Development is evolution, growth, expansion, and progress. It is also, according the dictionaries which I found totally unhelpful, the action or process of developing.
The Stages of Canine Development (Scott & Fuller) is a super useful tool for anyone who works with dogs professionally, or any owner who really wants to learn more and have a deeper understanding of their dog. Reading through the various stages, it’s interesting enough, but it doesn’t really clarify the importance, the vital importance of each stage, in order to have a dog that is functional. By functional I am referring to a dog that is socially, emotionally, physically, and most likely spiritually sound. A dog that is comfortable in their own skin, is able to handle life gracefully and fully, and is behaviorally and physically balanced.
If a dog is raised, from conception, with optimal care, thoughtfulness, and consideration, the stack would look something like this. This is a SOUND DOG, and to be quite honest, this is also incredibly rare, because we all know from time to time, things hit the fan, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. But nonetheless this is optimal, and believe it or not what many family pet owners believe to be achievable through minimal effort (note – it’s not).
Doing some things right with your dog is good, it is better than nothing. But what I hope to point out with my nifty charts is that IF the breeder, the owner, or the environment goofs up a significant developmental stage, it does change the course or path your dog is on, and in turn the possibilities you can achieve, or not, with your dog.
While these blocks can be arranged in any manner, and often times they are, these are the most common scenarios I see with dogs that cause their owners concern. I have drawn many visual stacks for clients over the years so they can see, sans emotional attachment, what is going on. Each development phase ‘stacks’ on the previous phase, it is the hope that with each phase, the foundation is strong and solid, so development can stack and have integrity.
Some stacks get a bit tipsy or unbalanced, and they can be tipsy for a bit, as long as balance is added so one end is not weighted so much that you have total collapse.
If you don’t start with a good knowledgeable breeder with sound and balanced dogs, you start with the biggest tip ever! As Jacques Pepin is famous for saying “…you can give the most talented chef in the world mediocre ingredients, and all he will be able to make is a mediocre dish. You need to start with the best ingredients to make the best dish…”
If you have a specific idea of what you want to achieve with your dog, then you need to start with the strongest foundation. If you are okay with a dog who had a shaky beginning, and know there is a strong tip to begin with, you better be excellent at adding balance and consistency! This doesn’t need to be a total collapse, but can be.
Breeders can have the best breeding stock in the world, but if they lack relevant information, and don’t understand correct handling, an enriched environment, early socialization, or the right age for a puppy to go to their new home, they are creating a tip that the new owners will be working with for the rest of the dogs life. Choose your breeder carefully.
But if the breeder was stellar, did everything correctly, and then the puppy was sold to a good home, but one that lacked relevant information on raising a puppy, or relied on misinformation, or simply became too busy and really didn’t get what a puppy was all about, the stack starts to tip, dramatically, and the relationship crashes.
More often than not I see good but not exceptional breeders, sell their dogs to good homes but not stellar, (but good, loving and caring), and then everything falls apart during the first sub fear period. Their dog gets attacked at the dog park during this development phase, or they are in the home alone when a stranger knocks, or a person scares them on a night walk, young children chasing the puppy through the house, or they are out hiking during a wicked thunder storm. A traumatic event of some sort. Then the owner wishes, hopes, and sometimes demands that their dog ‘get over the hump, move on, JUST GET OVER IT, deal with it!!!’, and they never really truly address the cause of the trauma, they just keep battering away at the symptoms.
These are the puppies who started life with the best possible potential, and through a lack of understanding are the ones that are either euthanized in early adult hood, or relinquished to a shelter between 9-18 months.
There are however owners who do have good information. They see their puppy coming into their first sub fear period, and they do all of the right stuff. They support their puppies normal and healthy activities, but they don’t add new stresses to the environment. They continue to socialize, kindly and considerately, they work at teaching their puppy new things, and they create a safe environment.
But as I said, life can throw things at you, and you can do all of this correctly and still have a traumatic event, like an adult dog rolling and scaring your puppy, and this creates that tip in the development stack. But with a thoughtful owner, one who understands balance, it’s kind of like living with scoliosis, there is a curve, but with support and good health, it’s totally easy to live with! It does make future developmental phases a bit trickier, but nonetheless, achievable.
This next stack could be any dog in my community that is taken off leash, with very little training behind them, to soon, and it changes the dog and the relationship with their people, pretty much forever. Notice that up until this stage, everything was going along smoothly, correctly, and thoughtfully, and then whamo!
This is the most common tip in the stack I see, pretty much daily. And while there can be balance added to make sure there isn’t a collapse, it tends to harm the relationship between owner and dog. Trust goes out the window on both ends of the leash, and conflict ensues.
Patience grasshopper, patience. Don’t rush developmental phases, and be patient.
I hope this helps you to see behavior in a different way, both human and canine. There needs to be effort in order to have balance. And in my world, your dog deserves your efforts.