Once the puppies are born, it is amazing how fast they grow and mature. It is not uncommon for puppies to change behaviors almost overnight, so clearly understanding the various stages that puppies of all breeds go through is important. As a general rule, smaller breeds of dogs will mature more quickly than larger breeds. Giant breeds of dogs often take almost twice the time to fully mature (both physically and emotionally) than the small breeds. There are also some breeds that stay very playful and puppyish even into their senior years. The following information is a general guideline to the specific and identifiable stages of puppy development, but keep in mind the actual ages they occur in may vary from the numbers listed here.
This stage is considered to last from the time that the puppies are born, until their eyes open and their eyesight develops. For most breeds this will be typically be at the two to three week mark. After the puppies eyes open, he or she will respond to a friendly voice, notice movement in the space around him or her, as well as get to know the littermates and the mother. Puppies will rely on the dam for everything from food to warmth, and they will be relatively inactive and will not want to wander far from where Mom and brothers and sisters are. The newborn puppies will become very agitated when they are removed from the litter, or from a familiar area such as the whelping box. They may also start to move around and try to walk, but they will be very clumsy and will become tired rather quickly.
From about three to five weeks the puppy is being bombarded with all types of sensory development. They are able to see very clearly, and will be able to identify the people in their lives that are regulars to the whelping area. The puppies are starting to learn a slight amount of independence, but they are also very attached to the mother at this time. They are becoming more adventurous, and will often explore all areas of the area they are being kept in. Many people transition the puppies from the whelping area to a kennel or puppy room, where the puppies can start moving around more and exploring. Puppies at this stage will be very interested at new additions to their environment, and will look towards new sounds and new visual stimulation. They should be protected from sudden noises or loud sounds that may frighten the puppies.
Basic Learning Stage
From about four to eight weeks, puppies start to learn how to get along with other dogs. One of the most important things that they learn is bite inhibition, or to avoid hurting other littermates. If you watch puppies playing at this time they will play, then when one bites too hard they will yelp and run off, leaving the biter alone and isolated. In addition, the mother dog also starts to train the puppies to relieve themselves away from where they sleep and eat, and she will also start to wean the puppies. At this time, the owners need to start introducing both food and water to the puppies, gradually helping the mother to wean the puppies. By the end of this stage, the puppies should be completely transitioned to puppy food and water, and should not be nursing from the dam.
This is the key socialization stage in puppies, one that will help the puppy to understand how interaction works both with other dogs and with humans. Puppies need to have as much contact as possible with littermates and the mother dog at this time, and should not be removed from the littermates until this stage is completed. Many breeders of larger dogs now keep the puppies for up to twelve weeks, rather than the traditional eight to allow this social training to be completed.
Puppies at this age should not be punished for any mistakes they may make. This can include accidents in housetraining, mouthing or chewing, or even barking and crying.
Rapid Learning Stage
From eight weeks to about 14 weeks puppies are really into high gear with regards to learning. They will go through various periods where they are very courageous and bold, and other times where they appear to be terrified of almost everything they come in contact with. Socialization and bonding, as well as exposing the puppy to lots of positive situations is critical at this stage. Once puppies learn that you, as the owner, will protect them and never ask them to do something that they could become hurt doing, they will learn trust.
In this stage the puppy can start to learn basic commands such as come, sit and lie down. They should also be exposed to a leash and collar, although they may not understand the whole concept of being on a leash. It is very important to not jerk or pull the puppy with the leash, and to keep all the training positive. Never punish or harshly treat the puppy at this stage, as this can seriously affect the temperament of the puppy for the rest of his or her life. Most puppies will benefit from a puppy obedience class at this time.
The Teenage Years
Just like kids, puppies will go through a teenage stage, which is both challenging and somewhat frustrating for the owners and the puppy. Typically, puppies in this stage will show extreme independence and selective hearing in responding to commands. Independence is more pronounced in some breeds than others, but even the most obedient of teenage dogs will go through non-compliance phases. Even though the natural response may be to punish or chastise the juvenile dogs for this apparent misbehavior, remember it is part of their emotional growth.
In the teenage years, dogs may also be rather clumsy and rambunctious. Lots of exercise for small to medium sized breeds and moderate, reasonable exercise for larger breeds is critical before, during and after training sessions to maximum focus on the training activities. More advanced obedience classes are highly recommended for breeds that are prone to independence as mature dogs.
Depending on the breed of the dogs, the young adult stage usually lasts up to first year to two years. During this time the dog is very energetic, still actively learning and very interested in everything in the environment. The young adult dog may also go through periods of dog aggression, chasing, barking, digging or even other destructive behaviors. Usually these behaviors can be modified with training, lots of attention and exercise and just a bit of creativity on the part of the owner.
Talk to a breeder or your veterinarian to discuss any concerns you have with the changes in his or her behavior. In addition, read about the traits of the breed as they develop, as well as talk to other owners of the breed to be able to plan the best course of action for the stages of growth.
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