Most people interested in dogs have heard about ‘socialization periods’…..periods during which dogs learn about other dogs, other species, and new physical and social environments. Was there a role for these periods in the reactivity that characterizes the behavior of the lovely Missy Rose?
Newer data in all species suggest that we would do better to think of these periods as ‘sensitive periods’, which imply risk assessment. A ‘sensitive period’ is the period when animals may best benefit from exposure to certain stimuli, and where, if deprived of such exposure, there is an increased risk of developing problems attendant with the stimulus. In other words, when animals are neurodevelopmentally able to respond to stimuli, they will benefit from exposure of which they will avail themselves, if it is available. Lacking exposure, behavioral problems associated with the omission could develop.
So, let’s consider only the effect of being adopted at ~6 weeks for the lovely Missy Rose. A 2011 study showed that for 70 adult dogs who, as puppies, had been separated from their dam and litter from 30-40 days (5-6 weeks) with 70 adult dogs who, as puppies, had not been separated until after 8 weeks, early age of separation was a significant predictor for excessive barking, fearfulness on walks, reactivity to noises, toy possessiveness, food passiveness and attention-seeking behavior. Early adopted dogs were also more at risk for destructive behavior than were those who had been permitted to stay with their litter through 8 weeks. By itself, her age of first adoption could have contributed greatly to the lovely Missy Rose’s difficult to manage reactivity.