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Puppies: Developmental Periods

Article By: Niki Elliot

All puppies have to go through development periods just as children do and it will help to understand these periods, not only for you to understand that a certain behaviour is quite normal but also to understand that it is not forever! The stages of development can differ with each puppy, and between different breeds. It is important to treat each puppy as an individual and not to compare it with your “last” puppy. Some times a puppy might skip one of the stages or stay in a stage longer – especially if it is a difficult one! Each stage should be worked through with patience and understanding.

The chart below will give you a general idea of how a puppy develops behaviourally:




1 - 12 days days

Neonatal Period

The puppy responds to warmth, touch & smell

He cannot regulate any body functions such as temperature or elimination. He learns to fight for survival.

13 – 20 days

Transition Period

The puppy’s ears & eyes are open, but sight & hearing are limited. The puppy begins to wag his tail & begins to control his own body functions.

21 - 28 days

Awareness period

The puppy’s sight & hearing are now functioning clearly. He is beginning to exhibit canine behaviour characteristics & has a great need for a safe stable environment.

21 - 49 days

Canine Socialisation Period

The puppy learns various behaviours which make him a dog. He learns this from his mother & littermates. Learns a bit of control & starts to be aware of things around him.

7 - 12 weeks

Human Socialisation Period

The puppy now has the brain waves of an adult dog, although his concentration skills are limited. Not only can the puppy learn but he will learn, whether his owners teach him or not. This is the age of really quick learning. With most breeds the end of the seventh week is the best time for going to a new home. All play & learning should only be for a few minutes at a time.

8 –11 weeks

First Impact Fear Period

Fear of new situations occurs during this period, and all frightening or traumatic experiences should be avoided at all costs, for they can have permanent effects. All learning should be play or food related and should be kept fun.

7 –16 weeks

Continued Canine Socialization Period

This stage is extremely important as the foundation is now laid for his future social interactions with both other dogs/animals and people. Socialization with his own kind, age, humans and other species of animals are developed during this period.

4– 5months

Preliminary Boundary Stage/Second Fear Impact Period.

The Terrible Twos

The puppy goes through another fearful phase – often a nervousness of what the puppy perceives to be new things. The young dog will start testing the limits with his owner. This should be downplayed as much as possible. Any challenge should be worked through, making little fuss about any negative behaviour. Reward all positive behaviour and ignore or distract any negative behaviour. Consolidating commands already learned is very useful here.

5 –7 months

First Serious Learning Period.

The puppy starts developing his “will to please”. This should be taken full advantage of. Take care not to put the puppy under too much stress or pressure, or give him too much status in the pack. Play learning and informal fun learning/training in a positive safe environment, using only positive reinforcement.

7 –8 months

First Major Fear Impact Stage of Development Period

Nature says “Be Careful”. The owner feels like they have taken ten steps back. Suddenly the puppy reacts negatively to things that the day/week before were no problem. Suddenly the dustbin is a monster! The puppy can be afraid of his own shadow. All pressures must be removed, lighten up & play with the pup. Learning at this stage is permanent. A bad experience at this stage of development could have PERMANENT lasting effects. Go back and stabilize what you have got.

8–10 months

First Real Obedience Learning Stage

This is a wonderful stage where the puppy will eagerly participate and is trying his hardest to please. Start revising all the early learning and begin to formalise his education. He needs to have crystal clear comprehension of all lessons to date before going on to the next developmental stage. He is learning the skills of how to be a companion animal here.

10-12 months

Prime Learning Stage

Considered the stage where the dog soaks up learning like a sponge (information, commands, life skills etc.) If the early bonding & relationship is appropriate the dog will have the natural desire to please you and be constantly looking for your affirmation. Reward all positive behaviour and ignore all negative behaviour. This stage of development needs lots of encouragement & reward based learning from their owners

12-14 months

Consolidation Stage

You must be sure that the dog has a full comprehension of all commands & learning before the dog can progress to the next learning stage. A good foundation is needed to avoid any confusion later on.

15-18 months

Secondary Boundary Stage/Difficult Teenage Period

Dogs are testing the hierarchy to see where they fit in. This is a normal stage of development and you must not “buy into” the power struggle. Bad behaviour must be ignored – even negative attention will provide enough motivation for the dog to continue unwanted behaviour. Try not to overreact to behaviours or conflicts at this stage. Confrontation only makes it worse.

18-24 months

Drive/ Mature or Mellow Stage.

This stage is when all your hard work pays off! It coincides with the dog’s emotional maturity. Consistency is vital in order to keep the good foundation. It is now that the owner & dog can start perfecting their teamwork.


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