You have brought your first new puppy into your home. Now what?
The puppy stages can be the most memorable and adorable times of your dogs life, but also can be the most time consuming and frustrating. That bouncing ball of fluff comes up to you with those puppy eyes and gives you all the kisses and love you could ever want and one moment later it has used the bathroom on your new rug or bitten a hole in your new sofa. It’s much of a bitter sweet, but let's take a moment to understand what we have going on. Just as humans canines also go through developmental stages. Here is a basic outline of these stages.
Neonatal period (0-2 weeks): This is the first stage of puppy development where the puppies only have the sense of taste and touch relying solely on the mother. They still haven’t even opened their eyes for the first time yet.
Transitional period (2-4 weeks): Sensory development continues with hearing and smell. The puppies eyes begin to open and teeth start coming in. We also start to see a little of the puppies personality develop here too. They will interact with their litter mates, wag their tails, stand, walk a little and bark. The puppy also starts to take in solid food.
Primary socialization period (3-7 weeks): This is the stage where we typically take our puppies home for the first time (between 7-12 weeks). A lot of changes are occurring rapidly and puppy begins learning from good experiences. Between 3-5 weeks puppies start to become aware of their surroundings and have the ability to develop relationships and familiarize with day to day sounds and sights. You will see them beginning to interact and play with their litter mates as well as picking up social skills. Species specific behaviors like nipping/biting, chasing, barking, fighting, posturing begin and so does their curiosity. The mother guides their behaviors. (4-8 weeks) mother begins to wean puppies.
Human socialization period/Fear impact (7-12 weeks) they officially have full use of all of their senses and are ready to be homed. Critical time for socialization. Introduce your puppy to as many new dogs, people, objects and surroundings as you can. BUT, make sure you do so in a controlled manner and never put your puppy in a dangerous situation where they can be injured, scared or contract disease. Important to keep puppy near/supervised or enclosed when not being watched. First fear impact (8-11 weeks) Any traumatic event can have a long lasting effect in the life of your dog. Such as a trip to the veterinarian, if unpleasant, could forever make a dog apprehensive about going to the veterinarian. For instance if you eat something that makes you sick as a child you are much less likely to want that food as an adult.
Juvenile/Testing period (3-6 months): At this age your puppy will begin testing its limits in the world. It also is going to go through teething and will begin chewing on things(everything). Important not to leave them unattended (a good time to begin crate training) and to have many chew toys and enrichment. A lot of physical growth will be seen in this period. Great time to begin basic training through positive reinforcement.
Adolescent period (6-18 months): This is when things can get a little complicated. Imagine a teenager. A lot of growth, new hormones, and the beginning to changes in behavior. Adolescence also depends on the size of the dog. A smaller dog could start earlier and finish earlier although a larger dog could start later such as 7-9 months and stay until 2-3 years. Note that there is a secondary fear impact period (6-14 months). Your dog may be reluctant to try something new or may be frightened of something or someone familiar. This fear should be handled with patience and kindness. Be sure to give your dog the opportunity to work out the situation on it’s own and not force it into anything. At the same time if it is experiencing fear it is best not to pet it too much as you don’t want to encourage the emotion. Instead take the time to understand what motivates your dog such as food/toys and help guide it through the situation in a way that builds confidence.
Here are some signs to know your dog has hit puberty or is in the adolescence stage.
Descent of testicles
Raising of the leg to pee (marking)
Suddenly less friendly
More interested in other things than obeying/playing with you
Exhibiting sexual behaviors like humping
May become aggressive towards other male dogs
Usually starts with first heat cycle
Exhibits erratic behaviors (unpredictable/irregular behaviors)
In both you may also see some other behaviors such as:
Disobedience/lack of concern for command
Breed specific behaviors such as guarding, digging, barking, biting etc. in an unhealthy manner
The good thing here is that it is likely that these behaviors will pass with maturity. It is crucial though to make sure you are still maintaining a structured routine in your dogs life as well as in matters of its diet, training and exercise to make it through this potentially stressful time. Consistency is key.
Now with an understanding of how dogs develop we can begin to know how to take on these stages and begin the training process with success.
To recap we want to:
Socialize well to different environments (i.e. vet/groomer), other animals, other dogs, humans/babies and different objects.
Avoid scaring/traumatizing your puppy by creating a controlled environment during socialization.
Enrich and exercise as much as needed.
Build obedience through positive reinforcement.
Have patience and have fun with your new puppy!
*If your dog is portraying aggressive behaviors be sure to contact your veterinarian as well as a professional dog trainer.