The early experiences of puppies have such profound effects on their behavior as adults, but most people don’t even meet their puppies until they are 7-8 weeks old. Those first few weeks matter so much, but it can be hard to acquire information about what puppies have experienced in those early days. A new study suggests there’s an easy way to improve the chances of adopting a puppy from a breeder that is ready for life as a friendly, sociable pet: Choose a puppy that was raised in an indoor kennel with a family rather than one that was raised outdoors in a kennel.
The article Behavioural outcomes of housing for domestic dog puppies (Canis lupus familiaris) published in January 2020 in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science compared the behavior of puppies that were reared in indoor kennels with those reared in outdoor kennels. The study included 264 puppies in 44 litters, and there were 21 breeds represented.
The dogs who were raised inside were better suited and more prepared for life with a family. The dogs raised in outdoor kennels displayed an elevated tendency to exhibit submissive behavior patterns, they were more likely to act aggressively out of fearfulness and they were less capable of coping with novelty.
Though this study shows a difference between puppies raised indoors and those raised outdoors, it does not show causality. That is, the study does not show that the cause of the difference between puppies raised indoors and puppies raised outdoors is the location they grow up. It is possible that the location in which the puppies were raised is a key factor in the differences between the puppies, but the authors acknowledge that they can’t conclude that based on their data.
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To investigate a causal role of the location of rearing would require that litters are randomly assigned to either indoor or outdoor rearing. In this study, the breeders chose where to raise their dogs and the comparison was between puppies whose breeders chose indoor rearing and puppies whose breeders chose outdoor rearing. It may be that the differences are caused by other factors related to the breeders or their lines of dogs.
If you acquire a puppy from a breeder, there are lots of questions worth asking about how the puppy was raised. Many experienced guardians want to know how much time puppies spent with people, and whether those people were varied in age, race and sex. It’s common to ask whether they were exposed to carpet, wood floors and grass and whether they met any other dogs besides their mom. Many prospective guardians want to know details about a day in the life of the puppies such as who feeds them, how much they are handled, and whether there has been an effort to expose them to new sounds, new objects and toys.
Though I would encourage anyone to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research, this study offers a quick and dirty way to increase the chances of ending up with the wonderful dog you dreamed about: Get a puppy from a breeder who rears the dogs inside with the family rather than raising them outside in a kennel.