Effects of Early Gentling and Early Environment on Emotional Development of Puppies

Scientific Journal Articles

In recent years much interest has been focused on early experiences and numerous studies have been carried out in order to understand their effects on the behaviour of adult animals. The aim of this preliminary study was to assess the effects of early gentling and early environment on the emotional stability of puppies. Forty-three dogs (16 females and 27 males) from seven litters were used. Four of these litters (in total 23 puppies) were raised in a professional breeding kennel, while the remaining litters lived in their owner’s home, in a family atmosphere. Half of every litter was gently handled daily from the 3rd day postpartum until the 21st. In order to assess the puppies’ emotionality, an isolation test followed by an arena test were conducted on every puppy at the age of 8 weeks. Video recording of the tests allowed the measurement of each puppy’s vocalization and exploratory activity. Data were analysed with the Newmann–Keuls’ test comparing four groups: non-handled puppies raised in family (NHF); handled puppies raised in family (HF); non-handled puppies raised in a professional breeding kennel (NHB); handled puppies raised in a professional breeding kennel (HB). The results suggest that early environment strongly influences the emotional stability of puppies when put in isolation: latency to the first yelp was longer (p < 0.05) in the HB group (89.46 ± 66.42) compared to NHB (45.90 ± 52.76), NHF (13.10 ± 12.17) and HF (17.90 ± 14.32), and in the NHB compared to NHF and HF; duration of vocalizations was shorter (p < 0.05) in the HB (36.77 ± 54.16) and NHB group (72.80 ± 60.57) compared to NHF (149.78 ± 19.52) and HF (132.50 ± 45.24). Moreover, early gentling had a cumulative positive effect on the emotional development of puppies. For both environments, handled puppies were calmer. In fact, they showed longer latency to vocalize and handled puppies (HB = 119.00 ± 39.85; HF = 97.12 ± 33.56) spent significantly more time (seconds) in exploratory activity (p < 0.05) compared to the corresponding non-handled puppies (NHB = 64.90 ± 34.06; NHF = 57.00 ± 26.61). Therefore, it is concluded that the deliberate inclusion of gentling during early puppyhood would be advantageous to the emotional development and welfare of the puppy, in particular for those at risk of limited or poor tactile stimulation in the early weeks.

Gazzano, A., Mariti, C., Notari, L., Sighieri, C., and McBride, E.A. (2008). Effects of early gentling and early environment on emotional development of puppies. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 110, 294-304. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2007.05.007

Photo: iStock.com/Toloubaev

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Topic(s): Behavior, Breeder Resource, ENS, Puppy Development