Study Shows Pet Store Puppies Have More Behavioral Problems

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Socialization is important for puppy mental health. Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations

The results of a recent retrospective study will not surprise anyone who has ever worked in the veterinary, animal behaviorist or dog training fields. The finding?

Pet store puppies are at much higher risk for developing problem behaviors including aggression toward their owner and/or other dogs, increased fearfulness and sensitivity to touch, and separation-related problems, than are dogs raised by non-commercial breeders.

The only surprise is that, until recently, no one had actually done a peer-reviewed study of the problem. Dr. Frank McMillan and colleagues have remedied this situation using data collected online from the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ) project.

Their results show that, for individuals interested in purebred dogs, purchasing from a non-commercial breeder is likely to result in fewer behavior problems.

What is C-BARQ?

Staff at the Center for the Interactions of Animals and Society, which was established at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine to address moral and practical issues surrounding human-animal interaction, developed C-BARQ.  C-BARQ is an online survey, which takes about 15 minutes, intended for use by veterinarians, behavioral consultants, researchers, animal shelters, breeders and dog organizations interested in screening dogs for the presence of behavioral issues. It is open for a limited time to individual dog owners wishing to compare their dogs to others in the database.

Types of Behavioral Problems Common in Pet Store and Commercial Kennel Puppies

Pet store puppies are often raised in commercial kennels, the so-called puppy mills. Puppies in these situations are unlikely to be socialized to humans and may even have limited contact with littermates and their mothers after early weaning. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has produced a position statement stressing the importance of socialization in the first months of a puppy’s life, emphasizing that during the first three months sociability outweighs fear. Fearfulness in a variety of situations was a common finding in pet store puppies, most likely associated with lack of socialization.

Socialization with littermates is important for puppy mental health. Photo Credit: Danny Sullivan

In an interview with Decoded Science, Dr. McMillan, lead author on the study and Director of Well-being Studies at Best Friends Animal Society, discussed the finding of increased aggression toward owners, other people and other dogs also found in many pet store puppies.

Dr. McMillan told Decoded Science that while fear likely contributes to the aggression noted, it is not the sole cause, as the pattern of aggression did not always include situations that caused increased fear.  Because the study was retrospective it was not possible to say what else may have contributed to the aggression noted.

What Causes Pet Store Puppy Problems?

Given that the study was retrospective, the authors were not able to determine the causes of the increased risk for behavioral issues. The paper does, however, cite other studies that have looked at some of those factors. For instance, prenatal stress (stress on the adult animal while pregnant) may cause physiological changes in the puppies, making them less able to cope with stress and more prone to fear-related behaviors.

Breeding dogs in commercial kennels are likely to be stressed by their confinement in small enclosures or cages, lack of positive interaction with humans, and lack of appropriate social interaction with other dogs, as noted in some of the other papers cited. So what can a person who bought a pet store puppy on impulse do to help their pet and themselves?

Train Pet Store Puppies Early to Avoid Problem Behaviors

According to Dr. McMillan, the information gained from this study makes a strong case for pet store puppy owners to start a solid training program as soon as possible, as this may help prevent some problem behaviors from developing. And, should behavioral issues develop, that training could provide a foundation for remedying the problem

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