NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of Andrew Luescher working with a dog to help overcome behavior problems is available. The photo is called Luescher/Puppies.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- When selecting a puppy for a pet, choosing the breeder may be more important than choosing the breed, suggests a Purdue University animal behaviorist.
"Not all breeds of dogs may be suited to you or your family's lifestyle, but for certain you want an animal that comes from a good breeder," says Dr. Andrew Luescher. He is a veterinarian and head of the Purdue Animal Behavior Clinic, which treats problem pets, horses and herd animals.
He suggests getting information on a number of breeds of dogs and narrowing your choice to a few possibilities. Then visit breeders, and select one you trust and can go back to for help if problems occur. "Take a look at both parent animals, and ask the breeder if they have been tested for problems that may be common to that breed," he says. "A good breeder will also give you references to others who have purchased puppies with a similar genetic background."
Some behaviorists have proposed procedures to test puppies for dominance, because a dominant animal may become more aggressive toward its master. However, studies show that dominance can't be detected in animals that young. "I suggest people choose a puppy that is friendly, one that doesn't show fear, and one that's outgoing and interested in you," he says.
He says one of the best ways for owners to avoid behavior problems is by enrolling their new pups in puppy classes as early as possible. "Puppy classes teach animals how to interact with humans and other dogs. They also teach obedience," he says.
Luescher says the window of opportunity for animals to learn to socialize with humans is up to about 12 weeks of age. He says puppies should be handled a lot while they are young, but should not be sold before they are 7 to 8 weeks old.
He also advises owners to be aware of another important stage in a dog's development. "Between 8 and 10 weeks, puppies go through a fear period," he says. "If something significantly scares them during this time, they may be ruined for life."
Luescher estimates that between 40 percent and 50 percent of pets have some form of a behavioral problem. He says behavior problems account for a significant number of the animals surrendered to humane shelters each year.
Among the most common behavior problems are aggression toward the owner or strangers, separation anxiety, fear, and house soiling. He says all of these problems can be treated with behavioral modification techniques such as desensitization and counter-conditioning. "Overall, behavioral modification techniques curb animals of their behavioral problems with a 65 percent success rate," he says.
CONTACT: Luescher, (765) 494-8775; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Compiled by Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue animal behaviorist Andrew Luescher (far right) walks Tuggy past an assistant
holding a German shepherd in an effort to correct Tuggy's aggression problems. Luescher
says behavior modification efforts work in about 65 percent of cases. Owner Drago
Panich of Lafayette looks on in the background. (Purdue News Service Photo by David
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Luescher.puppies
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