Beyond puppy selection—considering the role of puppy raisers in bringing out the best in assistance dog puppies
journal contributionposted on 2021-03-02, 22:34 authored by Jimmy MaiJimmy Mai, Tiffani HowellTiffani Howell, Pree Benton, Pauleen BennettPauleen Bennett
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.
Problem behaviors are the most common reason to reject young dogs from entering advanced training and obtaining certification for work as an assistance dog. Therefore, working toward preventing undesirable behaviors should be prioritized to reduce failure rates. The development of problem behaviors in puppies, such as those associated with fearfulness and anxiety, results from the interplay between their genetic predisposition, puppyhood experiences, and other factors in their raising environment. This article uses an adapted general systems model as a framework to review relevant literature, following its three-stage structure, that is, input, throughput, and output. To produce desirable behavioral traits (output), much effort has been devoted to optimizing puppy breeding and selection (input) and developing training and socializing protocols (throughput). However, findings are mixed and the effects generally small. In this article, we suggest that, although it is critical that the industry enroll suitable puppies (input) and adopt evidence-based program designs (organizational levels of throughput), it is the puppy raisers that play a central role in program implementation (individual level of throughput). Puppy raisers' individual differences will likely influence their adherence to programs developed by assistance dog provider organizations. Specifically, puppy raisers with prior experience will likely be more competent at puppy handling and therefore raise behaviorally favorable puppies. When lacking experience and competency in dog handling skills, novice puppy raisers may rely on methods associated with their existing parenting and attachment styles when addressing puppies’ undesirable behaviors. Future research should therefore investigate these human factors, so as to inform puppy training and behavioral management protocols to ensure they are effective in spite of puppy raiser differences.