Puppy Development Periods
I have read many studies and conducted a lot of research of my own through puppies that I have bred, have been engaged to work with and consult with throughout their lives. You may notice some of these periods overlap, that is correct they do, and sometimes the developmental periods go back to back, and sometimes there are a few weeks in between.
Nature is not an exact science, breed, sex, environment etc all play a part in producing these development periods and their severity.
This is my Puppy Development Schedule free to use and share.
New born puppy (birth to 2 weeks)
Puppies in this period can only communicate or respond by feel, smell and temperature and a small amount of sound. They have no control of their bowel or bladder and cannot regulate their own body temperature. We will often imprint certain odours like future owner odour, or even some target odours for future scent detection dogs at this age.
I expect to see movement and activity, especially with the mother enters the whelping box.
By 14 days of age I would expect all the litter to be able to crawl a minimum of 1 metre to their mother to feed, unassisted and on the scent of her lactation hormones.
We start the Bio Sensor program at 3 days.
Transition from new born to early puppy hood (2-3 weeks)
Eyes and ears are opening but sight and hearing are quite limited. Movements are becoming more confident and pups should be walking with belly off the ground by 3 weeks.
Tails are wagging and pups are responding to our voices and smell when we enter the whelping room.
With our litters we are spending a lot of time with them at this stage.
Awareness period (3 – 4 weeks)
The puppy is learning that he is a dog and has a great need for a stable environment. It’s a great time to cuddle and talk to the pup. Hearing can now be tested as it will be developed and sight as developed also but still far from accurate.
Whilst we still have the pups sleep in their whelping box, we do give them access to the whole whelping room and out door covered concrete run with supervised session in their large grassed area.
Enrichment is beginning with exposure to sunlight, wet grass, wind and external noises.
Pack Skills Development (3 – 8 weeks)
This is a crucial time for puppy to spend interacting with mum and litter mates, and people too. Interaction skills are developing now as are canine communication and play skills. Calming and greeting signals are learned and offered.
The puppy is now aware of the differences between humans and canines and may show submission towards humans that are not familiar. This is not a temperament flaw at this age.
Some breeds will show some rank behaviour and there are often squabbles between pups in the litter.
Human Socialisation Period (6 – 16 weeks)
The puppy has a developed brain that can think like an adult dog. This is the best time to interact with the puppy and teach your pup all about the world.
He now has the ability to learn respect, simple training steps such as come, sit, stay. We teach the toilet command from 6 week mark so the dog will toilet on command. He can now learn by association.
The permanent man-dog bonding begins, we do not use any corrective measures when training puppies at this stage, other than removal of an available reward. Although with some pups grabbing them by the scruff of the neck may be important if they are behaving badly.
Confidence building is now possible too.
When I breed a litter of puppies, these puppies are given extensive environmental exposure to light, dark, weather, sound, noise, strangers, friends, dogs, horses, crowds, traffic, car travel – pretty much everything I can think of. We start leaving our breeding facility at around 5 weeks with puppies to run environmental exposure.
Of course this is a specially designed system I have so I am not just exposing pups to stimulus and making them fearful.
When you pick your pup up from a breeder, I recommend that you start taking your pup out into public places right from 8 weeks (or before).
Yes I know that some vets will advise you that you should wait until your pup has had its second set of vaccinations, but if you wait until 16 weeks before starting your social exposure your puppy may very well be in a fear period, in which he or she would likely only learn to be fearful.
Is there a risk of disease? of course there is, but I feel in my program I manage that risk and I also reduce and almost eliminate the risk of my puppy becoming socially dysfunctional.
Period of fear 12-16 Weeks
The puppy will spook very easily in this period, and frightening experiences can have a lasting effect on the puppy. Contrary to popular belief, fear periods themselves do not alter a dogs temperament, but fear periods, actually all developmental periods, will change the pups thresholds to certain behaviours for a period of time.
An example may be, the puppy is in his or her fear period, this means their thresholds to avoidance an flight are lower than normal, meaning it is easier for the pup to become frightened. If the puppy is exposed to a strange dog throughout this period and that dog does anything to frighten the pup (remembering that puppies are easier frightened at this age), the puppy may very likely become fearful of dogs and this can easily lead to aggression later on.
When I see my puppy start to show hesitation or fear towards things that he or she was stable with last week, I consider that my puppy is in his or her fear period and I will not then expose my puppy to anything new. In this period, we don’t allow children to carry or pick up puppies, nor play with them without close supervision.
We try not to allow the pup to interact with dogs we don’t know and only interact with our own dogs if they are gentle.
Things learned by association are permanent.
Rank and shaping (14-26 Weeks)
Puppies teethe at this point, this makes them chew and people are good chew toys, many pups that have been chewing or biting you may now bite you with purpose, that purpose may be to “make something happen”. This is a rank or dominant behaviour and will be stronger in some pups and maybe undetectable in others.
They begin to realise the power of their jaw and should be taught bite inhibition (for pets) before this age. They can also start to show signs of dominance, good pack leadership should be exercised now, a large breed dog let go at this point can be quite a handful.
Keep up with loads of reward training at this point, learning a new behaviour at this stage is easier than breaking a bad habit later.
Independence (5-9 Months)
It’s no surprise to see puppies pretend not to hear your commands at this age. It’s at this age we introduce more formal training including consequences for disobedience if the pup does not comply to the cues you have trained with rewards.
This can be a contentious topic because those that wish to train without using any aversive may just allow their young dog to rehearse undesirable behaviours, such as not coming when called, pulling on leash, ignoring cues for sit/down etc and rough playing with other dogs. I truly feel that, if your dog was going to be responsive to a reward only type system, you would not be experiencing a dog that is ignoring your commands.
My personal dog is a Working Line Belgian Malinois, he was trained with zero aversives but each time we were going through a developmental period, he never got to the stage where he refused a command, so he complied and was duly rewarded. If I had seen him ignoring me I would have without hesitation, used some level of aversive, appropriate for the behaviour he was displaying.
I am not suggesting that using aversives is necessary with all dogs, in fact it wasn’t necessary with my own dog, but I don’t let my feelings determine the best training method for my dog, I don’t let other people, peers or harassment choose the system either, it is based on my dog and the behaviours he is displaying, or not displaying.
“He will grow out of it”. In fact he or she will grow out of their independence phase, but if whilst they were in this period, they learned that when you call “come”, they don’t have to, well they will not grow out of that lesson easy.
This is a tough period to be a dog owner, they chew as they are changing teeth, they can pretend they don’t know you, become non respondent etc, many pups are dumped before 9 months…
Second Fear Period (8 – 16 Months)
As puppies become what is called gangly, long legs due to growth spurts, they seem to become a little weaker in nerve than previously noted. Strange sounds, new sights that often spook a dog more easily than just a week ago…
It’s at this time we need to be good leaders, when your dog baulks at a stairway, keep walking at full pace to show your pup all is ok. Coddling him when he shows fear will re enforce that fear and you will have to work to get over it later.
More training now is crucial to his behavioural development but this is not the time to get heavy handed with your dog.
Maturity (1-4 Years)
We have so many people with German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers etc that come to us at 2 years old wondering when the puppy will leave this dog? I have seen some dogs that are big pups at 4 years old. If the dog is a pain then its because you haven’t completed the training as suggested earlier, but better late than never.
If you allow your large dog to reach maturity without any reliable training, your in for a hard time, possibly a dangerous one if your dog becomes dominant or fear aggressive.
Dogs approaching maturity need firm rules and boundaries if they haven’t had them so far.
If you have a dog that is not 12 months old yet, and your dog is displaying any concerning behaviours, NOW is the time to get some help. We call this Early Intervention and addressing your dogs fears and or crazy ideas is best done before he sails into maturity.
Getting a dog and raising it to fit into our busy lives and unforgiving dog laws is quite a challenge. I am booked solid for months in advance offering behaviour consults to people who have dog issues, in fact it is more likely that it will go wrong rather than right. So what can you do to be the one with the great dog, rather than the one with the problem dog?
Research your breed well, go see some and speak to people who own them, speak to your trainer and ask if he or she recommends the breed for you.
I temperament test puppies for many people each year including pro active breeders who want to make sure they are sending the right pup to the right home. This is invaluable to making sure the temperament of the pup is suitable.
Upskill yourself by coming for a lesson before you get the pup, yes before. Why? don’t bring home a pup and guess your way through, that would be like buying a car and not knowing how to drive…
Once you have the pup, with the help of your trainer develop a plan to take the pup through to maturity. This may mean that you see your trainer a few times in the first 6 months, so be it. I can promise you will spend more time, effort, money and heartache on remedial behaviour modification than training if it goes wrong. So think PRO ACTIVE.
If your puppy is showing any concerning behaviours, get help right away. Don’t wait and see, even a simple phone consultation will ease that worry or highlight an issue.
There is a massive amount of dog training information freely available, including on our site. As a trainer and behaviourist I can tell you most of what I read is very wrong and at times scary. I have seen trainers offering people help and advice and the trainers dog is worse than the clients…
Be selective and respect your pup by making sure you invest your time and energy into someone that is producing the results with their clients dogs that you want.
On occasions a client will ask to see a demonstration dog, we have no problem demonstrating our dogs, but consider this. I got my pup from super genetics when he was 8 weeks of age. I personally raised him and spent thousands of hours with him, teaching and training him and this is what I do for a living. Do you really think your dog will come out like mine?
I feel a more realistic dog to look at would be another clients dog, perhaps the same breed as yours, one that possibly came to me with the same problems your facing and it has been some time and the problem is gone.
The service I am providing is to get you and your dog to where you need to be, not what I can produce in my own dog. Great dog trainers and behaviourists today are people trainers. Of course they know how to train dogs, they should be able to do this very well; but the key is educating people, empowering them and getting them results.
You should use this Puppy Development Schedule to help you identify where your pup is and where he or she is going. It can help rest your mind to know that many behaviours your pup is displaying may be normal.