“Security and Trust are Key”

Puppies need a secure, trusting relationship with their owners. Only then are they ready to learn all the things that are important for life, says behavioral cynologist Dina Berlowitz.

The first few months of a dog’s life are fascinating – and a crucial phase in the development of the animal. If the owner does not follow certain rules, things can go wrong.

Ms. Berlowitz, what is the most important requirement for a puppy to develop well?

A young dog needs a caring guarantor. Someone he trusts and can form a secure bond with. First, it is the mother of the dog, then the breeder, later the owner.

How serious is the separation of a puppy from its mother?

This is of course a clear break. It is all the more important at this moment that the puppy can quickly develop a stable emotional bond with its new caring guarantor.

What do you have to consider?

There are often problems when puppies come to a family: Sometimes the father takes care of the young dog, sometimes the mother – and now and then the children take him for a walk. So the puppy has no main reference person, and it only slowly gains confidence in the unclear situation.

What is so bad about it?

The first 16 weeks of a dog’s life are the so-called imprinting phase. During this time, the animal has an increased willingness to learn. But if a puppy has no emotional security, no trust, it hardly learns positively. The world then seems unnecessarily frightening to him and problems can arise.

How should owners approach parenting once the puppy has this emotional security?

Step by step. The puppy must not be overwhelmed. The goal of some ambitious owners is for their dog to be able to do everything. But this drift into puppy training is not animal-friendly and has nothing to do with sincere attention to the dog.

Still, there has to be a certain level of education. Is there a particularly promising way to do this?
It is important to always offer the puppy new learning opportunities. He should independently master challenges that give him a sense of achievement. There are pitfalls here too: Crawling over a log is exciting for a puppy. If he doesn’t make it right away, it’s better to make a kind of robber’s ladder to make the task easier for him than to lift him all the way up. Caution: Food rewards suppress the body’s own reward system. The best praise is the shared joy in what has been achieved.

How important is contact with other young dogs?

It is mandatory. This is the only way he learns how to deal with other races. A shepherd with prick ears communicates differently than a Dalmatian with “Lampio ears”. For this reason, my husband Heinz Weidt and I have developed the concept of the so-called embossing play days or puppy play days.

Are there particularly important exercises?

Training your sense of balance is crucial. Because during exercises on the wobbly board or on a small bridge, a particularly large number of brain areas are activated.

What important things are difficult to teach dogs?

Dogs are social creatures. Being alone is inappropriate for them and has to be learned step by step. When separation anxiety arises, it can lead to a variety of behavioral problems.

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