Preventing Behavioral Problems in Singleton Puppies
Understanding Singleton Puppies
When we look at a female dog's phenotype we'll notice physical traits meant for her to accommodate large litters of puppies. Just count how many milk stations nature has gifted her with. Female dogs have on average a total of 8 to 10 nipples divided in two rows. A mother dog's uterus is generally large enough to accommodate several puppies, so when only one puppy occupies the space, there is belief that it tends to become larger than the the average puppy. Some vets debate this discussing that singleton pups are not necessarily larger, stronger or smarter than puppies born in an average litter.
Yet, when only one puppy is conceived, a variety of problems may arise. For starters, if it's true that singletons are of a larger sizer, the larger size may lead problems in delivery. The singleton puppy may be difficult to pass causing difficult childbirth (dystocia) or even the need to deliver via C-section. In some cases, mother dog won't even go into labor because a singleton pup may not allow enough hormones to be produced to start the contractions; therefore, there are also risks for uterine inertia.
Even once the puppy is delivered, several other problems may set in. If mother dog doesn't start labor due to a lack of hormones, this may interfere with the mother dog's maternal instincts, especially if this is her first time giving birth. If she went through a C-section she may also be groggy and not recognize the pup as hers, which may cause the pup to be rejected. The puppy though needs the important "colostrum" a special milk only available for a limited time, and the sole act of nursing may be helpful to trigger the release of oxytocin hormones which can help trigger some mothering instinct.
Because the singleton puppy is alone, he cannot huddle with the other puppies to keep warm. Newborn puppies are unable to regulate their body temperatures, so it's important that they stay warm for at least the first couple of weeks. Yes, mom can be a wonderful source of heat, but she'll sometimes have to eat and use the bathroom, and if mother dog is unwilling to cater to the pup artificial means will have to be used. A heating unit can be beneficial, but some breeders find that a stuffed animal stuffed with a warm pack may better mimic a sibling.
Since there are no other puppies, life is quite easy for the singleton pup. When he nurses, there's no competition over the nipples, when he wants attention, mother dog is always there just for him. As much as this easy life sounds good, many owners of singleton pups soon notice how later in life singleton pups may have a harder time coping with frustration.
Because the singleton pup has no other litter-mates, he will strongly bond and attach to humans, but lack of socialization with other pups may lead to future problems when he must relate with other dogs. The pup will fail to learn the basics of social dog language and the so important basics of bite inhibition.
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Potential Behavior Issues with Singleton Pups
As seen, a lot can go on in the lives of singletons, so it's not surprising that they may be prone to developing behavioral issue. Following are some steps breeders and new owners can take to help these puppies bloom.
Issues with Tactile Stimulation
Dog trainer Susan Garrett has a trick to help the pup overcome the lack of tactile stimulation seen in singleton pups. With no litter mates around, singleton puppies miss out important tactile stimulation under the form of other puppies crawling over and under them. Susan suggests using a stuffed animal to recreate tactile stimulation twice a day. The pup can snuggle with it, and walk over it or crawl under. Handling exercises are also important, so get the puppy used to being touched, picked up and handled in all areas, much more than you would with a puppy with litter mates.
Problems Coping with Frustration
In a normal litter, puppies are used to not getting what they want all the time. This teaches them to cope with frustration and self control. Just like children, a singleton pup must learn coping mechanisms and how to control their emotions. For instance, if the pup whines for attention, the owner will give attention only when the pup settles down. Also, in the litter pups must learn to deal with interruptions. Countless times a pup will walk towards a nipple when another pup will get in his way and get there first. Some breeders will push puppies off nipples to mimic what other puppies do, but this is an approach that can backfire.
Dr McConnell discusses how she took a similar approach in raising a singleton pup. She used a stuffed toy to push the puppy off the nipple when he nursed. Not surprisingly, the pup growled at her one day when the pup turned five weeks and she touched him. She then had to take steps in conditioning the puppy to like being touched and was successful after using counterconditioning.
Socialization and Bite Inhibition Needs
Because lack of litter mates can have a major impact on the singleton's future behavior, some caring breeders will try to introduce the singleton pup to another litter of pups, in hopes he will be accepted and will integrate well. Further socialization can be implemented by the new puppy owners by taking the puppy to puppy classes where they can learn the ABC's of dog body language and start learning about bite inhibition. Of course, the ultimate solution to prevent singleton puppies and reduce the pet overpopulation problem is to spay and neuter your dog.
The Dog Trainer's Resource 2: The APDT Chronicle of the Dog Collection, Stacey LaForge, edited by Mychelle Blake
Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals; Temple Grandin, Catherine Johnson -
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Getting puppies on a good start
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.