The Italian Almanac


Italian News - April 28

Problems in puppyhood can lead to behavioural difficulties in adult dogs, in much the same way as for humans, according to a leading Italian vet. Addressing a conference of animal experts, Chiara Palestrini of Milan University's veterinary faculty explained that the first 14 weeks of a dog's life played a crucial role in shaping its temperament.

"Although genetic elements can cause aggression in an animal, it is far more likely to stem from its early development," she said. "For example, there are wonderful dog shelters in the countryside with plenty of space to run around outdoors; but unless the puppies come into contact with all the things they will meet later - cars, people, children - they will have problems coping".

According to Canestrini, this is why dogs should be exposed to as many stimuli as possible during their early life. New experiences after that often spark fear and make it difficult to bond. "Fear in particular manifests itself in two ways in dogs: either they run away or else they react aggressively," she said. In turn, families can find it difficult to cope with a new pet, and may end up giving it away.

However, the expert believes that even animals that have had a difficult upbringing can be taught proper behaviour if owners are willing to devote the necessary time and attention. The key, she said, is ensuring clear, consistent lines of communication. For example, if dogs "play up" in new surroundings, repeatedly telling them to stop won't work, as this is merely rewarding bad behaviour with attention. Equally, dogs who come when called - even if they have to be called a few times - should be rewarded with a pat or a treat, showing them they did the right thing.

Canestrini is part of a special office set up in Milan to help owners deal with difficult pets, providing animals - and their humans - with support and training.