Preventing Behavior Problems

Much remains to be learned about the effects of early experience on adult behavior and the development of behavior problems. Growing statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests that very significant influences are at work. For example, a study by Jagoe (see Serpell and Jagoe, 1995) has detected several significant associations between pediatric illness and later behavior problems, including a higher incidence of dominance-related aggression, aggression toward strangers, fear of strangers, fear of children, separation-related barking, and abnormal sexual behavior. The author speculates that excessive and exclusive attention resulting from home medical care and reduced social contact outside of the home contributed to the development of some of these behavior problems. Given this rather compelling evidence of a relationship between early sickness and later behavior problems, it would seem advisable to offer puppy owners preventative behavioral counseling as part of the overall treatment of serious canine pediatric illness.

Hopefully, in the future, puppy socialization and training courses will become a common feature of puppy rearing—as common and routine as vaccinations are today in the prevention of communicable disease. Early behavioral training and proper socialization appear to "inoculate" immature dogs against many adult dog behavior problems such as hyperactivity, excessive fearfulness, aggression, separation anxiety, and general disobedience. Although "hard" scientific evidence is still lacking, many anecdotal reports and case histories strongly support the value of early training in the prevention of these serious problems. Unfortunately, however, many of the current rearing practices often neglect or incorrectly apply the needed training efforts.

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