Puppy Development: Understanding How It All Starts

Puppy development is where it all starts for your puppy. Understanding this will help you get your puppy on the right track for success.

Properly socializing your puppy is the best and most important thing that you can do during his development.

Puppy development and socialization are the basis for any dog behavior, if your dog had poor opportunities during his development period or poor socialization or if he lacked it altogether, you will be dealing with a dog that will show different types of behavioural issues and you likely won’t achieve as much success in your dog training efforts. This has been scientifically proven many times, but one study in particular, by John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller, conducted during the sixties, concluded that puppies with bad socialization during their puppy development period would not become successful dogs later in their lives.

It is so sad that most dog owners don’t realize or they are not aware of how important puppy development and socialization are. Even worse is that there are dog breeders out there that fail either to start the socialization process with their pups at the right time during the puppy development period, or to inform the future owners about the importance of it. Whatever the reason is, if you miss out on socializing your puppy during the puppy development period you will seriously be jeopardizing your dog’s health and compromising his abilities.

Don’t waste time

In some aspects of puppy development, there are specific windows of opportunity in which to make the right steps. These windows are counted in days, not months.

Another study, performed by Freedman, King and Elliot found that puppies that grow up without human interference show different behaviors throughout different stages of puppyhood. For example:

  • A 4 week old puppy took only a few minutes to show interest and approach a human that was sitting in the room
  • A 7 week old puppy needed approximately 2 days (based on daily visits)
  • And a 14 week old puppy was too frightened to approach a human even after a week of daily visits and attempts.

As you can see the longer a puppy goes without socialization, the harder it becomes for him.

Another example is with gun dogs. It is known that puppies will get faster accustomed to the noise of a gunshot if they were exposed to it before about 8 weeks old. The reason for this is that at that age the onset of fear is starting to develop and from that point on it is more difficult to pass this step.

Below you will find the stages of puppy development. This may help you to understand the importance of this time and help you realize how quickly our puppies develop and grow.

You have roughly 16-17 weeks to lay a successful foundation for your dog’s life. This is a short period of time, it is easy to miss or make a mistake by not socializing your puppy properly or effectively at the right time.

The development is divided into two groups, the behaviors that are created before 8 weeks of age and the behaviors that are created after 8 weeks of age. The reason for this is to divide the puppy development stages between when puppies are with the breeders and when they come to your house.

This will help breeders in successfully contributing to their puppies’ development, and it will also help new dog owners recognize (and create a list of questions to ask) a responsible breeder, in order to make the right choice.

The First Eight Weeks

The Neonatal Phase

This is the first stage of puppy development and it lasts the first 12 days of their life. At this stage, a puppy’s motor patterns are not developed, their movements are limited, and they are moving mostly in circles swinging their heads and searching for warmth.

During this time, puppies just eat and rest. They are even unable to eliminate waste on their own. Their mother needs to stimulate this action for them.

Studies have shown that even at this stage, when not all of the five senses are properly functioning (their eyes and ears are still closed), puppies are still capable of learning and their brain is developing.

It is at this puppy development stage that the breeder should start introducing the first levels of environmental stimulation's and stressors in the form of handling the puppy.

It is proven that just by gently handling a puppy (by a few different people) his brain develops faster. If this is done regularly, your puppy learns to successfully cope with stress which is one of the crucial factors of your dog’s success later in life.

TIP: keep in mind that when handling puppies at this age, strict hygiene precautions must be taken. As well, the whole procedure is to be supervised by a professional in order to avoid any unnecessary stress or mistakes.

Transition Period

This puppy development period is from roughly 13-21 days. This is the stage where the puppy development turns into higher gear. Changes in the puppy’s life are huge and his learning capabilities expand drastically. At this stage, puppies develop both physically and mentally.

Some of the changes are:

  • A puppy’s motor abilities increase
  • His eyes are open and now his brain is learning through different senses
  • His ears are open so at this stage of puppy development he learns new sounds
  • Puppies can start to eat soft food
  • They are now able to eliminate waste on their own, without needing their mother’s help

At this stage, it is imperative for breeders to provide a good, stimulating environment which will motivate and stimulate all of the dog’s senses, in order to enrich and boost his learning abilities.

Many dog breeders introduce their puppies to a variety of different sounds, different walking surfaces, different items and objects, etc.

It is important to mention that already at this age, if puppies aren’t properly stimulated they will show lower abilities or even dysfunctional behaviors down the road.

Three to five weeks

This is big stepping stone in puppy development that will create some of your dog’s behaviors later in their life. It is scientifically proven that if puppies live in a poorly structured and organized environment without a sufficient amount of stimulation they will develop behavioral issues such as:

  • hyperactivity
  • anxiety
  • over-reactivity
  • separation anxiety, etc.

This is very important to know and new owners should ask breeders that they are planning to get a puppy from, how they structured their pre-training and pre-socialization plans and activities. It is sad to say that the majority of breeders don’t do much with their puppies during this puppy development stage.

  • At this stage, puppies are growing rapidly, their eyesight develops (it will be fully developed sometime around 8 weeks old)
  • Puppies start exploring and learning through good experiences
  • It helps if you separate the places where a puppy sleeps and where he plays (this helps in potty training later on)

This is a lot of work for a breeder and it requires a lot of time and effort in order to ensure a good future for their litters.

If you remove a puppy from his litter at this stage, he will show intolerance to other dogs later during his life.

It is also recommended, at this point in the puppy development stage to start introducing other dogs (healthy and approved) to the puppies.

Between five and seven weeks

During this part of puppy development, the goal is to start preparing the puppy for his new life. Soon he will leave his littermates and join his new owner. It is not recommended to give a puppy away before eight weeks old as they need to learn a set of skills from their littermates and more importantly, from their mother.

It is scientifically proven that dogs removed from the litter too early will probably end up displaying dog behavior issues, things like excessive mouthing, improper dog language, etc.

New researches actually show that it is the mother who teaches the puppies proper manners, and therefore it is crucial to keep the mother involved with the puppies during this puppy development stage, in order to avoid issues such as mouthing or bully behavior patterns.

  • Puppies should be briefly separated from the litter for a short period of time in order to start preparing for life on their own, as well as to start learning how to control the environment and stress. These activities are to be supervised at all times.
  • If you haven’t exposed your puppies to other healthy and approved dogs during the previous puppy development stage (3-5 weeks), now it is the time
  • It is during this puppy development stage (around 6 weeks of age) when dogs start creating bonds with humans. People should be properly introduced in order for the puppy to gain positive experiences
  • It is also at this stage that a puppy should become familiarized with dog collars, grooming tools, nail clipping, etc., and he should also be exposed to a positive introductory experience with the veterinary clinic and should be handled by the vet clinic staff.
  • Puppies should also be familiarized with the basic procedures like ear cleaning, being held, and being handled which will later become normal procedures during vet checkups.
  • Expose the puppy to different environments like the back yard, etc. (make sure to avoid contaminated and unsafe places). The puppy should be exposed to rain, wind, or as many possible elements that are normal in everyday life, etc.

It is very important to follow these guidelines as they are preparing your dog for some of the activities that he will have to go through in time. For example, as mentioned above the onset of fear develops by the age of seven to eight weeks, so if your puppy hasn’t been exposed to certain things, for example to nail clipping, in time during his puppy development, what would have been easy then (at maybe 5-6 weeks of age) can become a fearful and traumatic experience a few months down the road.

The Next Eight Weeks

8 weeks and above

It is at this stage of puppy development that we bring a puppy his new home. This begins the last few stages of puppy development. In order to best cover this stage and all of the necessary material, I’ve created a separate page about Puppy Socialization.

In it, you will find details about how to:

  • Introduce distractions to your puppy
  • Prepare your dog for the environment
  • The power and importance of playing with your puppy

On top of this, you will need to start training your puppy, in order to save time and create a good base, you can check out the Puppy Training part of the website which includes:

TIP: If you happened to already have a dog and you are not sure of how he was raised, or whether or not the breeder has invested the time and effort in completing the early steps described above, you will need to do them. Keep in mind that the window of opportunity closed roughly around 16 weeks old and from that point on it will be much more difficult (if not impossible) to address some issues or situations.

Taking a puppy after 8-12 weeks from a breeder

If you are dealing with an experienced breeder who has invested time in the litter, you can definitely take a puppy that is 10 or even 12 weeks of age. If you are uncertain of the breeder’s efforts to work with the puppy’s socialization and development, waiting to take a puppy beyond the 8 week mark can be very tricky and that puppy will likely have many issues that will need extra effort and attention to address. If you do plan on taking an older dog prepare yourself that you will probably face some issues down the road.

It is proven that if a dog stays with his littermates or other dogs longer than 12 weeks, the social bond with humans is limited, and you will have issues creating a good bond or relationship with that dog. As well, he will probably be limited in his learning capabilities.

Help your puppy succeed!

Understanding the puppy development process, will help you recognize each window of opportunity as it opens, so that you can set your dog up for success before the window closes.

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