56 Days That Shake Your Dog’s World

Have you heard of imprinting? Imprinting is basically the idea that living beings are profoundly affected by the living being with whom they spend their first impressionable moments. Gilda Radner told an amazing story about imprinting in her book “It’s Always Something“. Radner had a nanny named Dibby as a child, and when she was young, she remembers Dibby telling her the story of her cousin’s dog and her puppies. One week before giving birth, the dog lost both back legs to a lawn mower. Having been assured by the veterinarian that the puppies would be just fine, Dibby’s cousin brought her stitched up pregnant dog home and let nature take its course.

Dogs aren’t put off by trivial things like the loss of a limb; the pregnant mama learned quickly that she could get around just fine by taking two steps with her front feet and then flipping her backside forward in a manner of keeping up with the front. Before long, six healthy, four-legged puppies were born and immediately began to suckle on their mom. At two weeks their eyes opened. Before long, they began to walk.

And every last one of those perfectly-abled puppies walked like mom.

The first 56 days of your puppy’s life are not spent with you… and those are the days of imprinting. We’ve had five Berners now. I know precious little about the first 56 days of Hero’s (our first Berner) life, but I can use deductive reasoning to draw some conclusions. Hero was terrified of rain and thunder. This could correlate to the fact that when my husband picked him up neither sire nor dam were on location (we most likely bought him from a puppy broker, an individual who sells dogs on commission for a mill) and Hero was stuffed into an elevated crate with a littermate, with absolutely no protection from the elements.

Sherman was our next Berner and I know a lot about his first 56. Sherman was born in a steel pole barn with radiant heat floors and an industrial fan cooling system. He was the favorite puppy of Gracie, the breeder’s nine-year-old daughter and though dogs were not allowed in the house, Sherman was frequently the object of subterfuge for Gracie… snuck in the house and dressed up in her doll’s clothes. I spent a week visiting Sherman daily from the ages of five to six weeks. I was with him the first time his little feet explored a grassy yard and he fell asleep day after day in my arms or resting on my lap. Sherman has serious FOMO… not really separation anxiety, just a fear of being left out. So he whines a lot, but he also barks copious amounts. These actions correlate to the cacophony of a dozen dogs welcoming visitors to the pole barn and to being singled out for one-on-one time from the beginning.

Zuzu was my first show dog, and also my first Berner raised in the warmth and comfort of a home. Zuzu was raised in a group of 14 puppies (two litters) and our next girl, Madi, was from a litter of 11. The girls had to learn to share, not only mom’s attention, but also food, the attention and affection of human visitors, and toys and bedding. Both girls are, as a result, big “dog people”, equally preferring the company of other canines to that of humans. They are happy to scooch over and make room for another dog at the water bowl or while cleaning up a dinner plate.

Selah had yet a different imprinting experience, which resulted in witnessing a shocking reunion this weekend. Selah was not born to a “breeder” per-se, but is the product of a woman’s love for her two dear companions. Selah’s “Gran” has two dogs, Keeper and Finder. Both are AKC Grand Champions and both have also earned a number of performance titles through the AKC… in fact, Keeper has earned 19 titles! Most breeders will keep their pick puppy of the litter in the home so the dog can contribute to their breeding program. But Elizabeth has a strict two dog policy and she has bred only two litters. When we ran into wall after wall with infertility and orthopedics, Elizabeth told me she wanted to offer me pick puppy of her litter.

Eight puppies were born in Elizabeth’s bedroom on August 18. For eight weeks, 56 days, the puppies were _____ (fill in the blank with your favorite words: treated to, subjected to, blessed by, stressed by, inundated with, bombarded with, entertained by) the boisterous personality of “Gran” Elizabeth, and her many and frequent house guests. Granted, this did not produce eight puppies with identical personalities, but… 12 weeks after Selah came home with us we were rewarded with the answer to a frequently asked question: Do puppies remember their breeder?

Elizabeth came to spend New Year’s week with us, a week that was already wrapped in a lot of chaos after the Christmas holiday and with the arrival of other houseguests just ahead of Elizabeth, a family of four and their young Miniature Schnauzer, Earl. As an experienced house guest at The House on Charles, Elizabeth knew if the garage door was open she should just walk in quietly through the garage door. The five dogs in the house were quiet at the moment (it was a Christmas miracle) but the second she saw Elizabeth, Selah went into full Tasmanian Devil mode! She howled, she screamed, she jumped, she tried to climb into Elizabeth’s lap… and this went on for easily 20 minutes with only brief intervals of rest.

Selah and “Gran” Elizabeth having a serious conversation…

We lost Selah for the week. She followed Elizabeth everywhere, slept in her room, rode around town in her car, and answered our question with a mic drop heard around the world. Do puppies remember their breeders? Do they remember their first 56 days? Do they know who loved them? Who fed them? Who comforted them? Who played with them? YES! But, as a sobering reminder, do stress, abuse, neglect, and the absence of care also imprint on our puppies?

Today I chased a frightened little Shiba Inu mix with porcupine quills hanging from her jowels and nose through our neighborhood for a couple of hours. Despite our best efforts we were not able to secure the poor little girl. As much as Selah gave us a resounding yes for the positive side of imprinting, I think poor, lost Yuki gives an equally resounding YES to the other side of the coin. Good or bad, they do remember. And memories shape a dog.

Published by: When Life Goes to the Dogs

It was my youngest daughter who introduced me to the Bernese Mountain Dog. That first boy, Hero, set in motion all kinds of crazy love. And now, at the end of the day, I often find myself asking... what do these dogs have that is so special? I'm raising three Berners now, navigating the world of social media for dogs, holistic health and raw feeding. Sherman has become a therapy dog; Zuzu may soon follow in his footsteps. Madi, as I like to say, is still cooking. I guess we all need something to put our hands to that makes us feel like we've made a difference in this world. Believe it or not, these dogs help me do just that.

Categories Dog Behavior, Raising PuppiesTags, , , Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s