Puppies grow very quickly. It can be easy to treat your puppy like a grown dog once is is six or eight months old and approaching its full size. If you start to think that way, it’s easy to be surprised or annoyed by some of its behaviours. But just remember – it is still a puppy and needs guidance and training through these developmental stages, just like human children do. It just won’t need it for 18 years! (Though even old dogs CAN learn new tricks.)
Infancy: 0 – 3 weeks
For the first 10–16 days of its life your puppy is blind, deaf and helpless. It experiences the world entirely through smell and feel. It feels its mother’s heartbeat, the textures of the blankets it lies on, and its littermates movements beside, over and under it. It learns its mother’s distinctive smell, the smell of the humans that approach and other things in the environment. Its movements are limited, as its legs are insufficiently developed to bear its weight. It can move around using a “crocodile-like” motion, but does so just to seek out a teat or find a comfortable spot in the whelping box. Once its eyes and ears open, at around 2 weeks of age, it begins to experience sound and light, though both senses are still developing and sight, in particular, can take several weeks to gain acuity.
During this phase we do Neuro-Sensory Stimulation exercises to stimulate puppy brains to respond positively to simple stressors (like being held upside down or placed on a cool damp cloth for several seconds). Once their eyes and ears open we play classical music to stimulate development of hearing.
Toddler phase: 3 – 8 weeks
During the toddler period, your puppy begins to emerge from the whelping box and develop as an individual. Now that its legs are stronger, it begins to walk and soon to run. It climbs out of the whelping box and ventures into the surrounding environment. Its mother teaches it critical lessons about appropriate doggy behaviour, like “don’t bite me” and “keep quiet!” Puppies removed too early from their litter tend to be nervous, bark inappropriately and have ongoing behaviour and training problems that are difficult to resolve as they missed learning these lessons during a critical developmental window.
Beginning at 3 weeks of age
They learn dog-specific behavioural patterns.
- 7 Body-language: the meaning of various postures and the effect of these on their mother and littermates.
- 7 Sound-language: what barking and other vocalizations mean and their different uses.
- 7 Don’t bite me: how to bite and what it feels like to be bitten.
- 7 I’m the boss: how to establish social relationships with dogs.
- Beginning at 5 weeks of age
They start to learn manners.
- 7 You’re the boss: be submissive to the leader of the pack.
- 7 What’s happening: additional postures, vocalizations, and acceptable behaviours for doggy interaction. The mother will growl, snarl and snap to communicate. With a few very clear signals and repetitions, the young puppy learns quickly. Soon, a mother’s glare or low growl is all that is needed to keep a young pup in line. Littermates also learn clear communication signals with each other. If the puppies have the chance to interact with other dogs in the household, these dogs will help to reinforce mother’s lessons.
Socialization period: 7 – 12 weeks
This is a key period for positive new experiences and becoming adept at navigating a world that can bring many surprises. Dogs denied socialization during this phase can become fearful or aggressive. Proper socialization, on the other hand, lays the groundwork for a happy, well-adjusted dog. For this reason, it is important to allow and encourage interactions with other dogs. Some breeders emphasize not to allow your puppy to interact with other dogs until it is fully vaccinated. We prefer to say not to allow interaction with unvaccinated dogs, as dog (and human) interaction is critical during this phase of development.
Beginning at 7 weeks of age
They learn quickly and eagerly and adopt permanent behaviours.
- 7 What did you say: They have very short attention spans!
- 7 Who am I: Their temperament and personality become more apparent. What they do and learn now, they will do as an adult; these behaviours will be challenging to change.
- 7 Who’s the teacher: They begin to transition to learning from their human companions.
- From 8 to 12 weeks of age
They are very impressionable.
- 7 I don’t like that: Traumatic, painful or frightening experiences can have a lasting impact if not dealt with.
- 7 If you put it that way: They will respond positively to new experiences accompanied by encouragement, treats or toys.
- 7 Don’t make me: They will adjust best if you give them time to adapt to and feel comfortable in a new situation rather than pushing them into it or being forceful.
- 7 I like you: If you show your puppy that you are there to protect and lead it in new and scary situations, it will turn to you for comfort and assurance.
Seniority Classification Period: 12 – 16 weeks
You’re not the boss of me!
Your puppy is observing you and your family very closely, picking up on human behaviours and reactions, learning the pecking order of the family pack and trying to figure out where its position is in the pack. It will also try to see whether it can move up in the pack standing by moving ahead of the “weak links.”
Your puppy begins to question authority
- 7 You’re not the boss of me: It might grab the leash, growl, or mouth you. It is trying to determine what’s going to happen and when.
- 7 This is SOOO fun!: It can easily get over-excited.
- How to show you’re in charge and keep your puppy in line
- 7 Okay, you are the boss: You need to pay attention to how your actions and body language communicate to your puppy.
- 7 Can I be the boss of them?: Be very aware of how the puppy interacts with children (especially under age 6) – do not leave children and puppy together unsupervised.
- 7 You guys are all the boss: Ensure every family member is interacting with and correcting puppy in the same way.
- 7 Can’t we play more? If your puppy gets over-excited, growls or mouths you, stop all activity and turn away.
- 7 I love school: Take your puppy to puppy kindergarten and work on training it to redirect its energy in a positive fashion.
Flight Instinct Period: 4 – 8 months
Fly like an eagle, into the wind
Your cute little puppy has been following you around for weeks now. He has been aware of where you are and would stay pretty close. During this period, that same cute little puppy will decide that he is ready to go solo and take off running quicker than lightning. During this time, teaching the puppy that he must stay close by or come when called is critical. The failure to do this will result in a dog that will not be reliable to come or to stay close by as an adult and very well could lead the dog into a life-or-death situation.
Your puppy will become more independent
- 7 I love adventure: A puppy that previously would never go very far might wander off.
- 7 You can’t tell me what to do: The puppy will ignore commands to stay close or come. How you handle the refusal to come or stay will affect their behaviour off leash. The puppy will be clever in attempts to run around loose.
- How to maintain control and establish appropriate boundaries
- 7 Keep the leash on 100% of the time when not in a confined area. Never allow the dog loose in an unconfined area.
- 7 Enrol in classes that use positive training techniques.
- 7 Reinforce and continue to train “Come!” Make coming a very positive experience.
- 7 Oh… and never allow your dog off leash in an unconfined area.
Adolescence: 7 – 12 months
Welcome to the Teenage Years – Enjoy the Ride!
This is one of the most difficult times for pet owners. You might be very surprised when your cute puppy turns into “devil dog.” This is often a time when families start to worry that maybe they made a big mistake in getting a dog. Remember, you get what you put into it. If yo have taken the time to teach good habits, and continue to do so now, you will have the dog you always dreamed of for many years. This work will pay off!
What is happening?
- 7 I know everything: The pup becomes a free and independent thinker.
- 7 Le’s GO: It has energy to burn.
- 7 This is FUN: It will be exuberant and enthusiastic.
- 7 Hey, watch ME: It will become a clown – with teeth!
- 7 What’s this? It will delight in learning new and fun things
What you can do:
- 7 Appreciate the humour of it all.
- 7 Understand that despite the behaviours, you’re still the boss – you need to continue to train and reinforce the thing that you do want your puppy to do. Keep going to training classes.
- 7 Explore options for additional training to help release the energy – they are still a bit too young for agility or flyball (great sports to try out after they’re a year old), but go out to the park and play fetch, or have someone hold your pup while you run ahead, then let them chase after you.
- 7 Reaffirm the family pack order.
- 7 Be realistic about expectations – this is still very much a puppy in bigger body.
- 7 You might want to read The Dog Listener or watch The Dog Whisperer on TV.
Second Fear Imprint Period: 6 – 14 months
Yikes! What’s up with THAT?
Your puppy is full of beans. He runs around like a clown in search of his next show. But then BAM! He refuses to walk down the stairs, he’s shaking in the car, or he jumps at the sound of the neighbour’s music. Surprise! This is normal, but you must help your dog figure out how to deal with his fears or concerns. The skill of learning how to “shake it off and keep going” will be valuable for the rest of his life. This will also reduce the chances that the things he fears will be permanently imprinted in his brain.
What is happening?
- That’s scary: The pup that was so confident will suddenly become reluctant to do new things. Fears may appear to be unprovoked or unrelated to any specific occurrence.
- Not again: This period can be subtle. It can come and go several times over the course of these months. This can lead to frustration with your puppy.
What you can do:
- Avoid extremes in your response (no anger, forcing or over-con=mforting) – be calm and assertive.
- Be patient and understanding.
- Maintain awareness of your surroundings and potential triggers.
- Avoid reassurance and coddling – this serves as a reward for his insecure behaviour. Instead, praise your puppy with grand rewards for his attempts.
- Your dog will take his cues from you. If you act frightened or concerned, he will too.
Mature Adult Development Period: 1 – 3 years
I will protect thy kingdom!!
Your puppy is no longer an itsy bitsy baby. He is pretty much fully grown in height by one year of age; now he will begin to fill out and develop more muscle tone. Mentally he is still figuring out some details of his life and what it means to him. He is a member of a pack and now begins to find that his turf is worthy of monitoring and protecting. It may sound sort of nice for your dog to be protective, but don’t fall for it. You do not want your dog to take over these responsibilities, because in no time you too will be under the nub of King (or Queen) Dog. This can lead to aggressive behaviours – protective to the point of creating fear in or actually harming someone or another animal as he protects his pack or home. This is bad news, and often the reson a dog is taken out of a home or destroyed. Instead of letting your dog become King or Queen, assign him the role of Court Jester – he will be happier, and so will your family.
What is happening?
- This is MY space: The dog may become more protective of his turf. Strangers may be greeted with barking.
- Stay away: Your dog may start barking at noises, birds, cars, birds, butterflies – pretty much everything he thinks is worthy of attention.
- You can’t do that to me: Playing with other dogs can escalate to fighting. Confrontations with other dogs of the same sex can occur.
- Can I be the boss of you? He is once again checking the pack order to see if he can move up.
- What you can do:
- Reinforce how to greet strangers into your home (this is often a persistent issue and may need constant reinforcement).
- Teach your dog to ignore dogs he cannot be nice to. Practice dog manners (don’t use threatening dogs for this).
- Learn to read your dog and other dogs. (Circling, walking on toes, stiff tail wags, and tense facial expressions are all signs of aggressive behaviours.)
- Rally your family to review that the pack order is clear and everyone is consistent with training and correction.
- Reward the puppy for good behaviour.