Breathtaking First 12 Months of a [Better] Bulldog Puppy
Congratulations on selecting a Bulldog to join your family! Even before your puppy is born, hundreds of outside factors influence her future health and happiness.
In this post, we follow a litter’s physical and mental development from birth through the first 8 weeks. You learn how the mother dog’s health care, nutrition, and temperament affect her puppies, and you discover the crucial role the breeder plays before, during, and after the puppies are born. We also look at how the breeder starts socializing the puppies before they go to their new homes.
A Bulldog pup is totally dependent on her mother during the first 2 weeks of her life, when she’s unaware of anything in her world except food and the warmth of her mom and littermates. But by the time she’s 8 weeks old, she’ll have gone through several important developmental stages and be independent enough to leave the litter and come home with you.
In general, Bulldog puppies weigh less than 1 pound at birth. Their weight can vary, however, depending on how many puppies are in the litter, with bigger litters producing smaller puppies. Weight can differ among puppies in a litter as well.
The average litter size is 3 or 4 puppies. Bulldog puppies are often delivered via a Caesarian section (abdominal incision) at the vet’s office because their large heads sometimes get stuck in the birth canal.
At birth, puppies have an incomplete nervous system and don’t move on their own, so it’s up to Mom to get them started. She licks them to make them breathe, stimulate blood circulation, and prompt them to eliminate.
The breeder supervises the birthing process and removes the amniotic sac if Mom is busy with other puppies. She also cleans and ties off the stump where the umbilical cord was attached. She then puts an ID collar of sorts on each pup, usually rickrack or ribbon. Each collar is a different color so the breeder can keep track of each puppy and his or her development.
Bulldog breeders often separate the mother from her puppies at birth and for the first 2 weeks, only letting her in the whelping box with them at feeding time. This is because bulldogs are heavy, stocky dogs, and sometimes they inadvertently crush or suffocate the pups. The breeder takes extra steps to keep the puppies warm when their mother is away from them. If the mother stays with her puppies, they must be supervised on a 24-hour basis.
For at least the first 2 weeks, the whelping box is kept in a quiet, private place. When Mom is with them, she doesn’t want other dogs around and won’t welcome canine intruders. Too much commotion is stressful for her and her puppies, and she’ll burn precious calories fussing and protecting her babies. After the puppies’ eyes open, the breeder often moves the whelping box to a more stimulating environment so the pups can begin getting used to household sights and sounds.
The whelping box is a large nesting area where the mother gives birth to her puppies. It often has a ledge around the sides so Mom won’t accidentally crush a puppy against the wall.
The period between birth and 2 weeks is called the neonatal period. Puppies sleep 90 percent of this time and eat the other 10 percent. They’re born with a sucking/rooting reflex so they can nurse—this is more pronounced when they’re 24 to 48 hours old. By 4 days old, this reflex disappears, and the puppies can nurse on their own.
At birth, Bulldog puppies have an underdeveloped, primitive sense of touch, smell, and orientation to objects. They can’t see, hear, or move away from stimuli yet, so if something hurts, they’ll squeal and wiggle in distress. By as soon as 2 days old, the puppies are able to move on their own toward Mom and compete for a place to nurse. To help them get around, the breeder usually places a surface such as fleece in the whelping box so the pups can dig in their feet.
A newborn’s eyes and ears are closed. Her eyes might blink as a reflex, but she can’t see yet because her retina isn’t fully developed. She sleeps with her head tucked to her chest.
During their first week, the puppies whimper and move a lot in their sleep—kicking and jerking as they start to exercise their muscles. By 6 to 10 days of age, their sleep is quieter and their waking time is more active.
At 8 to 10 days, the puppies should be double their birth weight. By 7 or 8 days, a Bulldog’s front legs can support her weight. Within another day or two, her rear limbs are able to support her pelvis, and she’ll start to stand. By 10 to 12 days old, she’ll be walking.
Her eyes and ears open at about the same time as she begins walking. At 10 to 14 days, her eyelids open. She can’t see anything but shadows at this point, and blinking is still a reflex rather than a voluntary reaction. At the same time, her ear canals open, she starts to hear, and she’ll startle at noise.
Weeks 2 and 3
Days 14 to 21 mark what’s called the transitional period. During this time, the puppies’ senses and motor skills are still poorly developed, but the pups are able to explore more of their surroundings. A sure sign of good neurological development at this time is, when she’s set down, the puppy will extend her back legs in anticipation of reaching the ground.
During this time, the mother Bulldog is now producing peak amounts of milk. The pups are growing fast in these last days prior to weaning, and their suckling is strong and well developed. The puppies weigh approximately 3 or 4 pounds and gain about 1 pound during this week.
Weaning is the process of gradually changing a puppy’s diet from mother’s milk to solid food.
Mom continues to clean up after her puppies until they’re 3 or 4 weeks old and then the breeder takes over. By keeping their potty area clean, the breeder starts the housetraining process. At about 18 days, the pups move to a corner of the whelping box to relieve themselves. By 21 days, they have established a group elimination area. The breeder then enlarges their living area to take advantage of the fact that the puppies do not want to sleep and play in their own waste. She might add a wire pen so the pups can leave the whelping box to play, but they’re still too young to have the run of a large room.
Around 19 to 21 days, a pup responds to light by moving her head away or blinking. Her hearing also continues to develop, and she’ll startle to loud noises. Her sight improves as well, and she becomes more mobile.
When the puppies are 3 weeks old, the socialization period begins and continues until approximately 12 weeks of age. During this time, positive and negative experiences will affect a puppy’s behavior for the rest of her life. To give her the best start possible, the breeder introduces a variety of household sights and sounds like the television, dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, and radio. She also handles each puppy more so they’re used to human contact.
The puppies start interacting with each other, too, and they experience a dramatic increase in motor development as they start to chew and explore their surroundings.
Weeks 4 to 6
A Bulldog grows dramatically during this period, and the puppy’s central nervous system continues to mature. By 6 weeks, she’s found her legs and is making good use of them.
The pups can now orient to sounds and sights around them. The optic nerves mature by 28 days, so the puppies can see more than just shadows, and shapes begin to have meaning. By 30 days, they start to recognize familiar sounds. Their ears are fully open at 35 days (5 weeks), the pups are more used to sounds, and they no longer startle to noise as they did when their ears first opened.
At 3½ to 4 weeks, the puppies’ teeth start to come in, and they’re able to chew semisolid food for first time. Mom starts to wean her litter around this time, and the breeder introduces puppy food, often feeding the puppies outside. The pups naturally wander away from the eating area after the meal to relieve themselves, which helps them learn a routine of eating, eliminating outside, and coming back inside after. At this time, many litters are well on their way to being housetrained before they go to their new homes.
By 4 weeks, puppies need to start eliminating on different surfaces. If a puppy is encouraged to potty on grass, dirt, concrete, and gravel now, she’ll be willing to go on various surfaces throughout her life (for example, if she is boarded in a concrete kennel run). Both males and females now squat when they relieve themselves.
A host of new behaviors start when a Bulldog puppy discovers she has teeth. She now has the tools she’ll use to explore her world, and everything that fits in her mouth is fair game. She’ll chew dog beds, towels, chair legs, anything that moves, … and anything that doesn’t. She’ll carry things around, and she’ll tug on your pants leg.
Her interactions with her littermates change dramatically during this time, too. She and her siblings will follow each other around play-fighting, guarding their toys, and growling. She’ll compete for food and guard it from the others, and she’ll shake her head while holding a toy. She’ll start to understand how her jaw pressure affects others, learning the critical skill of bite inhibition. Play-biting leads to discipline from her littermates as well as from her mother, but it teaches her to communicate without injuring, too. The mother Bulldog also disciplines her puppies if they bite her too hard while nursing, which speeds up the weaning process.
At this age, individual puppies can be taken away from their mom and littermates for short breaks so they get used to being separated. This helps a puppy feel less frightened when she leaves her family to go to her new home.
Bulldogs puppies are born with drop ears, meaning they fold over and hang in a V shape. The correct ear on an adult Bulldog folds inward at the back lower edge with the front edge curling over, outward, and backward, so a portion of the inside of the ear shows. To get the properly shaped “rose ear,” at the time the puppies are between 5 and 7 weeks old, the breeder will glue each pup’s ears into position, using surgical glue or eyelash adhesive. This can be tricky, and the ear can’t be too tight or pulled in any way. This is often a one-time procedure, and the pup’s ears stand up correctly from then on, but sometimes the ears drop back into a V position during teething and have to be reglued. When you get your puppy, ask if the ears were glued.
Weeks 6 to 8
By this time, a litter of Bulldogs is a lot of fun. They start to gang up on each other, wrestle, sniff each other’s faces and butts, and learn to recognize each other. Puppies begin actively hunting and playing—pouncing on bugs and butterflies—and they also begin play-mounting each other.
At 6 weeks, a Bulldog puppy weighs 8 to 10 pounds, with males being heavier.
The puppy’s vision is not yet completely developed, but as the retina matures, she can follow objects with her eyes and respond to light. She can recognize shapes, so around this time, the breeder begins exposing her to other animals like cats, rabbits, and birds. At this point, it’s enough for the pup to get acquainted with the sight, sounds, and smells of another animal. Too much interaction isn’t safe for either species.
It’s also an excellent time to introduce people of various sizes and shapes—a hat or umbrella dramatically changes what the puppy sees, even on the same person she just met. Research has shown that a puppy who has met a large variety of people, places, and things when very young accepts new and unusual things much more easily throughout her life. Again, the breeder introduces new things slowly and from a distance to avoid scaring the pups during this critical period.
By 8 weeks, a puppy is mature enough to learn and remember new things, and this is an excellent time to start training, especially housetraining. She’s also getting a bit hefty to carry around, but until she’s had all her inoculations, the breeder carries her whenever she leaves home. You should continue this practice when she arrives at your home. When she’s inside, she should happily follow her new friends, but until she is able to walk nicely on a leash, an adult should carry the pup when you go out. Bulldog puppies are too heavy for small children to carry, so don’t let kids drag the puppy around by her armpits or collar.
TIPS AND TAILS
Here’s an easy way to carry your Bulldog puppy: with her facing sideways, scoop under her front legs from the side with one arm and over her rear with the other. Steady her hind end as you lift by holding up her legs while you elevate the front of her body slightly. Tuck her against your body so she feels secure and isn’t likely to wiggle free.
A diligent breeder does her best to produce healthy Bulldogs. Even before the mother is bred, the breeder takes steps to prevent health problems in future puppies. When the puppies arrive, she monitors both the mother and the litter to ensure they all thrive and remain healthy.
Parental Health Clearances
Careful pretesting for inheritable defects helps ensure your puppy lives a long and healthy life. In some cases, an affected dog never shows symptoms but is still a carrier of the genes that can pass along the defect. If two carriers are bred to each other, a percentage of the puppies will develop the disorder.
The breeder should have a veterinarian who is familiar with Bulldogs conduct the following tests before the dogs are bred, and the results should be registered with the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), a canine health database sponsored by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA):
Patellar luxation: A Bulldog’s patella (rear kneecap) can move out of place and rub against the femur, a process called luxation. This gradually wears down the cartilage and results in bone grinding against bone, causing arthritis and difficulty moving as the dog ages. A breeder has a Bulldog’s veterinarian test her dog when she’s 12 months to see if she’s affected or free of the condition.
Congenital cardiac diseases: These are malformations of the heart or vessels, the most common of which are subaortic stenosis (SAS) and cardiomyopathy. Some Bulldogs can be diagnosed with symptoms (such as a heart murmur) as young as 6 to 8 weeks old. The conditions can be identified by an echocardiogram, and affected dogs should not be bred.
Tracheal hypoplasia: A narrow or underdeveloped windpipe causes breathing problems in Bulldogs. An x-ray is taken when a potential breeding Bulldog has reached at least 12 months of age, and OFA maintains a database of test results. Hypoplastic dogs should not be bred.
Additional testing, recommended by OFA but not required, includes the following:
Thyroid: Autoimmune thyroiditis, also referred to as hypothyroidism, means the dog is not producing enough thyroid hormone. A blood test confirms the diagnosis.
Hip dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a crippling disease that affects many breeds. Most Bulldogs are considered naturally dysplastic because their hips are structurally different (with a shallower hip socket) from other breeds. Although many breeders have their dogs’ hips x-rayed to rule out severe abnormalities, they don’t submit the films to OFA. Most Bulldogs never show any symptoms of hip dysplasia throughout their lives. If they do, symptoms often don’t appear until a dog is older, when arthritis begins to affect movement.
Elbow dysplasia: Elbow dysplasia affects some Bulldogs and can be identified through x-rays when a dog reaches 2 years old. Dogs with no elbow dysplasia are listed as normal. OFA only grades affected dogs, designating grades I through III, to explain the level of degenerative joint disease associated with elbow dysplasia.
Eye examination (after the age of 24 months): An eye exam by an ophthalmologist screens dogs for inherited eye defects. Entropion, ectropion, and distichiasis are eyelash defects that can irritate a dog’s eyes. Cherry eye is caused by a swollen gland under the third eyelid. All can be inherited.
Congenital deafness: Dogs who have white pigmentation or piebald (white with color patches) markings may be born deaf in one or both ears. Although not extremely common in Bulldogs, dogs who are deaf or have produced puppies with a hearing deficit should not be bred.
Hyperuricosuria (HUU): This is an inherited urinary disease that causes bladder stones in Bulldogs. A DNA test identifies carriers or affected dogs.
TIPS AND TAILS
Some Bulldogs don’t show symptoms of a genetically inherited problem until they’re adults, while others show symptoms when they’re still very young. In Month 11, we go into further detail about these conditions and their effects on an adult dog’s long-term health.
The Mother Dog’s Care
Well before the puppies are born, the mother dog needs extra food and care. Because her health directly affects that of her brood, she needs to be in optimum physical condition when her litter is born.
Mom needs to plenty to eat at this time to provide nutrition for her puppies and because producing milk uses a tremendous amount of her energy. The breeder feeds her every 4 or 5 hours so she can produce enough milk for her litter. The breeder also takes the mother out for a short walk several times a day so she can relieve herself and have a break.
The mother gets most of the breeder’s attention during the first few days. A vet examines the bitch within 24 hours after whelping to be sure there are no retained placentas or unborn puppies. She also examines her milk to be sure it looks healthy and is safe for the pups.
A female dog is called a bitch, and the mother of the litter is referred to as the dam. A male is called a dog, and the father of the litter is the sire.
The breeder cleans the bitch’s nipples and mammary glands after each nursing session. This keeps bacteria from causing her pups to get sick and also protects Mom from mastitis (an infection of the mammary glands) and other problems.
The breeder takes Mom’s temperature daily to be sure she isn’t developing any delivery-related complications. One problem that can arise is pyometra, a uterine infection. If she has a small litter, Mom can have too much milk, which is very painful and can cause mastitis. The breeder also watches for signs of metritis, a bacterial uterine infection that can develop immediately after giving birth. Eclampsia, another postwhelping ailment, is caused by a calcium deficiency.
An unhealthy mother can pass an infection to her litter, yet the veterinarian can’t give the mother most antibiotics for fear of her passing a toxic dose to her puppies through her milk. If an antibiotic is necessary, the puppies have to be removed from their mother and hand-fed.
TIPS AND TAILS
When you visit the litter to see your puppy, the mother might not appear as pretty as you expected. After her puppies are weaned, the mother dog blows coat, and for several weeks, she sheds so much of both her undercoat and outer coat that patches of skin might show. Even if she was in excellent shape when the pups were born, she’s undergone extreme physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy, delivery, and nursing. As she finishes nursing, her coat returns to normal, her mammary glands shrink back to normal size, her hormones stabilize, and her body gradually returns to its original condition.
Individual breeders might handle some of the details differently, but the breeder plays a significant role in the care of the mother Bulldog and her litter. If the dog is scheduled for a C-section, the breeder is sure to get her to the vet on the best day for delivery.
If the puppies are whelped at home, the breeder’s first priority during whelping is to assist with delivery. She cleans and stimulates each puppy if Mom is busy with the others, and she ensures all the pups start nursing. After whelping, the breeder cleans the whelping box and continues to clean it daily while the pups grow. If bacteria and waste are allowed to accumulate, the health of the puppies, and the mother, is jeopardized.
The mother goes through tremendous emotional and physical stress during the early weeks, and even the nicest female can get a little testy. To avoid upsetting her, the breeder keeps visitors and commotion to a minimum. Overhandling the puppies also upsets the dam, and an upset mother could kill or injure her brood.
The breeder also observes the mother and her litter, watching to be sure Mom bonds with her puppies, is caring for them, and doesn’t accidentally crush one under her weight when she’s allowed back in the whelping box. She checks everyone—Mom as well as puppies—to ensure they have bright, clear eyes; they don’t have runny noses; and they don’t show any other signs of disease.
The breeder weighs each puppy daily so she can verify they’re all gaining weight and getting enough food. They should double their weight in the first week; if they don’t, the breeder must figure out whether the mother doesn’t have enough milk, she has an infection, or something else is going on. Many breeders bottle-feed their puppies until they are ready for solid food to be sure they get enough nutrition.
One of the biggest health risks for newborns is exposure to parvovirus. The virus lasts in the environment for a year or more, and a person or an animal can pick it up on their feet simply by walking in the grass. To protect the litter, the breeder takes precautions when anyone enters the house. Family and guests are asked to take off their shoes before coming indoors, and visitors are asked to wear clean clothes and wash their hands when they arrive. These measures are continued until the pups have all left for their new homes.
When Puppy Problems Occur
If a puppy is fussy, she’s usually cold, hungry, or in pain. The breeder needs to figure out what might be the problem quickly because it could be a life-threatening situation.
Too cold: Newborn puppies have very little fat, and their blood vessels aren’t developed enough to retain heat on their own. Therefore, keeping the litter warm is the breeder’s highest priority during the first weeks, especially because the mother is removed from the whelping box until the pups get bigger. Nestling with their littermates keeps the pups warm, and the breeder often provides a heat lamp for additional warmth. If the pups get too cold, their metabolisms slow. If this goes on too long, the pups become weak and can’t nurse or digest food. By 2 weeks old, the puppies can better regulate their temperature and don’t have to sleep in a pile to keep warm.
Navel infection: The mother severs the umbilical cord with her teeth, but if she cuts too close, the pup’s navel area can get infected. To prevent this, the breeder cleans and disinfects each pup’s navel and applies an antibiotic ointment.
Fading puppy syndrome: A seemingly healthy puppy may fail to gain weight and gradually fade, acting listless and losing interest in nursing. If the breeder can identify the problem, she can take steps to save the puppy. Some causes are cold temperatures, not getting enough milk, or birth defects. If the mother was in poor health when the pups were born, she may not be able to produce enough healthy milk, which often contributes to this problem.
Swimmer puppy: A puppy who doesn’t stand up by 10 days old and start walking soon after is called a swimmer. Her legs will splay out sideways, and she’ll use a pedaling motion to propel herself around on her tummy. The condition is more likely to affect large or overweight puppies and may be caused by delayed development or muscle weakness. If allowed to continue, the puppy’s rib cage flattens out and the condition becomes permanent. The breeder must step in and get the puppy up on her feet several times a day, putting her on carpet or another rough surface to give her some traction. With help, most puppies make a complete recovery.
Hernia: A small bump in the navel or groin area indicates a hernia. A veterinarian will identify the cause and decide whether it needs attention. Many hernias close on their own in a few weeks or months. If not, they can be repaired when the dog is spayed or neutered.
Before she gives birth and while nursing, the mother dog needs extra food and water to produce adequate milk. As her pups grow, she needs still more calories and fat—up to three times her usual amount by the third week—to provide for them. Some breeders feed the mothers high-performance or puppy food for extra nutrition. If the mother’s diet is still inadequate, her coat will look poor and she’ll lose weight. She also might get uncontrollable diarrhea and become dehydrated.
The mother needs a constant supply of fresh water, too. The moisture supplied in her milk is just as important to her puppies as its nutritional content. Both the mother and her pups can get dehydrated quickly; if she doesn’t get enough water, she can’t produce enough milk. Young puppies process a lot of water through their systems because they need to maintain blood volume and stay hydrated.
By the fourth week, the puppies are ready to wean. At this time, the mother gradually reduces her food intake, and her milk starts to dry up.
The mother’s milk, especially during the first 24 hours after birth, is critical to protecting her puppies from disease. When they’re born, the puppies’ immune systems are not yet fully developed. If the mother has been vaccinated regularly, her first milk, called colostrum, contains antibodies that provide her puppies passive immunity from diseases like parvovirus and distemper.
Breeders sometimes have their females tested to determine the amount of antibodies in her system before she’s bred. The more she has, the more she can pass on to her pups. A healthy mother with a strong immune system can give her pups enough antibodies during those first 18 hours to protect them until they can develop their own. Puppies are only able to absorb maternal antibodies during the first 12 to 18 hours of life, so it’s essential that they nurse as soon as possible after birth. After that, the mother’s milk cannot provide any further protection.
Antibodies are large proteins the immune system uses to fight disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Through passive immunity, the mother shares protective antibodies with her puppies via her milk, which protects them from disease even though they haven’t been vaccinated.
The mother’s milk changes as the puppies grow. It supplies all their nutritional needs until they’re 4 weeks old, and its energy content increases steadily as the puppies become more active. The fat level in the milk also increases dramatically and then gradually decreases by weaning time. Calcium content increases as well until the puppies are 4 weeks old.
Supplements like vitamins and minerals aren’t necessary if the mother is fed a complete food. In fact, excess vitamins and minerals can throw off the balance and cause toxicity. The veterinarian helps the breeder decide what, if any, supplements are needed for the mother. Some breeders feed their dogs yogurt or cottage cheese to boost her calcium levels when she’s nursing.
If Mom’s not producing enough milk, the pups must be supplemented with a homemade or commercially made milk replacer. The breeder feeds this to the puppies every 3 hours with an eyedropper or feeding tube or uses a baby bottle if they’re older than 2 weeks old.
Weaning starts naturally, initiated by the mother when the puppies are 3½ to 4 weeks old. If the mother doesn’t have enough milk, weaning can start earlier. When the puppies’ teeth start coming in, they hurt the mother when they nurse, so she doesn’t let the pups nurse as often. She’ll spend less time in the nest, stand while they nurse, and leave when she’s tired.
Weaning takes 1½ to 2 weeks. The process starts gradually, and the puppies continue to nurse during the transition. For the first week, they get one meal a day made of puppy food and water, blended until it’s almost liquid. The breeder may have them lick the food off the end of her finger to help them understand what to do. The puppies make a terrific mess, lapping it up and stepping in their food. A few days later, the breeder increases to two meals a day. By 5½ weeks, the pups are fully weaned, although some moms let the pups nurse occasionally until they leave for their new homes.
By 6 weeks, the puppy teeth have fully erupted, and the litter is able to chew dry food for first time. Their food no longer needs to be soft and wet.
Even the tiniest puppies need some grooming to keep them clean and healthy. Their mother starts the process, and the breeder helps out when the puppies are a few weeks old.
Mom grooms the litter during the first weeks. Besides keeping them clean, her licking stimulates them so they’ll eliminate. (By the time the pups are 4 weeks old, they can eliminate on their own.) Mom also keeps the whelping box clean when she’s in with them.
During weaning (4 to 6 weeks), the breeder cleans the puppies’ faces with a wet rag as they finish each meal because the watery gruel tends to get everywhere and can cause puppy acne. Acne in puppies is a surface skin infection, which, if not treated, can spread to the mother when the pup nurses. Baby Bulldogs don’t have deep wrinkles on their faces yet, but the breeder is still careful to keep the developing folds clean and dry.
Sharp puppy toenails hurt Mom, and scratches can cause her teats to get infected. To avoid this, the breeder starts clipping the puppies’ toenails at 4 or 5 weeks. She only needs to trim the front toenails to protect the mother. The rear nails give the puppies traction for walking.
Fortunately, thanks to the breeder starting the process early, by the time your puppy comes to you, she’s already used to having her nails clipped.
It’s never too early to start a Bulldog puppy’s social education. These early experiences prepare your puppy for the many new people and things she’ll encounter when she leaves the comfort of the whelping box.
Socialization Starts at 3 Weeks
At about 3 weeks, when a pup’s eyes and ears are open and she’s able to stand and walk, she’s a sponge ready to soak up anything and everything she can in her exciting new world. Her experiences—both positive and negative—for the next 9 or 10 weeks will permanently shape her social and psychological development. Breeders and new owners take advantage of this limited window of opportunity to introduce their puppies to hundreds of people, places, and things—a process called socialization.
Socialization will be well under way by the time you bring home your puppy, but continue to invest time during these pivotal weeks of your Bulldog’s development, and you’ll reap the rewards for the rest of your dog’s life. Well-socialized puppies grow up to be dogs who learn faster, can adapt to new situations with less stress, are confident, and are less likely to develop behavior problems.
Researchers have tried to measure how much of a puppy’s personality depends on inherited traits and how much is due to her environment. Her environment refers to her early socialization and training—things you can control to a great extent. The conclusion? About 35 percent of a pup’s personality traits, such as shyness, dominance, and other factors, are inherited. This leaves 65 percent of her adult personality to be shaped by her environment—including you, the breeder, and her experiences.
Inadequate socialization during this period results in an adult dog who is fearful, is possibly aggressive, and avoids contact with people and other animals. An unsocialized dog will likely be turned out in the backyard to live alone, where she will become increasingly wild and poorly behaved. It’s a sad scenario that happens all too often but can so easily be prevented.
Puppies Discover Their World
Before 8 weeks of age, a Bulldog puppy has no fear and approaches anything and anyone. Next month, she’ll be less confident and feel much more vulnerable and hesitant. But for now, mildly frightening experiences are unlikely to permanently affect her personality.
Pat Schaap, an expert dog trainer, developed “The Rule of Sevens” for socializing a puppy. With her permission, we offer them here:
By the time a puppy is 7 weeks old, he/she should have …
Been on 7 different types of surfaces: carpet, concrete, wood, vinyl, gravel, dirt, wood chips, etc.
Played with 7 different types of objects: big balls, small balls, soft fabric toys, fuzzy toys, squeaky toys, paper or cardboard items, metal items, sticks, hose pieces, etc.
Been in 7 different locations: front yard, back yard, basement, kitchen, car, garage, laundry room, bathroom, crate, etc.
Met and played with 7 new people: children and older adults, someone walking with a cane or stick, someone in a wheelchair or walker, etc.
Been exposed to 7 challenges: climb on a box, climb off a box, go through a tunnel, climb steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, go in and out of a doorway, run around a fence, etc.
Eaten from 7 different containers: metal, plastic, cardboard, glass, china, pie plate, frying pan, etc.
Eaten in 7 different locations: crate, yard, kitchen, basement, laundry room, living room, bathroom, etc.
It’s essential that you and the breeder repeat and build upon these early experiences constantly throughout the socialization period and throughout your Bulldog’s life.
The socialization period from 3 to 12 weeks of age is the most critical period in a puppy’s life. What your puppy learns during this time largely determines if she is outgoing, happy, and confident or shy, aggressive, and wild when she’s an adult. Although later training and socialization might improve her behavior, it can’t completely erase the effects of this early learning period.
By the time the puppies are 7 weeks old, you may have met the litter several times and are wondering how to choose which pup is right for you. Many breeders use puppy testing to help evaluate a litter. The breeder knows the pups well, and testing is a structured way she can evaluate the differences among puppies. It’s not a pass-fail test; she simply observes the puppies’ reactions to different situations while getting an idea of how each pup will react as he or she grows. Puppy testing is usually done at 7 or 8 weeks, before the pups leave for their new homes, before they’ve been influenced by training, and before the first fear period.
Many scientists and behaviorists have developed a variety of different puppy tests over the past several decades. Clarice Rutherford, a scientist and long-time dog owner, and Dr. David Neal, a veterinarian, first published a puppy test in 1981. As far back as the 1950s, scientists Scott and Fuller were evaluating how the early weeks of a puppy’s life affect her lifelong personality.
You could ask the breeder if she does puppy testing and if so, if you could watch a session. She knows her bloodlines, has tested other litters, and can compare them to how previous puppies matured. One test doesn’t deliver an ironclad verdict on a puppy’s temperament; the troublemaker might be tired today and the shy one could have just woken up from a nap. The breeder knows this.
The tester looks at three major areas of interest:
How the pup interacts with the tester
If the pup seems willing to please
How quickly she forgives when the tester does something she doesn’t like
By looking at the total picture of her responses, an experienced tester can come to some conclusions about the pup’s personality at this point in her life. But don’t expect a one-word description of a pup. She’s not always pushy, submissive, or frightened.
The tester puts each puppy through a series of short manipulations. To test her willingness to be handled, she restrains the pup or holds her up off the ground. Other tests check the pup’s social attraction to people. The breeder asks her to come from a few feet away and then follow. Sensitivity tests explore how the pup reacts to loud noises, moving objects, and petting.
After observing the test, talk to the breeder about the puppy’s overall reactions. Is she over the top, jumping on the tester, always active and hyper? Does she resist handling? Is she enthusiastic, outgoing, and eager to please? Is she quiet and thoughtful but willing to participate? Is she shy and fearful? Is she independent and aloof?
What do each of these personality traits mean for you? The breeder will help you look at each puppy’s behavior to aid you in selecting the puppy who will best fit with your expectations, experience, and lifestyle.
A puppy’s mother and littermates begin teaching her how to successfully interact with others in her world. What she learns in the first 8 weeks of her life establishes a foundation you can build on when she comes to live with you.
Mom Is the First Teacher
A well-behaved, calm mother raises well-behaved, calm puppies. If she is fearful, stressed, or aggressive, she teaches her puppies to be the same way. She may be somewhat agitated and protective when her puppies are first born, but her instincts soon settle down and her temperament returns to normal.
As soon as weaning starts, Mom starts to wean them from her constant attention, too. She spends less time with them, and they no longer depend solely on her for food. When out in the yard, she watches over them as they start to explore, and they discover they don’t need her nearby every second.
She gently but firmly disciplines them when they jump on her or bite her ears—this is their first lesson in dog manners from Mom as she teaches them the doggie version of “No.” Her growl and bark when she “yells” at her puppies sound ferocious but they’re all for show. Often another “auntie” dog goes along with the pups, and they learn that another dog besides Mom will also discipline them if they get out of line.
A puppy learns to appease Mom if she senses Mother is getting annoyed. The pup crouches in submission, and she may even release a little urine. The scent reminds her mother, “See, I’m just a baby. I’m sorry.” This skill comes in handy as the puppy grows and tries her antics on older or unknown dogs.
Learning from Littermates
As they play with their littermates, puppies practice the skills they’ll use as adults. They learn to hunt, pounce, chase, and get along peacefully with each other as puppies, and the siblings teach one another how rough they can play and how hard they’re allowed to bite. Bite inhibition is one of the most critical skills a puppy needs to learn, and she needs to learn it from her littermates.
A puppy who is in a single-puppy litter or is removed from the litter too soon may never learn her dog manners. Her mother and her human family can help make up the difference, but it’s no substitute for learning from her siblings. A singleton pup is often placed with another litter—even of another breed—so she’ll learn these vital lessons.