People sometimes ask me “what are the critical periods in a puppy’s life in terms of development?” This is an important subject if you want to set your puppy up for success. I’d like to acknowledge Ryan O’Meara’s book “Amazing Dogs Facts and Trivia” P.104 “The Stages of Puppyhood” for the input to this article.
• 0 to 7 weeks: puppy is with its mom and starting to experience the world, be it in a limited physical environment. This is a strong socialization period where a strong bond develops between the puppy and its mom, who passes on 65-75 percent of her temperament to her puppies. By day 10 the puppy should experience the touch of human hands and feel comfortable being handled. If a breeder (or anyone) is looking to sell puppies younger than 8 weeks old, beware as the puppy will be missing out on basic socialization skills.
• 8 to 12 weeks: curiosity is the key word at this time. Puppies will be exploring and are anxious to learn and play. Puppy training can begin, not in any strict or aggressive way but should be fun. It is key to have a positive attitude when working or playing with a puppy as this is an impressionable stage in their development.
• 3.5 to 4 months: Puppies are losing their baby teeth during this period. With the growth of the puppy comes a surge in hormones that affects the puppy’s behaviour. The result can be up to a 30 percent increase in its natural tendencies, e.g. if the puppy is hyperactive, you can expect the hyperactivity to increase by up to 30 percent. It is important during this phase to adopt a consistent training schedule.
• 4 to 5 months: with the surge of hormones taking place, owners may become mystified by their puppy’s behaviour. Training that you thought was firmly in place seems to becoming unravelled. Puppies are not becoming defiant, they are confused by the hormonal effect on them. Adopt a patient attitude with your puppy, take a deep breath and re-inforce the training.
• 5 to 6.5 months: puppies go through a noticeable growth spurt during the fifth month.
• 6.5 to 7.5 months: puppies should settle down during this period.
• 7.5 to 9 months: this is the final hormonal surge for the puppy. This can be a challenging time for owners who may find items disappearing or their puppy’s temperamental behaviour increasing. It is also during this period that male dogs will start lifting their legs when urinating. Attention, not punishment, is what your puppy needs during this time combined, as with the “4 to 5 months” period, with a large dose of patience. Try to avoid exhibiting frustration when your puppy appears to become “brain dead” and persevere with consistent training.
Missing a window for, say, socialization is not the end of the world but you may find it takes longer than the ideal schedule to get to your end goal of having a well socialized dog.
At every stage of a puppy’s / dog’s life, you want it to be an upbeat experience. This can only be achieved with a positive attitude with your dog who feeds off of the positive energy you’re emitting. Think positive and you’ll achieve a win-win situation for both the dog and yourself.