Unless you have had experience training puppies, you might not understand that a puppy goes through several critical periods of development—especially in his first year of life. The common term “critical period” is used extensively with animal experts, veterinarians, breeders, and trainers.
A puppy’s critical period consists of very rapid development, both physically and psychologically. The success of your puppy’s development depends on how he was treated with the breeder and how you treat him during his early life.
What he experiences and the socialization that he is exposed to in his very early life can have a profound impact him, and in essence a profound impact on you, for the rest of his life. To better understand your puppy’s development stages, let’s take a closer look at these critical periods.
BIRTH TO 12 DAYS / NEONATAL PERIOD
There are basically two main objectives for the newborn puppy during this very fragile stage, and those are to receive nutrition from nursing and to stay warm. A puppy is completely dependent on his mother these first days and is not physically self-sufficient in any way.
The only way he can control his body temperature is by the warmth from his mother and litter
mates. He cannot see or hear, and he has little capacity for smell and taste. However, he is aware of the smell of his mother. He cannot urinate or defecate without stimulation.
He can crawl forward in a circular pattern in search of his mother. He may let out a small cry until his mother lets him know she is there for him. The puppy is not really affected by the environment, only if he is touched by an object, animal, or person.
During the neonatal period, the puppy is growing physically at a rapid rate. However, there is not much of a difference between brain wave activities from when he is awake compared to when he sleeps.
13 DAYS TO 20 DAYS / TRANSITION PERIOD
This is perhaps the most crucial time period for a puppy because any emotional disturbances (for example, shocking noises, being left alone, and being around unfamiliar objects) leave a much more negative impact which could affect him for the rest of his life and can especially have a great effect in puppy training.
During this time, the puppy is still quite dependent on his birth mother, as she is still protective of him. A puppy’s only concerns at this point are the care, food, and warmth that he receives from his mother. He does not move very far away from her, but instead stays close to both her and his litter mates. However, during this period, there are a significant amount of physical changes that take place with the puppy.
Around 13 days, his eyes will usually begin to open and his pupils are capable of reacting to the brightness of light. On the other hand, the retina is still immensely undeveloped. The puppy won’t actually be able to see objects or detect motion until he is about 21 days old. The puppy can now attempt to explore as he has the ability to crawl both forwards and backwards.
A few days after he achieves this accomplishment, he will be able to start walking—with a wobble!
He will fall often, but once he is able to walk, he will stop crawling. Around 19 days, he will start reacting to sounds. However, he is still not able to detect where the sound is coming from.
At around 20 days, his first teeth will start to emerge and he will quickly learn how to nip and chew. The puppy will start to eat solid food and will begin to play with his litter mates. During this period, the puppy’s tail begins to wag.
This is not in relation to excitement from sight or sound, since he hasn’t fully developed in these areas yet. Rather, it is just another sign of development!
3 WEEKS TO 4 WEEKS / AWARENESS PERIOD
This is a big week for the puppy and a very important stage if you want to make puppy training easier since it is the first time he will be able to use his senses to fully see and hear. This is an immediate change that takes place usually within a 24-hour time frame.
For this reason, it is best that the puppy stay put in a safe and stable environment. He should stay with his mother at this time and not be uprooted to a new location due to the risk of hurting the puppy psychologically.
When he stays in a stable environment at this time he will be mentally prepared to start learning what life is like to be a dog!
Moving the puppy away from his mother at this stage can cause a lot of psychological damage to the dog. This can be one of the causes why there are dogs that are simply hard to introduce to dog training that would require dog training courses and even dog school.
3 WEEKS TO 7 WEEKS / CANINE SOCIALIZATION PERIOD
During these four weeks, the pup learns behaviors that will make him feel like a real dog! He should continue to stay close to his mother and litter mates since they will have a big role to play puppy training, although he will continue to explore by wandering off away from them.
The curious puppy will also become more active and alert as he will play with any toys he can get his little paws on. He will also react to new voices, he will be able to identify his master, and he will meet new animals. The puppy will learn how his expressions and dog behaviors such as facial movements, body posture, and vocalizations can affect his mother and litter mates.
He will learn a lot about how to act when playing and fighting. For example, when playing chase games, he will learn about timing and coordination. He will learn how to use his posture when greeting and play fighting. He will learn the sound of his bark and experience what it feels like to be barked at. He will learn how to use his teeth by the act of biting—and he will be bitten by his littermates!
All of this playtime with his littermates gives the mother an opportunity to teach the puppy discipline. Accepting discipline is a major milestone for the puppy and it will help him learn basic behaviors for interacting with his litter mates and mother.
7 WEEKS TO 12 WEEKS / HUMAN SOCIALIZATION PERIOD
This time period usually marks a major change in the puppy’s life—moving to a new home! This is the safest time for a puppy to leave his mother and litter mates, and is usually the time when families acquire a puppy from a breeder. This is also the ideal time to expose the puppy to more—perhaps bold—sights and sounds.
For example, if the puppy has not heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner, a house alarm, loud music, a lawn mower, a car, etc. this would be an appropriate time to do so.
He should be introduced to a variety new people and even farm animals. For example, people young and old; short and tall; thin and overweight; and bald and long-haired. This is also a good time to start taking him for car rides so he can see the hustle and bustle of a city.
All of these activities should be done in the safest manner possible, so the puppy does not feel threatened in any way. During this period, a puppy has a short attention span, but he is very impressionable and can learn a great amount from you and his environment.
Everything he learns during this period is permanently ingrained in his mind. He learns very quickly and everything he is exposed to makes a more significant impact on him now than at any other time. Since he is quick to learn at this stage, this is the best time to initiate obedience training or to train your puppy.
He is too young to have learned any bad habits, so the training will come fairly easily to him—and it will be fun!
Understanding puppy development before you adopt a puppy is actually very essential in raising your dog.