What’s the Point of Puppyhood?

Puppies, like children, are growing psychologically and emotionally, as
well as physically.  What they learn when they are young will, in large
part, become a part of their adult behavior.  For this reason the
importance of early experiences and early learning cannot be
emphasized too much.

Dogs, in a manner similar to people, pass through distinct phases in
their psychological development.  At certain times a puppy is uniquely
sensitive to certain influences and experiences, and for this reason
psychologists refer to these phases as 'critical periods'.  Understanding
the phases, and the impact of certain experiences during those phases,
will help you to handle behavior during those periods, and will allow
you to shape your puppy into the companion you desire.  

Puppy Toddler Period, or Canine Socialization
Period
(3 - 6 weeks of age)   

This phase is the point at which the puppies realize the world is larger
than the end of their noses!  They begin crawling around and
exploring their environment.  Vision and hearing is becoming more
developed so they can learn about their environment and their litter
mates. They begin the process of learning to behave like dogs.  They
observe mom and play with litter mates then they try out different
body postures and behaviors, gradually learning what effect each of
these has on others. They attempt howling and barking and wrestling,
they learn what happens when they bite another puppy, and learn
what it is like to be bitten.  This is the basis for social relationships in
the pack. Around five weeks of age, just about the time weaning
begins, the mother teaches her puppies to be submissive to her as the
pack leader.  When necessary, she will growl or snap at them as a
form of discipline.   So this is a critical period for learning to accept
discipline from a pack leader.  If this phase is shortchanged, and the
pup is removed from the litter too early, its later training will be much
more difficult.  A puppy may even grow up to be aggressive with
other dogs because it never learned the rules at this stage of
development! This is the main reason that 7 weeks is considered the
absolute minimum age to remove a pup from its mom and litter mates.

Human Socialization Period (7 - 12 weeks of age)

In this period the puppy is a learning machine.  Everything they
experience will be later integrated into their personality.  This period,
more than any other, is one where every event has a lasting impact.  
Every experience is a learning experience, whether it is intended that
way or not; good habits can be learned or bad habits established.
Your puppy will begin to expand its idea of ‘pack’ from its mom and
litter mates, to the humans around her as well. Your puppy has just
finished learning how to respect Mom, the canine pack leader. Now
that she has left mom, she will need YOU to be the new pack leader.   
The pup will be very anxious to please you, and will learn what rules
you want him to follow.  This is the best time to do that!  Things that
are cute in a puppy, like growling, biting and jumping, are not so cute
in an adult. NOW is the time to establish the ground rules regarding
those behaviors.  Corrections should be consistent and non-punitive;
correction does not mean punishment. If a pup is chewing on
something unauthorized, take it away and substitute an appropriate
choice, rather than yelling at her.  This is also the period in which your
puppy will learn to find new situations either scary or exciting.  How
he learns to feel about new situations depends upon him being
exposed to them many, many times, but in a secure environment.  
Taking your puppy lots of places, meeting lots of different kinds of
people, and making it FUN, will insure that he is flexible and happy in
meeting new situations in the future.  This is a challenge, as full
immunization against Parvo virus is not possible until 16 weeks of
age. Until she is fully immunized, you should try to expose your pup
to as many new situations and people as possible, while avoiding
places where lots of dogs frequent. Playgrounds and shopping centers
that do not have pet stores are a good start.  In addition, frequent
grooming sessions at this point will insure that your pup learns to
allow brushing, ear cleaning and nail trimming without a struggle.

What should I do in this stage?

Expose your puppy to new situations and people
Be consistent in correcting undesirable behaviors
Groom frequently (hair, nails, ears) so it becomes routine
Provide stimulating and fun toys
Teach 'sit'
Begin working on the 'come' command by playing a
game where people take turns calling the pup,
and the pups gets a treat when she arrives


First Fear Imprint Period (8 - 11 weeks of age)

This period partly overlaps the
Human Socialization Period
(see just above).

During this time, any scary or  painful experiences will leave a greater
impression than if it had occurred at another time.  Trips to the
veterinarian, if frightening, can cause a lifelong discomfort with vets,
for example.  A scary car ride can cause anxiety tied to cars that can
be somewhat difficult to reverse. If such events are necessary, and of
course they are, try to make them as fun as possible, with lots of
playing and treats.

What should I do in this stage?
Make new experiences fun...lots of play and treats
If possible, avoid situations that might be scary

Seniority Classification Period, or Ranking Period
(12-16 weeks of age)

During this period your puppy will begin to challenge your authority to
see if you will maintain your position as leader of your pack, the
reason a friend refers to this as the 'You're not the boss of me' stage!
In a wild pack, this is necessary, as sometimes old pack leaders need
to be replaced. You do not want your puppy to get the idea he can
replace you as pack leader, however, so you need to show the dog, in
her language, who is pack leader. Ways to display leadership to your
dog are:

Make sure you eat first, in front of your dog, before feeding her.  Pack
leaders eat first!

Make your dog sit before going through any door, then you go
through first.  Again, pack leaders go first!        

Make your dog sit for everything!  Sit for a treat, sit to be petted, sit to
be given a toy, sit for no reason.  This reinforces that what you say,
goes.

Do ‘puppy-pushups’ at random times, just to show he needs to follow
your wishes.  This consists of the commands ‘Sit, down, sit, down’
several times in succession.

Allow him on the furniture only at your invitation (if you allow him on
the furniture at all) and never allow him to sleep on your bed.  In a
wild pack, the pack leader gets the highest and most coveted resting
place!

Try a day or 2 of tethering.  This consists of attaching your dog’s leash
to your belt, so she has to go everywhere and do everything with
you.  Do not talk to your dog or pet her, just require her to move with
you as you go about your activities.  This is especially effective if a
pup is trying to dominate a child.  Having the pup tethered to the child
tells him in no uncertain terms who gets to make the decisions!

Behaviors such as nipping and grabbing the leash usually reach a peak
in this period, and are attempts at dominance.  They should not be
tolerated, and games which encourage them should be avoided, or
strictly regulated.  Tug of war is acceptable ONLY if you initiate the
game AND end it by winning EVERY TIME.  Children should not be
allowed to play tug of war as it cannot be assured they will do this,
and you do not want the puppy getting the idea they can dominate a
child.  The pups mouth should not ever be allowed to touch any part
of a person’s body.  A command such as ‘No bite’ or ‘No’ should be
chosen and consistently applied.

An final comment about leadership...do not confuse it with
dominance. Some 'old school' training methods were based on the
outdated concept that dogs need to be dominated by a pack leader in
order to respect them.  This is simply not true.  A pack is a
cooperative relationship, and the fact that there is a hierarchy does not
mean those high in the pack need to scare those beneath them into
cooperation.  There simply needs to be an acknoledgement that there
is someone in charge, and that is the goal of making the pack
leadership clear.

What should I do in this stage?
Establish leadership (see above)
Lots of exercise
Enroll in puppy training classes
Continue to be consistent in enforcing rules

Flight Instinct Period (4 - 8 months of age) This stage is the
beginning of independence.  Even puppies that have always stayed
close to their owners, or have come when called, will fail to do so. It is
not uncommon for them to even bolt in an opposite direction. Puppies
in an unconfined area should always remain tied to a long leash or line
until they will come reliably.  Puppies should never be allowed off
leash UNLESS they are in a confined area, and even in a confined area
you don’t want to chase a puppy that is refusing to come.  So what is
to be done when your puppy bolts?  The first steps are actually taken
BEFORE this stage arrives.  Play games where you call the puppy
repeatedly, and treat when she comes.  This can even be done in the
house, with people stationed far apart or on different floors, taking
turns calling the pup and treating.  And work hard on the ‘Sit’
command, spontaneously having the pup sit at unexpected times, then
treating.  Many times a pup that will not come when called will sit
when commanded, and you can walk up and clip on the leash.

What should I do in this stage?
Have your puppy neutered or spayed to prepare for the next stage
Continue to be consistent in enforcing rules
Keep puppy on a leash at all times, unless in a confined area
Continue to work on 'Sit' and 'Come'

Adolescence Period (5 - 18 months of age) This age range is
wide, as it sometimes occurs early in small dogs and later in larger,
more slow to mature, breeds.  Behaviors related to gender usually
appear at this age, with males beginning to lift their legs and mark,
and females may go into heat. Males, with their interest in determining
territory and finding a mate, may become very unruly.  Females may
become pregnant.  For these reasons it is VERY important your pup be
desexed before this stage begins.  Smaller breeds mature physically
much sooner, and waiting until 6 months can be too late. Even in
dogs neutered before this stage begins, adolescence is a challenge,
and people are often surprised to find their meek little puppy has a
mind of it’s own. The trick to surviving your dog’s adolescence is to go
back to basics. Treat your pup as though she were 8-12 weeks old
again! Increase the amount of exercise and decrease the amount of
freedom provided.  Assert dominance and your place as pack leader at
every opportunity.  Even with it’s challenges, this stage can be
amusing and fun.  Dogs of this age are full of energy and puppy
exuberance.  Along with increasing the amount of exercise your pup
gets, challenging him mentally with new games and new training can
be satisfying for both of you, and is a good way to channel that
energy.  Most of all, remember that all dogs go through this stage,
and you will get through it.  Your sweet and well-behaved companion
waits at the other end!

What should I do in this stage?
Spay or neuter your puppy if you have not already done so
Establish leadership (see above)
Lots of exercise
Enroll in more training classes
Continue to be consistent in enforcing rules, restrict freedom if
necessary
Teach new games and provide interesting toys to challenge your pup
mentally

Second Fear Imprint Period (6 - 14 months of age) This
fear imprint period, as with the first one, overlaps with another stage.  
This period is less distinct and does not occur recognizably in all
dogs.  But if it happens in yours you will know it!  It is almost looks
like shyness, where a dog that formerly would investigate new
situations becomes fearful of them.  The best response is to be
patient, but not reassure or force him.  Forcing will scare him and
reassuring him may give him the idea there is really something to be
afraid of!  Simply introducing him to the situation and rewarding and
treating when he does explore is the best option.

What should I do in this stage?
Continue to expose her to new situations.
Respond to fearfulness in a cheerful and matter-of-fact way, with        
treats and  play


Mature Adulthood (1 - 4 years of age) Again, this may occur
earlier in smaller breeds, later in larger breeds.  As your dog reaches
maturity, he may become more assertive and confident.  She may
begin defending territory by barking at strangers or barking when
someone comes to the door.  You need to be consistent and clear in
defining where this behavior is appropriate and where it is not.  For
example, you may want her to bark when someone enters your
property, but not at a stranger that walks by you on the street.  Teach
him that someone you invite into your home is acceptable by
establishing a routine of allowing him a few barks, then requiring him
to stop barking after your guest enters.  

The same is true of interactions with other dogs.  Begin by having him
meet one, or at most two, dogs at a time, and praise him when his
behavior is friendly and appropriate.  Gradually move on to busier
venues such as dog parks.  It is important to be aware that adults of
the same sex, even when neutered, will attempt to establish
dominance.  As long as it is done playfully, it is appropriate.  But you
will need to become aware of signs that it is becoming aggressive.  
Aggressive postures include a very stiff-legged walk, up on their toes,
tail wags that are very short and brisk, and a facial expression that is
intense, usually with the head lowered.  These are usually seen as the
dogs circle one another.  Play should be halted if these signs are
evident, as a fight may be imminent.  Be sure to watch the other dogs
for these signals also, as it may not be your dog that starts the
fight!       

In addition to establishing dominance with other dogs, your dog may
again attempt to assert dominance over you, or over children in the
family.  It is especially important to reinforce your dog’s position at
the bottom of the pack, below you and your children.  See the
‘Seniority Classification Period’ for reminders of how to do this.

Finally, the usefulness of professional advice and input cannot be
overemphasized.  Training classes are almost always worth the time
and money!  Good dog trainers usually have a wealth of experiences
to draw on, and the time you spend working with your dog forms a
bond like no other.


What should I do in this stage?
More training classes!
Begin introductions to multiple dogs with only one or two dogs at a
time
Learn to recognize the behavioral signals that mean a fight may be
coming
Set rules about territory and barking and stick to them
Re-establish leadership (see details above)

Author:Helene Roussi



Search our site to find what you need to know!
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Westwood Doodles:
Labradoodles, Goldendoodles,
and North American Retrievers
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What’s the Point of Puppyhood?

Puppies, like children, are growing psychologically and emotionally, as
well as physically.  What they learn when they are young will, in large
part, become a part of their adult behavior.  For this reason the
importance of early experiences and early learning cannot be
emphasized too much.

Dogs, in a manner similar to people, pass through distinct phases in
their psychological development.  At certain times a puppy is uniquely
sensitive to certain influences and experiences, and for this reason
psychologists refer to these phases as 'critical periods'.  Understanding
the phases, and the impact of certain experiences during those phases,
will help you to handle behavior during those periods, and will allow
you to shape your puppy into the companion you desire.  

Puppy Toddler Period, or Canine Socialization
Period
(3 - 6 weeks of age)   

This phase is the point at which the puppies realize the world is larger
than the end of their noses!  They begin crawling around and
exploring their environment.  Vision and hearing is becoming more
developed so they can learn about their environment and their litter
mates. They begin the process of learning to behave like dogs.  They
observe mom and play with litter mates then they try out different
body postures and behaviors, gradually learning what effect each of
these has on others. They attempt howling and barking and wrestling,
they learn what happens when they bite another puppy, and learn
what it is like to be bitten.  This is the basis for social relationships in
the pack. Around five weeks of age, just about the time weaning
begins, the mother teaches her puppies to be submissive to her as the
pack leader.  When necessary, she will growl or snap at them as a
form of discipline.   So this is a critical period for learning to accept
discipline from a pack leader.  If this phase is shortchanged, and the
pup is removed from the litter too early, its later training will be much
more difficult.  A puppy may even grow up to be aggressive with
other dogs because it never learned the rules at this stage of
development! This is the main reason that 7 weeks is considered the
absolute minimum age to remove a pup from its mom and litter mates.

Human Socialization Period (7 - 12 weeks of age)

In this period the puppy is a learning machine.  Everything they
experience will be later integrated into their personality.  This period,
more than any other, is one where every event has a lasting impact.  
Every experience is a learning experience, whether it is intended that
way or not; good habits can be learned or bad habits established.
Your puppy will begin to expand its idea of ‘pack’ from its mom and
litter mates, to the humans around her as well. Your puppy has just
finished learning how to respect Mom, the canine pack leader. Now
that she has left mom, she will need YOU to be the new pack leader.   
The pup will be very anxious to please you, and will learn what rules
you want him to follow.  This is the best time to do that!  Things that
are cute in a puppy, like growling, biting and jumping, are not so cute
in an adult. NOW is the time to establish the ground rules regarding
those behaviors.  Corrections should be consistent and non-punitive;
correction does not mean punishment. If a pup is chewing on
something unauthorized, take it away and substitute an appropriate
choice, rather than yelling at her.  This is also the period in which your
puppy will learn to find new situations either scary or exciting.  How
he learns to feel about new situations depends upon him being
exposed to them many, many times, but in a secure environment.  
Taking your puppy lots of places, meeting lots of different kinds of
people, and making it FUN, will insure that he is flexible and happy in
meeting new situations in the future.  This is a challenge, as full
immunization against Parvo virus is not possible until 16 weeks of
age. Until she is fully immunized, you should try to expose your pup
to as many new situations and people as possible, while avoiding
places where lots of dogs frequent. Playgrounds and shopping centers
that do not have pet stores are a good start.  In addition, frequent
grooming sessions at this point will insure that your pup learns to
allow brushing, ear cleaning and nail trimming without a struggle.

What should I do in this stage?

Expose your puppy to new situations and people
Be consistent in correcting undesirable behaviors
Groom frequently (hair, nails, ears) so it becomes routine
Provide stimulating and fun toys
Teach 'sit'
Begin working on the 'come' command by playing a
game where people take turns calling the pup,
and the pups gets a treat when she arrives


First Fear Imprint Period (8 - 11 weeks of age)

This period partly overlaps the
Human Socialization Period
(see just above).

During this time, any scary or  painful experiences will leave a greater
impression than if it had occurred at another time.  Trips to the
veterinarian, if frightening, can cause a lifelong discomfort with vets,
for example.  A scary car ride can cause anxiety tied to cars that can
be somewhat difficult to reverse. If such events are necessary, and of
course they are, try to make them as fun as possible, with lots of
playing and treats.

What should I do in this stage?
Make new experiences fun...lots of play and treats
If possible, avoid situations that might be scary

Seniority Classification Period, or Ranking Period
(12-16 weeks of age)

During this period your puppy will begin to challenge your authority to
see if you will maintain your position as leader of your pack, the
reason a friend refers to this as the 'You're not the boss of me' stage!
In a wild pack, this is necessary, as sometimes old pack leaders need
to be replaced. You do not want your puppy to get the idea he can
replace you as pack leader, however, so you need to show the dog, in
her language, who is pack leader. Ways to display leadership to your
dog are:

Make sure you eat first, in front of your dog, before feeding her.  Pack
leaders eat first!

Make your dog sit before going through any door, then you go
through first.  Again, pack leaders go first!        

Make your dog sit for everything!  Sit for a treat, sit to be petted, sit to
be given a toy, sit for no reason.  This reinforces that what you say,
goes.

Do ‘puppy-pushups’ at random times, just to show he needs to follow
your wishes.  This consists of the commands ‘Sit, down, sit, down’
several times in succession.

Allow him on the furniture only at your invitation (if you allow him on
the furniture at all) and never allow him to sleep on your bed.  In a
wild pack, the pack leader gets the highest and most coveted resting
place!

Try a day or 2 of tethering.  This consists of attaching your dog’s leash
to your belt, so she has to go everywhere and do everything with
you.  Do not talk to your dog or pet her, just require her to move with
you as you go about your activities.  This is especially effective if a
pup is trying to dominate a child.  Having the pup tethered to the child
tells him in no uncertain terms who gets to make the decisions!

Behaviors such as nipping and grabbing the leash usually reach a peak
in this period, and are attempts at dominance.  They should not be
tolerated, and games which encourage them should be avoided, or
strictly regulated.  Tug of war is acceptable ONLY if you initiate the
game AND end it by winning EVERY TIME.  Children should not be
allowed to play tug of war as it cannot be assured they will do this,
and you do not want the puppy getting the idea they can dominate a
child.  The pups mouth should not ever be allowed to touch any part
of a person’s body.  A command such as ‘No bite’ or ‘No’ should be
chosen and consistently applied.

An final comment about leadership...do not confuse it with
dominance. Some 'old school' training methods were based on the
outdated concept that dogs need to be dominated by a pack leader in
order to respect them.  This is simply not true.  A pack is a
cooperative relationship, and the fact that there is a hierarchy does not
mean those high in the pack need to scare those beneath them into
cooperation.  There simply needs to be an acknowledgement that
there is someone in charge, and that is the goal of making the pack
leadership clear.

What should I do in this stage?
Establish leadership (see above)
Lots of exercise
Enroll in puppy training classes
Continue to be consistent in enforcing rules

Flight Instinct Period (4 - 8 months of age)

This stage is the beginning of independence.  Even puppies that have
always stayed close to their owners, or have come when called, will
fail to do so. It is not uncommon for them to even bolt in an opposite
direction. Puppies in an unconfined area should always remain tied to
a long leash or line until they will come reliably.  Puppies should never
be allowed off leash UNLESS they are in a confined area, and even in a
confined area you don’t want to chase a puppy that is refusing to
come.  So what is to be done when your puppy bolts?  The first steps
are actually taken BEFORE this stage arrives.  Play games where you
call the puppy repeatedly, and treat when she comes.  This can even
be done in the house, with people stationed far apart or on different
floors, taking turns calling the pup and treating.  And work hard on
the ‘Sit’ command, spontaneously having the pup sit at unexpected
times, then treating.  Many times a pup that will not come when called
will sit when commanded, and you can walk up and clip on the leash.

What should I do in this stage?
Have your puppy neutered or spayed to prepare for the next stage
Continue to be consistent in enforcing rules
Keep puppy on a leash at all times, unless in a confined area
Continue to work on 'Sit' and 'Come'

Adolescence Period (5 - 18 months of age)

This age range is wide, as it sometimes occurs early in small dogs and
later in larger, more slow to mature, breeds.  Behaviors related to
gender usually appear at this age, with males beginning to lift their
legs and mark, and females may go into heat. Males, with their
interest in determining territory and finding a mate, may become very
unruly.  Females may become pregnant.  For these reasons it is VERY
important your pup be desexed before this stage begins.  Smaller
breeds mature physically much sooner, and waiting until 6 months can
be too late. Even in dogs neutered before this stage begins,
adolescence is a challenge, and people are often surprised to find their
meek little puppy has a mind of it’s own. The trick to surviving your
dog’s adolescence is to go back to basics. Treat your pup as though
she were 8-12 weeks old again! Increase the amount of exercise and
decrease the amount of freedom provided.  Assert dominance and
your place as pack leader at every opportunity.  Even with it’s
challenges, this stage can be amusing and fun.  Dogs of this age are
full of energy and puppy exuberance.  Along with increasing the
amount of exercise your pup gets, challenging him mentally with new
games and new training can be satisfying for both of you, and is a
good way to channel that energy.  Most of all, remember that all dogs
go through this stage, and you will get through it.  Your sweet and
well-behaved companion waits at the other end!

What should I do in this stage?
Spay or neuter your puppy if you have not already done so
Establish leadership (see above)
Lots of exercise
Enroll in more training classes
Continue to be consistent in enforcing rules, restrict freedom if
necessary
Teach new games and provide interesting toys to challenge your pup
mentally

Second Fear Imprint Period (6 - 14 months of age)

This fear imprint period, as with the first one, overlaps with another
stage.  This period is less distinct and does not occur recognizably in
all dogs.  But if it happens in yours you will know it!  It is almost looks
like shyness, where a dog that formerly would investigate new
situations becomes fearful of them.  The best response is to be
patient, but not reassure or force him.  Forcing will scare him and
reassuring him may give him the idea there is really something to be
afraid of!  Simply introducing him to the situation and rewarding and
treating when he does explore is the best option.

What should I do in this stage?
Continue to expose her to new situations.
Respond to fearfulness in a cheerful and matter-of-fact way, with        
treats and  play


Mature Adulthood (1 - 4 years of age)

Again, this may occur earlier in smaller breeds, later in larger breeds.  
As your dog reaches maturity, he may become more assertive and
confident.  She may begin defending territory by barking at strangers
or barking when someone comes to the door.  You need to be
consistent and clear in defining where this behavior is appropriate and
where it is not.  For example, you may want her to bark when
someone enters your property, but not at a stranger that walks by you
on the street.  Teach him that someone you invite into your home is
acceptable by establishing a routine of allowing him a few barks, then
requiring him to stop barking after your guest enters.  

The same is true of interactions with other dogs.  Begin by having him
meet one, or at most two, dogs at a time, and praise him when his
behavior is friendly and appropriate.  Gradually move on to busier
venues such as dog parks.  It is important to be aware that adults of
the same sex, even when neutered, will attempt to establish
dominance.  As long as it is done playfully, it is appropriate.  But you
will need to become aware of signs that it is becoming aggressive.  
Aggressive postures include a very stiff-legged walk, up on their toes,
tail wags that are very short and brisk, and a facial expression that is
intense, usually with the head lowered.  These are usually seen as the
dogs circle one another.  Play should be halted if these signs are
evident, as a fight may be imminent.  Be sure to watch the other dogs
for these signals also, as it may not be your dog that starts the
fight!       

In addition to establishing dominance with other dogs, your dog may
again attempt to assert dominance over you, or over children in the
family.  It is especially important to reinforce your dog’s position at
the bottom of the pack, below you and your children.  See the
‘Seniority Classification Period’ for reminders of how to do this.

Finally, the usefulness of professional advice and input cannot be
overemphasized.  Training classes are almost always worth the time
and money!  Good dog trainers usually have a wealth of experiences
to draw on, and the time you spend working with your dog forms a
bond like no other.


What should I do in this stage?
More training classes!
Begin introductions to multiple dogs with only one or two dogs at a
time
Learn to recognize the behavioral signals that mean a fight may be
coming
Set rules about territory and barking and stick to them
Re-establish leadership (see details above)

Author: Helene Roussi



Search our site to find what you need to know!