Environmental Factors That Affect Dog Behavior

dog covered with blanket

Environmental distraction is the reason for about 60% of a dog’s behavior

A dog's behavior relies on the 60% knowledge and experiences he had during his life, most importantly in the first critical months after birth. Dogs can still remember what they have learned and experienced in their entire lives, but older dogs can become slower in their learning process.

Most dogs learn by first: observing and copying, second: through trial and error, and third: through practice. But the most effective of this is through observing and copying. Puppy shepherd dogs are an excellent example. They are good at observing and copying because they learn their skills by constant observations of adult dogs at work then copy what they observe. Dogs learn through trial and errors if they try out something whether there will be a reward or not, like for example ripping a garbage bag. If it founds some tasty left-over, there's a good chance he will search for another and do it again. But when they found nothing inside and they got some nasty experience they will stop searching. Through proper training, we can positively influence how our dogs can learn by reinforcing good behavior and canceling or conditioning the undesired ones.

All dogs learning process starts even if it’s still a fetus in the mother-dog’s womb because the fetus can pick up her mother's mood. Research has discovered that mother-dogs who encountered a lot of pressure during pregnancy, whether due to a distraction-filled environment, character or both, give birth to puppies that were more fearful or puppies that are slow learners and with sensitive temperaments.

In the first two weeks of age, a puppy completely relies on its mother for its biological needs like warmth, food, grooming, contact comfort and even pooping. The puppies brain is still developing, and their eyes and ears are still closed. Though their eyes and ears are closed, they can pick up sound and vibrations that help them learn their environment. However, puppies that experienced small amounts of stress during their first weeks, like gentle stroking, exposed to light flashes, balance differences and slight differences in temperatures, are good problems solvers, they make fewer mistakes and doesn’t show much aggression later in their lives. Additionally, the mother's behavior plays a vital role while experiencing pressures and stress during pregnancy this negatively affects the growth of her puppy’s brain.

In the next two weeks, the puppy’s eyes and ears open up. This period the puppy starts to sit, stand, walk and wag its tail, bark, and growl lightly for the first time. This is the period where the puppy becomes aware of the things happening around him.

puppy socialization phase

Puppy socialization period

Once a puppy can see, hear and walk this becomes an important period for him, this is where the puppy socialization period starts. This socialization phase usually run from 3-14 weeks of age. In this period the dog starts to learn dog behavior and develops its social and language skills like bite inhibition, a show of dominance and submission, stop and play signals, interacting with other dogs, animals and people etc. Puppies in this stage are full of curiosities, this is the time for them to familiarize themselves with little animals and to different sorts of environmental elements. Further, by way of playing with other animals their coordination’s is stimulated, their skills and mental abilities promoted, creativity stimulated and problem-solving taught. Dogs whether young or old, use play to create their social status like for example their place of dominance in the hierarchic ladder.

When the puppy reaches the age of 7 weeks, it is now able to receive the training process. Most people believe that only after the puppy reaches 6 months that he is capable of training but this is a complete myth. After the puppy become a well-behaved and adjusted dog, he can only learn some basic commands. As mentioned above, the puppy needs to be first well-socialized and integrated into the human environment. During training, we must stimulate the good behaviors and prevent the undesired ones. Further, the owner of the puppy should start to build a mutual respect and trust for a smooth training process. For a successful dog education process, the owner’s involvement is important.

The important foundation of a dog’s behavior is laid during the socialization phase. Research showed that puppies raised in sensory rich surroundings develop their brains better compare to those nurtured in closed areas. Dogs with no socialization experience with humans, other breeds of dogs, other animals in different environment, develop smaller brains and also shows signs of disturbed behavior; they are clumsy when it comes to dog’s communication signals, they are always anxious, avoiding interactions, antisocial and always show fearful behaviors when they are in unfamiliar situations. As a result of this, they often display aggression towards other dogs or to humans as well.

play time for puppy

After 16 weeks of life experiences the puppy gained, it should be confirmed and extended

The puppy should receive regular playing time, socialization and interaction with other dogs, different animal species and environmental distractions (comes after the socialization training) to help the puppy build confidence, to improve its communication skills and maintains its soft-mouth. This is the only way the puppy can learn the importance of his socialization training and how to use them. In this period, the puppy's mind can be still easily influenced and if it made a couple of mistakes it can still be able to adapt to new instructions. Nevertheless, there may be some fear behaviors already imprinted for life because of the absence of proper puppy socialization.

When the dog becomes mature, between the age of 1 to 4 years, in general, their behaviors are now established and if you are planning to teach them, the learning period is over. But it doesn’t mean the adult dogs can't learn and experience. It’s just that, the process is slower on them and it depends mostly on the training the dog received in his early age.