Imprinting is more than an impression. It is like the difference between a fingerprint left on a hard surface that can easily be wiped away, or one left in wet clay. When the clay hardens it becomes a permanent part of the piece. At birth the brain is hardwired with certain characteristics, but is very pliable and impressionable at this time. You want to take advantage of this time of physical, neurological, emotional and social development to make your world part of your puppies normal. Remember this primary window closes around 16 weeks of age. This critical learning period and what your puppy experiences will literally affect the way their brain development, their future personalities and character traits.

By understanding the different stages of development, we can take advantage of these short windows of opportunity to provide our puppies with what they need when they need it most. How your puppies are handled and the impressions created in the first few weeks, including the environment they are raised in will greatly determine the rest of their life. http://heritageservicedogs.org/stages.html
Imprinting is described as a brief receptive period, soon after birth where an animal establishes a long-lasting behavior pattern of recognition and attraction to a specific individual. During this time of extreme physical, neurological, emotional and social development we take advantage of phase sensitive learning. Or the types of learning that occurs at particular ages or particular life stages. This rapid learning mechanism usually takes place very early in the life of an animal. The newborn animal fixes its attention on the first object that it has visual, auditory, or tactile experience with. The object is usually another animal of its own kind, a parent, or a substitute. This stimulus establishes an immediate and irreversible behavior pattern of recognition and attraction, leaving a permanent impression.

The first 24 hours - Maternal Imprinting takes place within the first 24 hours of life. I try to spend as much time as possible with the new puppies in those first few hours. We cuddle them, pet them while they are nursing, let them become familiar with our feel, voice, and smell. Emotional and social bonds are formed with members of the dog and human society at the same time.

Birth to 4 weeks - is a Critical Period of Socialization, introducing your puppy to the world you want them to live in, their social surroundings. At 3 or 4 days we start stimulation exercises. These exercises have been proven to strengthen the immune and endocrine systems. Researchers have determined that this stimulus in the first few weeks will actually increase the size of the brain. Neural connections, learning, memory and emotional responses are greatly enhances. These exercises helps dogs to handle stress, become more outgoing, and to learn more quickly. They tend to be superior when put in learning or competitive situations.

The early period of socialization lasts for about 4 weeks. That is when the puppy explores their world without fear. Smells, sights, and sounds that they are exposed to during this period become familiar and safe. As this period of socialization closes, new experiences become unfamiliar and scary. Handling the puppies during this time is critical to their development. It is best if you can introduce them to other people and animals as well. Let them go exploring, take them outside, introduce them to the cat, the vacuum cleaner, and anything else you can think of that might be a part of everyday life.

During this time your puppy's senses are developing and they begin to explore their world. Puppies are born with their eyes and ears closed. At about 2 weeks they become acutely aware of their nose. They start sniffing everything. Their ears are fully opened by about 4 weeks. Even though the puppies eyes open around 2 to 3 weeks, they will not be able to focus clearly until about 6 weeks. Baby teeth are erupting, and puppies transition to eating solid foods, and become completely weaned from their mom.  Smells, sights, tastes and sounds the puppies are exposed to during this time become familiar and safe.

Puppies need plenty of room to romp and play. Puppy's rate of mental development between 21 and 49 days depends on the complexity of their environment. We enrich their area with toys, put them onto different floor surfaces, introduce them to clippers, grooming table, and hair dryers. During this time puppies learn species specific behaviors like biting, chasing, barking, hunting, fighting and body posturing. These are all critical to their development. What seems like play is actually teaching your puppy important lessons, like how to relate to other dogs, to control the amount of pressure applied in their bite, how to read each others body language. They develop a pack hierarchy and learn to work within that structure, to accept discipline from mom and to use submissive postures to prevent a confrontation. Leaving the litter before 7 weeks of age may adversely affect the puppies ability to play well with others as they mature. Mother is weaning puppies at this time, but should be allowed to come and go as she wants.

By 7 weeks the brain is fully developed, the brain waves of the puppy are the same as a mature dog. Public socialization is best started now. Researchers have determined that the true nature, character traits and temperament of each individual puppy is most accurately determined at this point. You can tell if your puppy is confident or timid, submissive or assertive, likes to retrieve, brings it back or runs the other way. grabs the toy and runs off with it. I do my temperament testing at this point. If you test much earlier you are not getting the full picture of the nature of the puppy, if you test much later they are too busy exploring their new world, and some of these things that were obvious before may not be any longer.

7 to 12 weeks is best for family socialization and bonding. They have been imprinted to be part of a human family, have developed healthy social interaction with their canine family. Now they are ready to learn what it means to be a part of your family. Introduce them to your world. Providing ample opportunities for learning helps create a socially self confident, well behaved puppy. Toys, lots of toys, things they can play with, jump over, chew on, and chase. Give them outdoor adventures, find things to climb on and room to run.

Remember this is the age when most rapid learning occurs. This window of opportunity is closing. Although puppies can continue to learn to be comfortable with new things, after 16 weeks, it becomes more difficult. Start obedience training immediately. Keep training fun, short sessions and use positive reinforcement. http://heritageservicedogs.org/onlinetraining.html

All of this work would be a total waste of time if first we did not start with good genetics. The way mom is handled also effects the stability of the puppies. Mom gets good food, lots of love and tummy rubs.

Imprinting and Early Socialization
(birth to 7 Weeks)
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