Critical Periods in Puppy Development

veterinarianBy Anna Coffin, Veterinarian

There are many phases during a puppy’s development that can impact its mental well-being for the rest of its life. I will discuss what occurs during these critical periods and the care that is required.

Neonatal period: This period occurs from 0-12 days of age. During this period, puppies are blind and deaf. They are unable to regulate their body temperature and are unable to urinate or defecate on their own. Puppies will respond to touch, warmth and smell during this period. Puppies begin to crawl around 5 days of age and by day 7 are crawling easily. During the 1st week, puppies sleep 90% of the time and eat the other 10% of their time.

new born poodleCare required: If you are taking care of an abandoned puppy in this age range it is important to keep a constant temperature of 85 degrees. Puppies should be fed 6-8 times throughout the day. You must also stimulate the puppy to urinate and defecate by using a warm, wet rag. During the 1st week of age, puppies should only be held and cuddled a few minutes a day.

Transition period: This period occurs from 13-20 days of age. During this period, their eyes and ear begin to open and they begin to walk wobbly. Around 14 days, they will begin to explore their surroundings and their baby teeth begin to emerge. Puppies age 17-21 days old will start to wag their tails, interact with their littermates and will start urinating and defecating on their own.

Care required: Room should be kept at a temperature of 80-85 degrees.

Awareness period: This period occurs from 21-28 days of age. During this period, puppies are able to see and hear well. They will begin lapping formula from a bowl and will start to groom themselves. Eye color changes also occur during this period.

Care required: Room temperature should be no cooler than 75 degrees. Feeding can be decreased to four times daily and can be transitioned from formula to soft food. Puppies are learning that they are a dog and a stable environment is important during this time frame.

a small puppyCanine socialization period: This period occurs from 3-7 weeks of age.   During this period, puppies begin interacting with their littermates and mother and they have a full set of puppy teeth. During this period, they become aware of the difference between dog and human societies.

Care required: Interaction with other dogs, especially littermates or puppies of the same age, is very important for play inhibition and dog interaction. Exposure to other species is also important at this time.

Human socialization period: This period occurs from 7-12 weeks of age. During this period, puppies are fully weaned and have brain waves of an adult dog. This is the time period when the human/animal bond begins.

Care required: Dry food can be fed three times daily. Puppies are able to learn by association, so you can begin potty training and simple behavioral responses such as sit, stay and come. I recommend exposing puppies to at least 10 different people every day during this period.

Fear impact period: This period occurs from 8-11 weeks of age. Please note that this critical period takes place the same time as the canine and human socialization period. A traumatic experience of any kind will likely cause fear for the rest of the dog’s life.

Care required: Animals and children should not be allowed to scare or hurt (inadvertently or maliciously) a puppy during this period. I recommend socializing to as many different things as possible as a lack of exposure to these things can cause the dog to be afraid of them. Examples: bathing, brushing, grooming, cars, riding in cars, crates, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, stairs

Seniority classification period: This period occurs from 13-15 weeks of age. During this period, puppies are losing their puppy teeth and their permanent teeth are coming in. At this age, puppies begin to test their dominance and leadership.

Care required: It is critical to discourage biting from 13 weeks on. The most effective way to shape a positive attitude is by using praise and positive reinforcement for the correct behavioral response.

BloodhoundFlight instinct period: This period occurs from 4-8 months of age. During this period, puppies try and test their independence and have selective hearing. By the time this period is over, puppies will have all their permanent teeth and have reached sexual maturity.

Care required: Continue to praise for good behavior and minimize the bad behavior during this time period. Behavioral problems are worse due to the fact that the dog is teething and is chewing on everything.

Second fear impact period: This period occurs from 6-14 months of age.   During this period, dogs can become fearful of situations. Because these commonly are seen during a growth spurt, small dogs tend to experience this period before larger dogs.

Care required: Do not reinforce negative behavior with soothing tones as this may encourage the fear. Using patience and not force, while allowing the dog time to work things out will help build confidence.

As you can see, a puppy’s socialization and training are the contributing factors to how your puppy will behave as he grows into a mature dog. Socialization, positive reinforcement obedience training and confidence building must be accomplished during these critical puppy development periods.

Learn How to Train Your Dog from Ask Dr. Anna’s blog where pet problems are answered accurately!

Photos by Marciomarcio31, Audio3187 and Gilliamhomes

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