I just read an article in Whole Dog Journal about the possible effects that extreme stress on the mother can have on her unborn puppies. It was really quite interesting and if you are a human companion to a beloved dog, I consider Whole Dog Journal to be one of the top publications to get. The research and detail they put into each article regarding holistic and natural health of dogs is amazing and I learn something each time I read an issue.
After reading this particular article in the November 2014 issue, so many things began to click into place with regards to those dogs you might have heard of who just have “something off” in their brain. At least that’s how I’ve usually heard it referred to. Working in rescue, and most recently with The Great Dane Sanctuary, I’m come to realize that the hardest part of this type of work is having to accept that there are some dogs who just can’t be ‘fixed’. It’s been heartbreaking each time I’ve been part of that decision to give those dogs the peace they so deserve but cannot find in this life.
According to the author, Jessica Hekman, DVM, MS, when a dog is overly stressed, cortisol levels increase. This sends signals of danger and puts the body on alert to deal with the threat. Thankfully, in most situations, unborn puppies are protected against this surge of cortisol. Unless the level of stress is so high as to override that function, bathing the fetuses with a whole lot of scary stuff. And this is where my theory comes into play.
Assuming that canine mothers pass on information about what’s going on in their world, much like in humans and rodents, her puppies are often born ready to fight, flee or cower at the drop of a hat. So, even if a puppy is raised in a safe, loving environment with wonderful human caretakers, it may not be able to shake its over reaction in times of stress. This may manifest itself through fear, aggression, or both. To me, this must be what is happening sometimes when we have a rescue or sanctuary dog who is fine most of the time, maybe even 99% of the time. But, then something happens and it is like “a flip is switched” inside his or her head. It’s the only explanation I can think of for dogs who I know come from good, loving homes, but just can’t seem to function in the normal outside world.
It’s truly sad knowing that some of these dogs won’t have a chance to enjoy life as they should, even before they are born. Below is a direct quote from the article which might help some people who take in a puppy or dog whose mother may have had a rough life in a shelter, on the street or in a pen for backyard breeding.
“…make a point to provide the growing youngster with as many positive social interactions and as much low-stress, safe exposure to the world as you can. Keep in mind that your pup may have this unseen impediment to developing normal confidence, and take it upon yourself to “super-socialize” him, just in case. “
“…be alert to signs that your pup is going through a “fear period” (which can happen multiple times throughout his puppyhood). Make extra efforts to protect him from overwhelming scary experiences and address his fears with behavior modification during these times. And seek the assistance of a qualified positive behavior professional sooner rather than later if you notice unusual fear or reactivity in your adoptee.”
Good luck and bless all of you who are willing to take a chance on an ‘unknown’ puppy.