Raising Puppies with Love
Raising Puppies with Love

Raising Puppies with Love


Puppies raised with love experience connection – this attachment forms the positive foundation for how they will relate to humans.
Puppies raised with love
Puppies raised with love experience connection. This attachment forms a positive foundation for future human relationships

Studies have shown that animals are effected by the stress their mothers go through whilst pregnant. If a mother experiences trauma during pregnancy her unborn babies will be exposed to an increased level of the stress hormone ‘cortisol’. Prolonged exposure to the stress hormone changes the brain and effects the animal throughout its life; increasing the likelihood that they will be anxious and fearful to even mild changes in their environment. 

Stressed mothers birth puppies that grow to be anxious & fearful
Stressed mothers birth puppies that grow to be anxious & fearful – take the time to know what life has been and is like for the mother of your puppy

We all have dreams of acquiring the best dog for our family. Sadly – the skittish, flighty and reactive dogs that feature in some of our worst nightmares can become a reality. Selecting an ethical, informed and proactive breeder is essential to ensuring your puppy has the best start in life. 

Puppies are affected by stress in-utero
Puppies are affected by stress in-utero

“The most rapid rate of growth takes place in utero, and from birth to age four the brain grows explosively. The brain of the four-year-old is 90 percent adult size! A majority of the physical growth of the brain’s key neural networks takes place during this time. It is a time of great malleability and vulnerability as experiences are actively shaping the organizing brain. This is a time of great opportunity for the developing child: safe, predictable, nurturing and repetitive experiences can help express a full range of genetic potentials. Unfortunately, however, it is also when the organizing brain is most vulnerable to the destructive impact of threat, neglect and trauma.” 

― Bruce D. Perry, The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook

Puppies absorb the stress their mum's experience
Puppies absorb the stress their mum’s experience

Does ethical dog breeding exist? Further research is needed in this area but some studies suggest that large scale commercial dog breeding is devastating for a dog’s mental health. 

“More stringent, enforced regulation of breeding dog care standards would be needed to meet this goal. In addition, it would be essential to increase transparency about breeding practices and improve consumer education so as to promote informed dog sourcing decisions and responsible dog ownership.”
Candace C. Croney 2019

Mc Millan et al compared the mental health of dogs that had lived in a commercial breeding facility with pet dogs. A total of 1169 breeding dogs were included in the study and these dogs were found to have developed extreme and persistent fears, phobias, learning deficits lowering their trainability and an inability to cope successfully in a normal environment outside of the puppy farm.  

Ethical dog breeding does not just meet the basic needs of the dogs
Ethical dog breeding does not just meet the basic needs of the dog

Without a doubt, greater regulation of the dog breeding industry is required to reach an acceptable standard and ensure breeders are held accountable for their practices including the quality & quantity of puppies they produce.

To ensure optimal mental wellbeing; Raggy Dogs has implemented a guardian dog program, where our breeding dogs are placed in family homes, where they receive one on one attention from their carers. After passing their extensive health checks, they come back to us for a maximum of 3 litters. Mother dogs stay with us for 9 weeks at a time, so in total, they are with us for up to 27 weeks over their breeding life. During this time, they live inside with us as they do in their guardian home and they live as an integral part of our family life. We have had positive experiences with this program and our guardian dogs are well socialised, trained, loved and live a life that goes beyond meeting their basic needs – ensuring the dog’s telos is not violated.

Stress is part of life and it’s been observed that mothers exposed to a moderate amount of stress during pregnancy, go on to birth children that are more co-ordinated and more skilled at reasoning. Too much stress however, changes the functioning of the brain priming it to function in the flight or fight mode, which makes for an anxious and reactive individual. 

Puppies form attachment bonds with humans whilst with breeder
Puppies form attachment bonds with humans whilst with their breeder

A study that analysed data from 503 dogs from 105 litters found that the early environment of puppies had long-lasting effects on their behaviour and coping styles. Therefore when selecting a puppy that is to become your family companion, the importance of enquiring about, observing and understanding how that puppy has been produced is key. Experiences that occur from the time they are conceived to the time you pick up your puppy can effect how they will perceive the world around them for a lifetime. 

Puppies experiencing positive interactions with children
Under supervision, puppies raised with children benefit from these positive interactions

While genetics certainly contributes to temperament and overall trainability, a study on horses found that jus 35% of their performance was heritable and a whopping 65% was attributable to training, management and nutrition. Though this study focussed on horses, it shows that breeders play a significant role in setting their animals up for success.

Puppy see-saw
Lunch served on our puppy see-saw; mealtimes are opportunities for training & development

As a dog breeder I have observed the benefits of exposing puppies to controlled amounts of stress for brief periods. From three days of age puppies are exposed to Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) and enjoy many opportunities for environmental enrichment in the 8 weeks that they are in our care.

ENS involves applying small amounts of pressure to their paws, lovingly moving them through various positions from being on their backs, to the sides, upside down and exposing them to various textures on their paws.

Early neurological stimulation in puppies
Early neurological stimulation in puppies

Small amounts of stress are valuable and studies on puppies and kittens have shown that this early stimulation results in faster maturation rates and improved problem solving abilities when compared to littermates not exposed to ENS. 

In our puppy play area we have equipment that the puppies can explore in order to develop their co-ordination, focus, tolerance to frustration, confidence and optimism.

Puppy wobble bridge
Puppy wobble bridge develops confidence, optimism and balance

Some of the equipment in our play area includes see-saw, raised dog walk, wobble bridge and board, play gym with various sounds & textures, ball pit, doggy door, A frame and tunnels. 

Our outdoor puppy play gym
Our outdoor puppy play gym is an environmentally enriched space that provides opportunities for sensory stimulation

Having raised puppies with and without children in our home, I can confidently say that supervised positive experiences with our child has resulted in improved confidence and optimism in our puppies. Young children are by nature novelty machines and through their sudden movements and at times loud noises puppies come to be de-sensitised and counter-conditioned to these changes in the environment.

Pleasurable experiences between puppies and children
Positive interactions between puppies and children increase the likelihood that such interactions will occur in the future

Furthermore, research has shown that positive interactions between puppies and humans, result in the release of dopamine – the ‘happy hormone’. These pleasurable interactions ensure both the child and puppy have positive memories associated with each other and form the foundation from which future experiences can blossom.

In terms of genetics, a breeder that is aiming to breed the best family dogs, will select their breeding stock based on the dogs’ innate social skills. Puppies are capable of holding your gaze and it becomes apparent by the age of 8 weeks which puppies in a litter are exceptional in this regard.

Puppy gaze as a predictor of innate social ability
Puppy gaze as a predictor of innate social ability

Researchers looked at the innate social skills of 375, 8 week old golden retriever and labrador puppies and found that around 40% of their social ability came down to their genetics. 

Conversely, puppies raised in puppy farms and purchased from pet shops are more likely to be aggressive, toilet in the house and be less trainable. It’s concerning that research from the US, Italy and University of Newcastle has shown that while 73% of puppy buyers felt they had purchased from an ethical breeder, just 10% of those breeders were deemed to be ethical and responsible. 

  • What does the life of the parents, particularly the mother, look like?
  • How many litters has the mother had and how old is she?
  • What does your puppy rearing practice involve?
  • What early neurological stimulation has been carried out on the puppies and when?
  • What equipment do you use to develop your puppies confidence, optimism and tolerance to frustration?
  • May I see where my puppy is being raised?
  • What have the puppies been exposed to including environments, sights, sounds, touch, smells, tastes etc?

The not-for-profit organisation in Australia ‘RSPCA’ has put together a handy checklist and list of questions to ask breeders to filter out unethical dog breeders in your search for the best family dog. While we anxiously wait for further regulation in the dog breeding industry; we can all do our part by being informed and responsible in our approach to buying a puppy. 

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