Puppy Developmental Stages


Puppies! Everyone loves puppies, but they are challenging to train. Puppies go through many different stages of growth, with each stage presenting new behaviors. Understanding those stages, consistency in schedule, and training can all prevent puppyhood from being too hard on new owners. These are general outlines, designed with pet parents who bring home their puppies when they are past 8 weeks of age.

0–7 Weeks

The developmental tasks of this period all involve learning appropriate social behavior with other dogs. Interactions with mother and siblings teach bite inhibition, appropriate submissive and attention-soliciting behavior, attention-receptive behavior, and general confidence with other dogs.

Orphan puppies and single-pup litters are at a disadvantage when it comes to learning how to be a dog among dogs. Some of these lessons can be learned later (though how late is too late has not been clearly determined) under carefully arranged and supervised conditions. Orphan puppies, especially those bottle-fed from a very early age without mother or siblings, make very problematic pets without knowledgeable remedial behavior shaping.

By three to five weeks, play becomes important as a puppy becomes aware of his surroundings, companions (both people and dogs), and relationships. By five to seven weeks, a puppy needs positive human interaction as he develops curiosity and explores new experiences. From four to twelve weeks, a puppy’s interaction with people becomes more influential. The influence of the puppy’s littermates increases at four to twelve weeks as he learns more about being a dog, learns to play, develops social skills, , explores his social boundaries and hierarchy, improves physical coordination and learns BITE INHIBITION. If your puppy was not with its litter until AT LEAST 8 weeks of age, please understand that your puppy is at risk for many behavioral issues! IF POSSIBLE, return the puppy to its litter as soon as you can! Here are some links with more information



Taz was not with a litter when she was found at our city animal control at 5 weeks, and I believe that she was without her litter/ mother for some time before that as well. I firmly believe that this, coupled with being born to a stray dog, is the reason Taz has so many fear issues. Many people ask if she was abused, because of how she acts. She has never been abused, and has been with me since 8 weeks of age. Her behavior is simply a consequence of a poor “puppyhood”.

7 – 12 Weeks

The puppy needs to meet other pets and people during this stage. Puppies also have full use of their senses by seven to nine weeks. The puppy is refining his coordination and physical ability, and can begin to be house trained.

Enhancing responses, advancing social skills with littermates (proper contact), and investigating the surroundings and items takes place from nine to twelve weeks. This is a good time to begin short training sessions at home as a puppy will begin to focus on people. Watch for signs of stress in your puppy when training, because a stressed puppy won’t learn anything. Always keep sessions short and fun. http://www.perfectpaws.com/frstwk.html#.Vql0tCorLIU

8–10 Weeks

Sometimes referred to as the “fear period,” the puppy is especially impressionable now. Object-associations formed during this period leave indelible imprints. It’s vital that the puppy have as many positive experiences with people, other animals, and novel situations as can be arranged.

It’s equally vital to avoid painful or scary experiences until after 11 weeks. Those mildly unpleasant experiences that can’t be avoided (like puppy shots) should be turned into positive ones by your reaction. Always “jolly up” a scared puppy by laughing, praising the puppy, and treating the event as a game. Never give the appropriately human empathetic response of soothing reassurance, as this convinces the puppy that it must be really awful since you’re upset too.

12–16 Weeks

This is a good time to enroll in puppy training classes. They teach you how to teach your puppy how to learn. Make sure all training sessions are fun and successful. Take advantage of the puppy’s dependence on you and strong desire to be near you to teach him to be reliable on “come.” Never punish a puppy, for any reason, if he has come to your call—or come to you at all! In fact, avoid trainers/training techniques which rely on punishment. Get the puppy out into the world and expose him to as many new things and different ages, sexes and races of people as possible. Always make sure you can control the situation so the experiences will be positive. Have the puppy on a leash so that you can intervene if anything threatens or frightens him.

Starting handling your puppy constantly. Handle his ears, feet, tail, everywhere. Start early teaching him which behaviors are allowed in your house and which behaviors aren’t. Is he allowed to shred the toilet paper? Jump up on the furniture? Jump into the lap of a seated person? Is he allowed in the kitchen when meals are being prepared? Can he take a toy away from another dog in the family? Can he take socks out of the laundry basket? Is it OK to sleep on your bed with you? What about barking at strangers he sees through the window?

YOU decide on the household rules, and it’s up to you to teach these rules to the puppy clearly. Then be completely consistent about enforcing what you have decided. “No” and “Yes!” will serve you well for these puppy lessons, but only if you have taught those words properly. Clicker training is a great way to enforce the “Yes!” word.

3-6 Months

This pre-adolescent period is characterized by the gradual increase of independence and confidence. The puppy will venture further and further from you side, motivated by his own curiosity and increasing confidence in the world.

Continue training, in a class if possible. Begin incorporating distractions into your practice sessions. Take the puppy with you everywhere! This period is very important in cementing a bond strong enough to withstand the trials of adolescence (right around the corner).Ranking within the household, including people, is seen and used by a puppy in this stage.

The puppy’s play group, which may now include those of other species, becomes influential in his life. Teething and chewing begins during this phase. Make sure to give your puppy plenty to chew on and redirect inappropriate chewing by taking the object from the puppy and IMMEDIATELY replacing it with an appropriate chew. Flat moose antlers are a great chew for puppies.

A puppy experiences another fear stage at four months of age, so be prepared with positive reinforcement and introductions to objects and situations.

Puppies need lots of fun play sessions!

 6-12 Months

Even with the best preparation during puppyhood, things will be “hairy” from time to time during this period. The puppy/young dog’s needs for stimulation, companionship and activity are very high, and his tolerance for boredom and inactivity are low.

This is the period in which sexual maturity is reached in unaltered animals. Guardians will experience testing behaviors reminiscent of human teenagers. Often puppies of this age will push the limits and try to find out where the rules can be bent. This is where the consistency and persistence of routine and training pays off. Avoid situations in which the dog’s occasional lapses of obedience could have harmful results, such as off-leash work in an unsecured area. Continue to provide safe opportunities for vigorous play and exercise, and safe toys to occupy teeth and mind when he’s confined. This is not the time to expect model behavior, however, set your puppy up for success by not pushing him or her past her limit.

Of course, don’t forget to get your copies of Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Ebooks, Before and After You Get Your Puppy









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