Protect Your Puppy’s Mental Health

Puppies are like children. They are fragile and don’t realize their fragility nor do they understand the danger present in many interesting common items. This goes double for Doberman Pinscher puppies. They think they’re invincible.

Unlike children, puppies have strong jaws and sharp teeth. They are small, able to fit in small places. Also, in comparison to a child who has been alive for only a matter of weeks, Doberman puppies are extremely intelligent. This intelligence creates a need for stimulation. When stimulation is not provided, puppies are able to create it on their own. Unsupervised, they will get into things their owner would not expect or appreciate, and that can cause serious harm to the puppy.

Particular care must be taken between the age of 8 and 11 weeks. This period is known as the Fear Imprint Period. During this stage of psychological development, an injury or frightening experience can result in lifelong phobia. The Doberman, although steady and sure, is still susceptible to this danger.

Understand that the fear imprint period is a developmental stage during which the puppy is highly susceptible to conditioning from pain and fear, NOT a stage where the puppy shows fear. The fear imprint period, or fear period, is sometimes misused to excuse a puppy with a fearful temperament. Again, a puppy showing fear is not due to him being in the fear imprint period.

A puppy left to stress during a thunderstorm during this period, for example, could result in an imprinted fear of storms and thunder. A puppy might also associate cloth with danger after pulling a tablecloth along with some noisy dishes down onto himself.

Puppies, not usually being students of logic, can also misassociate dangers. A puppy biting through an electrical cord may associate the shock with anything; maybe a pair of boots, maybe a throw pillow, or maybe an individual in the home. These improper associations, although irrational, are just as powerful. It is the puppy owner’s responsibility to protect his puppy from such psychological injury.

If such an injury does occur, the puppy owner must understand how to mitigate the damage. Let’s say you’re in the kitchen with your new 10 week-old Doberman puppy. You’re baking some homemade doggy treats. The puppy, as Doberman puppies usually are, is dancing around your feet. After removing the tasty items from the cookie sheet, you step toward the sink, reaching out, intending to place the cookie sheet in the dish water.

In the process you pinch a puppy toe underfoot. This causes a sharp yelp, which causes you to trip, drop the pan, and catch yourself on the counter. The cookie sheet crashes to the floor. The puppy, already insulted by your pinching his toe, lets out a cry and retreats to his kennel.

This is the critical moment. Puppies need to learn quickly if they want to survive, especially in the wild. This is the purpose of the fear imprint period. Your puppy at this moment is imprinting on his little brain to avoid things that look like cookie sheets.

What you shouldn’t do:
The common puppy owner reaction to this situation is to rush to the puppy’s aid, coddling and comforting him. This is wrong. Doing so will reinforce the imprint.

Remember, you are the alpha. The puppy looks to you to do all the thinking. If you rush to his aid, you are telling him in fact yes, he has been harmed and he is correct in fearing the cookie sheet.

What you should do:
With your best alpha attitude, ask the puppy, “What’s that all about goofy?” Leave the cookie sheet on the floor and let the puppy investigate. Doberman puppies are likely to return quickly to the scene but you may want to tempt him further by throwing some treats on the cookie sheet, making sure it is cool.

If the puppy shows fear, it’s time to desensitize. This is done in small increments. Never forcing him, start by playing with him around the cookie sheet, then move up to throwing toys or treats on it to produce a small noise. Then continue by involving the cookie sheet. Eventually, the puppy should learn that the cookie sheet is safe and will play happily with it producing the terrible noise on his own terms.

Puppies also go through a second and less profound fear imprint period between 6 and 14 months of age. By this stage of development, the puppy is better able to evaluate his surroundings intelligently and if properly socialized will be accustomed to most forms of stimulation. This second fear imprint period still requires the Doberman puppy owner’s attention. A traumatic of painful event during this period is still damaging.

Along with the threat of psychological injury, we must protect our puppies from physical injury; both of which involve puppy proofing.