At week 5 of life the puppies continue expanding their understanding of the world at a staggering rate. Now a new, highly impactful stage has begun. Up till now they have not been forming recallable memories, but around week 5 of life their brain is ready to start creating first memories. This is a period of more impactful experiencing, when puppies react emotionally to their environment. This stage is referred to in canine behaviorism as the first Fear Imprinting Period. It happens roughly at week 5 and it is such a nuanced shift in puppies’ reactions that unless you know what to look for, it is easy to miss. For Beanie’s boys, the fear stage has not been apparent till today, 2 days shy of 6-weeks old. It will probably be over in just a couple of days, to come back again as a much more visible fear imprinting period around week 8.
Puppies are reacting with more caution towards new things and are showing just a split second of “reserved” reaction towards people and animals. They are getting ready to start organizing their knowledge of “positive” and “negative” experiences and associate connotations with things. This is when first negative experiences, especially strong ones, can get imprinted as such and create fear of a particular object or situation. In evolutional terms it is a valuable ability to not repeat unpleasant or dangerous mistakes. This sensitive time in a puppy development carries, however, a slight risk of imprinting either excessive fear of a particular object or situation, or inhibiting the spirit of exploration and risk taking. And we would never want that for our spirited little terriers!
Teaching To Embrace “New” While Providing Emotional Stability
In practical terms for a breeder, this is a time to put an equation sign between “new” and “positive” experiences. All done with caution. The puppies continue to be exposed to new things, new people and even meet other canine family members. But now, just like in the fist days of their lives, my presence and oversight of what is going on is crucial. This is not the time to risk any traumas.
Stability, especially emotional safety, is key. Puppies already know that there are two species nurturing them.
Their loving canine mother gives them endless affection, plays with them but also allows them to explore and have fun.
Our human interactions are also fun and bond forming. I try to spend a fair amount of time actively playing with the puppies, as opposed to their passive interaction while being held or being carried. For a small breed I find it important in developing confident dogs to empower active interaction and keep it in a healthy balance with carrying and holding a puppy, avoiding to tip the scales towards the latter.
Setting The Stage
During this time management of the environment is key. It is much more productive to avoid conflict than reacting to it. Puppies have met other canine members of our family but I make sure that the adults can retreat easily out of the range of little shark teeth at all times. While outside, the adults can readily outrun the pups and find higher ground if they want to. In a confined space, like for example my kitchen, I bring a hammock style dog bed in before letting everyone interact. This way an adult dog can get away from the puppies onto the hammock bed. It is incredibly important especially at fear imprinting stage to resolve any disputes without growling or snapping. The quality of those early communications with other adult dogs will have a lasting impact on the puppies’ lives.
Similarly, peaceful weaning is essential. In a study of German Shepherd mothers, the dogs that growled at their puppies as a way to wean them had their offspring grow up statistically much more aggressive than mothers that used peaceful retreat from puppies during weaning. It is downright cruel to not give a mother dog means to retreat from her puppies when she wants to. Beanie can get away from the puppies to some higher ground at all times.
It is important to continue introducing new toys and objects but making sure puppies are having fun. Today the puppies were introduced to a crinkly tunnel for the first time. They reacted with caution but within seconds were racing up and down it. Banzo and Primo, the two reds, just adore the tunnel and do not seem to get tired of it.
So far so good with putting that equation sign between “new” and “fun”.