Rescuing animals, especially when they are several months old or older, means that you will never know how they were treated in their early formative weeks. Because of her fearful behavior, I thought that Louise might have been abused as a puppy. She came into our lives when she was 4 or 5 months old. Louise was fearful and shy from the moment we met her. Her foster said that she had a collar embedded in her neck and she was covered with Demodex (red mange). The rescue had liberated Louise and her sister, Thelma, from some guys in a pickup truck in the parking lot of a kill shelter down in South Carolina. Based on this story, I assumed she was neglected, if not worse, in her early months. Recently, I am rethinking that idea. I have been reading about the critical socialization time for puppies that occurs between 6 and 10 weeks. This is called the ‘sensitive period.” Before 6 weeks, puppies see everything in their world as good. This is the time that they associate smells and other things potentially as good stuff for the rest of their lives. Then around 5 or 6 weeks FEAR sets in.
In an article on early socialization, Dr. Sophia Yin, DMV, said that puppy’s need to be socialized as early as possible but definitely “before five weeks of age because by five weeks the puppy is showing fear responses to people, objects and other unfamiliarity around them.” She stresses that if socialization doesn’t start before 14 weeks of age “many puppies will be doomed to a life of fear” unless they go through a regimen of intense socialization. I wish I know this when I first rescued Louise because Dr. Yin’s message is clear, that socialization in the sensitive period “can be the difference between having a happy, well-adjusted dog to one who is fearful of people, objects, other animals, and various environments that we humans perceive as safe.”
You can read more regarding one of the most important studies done around early socialization in different breeds detailed in the book ‘Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog’ by John Paul Scott and John Fuller, published in 1965 (Scott and Fuller, 1965).
Instead of early abuse, maybe Louise was not socialized during her most sensitive development stage and that is why she developed her life-long fears. Louise is leash aggressive and afraid of strangers, both human an canine. Though I have worked with her to manage her behavior in stressful situations, it would really help if I understood the root causes.
When you rescue, it is rare to know what happened during that critical puppy time. Maybe when she was still little there were additional things I could have done to change that fear imprint. Over the years, I have done much to quiet her fears and provide a safe and supportive environment in which she has flourished. She is a very happy dog at home but fearful, especially on a leash, and needs special attention. Are there ways to undo the emotional damage in dogs?
To be continued…..