Critical Periods of Puppy Development
Human Socialization Period
7 to 12 Weeks of Age
The pup has the brainwave of an adult dog. This is the best time for a puppy to go to a new home. We recommend letting your pup stay with mom and his littermates until at least 8-10 weeks of age. Mom and littermates are useful tools in teaching proper manners to your pup, especially with nipping. At this stage puppies can begin to learn sit, stay, come and housebreaking. Puppies at this age learn best by association so it is a great time to introduce clicker training. Permanent human bonding begins to be formed in this stage, so be confident and gentle with your puppy, especially with disciplining.
Fear Impact Period
8 to 11 Weeks of Age
Fearful situations can be extremely traumatic during this period, and can cause fear that lasts a lifetime. It is important to socialize your puppy with other dogs and other people during this phase (some trainers say 100 people and 100 dogs by the age of 12 weeks). It is not enough to just introduce your puppy to new people and dogs during this stage, you have to make sure those experiences are POSITIVE. Closely supervise all interactions to make sure your dog isn’t being stressed or hurt inadvertently. Be especially mindful of interactions with children during this time and ensure children are being gentle and careful with the puppy. This is a great time to start puppy training and/or socialization classes.
Be sure to provide your puppy comfort and positive reinforcement when they are being brave in new situations, especially vet visits or during thunderstorms. Un-addressed fear during this phase can lead to phobias and anxiety later on.
Seniority Classification Period
13 to 16 Weeks of Age
At this age, your puppy will begin to test you. Make sure you establish your role as leader confidently long before you reach this phase, and especially during. Start implementing ‘nothing comes for free’ and continue doing positive training on a regular basis to keep your puppy on the right track. Praise for good behaviors is especially crucial during this period. Make sure you are not inadvertently rewarding bad behaviors, such as barking for attention. Continue to ‘handle’ your puppy, like you are clipping nails or cleaning ears. Touch your dog everywhere and do not tolerate any biting. You want to make sure your dog is able to be handled safely by veterinarians and groomers (and yourself).
Flight Instinct Period
4 to 8 Months Old
This is the stage where you feel like all your puppy training was a waste of time, but have faith! If you laid down a solid foundation you’ll be able to get your sweet puppy back quickly and smoothly. They begin to feel more independent and will think everything else is way more fun than you are. Prevent your puppy from practicing bad behaviors and always keep in mind what is rewarding them in every situation. Do not let your dog off-leash since they will likely not come when called, which is not a habit you want to encourage. Continue praising good behaviors heavily and conducting regular training sessions. If your dog has no interest in training sessions, start using their kibble mixed with yummy hot dogs as their meals (instead of feeding in a bowl). This might help refocus your puppy’s attention on you, at least for a few minutes! Teething and puppy biting might become especially bad during this period, so provide plenty of appropriate chew toys and keep any inappropriate items well out of your puppy’s reach to prevent bad habits from forming.
Second Fear Impact Period
6 to 14 Months Old
Similar to the first fear impact period, any fearful situations can be eternally scarring to your pup. This fear period seems to be more related to situations, whereas the first fear period is more related to humans and other dogs. Even situations your dog has experienced before might suddenly become frightening. Be extremely patient and gentle with your dog during this stage. Try to make EVERY experience fun and exciting, no matter how many times your dog has been in that situation before. Reactive behaviors can become set during this period, so it is especially important to use positive reinforcement and to continue socializing your pup in situations that set him up for success. Punishing your dog in those situations where you think your dog should know better (like if they are barking or growling at someone on a walk) can make the behavior worse. This is a good period to always have your clicker and very delicious treats on you. Try to catch your dog before fear sets in. If you notice they seem slightly nervous, don’t just brush it off, start clicking and treating for any calm behavior and keep commands easy (like sit).
1 to 4 Years Old
Most dogs can be considered fully mature by 2 years of age, sometimes earlier or later depending on the breed. This is the period where you will begin to notice any ingrained bad habits that weren’t addressed earlier on, like reactive or anxious behaviors. Continue to train and build positive associations with people, dogs, and situations throughout your dog’s life. Continue to enrich your dog with daycare, training classes, and plenty of exercise to have a well-balanced, happy dog.