Puppies Aren’t Blank Slates
Thinking about getting a puppy? Or are you standing with your new bundle of fur thinking “what next?” When preparing to get a puppy or living with one you already have, it’s important to understand that puppies are not blank slates. A puppy’s temperament is determined through genetics and exists from birth. Understanding this can help you pick out your ideal pup by matching his temperament to what you desire in a companion.
This is how puppies are hand-picked to become service dogs; not just any puppy can become a guide dog for the blind or perform search and rescue work. Trainers and experts pick out puppies starting as early as five weeks of age through temperament testing. This age range in puppies compares to human babies around six months old. And although that might seem young, many mothers believe they know their baby’s personality well before they reach six months old.
There are different versions of temperament tests including CARAT (Clothier Animal Response Assessment Tool) used by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind. You can make similar observations to help pick out your new best friend. These tests should be performed by professionals or with their direct guidance; temperament tests involve assessing a puppy’s response in certain situations and are designed to limit stress to the puppy.
It is important to consider what you want from a puppy before you start looking so you can find the right breed and breeder. Because temperament is determined through a puppy’s genetics you should also visit with a puppy’s parents whenever possible. Breeders should be willing and eager to show off the parents; beware of breeders that don’t allow you access to the puppies’ father and mother. Good breeders are focused on selectively breeding for good health and good temperament; this type of breeder also wants the best homes for their puppies and can help match families with their ideal puppy. Some breeders selectively breed for a specific task such as hunting, working, or sporting; unless you plan on participating in these specific tasks, puppies from these breeders usually do not make good family pets because they were bred for increased energy and drive necessary to perform a job.
Some of you would prefer to adopt your puppy from a rescue or shelter and that’s great too. Some rescues regularly take in pregnant mothers and shelters often receive unwanted and unexpected litters. You may not have as much background on the parents of these puppies but you can still observe their temperament and choose between different individuals.
Don’t panic if you already have your puppy, there is still hope. Understanding that some aspects of your puppy are derived from his temperament will help you improve your relationship. Sometimes your puppy has a temperament that conflicts with your ideal dog and you can’t force him to be something he is not. Instead- challenge yourself to accept him as he is, and your relationship will be a much stronger one. Even with their set temperament there is still some wiggle room because your pup’s overall personality is determined not only through genetics but also through his experiences.
The most important time for a new puppy parent to focus on is between 6-14 weeks of age during the crucial socialization period. This is when you have a chance to bring out the best in your puppy by creating a variety of positive experiences. Even though your puppy isn’t a blank slate there is still a lot of work that can be done to create the companion you were hoping for; as long as you focus on accepting the temperament you can’t change and improving the behavior you can.