious when I say that not locking Clover in with her puppies would almost undoubtly have resulted in puppy death – but this would be contravening the legislation in NSW that requires bitches to be able to escape their young. How is that in the best interest of animal welfare?

 

Co-Habitation of Animals is Foggy

Both pieces of legislation are a bit unclear, but seem to suggest that animals should be isolated from one another.  The Gold Coast Scheme asks for enclosures to be “disinfected between animals”, which implies that two animals may not share a run.  The NSW legislation requires bitches in season to be “isolated from other animals”, a truly bizarre request. I wonder if the writers of the legislation realise that bitches require an entire and fertile male dog to get pregnant, so can run with any dog that doesn’t fit that description and avoid pregnancy?

In kennel situations, having a dog companion is important to enriching the day-to-day life of that dog. Furthermore, for young puppies, having dog-dog play is important for developing bite inhibition. And, again, for the hobby breeder at home, running dogs together is a natural part of dog ownership. It doesn’t make sense that people with two or more pet dogs can run them together, but having two or more breeding animals means that this is no longer an option.

 

Elements of Mandatory Desexing

I have already discussed the implications of mandatory desexing schemes, and both these schemes stink of mandatory desexing.  The Gold Coast scheme even says “A permit condition may require the holder of the permit to desex an entire female animal which the holder of the animal has retired from breeding”. Yuck! This comes back to considering the well being of individual animals (is desexing really in their best interest?).

 

Arbitrary Limits for Animal Welfare

Both schemes have, with no real basis, decided that numbers determine bitch welfare. For example, in the Gold Coast, a bitch is clearly compromised if she has more than 4 litters, and if she is older than 6 years old.  In NSW, a bitch can’t be mated on their first cycle, regardless of their age.  Of course, I wouldn’t advocate breeding a bitch at 6 months, but many bitches don’t come in until they’re 18 months or older. What hazard does pregnancy in a bitch’s first cycle cause?  While these strange numerical scales are probably good guides in general, they are by no means indicative of animal welfare.

 

Double Standards

I find it ironic that the Gold Coast scheme says that “Euthanasia of cats and dogs is only acceptable for the relief of incurable illness, chronic pain, and suffering”, yet the RSPCA of QLD euthanises 30% of dogs and puppies that come into their care and 44% of cats and kittens (according to their 2011/2012 annual report).  Why are breeders, whose ‘job’ is to breed animals, held to a higher standard than shelters, who’s job it is to shelter and protect them?  Furthermore, the scheme calls for secure enclosures, yet the RSPCA QLD admits to having 15 dogs escape throughout the course of the year (again in the 2011/2012 annual report). Can you say “what the”?

 

Weird Inclusions

Some parts of the scheme are just plain weird. In the Gold Coast you are allowed to tether animals (known to increase aggression in dogs), but you can’t microchip them before 8 weeks of age…

In NSW, breeders need to record keep everything, have emergency procedures for evacuation documented, and have functioning fire righting equipment. All very excessive for a home, hobby breeder.

 

Puppy on grass! Legislation wants this banned!

Puppy on grass! Legislation wants this banned!

 

So what does this mean?

While animal welfare groups who push for breeder standards have good intentions, so far, no legislation has been produced that does anything other than legitimise the practice of kennelling dogs and raising puppies in kennel environments. While I would not argue that all kennel environments are ‘bad’ for dogs, they certainly fall short of socialisation that can be achieved in a home environment, and so fall short of producing the best puppies that they can.

Breeders have a responsibility to care for the wellbeing of their animals – but disinfectant, concrete floors, and isolated animals isn’t necessarily indicative of animal welfare.  Dog welfare is as much as the psychological aspects of keeping and raising good dogs: Selecting appropriate parents with good temperaments, providing enriching environments, socialisation and toilet training of puppies, and monitoring their dogs for life.

If socialisation was mandated, I would be all for it. If breeders were responsible for their animals for life, that would be awesome.

Making breeders keep their animals in kennels instead of houses is just backwards to everything we know about dog welfare.

 

Further Reading:

Can Breeders Breed Better?

The Sin of Breeding Dogs

The Fallacy of Mandatory Desexing

What is the answer (to puppy farms)?

 

 

01/20/13

Puppies 2012 – The Eighth Week

Jakkalberry, one day shy of 8 weeks old.

Jakkalberry, one day shy of 8 weeks old.

This was another stinking hot week and we, again, didn’t get out as much as we wanted to. We did, however, manage to take all six puppies to a shopping centre for the Boxing Day Sales which was excellent.  We saw so many different nationalities at these sales that  it was well worth the excursion.  It was a big day, and it was reassuring that some of the puppies were relaxed enough to sleep in this busy environment.

We also took the puppies out to another shopping strip during the week where we had to fight out way through crowds, which was also a good experience for them.

We managed to get everyone happy and relaxed in their crate to sleep through the night this week.  The only puppy that was a bit exceptional was Kelinni, who objected to being crated in the puppy area but was quiet next to our bed.  Not only did this upset the other puppies, to hear Kelinni crying, but it also made me worry that Kelinni would get into the habit of making noise in her crate. Because of this, we compromised and had Kelinni next to our bed (in a crate) at night. Her new home was happy to continue to have her sleep like this, and I suggested they move her crate out of the bedroom over time if they want her to sleep somewhere else.

Apart from Kelinni, all puppies were sleeping through the nights in their crate quietly, and by themselves. Success!

And then, just as I had got them to be pretty good little dogs, it was time for them to go!

Daisy, dreaming of her new home.

Daisy, dreaming of her new home.

Our puppies come with quite a puppy pack, and I had these all ready for them to go when their puppies were collected. They also go with a crate to sleep in in their new home, and lots of other bits and pieces, of course.

Puppy packs, ready to go!

Puppy packs, ready to go!

Alfalfa went to a home to be ‘co-parented’ by a mum and adult son team.  Man and Jakkalberry went to homes with young children, with the whole family much anticipating their arrival.  Kelinni went to a young child-less couple and will get the opportunity to dabble in showing and sports.  Daisy went to a home with young kids to join another border terrier and be involved in working on the farm, dog sports, and maybe showing as well.  Finally, Boomer went to a family of triathletes! So he gets to lead a busy life running, swimming and everything else.

At home, we’re just happy to take a breath and be puppyless for a few months before we get around to doing it all again!

01/14/13

Puppies – The Seventh Week

I put a step stool in the pen to change a lightbulb. Daisy immediately took herself upon this step, and sat, appreciating the view.

This is the week where I went, “I have only two weeks to get them sleeping in a crate at night!” and started crate training in earnest.

It was very hard with 6 puppies to do the kind of concentrated effort I normally do. When I have 2-3 puppies, it’s easy to get them into their crates with food, lock the door, and then soon after open the door again. With six, by the time I’ve fed the last one, the first one is crying to get out. Not what I aim for.

So, instead, I decided to test all the puppies with 5 minutes in a crate (on the 19th of December) to determine who would need the ‘most work’ and who was going to be easy. This was just because I had a big litter and, unfortunately, had to prioritise to get things done! Continue reading

01/7/13

Puppies – The Sixth Week

This would normally be the week where the puppies socialise heaps, but unfortunately it was very hot, and we didn’t get the puppies out anywhere near as much as we’d like to.

While up until now the puppies had been confined to a pen outside, they started to have greater access to the backyard during the last week.

On the 13th of December I took both Kelinni and Boomer out, and they each met about 20 people each.

On the 16th of December, we had a somewhat different socialisation experience.  My partner volunteers for the State Emergency Service and they were having a Christmas lunch in a park. In lieu of carrying puppies in the park for several hours, we brought a puppy pen and had the puppies on the ground – something that we never do!  However, I think the risks of parvo were minimal: We placed the puppies on a tarp, so they didn’t have direct contact with the soil, the park is in a medium-high socio economic area where most people would vaccinate their dogs, the Christmas lunch was deep in the park, and because you have pay to drive to get your car in, there’s probably less people that attend this part of the park with their dogs.

The puppy pen set up. We chose to sit back from the rest of the group in respect for non-puppy-lovers.

The socialisation opportunities were huge – and actually bigger than I expected. I actually just thought there would be a bunch of men at the Christmas function, and I really wanted more socialisation with my puppies to men. But it turns out there where heaps of kids there, too! So it was very much worth attending. Continue reading