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36–39 Weeks: What to Expect From Your Puppy

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How to Stimulate Your Puppy's Growing Brain

Puppies continue to explore and learn all their lives. Though we may think of our dogs as being mostly instinctual, their brains react to stimuli whether it's a cool Spring breeze or obedience training. Because they're so aware of their environments, their actions, even to a stimulus they've experienced before, can change. A puppy raised in isolation will wind up with an atrophied brain while a puppy raised with hyperstimulation is not overwhelmed but instead develops more than average.

An understimulated puppy will appear apathetic. He will overreact to small changes and his instincts start to get screwed up. For instance, an understimulated puppy when faced with something fearful, only reacts with fear or fear-aggression - he does not seem to know that flight is also an option. It is during this time of your puppy's life that his cognitive system is rapidly developing so it's a good time to make sure he has enough stimulation in his life.

Ways to Provide Stimulation for Your Puppy

  1. Take Him to New Places - This doesn't mean you have to attend an opera with your puppy or find something exciting like a carnival. Every new place you go is a myriad of new smells and sounds, a variable cornucopia of stimuli.

  2. Take Him to Old Places - Places change constantly. The park at 6:00 a.m. is nothing like the park at 10:00 a.m. to a puppy. People and dogs have come and gone and the wind blows from a different direction.

  3. Introduce Him to New People - This is a great time to socialize your puppy further and throw some new faces in the mix. This can be done as easily as walking him and allowing folks to meet him. You're bound to come across at least one dog person on your walk.

  4. Play Mind Stimulating Games with Him - From simple games such as hide and seek to mental twisters such as which cup is the treat under, there are many games you can play with your puppy. You can also make training a game.

  5. Hook Him on Brain Teasers - There are many mental exercise toys now available such as the Doggy Brain Train, Dog Activity Chess and Dog Activity Kicker (available here. These games really challenge your puppy once you have shown him how to play with enthusiasm. You can also give your dog simpler toys such as a Kong filled with peanut butter or a treat toy by Busy Buddy.

  6. Teach Him Well - Continue adding commands to your obedience training and teach him new tricks as we covered in a recent tip.

Any time spent with your puppy can be stimulating. Just chasing him around the yard or petting him offers stimulation. You can increase the mental stimulation in any activity by engaging your dog, from a simple "Watch me!" command to teaching him to track smells while hiking. Problem solving abilities are more than possible with dogs and they're something that can be nurtured and increased. You can see the possibilities at the growing number of Canine Cognitive Facilities around the U.S.

The more we stimulate our dogs' brains, the more we learn about them. They also learn more about their environment and gain confidence in handling new situations. Who knows, you might find that after a while, your puppy can even beat you at Scrabble.

Advice from Other Dog Owners 

Prevention Is Really Important

Stimulating a pup is the best thing you can do to have a happy and balanced dog. Lots of mental games, exercise, and training give you a calm puppy.

In his first months I crated my pup, Joker, at home while I was not around. At about 7 months I started to leave him without the crate, and he sleeps the whole time we are out (even five hours out). There is no damage caused while he is out. You have to decide when your pup is ready.

Prevention is really important. If you know that your dog will eat out of the trash, put a barrier around it or put it away. Do not leave things out that he can choke on, or get hurt with. If you are gone for long periods, leave him a Kong or a bone. Preventing bad habits is better than curing them. My pup loved playing with the broom, for example, so I made sure that he could not get to it. After a little while he does not care about it anymore!

~Francesca V., owner of a German Shepherd

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