Developmental Stages of Puppy Behavior

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Although feeding time is important, it’s also vital to include petting, talking, and playing, in order to help your puppy build good “people-skills.” Well-socialized mothers are more likely to have well-socialized puppies. Puppies “feed” off their mothers’ calm or fearful attitude toward people.

Puppies are usually weaned at six or seven weeks, but are still learning important skills as their mother gradually leaves them more and more. Ideally, puppies should stay with their littermates (or other rolemodel dogs) for at least 12 weeks.

Puppies separated from their littermates too early often don’t develop appropriate “social skills,” such as learning how to send and receive signals, what an “inhibited bite” means, how far to go in play wrestling, and so forth. Play is important to help puppies increase their physical coordination, social skills, and learning limits. By interacting with their mother and littermates and attending puppy preschool classes, puppies learn “how to be a dog.”

Skills not acquired during the first eight weeks may be lost forever. While these stages are important and fairly consistent, a dog’s mind remains receptive to new experiences and lessons well beyond puppy-hood. Most dogs are still puppies, in mind and body, through the first two years.

The following chart provides general guidelines for stages of development.

0 – 2 weeks

  • Most influenced by their mother.
  • Touch and taste present at birth.

2- 4 weeks

  • Most influenced by their mother and littermates.
  • Eyes open, teeth erupt, hearing and smell developing.
  • Beginning to stand, walk a little, wag, and bark.
  • By four or five weeks, sight is well developed.

3- 12 weeks

  • During this period, puppies need opportunities to meet other dogs and people.
  • By four to six weeks they’re most influenced by their littermates and are learning about being a dog.
  • From four to 12 weeks they’re most influenced by their littermates and people. They’re also learning to play, developing social skills, inhibited bite, and physical coordination.
  • By three to five weeks they’re becoming aware of their surroundings, companions (dogs and people) and relationships.
  • By five to seven weeks they’re developing curiosity and exploring new experiences. They need positive “people” experiences during this time.
  • By seven to nine weeks they’re refining they’re physical skills/coordination (including housetraining) and have full use of senses.
  • By eight to ten weeks they experience real fear – when puppies can be alarmed by normal objects and experiences, and need positive training.
  • By nine to 12 weeks they’re refining reactions, social skills (appropriate interactions) with littermates, and are exploring the environment, spaces, and objects. They are beginning to focus on people. This is a good time to begin training.

3 – 6 months

  • Most influenced by “littermates” (playmates now include those of other species).
  • Beginning to see social relationships.
  • Teething (and associated chewing).
  • At four months they experience another fear stage.

6 – 18 months

  • Most influenced by humans and dogs.
  • At seven to nine months they go through a second chewing phase – part of exploring their environment.
  • Heightened exploration of assertion; testing limits, challenging human and dog relationships.
  • If not spayed or neutered, beginnings of sexual behavior.