Puppies Raised in a Home are Better Prepared for Life as a Pet

The environment in which puppies are raised makes a difference to their behaviour, new study shows.

Puppies raised in a home are better prepared for life as a pet. Malamute puppies pictured
Photo: Vasyl Syniuk/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Anyone getting a puppy is urged to check carefully where they come from. Puppies have a sensitive period for socialization during which a wide range of positive experiences help to set them up for later life. Since puppies begin the sensitive period at 3 weeks, but typically go home at 8 weeks, the breeder is responsible for the early stages of socialization. New research in press in Applied Animal Behaviour Science looks at the effects of raising puppies in the house compared to in an outdoor kennel.

The results show that puppies raised in a house are more self-confident and less likely to show aggression due to fear. In short, they are likely to make better pets and be friendlier dogs.

The scientists say this is because puppies raised in the home experience more socialization with people and are habituated to a greater number of noises, household objects, and other environmental stimuli. This means they are better prepared for life as a family dog.

Importantly, the study only looked at small scale breeders who have just one or two bitches that they breed. All of them were members of the Federation Cynologique Internationale, an organization of kennel clubs that maintains breed standards for pedigree dogs in many countries (but not the US, Canada, or UK). The breeders were all recognized by FCI.

The study took place in Poland and involved 44 litters of puppies (264 puppies in total). 160 puppies were raised indoors with their mom, and saw normal household activities as well as the people in the home. The other 104 puppies were raised with their mom in an outdoor kennel. They only saw the breeder during the time that s/he came to care for them (feeding and cleaning).

The puppies were tested by the experimenters when they were 7-8 weeks old, using something called the Puppy Aptitude Test, which has ten subscales. The puppies were then assigned a score between 1 and 6, where numbers in the middle (3 and 4) represent the best family pets.

The results showed that puppies raised indoors were less likely to show signs of fear aggression and more likely to be able to cope with a novel stimulus (such as a noise).

There were no differences in behaviour between the male and female puppies. The study did not look at breed differences as this would have needed a much larger sample. 21 different breeds were involved in the study, including American Staffordshire terriers, border collies, boxers, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Rhodesian ridgebacks, and samoyeds.

Large scale breeders and puppy farms were not included in the study. Other research has already shown that puppies from pet stores (acquired via commercial breeding establishments) have poorer behavioural outcomes likely as a result of the poorer raising environment and other factors.

The study did not follow up the puppies to see if there were any differences later in life, but research by Guide Dogs has shown that additional socialization during the early part of the sensitive period leads to better outcomes at 8 months old.

So if you are getting a puppy from a breeder, it’s a good idea to check that the puppy is being raised in the house, and not outside in a garage or barn. For more advice, including the importance of seeing the mom, see how to choose a puppy.

Remember, it is also important to continue socialization at home. A good puppy class can help ensure your pup gets enough socialization.

If you liked this post, you will love my book, Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy Gregory Berns, NYT-bestselling author of How Dogs Love Us says of Wag,  “Using the latest canine science, Zazie Todd gives us a clear and compassionate guide to bringing out the best in your dog.”

When you got your puppy, did you visit the breeder’s home?

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

Useful links:

Majecka, Katarzyna, Magdalena P─ůsiek, Dariusz Pietraszewski, and Carl Smith. "Behavioural outcomes of housing for domestic dog puppies (Canis lupus familiaris)." Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2019): 104899. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159119301613

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