Any of you who have been around know that I often talk about Garmin and his issues. For those of you who don't know what his issues are: He is leash reactive. He resource guards. He is extremely touch sensitive. He HATES husbandry behaviors. He's jumpy. He doesn't like when someone moves quickly passed him. He's "soft" (meaning anything that he perceives as a harsh voice--even if it isn't directed towards him). He hates the car. He alert barks at lots of things. He doesn't like it when people touch me. He hates when I change something in the house. He has generalized anxiety. Yes, he has been on Prozac since he was just over 18 months old. And yes, we have worked on all of these things (because behavior meds are NOT a fix). A lot. And he has made progress. A lot. But he isn't "fixed" nor are the quirky behaviors all gone. They are MUCH better. But I still see whispers of many of them.
I often joke about it being his breed (I mean, he is half cattle dog and half husky, for goodness sake), but I know there is more to it than that. And for some reason over the last few days I have found myself thinking about all the things that COULD have created the issues in my dog. Because since he has come to live with me at just shy of five months old, I started working on training and behavior modification. But it was very clear that he was not wired the same way as most dogs. I could see it from the beginning. He didn't have any bite inhibition (which means when he would bite, he bit HARD--we have also worked on that and his has amazing bite inhibition now), he shied away from feet, ate like he was starving, he didn't really understand toys, he was HORRIBLE to housebreak.
So, in my thinking about the WHY behind the WHAT that my dog was doing, I can't help but think it is directly correlated with how he got his start. Not with me. But before me.
Garmin was dumped at a shelter by someone who said they were a neighbor of the owner. This person said that the neighbor had left this puppy with them and never returned, so he needed to be surrendered to the shelter because the neighbor couldn't keep him. If I am doing my math right, this means he would have been just around 4 months (or 16 weeks) old. Right at the end of the recommended socialization period. I have no idea how long he had been with the neighbor, but If the owner left this puppy with a neighbor, I am guessing that the puppy likely hadn't been properly socialized. And I have a hunch that where he had been may not have treated him the best. A trainer who met him early on said that he behaved like a dog who had been kicked in the past (and this was without knowing he was afraid of feet) based on how he reacted to being touched on his body.
Then, because he was not technically an owner surrender, he had to be on a different type of hold--a hold that required them to send a letter to the address of the owner and wait at least three weeks. In those three weeks, he was not allowed out of the kennel. He couldn't interact with visitors, he didn't get to go play in the yard with other dogs. Instead, he had to sit in that kennel, listening to other dogs bark endlessly when he was four months old.
I brought him home when he was just shy of five months old. And although at FIRST he seemed to be a typical puppy (an energetic puppy because OMG I AM FREE), but it became clear early on that we had some issues that were not typical puppy behavior. In fact, he was originally going to be up for adoption through a local rescue, but I quickly realized that he was not suitable for a non dog savvy home. So I chose to keep him. (No regrets there at all. He is right where he needs to be and I love him dearly and he is a GOOD boy.)
And when he hit around 8 months, many of these behaviors escalated (not atypical as he hit adolescence and there are hormone changes and I tell clients all the time to expect some changes--but his were extreme. The reactivity popped up around this time, and when it hit, it hit HARD). Many dogs that have behavior changes in adolescence often don't have lasting effects and often with some training and work, those new behaviors slowly fade into the background. His escalated.
So, I think there are a lot of things at play that could help understand why Garmin is how he is. Do I think some of it could be genetic? Of course--he is half cattle dog, and those dogs have some strong breed traits. But, I also can't help but think he missed critical socialization before 16 weeks. That something traumatic may have happened to him during a fear period that had a lasting effect. That someone may have mistreated him (and this is NOT my saying that dogs with behavior issues have been mistreated. That is often not the case). That sitting in a shelter full of barking dogs with no means to escape for three weeks caused some serious and long lasting stress.
Garmin is VERY loved. And VERY happy. And so very smart. He loves his crate. Has a great recall. LOVES training and will work so hard to learn new things. He loves clicker training. He likes to figure things out on his own. He is a spectacular dog. And I wouldn't trade him for anything. He is part of the LLR Canine Dream Team! But I often wonder how different he would be if he had had the chance to experience those first five months differently. We will never know. But that doesn't matter. What does matter that I love the dog in front of me. Not the dog I might wish he was. (And I would never wish him to be anything but his ridiculous self).
This is a long winded post to say the following: those early weeks and months of your puppy's life are important to raising a happy, stable and "typical" dog. Am I saying it eliminate ALL potential issues? Of course not. I can't predict the future. But I can say that exposing your puppy to positive things in those first 16 weeks can help prevent them from forming. That doesn't mean your puppy has to meet everyone or go everywhere with you. All it means is that in those early weeks, it is your job to make sure that all the experiences your puppy has in those early weeks is as positive as you can make it. Yes, they will see scary things. Yes, they will get spooked. But, you will be there to help them navigate this scary world and show them that you have their backs.
If you have questions about how to safely expose your puppy to positive experiences during the age of social distancing, let me know. Happy Training and Happy Dogs. #LLRcanine