Puppy Behavior & Development


There are phases in a puppy’s mental and emotional development, where certain traits will appear or disappear. So much of your new puppy’s personality and habits are influenced before you get them: that makes choosing a knowledgable and wise breeder so important!

The greatest influence on your puppy is their mother–if she is fearful, it is likely her puppies will have a fearful approach to things. If she is aggressive, they will likely have aggressive tendencies. The same holds true for a happy, relaxed, confident dam–her puppies will probably be happy, relaxed, and confident.

This page is a brief overview of the age related phases, both before and after you bring home your new little love.

Neo-natal (1-14 days)

Newborn puppies sleep 90% of the time. The will make sounds when hungry or distressed by something, but the brain activity when awake is the same as when asleep. The mother’s health and emotional state and the types of interaction with her, her puppies, and humans has a lasting effect upon puppies and their abilities to handle stress later on.

Puppies should be handled by people–tickling between toes, holding them perpendicular to the ground, being held with their heads down, held with their back in the palm of your hand…this handling is important for neurological stimulation. As a potential buyer of a puppy, you want to look for a breeder who handles their pups from the very start.

Transitional period (14-21 days)

Puppies become more active, walking instead of crawling, swatting and chewing on littermates with their new teeth, and wagging their tails. Toys and interesting objects should be introduced now, with puppies getting individual human attention. They should also be brought into kitchens or living rooms that have more sounds and smells, and experience different textures. Carpets, vinyl flooring, wood, leather, plastics, and soft toys all stimulate their tactile senses. This stage is immensely important for the puppy’s stimulation

First Awareness Period (21-28 days)

Puppies now have full use of all their senses, but fear has not yet developed. At this age, all kinds of sounds, sights, smells, movements, and vibrations should be introduced. They may startle, but should be allowed to relax again without intervention, which is something they must be able to do the rest of their lives. Also food is slowly introduced and weaning begins.

At this time, puppies also begin to play fight, bark, and bond. Their mother also begins to discipline them, and teach the rules of dominance and submission. A pup removed from the litter for illness or injury can develop problems with social skills in the future unless care is taken to allow them interaction with other dogs.

Second awareness period (28-35 days)

Puppy play becomes more developed, with growling, chasing, and “squish the sister” type of games. They are eating real food now, and need more physical and mental challenges to develop coordination, strength, and problem solving skills. Adding toys to carry, tug, roll, climb on, and chase down, will give them an opportunity to develop.

Pups should also be removed from the litter for short periods and given individual attention to create independence and the ability to build trusting relationships with people. This prevents problems with seperation anxiety later. Exposure to new places helps them adjust more quickly when taken to a new home, and gives them the opportunity to problem solve without the help of littermates.

Socialization period (5-12 wks)

The first 3 or 4 weeks of this period is the breeders’ responsibility, to encourage curiosity and give puppies lots of stimulation and interaction with other species. Cats, birds, and other animals should be introduced to the pup, which makes them less likely to see them as “prey” or “toy” or “threat” later on. Pools and baths, tunnels, boxes, and children are good exposures.

The remainder of this period is the new owner’s responsibility and bonding is extremely important. Gentleness, fun, constant handling, and lots of individual attention are ways to deepen your bond with the pup. If they are showing more interest in another dog than you, then keep them seperated from the dog more. Conversely, if they shy away from another dog and come to you, leave them alone more often. You want a balance of human and dog social skills.  

Bringing a new puppy home also coincides with an increase in fearfullness. So not “soothing” a scared puppy, and removing them from the stimulus is important. That allows them to habituate, rather than reinforce the fear. Simply go about your day and let the puppy adjust. The more new experiences the puppy has, the fewer problems with fearfulness the puppy will have. Though care must be taken to avoid exposure to pathogens like parvo or distemper.

The first few weeks with you will “set” his reactive tendencies. So don’t be quiet when the puppy sleeps, or avoid loud people and places. Give them baths, teach them to sit, come, and let go. Be creative about giving a puppy lots of new exeriences and encourage curiosity without avoiding things that startle.

When they notice a sound or an object, say the name of it, and allow them to investigate. For example, our BB was afraid of the rake, and the sounds it made, running away and hiding. So I brought him back over to smell the rake, making a game of it and showing him to pick up the little twigs it missed and dropping them on the pile. The whole time, my voice was happy and my body was over him to give him a sense of safety. Then it was fun for him.

Because they are in a fear stage, yelling, being angry, or causing your puppy pain will have lasting effects. Scolding and discipline must be relatively gentle, and followed by encouraging a good behavior with praise and affection. The more happy his little world, the more happy his personality will be.

The pup must learn bite inhibition, and to be gentle. So allow your pup to follow you, pick him up, make eye contact, stroke him, and involve him in your daily activities as much as possible. Teach him to chew on toys rather than you or the recliner. 

Independence stage and continued socialization (13wks-6 months) 

This period can be frustrating for a new owner. Their sweetheart pup becomes stubborn and have a mind of their own. Because the pup needs to continue their socialization, they still should be taken places and obedience trained. Catch me if you can games when off leash will emerge, as will biting, refusing to sit or down, fighting the leash, and ignoring you . These behaviors are normal for this age, but irritating all the same!

If an owner “toughs it out”, still enforcing the rules of gentleness and obedience, still playing and interacting with the pup, still taking them out, the pup will eventually become easier to handle. Not allowing dominance, possessiveness, marking, destructiveness, or timidity now will pay off in the end!

Pre-teen stage (7-12 months) 

Pups are energetic and playful, and should continue being socialized. They will be cutting their adult teeth, so providing proper chew toys are a must. In my experience, this age is the “quiet before the teenage storm”, so I take full advantage of it–obedience training now reinforces the behaviors I want: sitting when I make food or take the leash off, down when a child approaches, down stay at the door until I invite him out…This age also gives me the ability to socialize extensively now that I don’t have to worry as much about disease transmission as I did.

Adolescence (12-18 months)

A puppy becomes intense about everything at this age, trying to assert dominance, forgetting all about playing gently, and exercising heavily. This is the age of sexual maturity as well, so attraction to the opposite sex becomes troublesome, and stubbornness makes reinforcing the rules of your house essential. The teenager will test you constantly. 

But if you have the rules of the house ingrained, and have made following commands a near instinctive response, you may have fewer head-butting sessions with your willful teen. Try not to get frustrated that they suddenly have the emotional maturity of a 3 month old again! It’s normal, and it will pass.

By 2-3 years old, the dog is settled into his healthy prime and all your hard work is rewarded with an intellegent and well behaved friend. Their energy levels, behaviors, and personailties stabilize, and will remain so for most of their lives. (An old-timer can get grumpy or clingy again when they get old, but then I will too…) 

Leave a comment

6 Comments

  1. Lora

     /  January 13, 2010

    My fawn puppy is 7 1/2 months old, and she is such a blessing, but at the same time – she’s testing every boundary there is! The last two nights she’s kept us up all night – crying, wanting to play, wanting to go in and out – my husband and I are just exhausted!!
    I’m just wondering if theres anything that you could suggest that we do to help her to calm down at night? She already gets 2 walks a day, eats very well, and is loved! She was crate trained, but she hasnt used the crate for months – and I dont want her to go back to that unless absolutely necessary.

    Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!!

    Reply
  2. rachel

     /  February 24, 2010

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