Puppyhood is one of the most adorable and exciting times. It’s full of joy, curiosity, frustrations, and troubleshooting. You are raising a young dog from the very start. You are his guide through learning how to interact with new stimuli, helping him through fears and teaching him how to behave. Having an understanding of the stages of puppy and dog development can only help you be the best guide you can be. When we understand what they are going through we can help them grow happy, healthy, and well adjusted.
Stages of Puppy Development
Newborn, 0 – 4 weeks
For the first few weeks of a puppy’s life, his senses are not fully functioning. This means he can’t hear, see, or even smell. These pups cannot even eliminate without their mama stimulating them. They will spend most of their days sleeping.
As they start to develop, they will also begin interacting more with mama and their littermates. They should be walking by 4 weeks (a bit wobbly but it sure counts!). They’ll now be able to eliminate on their own, they may have started wagging their tail and those razor-sharp puppy teeth have emerged.
Transitional Stage, 4 – 8 weeks
Nipping behaviors develop as puppies tend to explore with their mouths, they’ll begin nipping their mother and litter mates. Mothers are focused on weaning her pups and teaching them how to behave when they nip her. Pups learn how to play with their siblings, which is similar to toddlers learning the rules at daycare or at the playground.
Puppies will be exploring everything at this phase. Their noses are now working so they are going to follow wandering scents everywhere. Puppies should be gradually introduced to new things. In this phase they have the highest fear threshold they will ever have. So, slowly introducing them to everyday things will greatly help their future confidence.
Fear Period, 8 – 12 weeks
Puppies typically go to their new home between 8-12 weeks. This time is called the “fear period” because they will be wary of new things and can get spooked easily. Because they are so impressionable at this phase, you should expose your new puppy to as many positive experiences as you can and avoid any painful or frightening things. Socialize to new people, animals, and situations you think he can handle. If something frightening happens, he’ll look to you for instruction/guidance on how he should react. So too much codling can actually backfire on you. You will want to joyfully urge him through the situation with as much positivity and praise as you can.
This is a great time to start putting in place a structured routine. Dogs thrive on predictability. Giving him a consistent time to look forward to food, play, exercise, and sleep will help him settle in. This is the best time to begin crate training. You can create a positive association with the crate and help potty train him as well. Remember though that young puppies shouldn’t be left alone in the crate for too long. He will most definitely need to be let out to pee during the nighttime.
Best of all, during these weeks he’ll be bonding with his new family. You will be creating lasting memories with him. Helping him through these uncertain times will help him trust you and see you as his leader.
Pre-Adolescence, 12 weeks – 24 weeks
Your puppy is now coming out of the intenseness of the fear stage and becoming independent and more curious. He’s trying to figure out his place in the home. He’ll be experimenting with dominance and submissiveness. He’s also learning to understand your and other dogs’ body language. Chew toys are now a necessity as his permanent teeth are coming in and he’ll be looking to sooth his mouth by chewing on everything he can find.
16 weeks is the best time to sign up for training. They are out of the fear period and their curiosity and willingness to learn will make training their favorite thing. They are like a sponge at this stage. They will soak up everything you have to teach them (whether you meant to or not). Potty training is best to start around this age as they are starting to be able to hold their bladder. Making sure he’s comfortable with other puppies/dogs around is now very important to avoid him having fear or learning to dislike other dogs. This means, as ever, to continue socialization. Take him to pet friendly places, let him explore and meet new dogs and people. Learn to read his body language to communicate better. You’ll want to know when he’s frightened or happy to be able to teach him through those moments.
Teenage Stage, 6 – 12 months
You’ve now entered the teenage stage of dog development, he will be testing boundaries to see what you let him get away with. Puppies will need a ton of stimulation and activity to keep them busy. Misbehaving and training regressions are naturally a part of this phase. He’s exploring his place in the “pack” and asserting himself to try to climb the ranks, which makes sense because this is also the point at which they reach peak sexual maturity. Veterinarians will usually recommend spay or neuter in this stage once they’ve completed puberty.
Pups are exploring the world around them and want to know their place in it. Continue consistent training and maintaining home boundaries. Maintaining a consistent structure in his life will help him through this phase.
Adulthood, 12 – 18 months
Usually by 12 – 18 months your dog will have reached emotional maturity. His disposition and behavior tendencies are pretty much set. Smaller breeds tend to mature sooner than larger breeds. Larger dogs could reach emotional maturity as late as 2 – 3 years old. Depending on the breed they could have puppy energy bursts that continue well into adulthood.
Puberty signs in puppy Development
Not every dog will show the same batch of signs together. They may show all, some or none. Here are some things to watch out for that may indicate your dog is nearing the puberty phase:
- Descent of the testicles
- Marking – Scent or pee
- Less friendly
- More interested in roaming than being with you
- May start lifting his leg indoors
- Can become aggressive towards other male dogs
- Usually starts with first heat cycle
- Marking – Scent or pee (not just for males!)
- Exhibits erratic behavior
- Shows aggression
Fear Stages in Puppy and Dog Development
As stated, numerous times above, it’s important to socialize your pups. They will go through different stages of a higher vulnerability to frightening events. They will be more sensitive to sounds, objects and new experiences. Things they may have previously enjoyed may worry them now. Your puppy will experience two main fear stages, no amount of training or socialization can prevent these. Understanding the stages can help you bolster them through.
ONE: 8 – 12 weeks *See the above section for a more through breakdown*
At this point puppies are usually taken away from their mothers and go to their new home. It is not because of this, but coincidentally, that pups enter their first fear stage between 8 – 12 weeks old. They will be extremely wary of new things; they may hide or be quite clingy. Gently introduce them to things in a positive light. Be thoughtful about what you choose to introduce; loud vacuums or things that pop may cause more uncertainty in their little eyes. Wait to introduce them to these sounds and experiences until they are feeling confident again. Along the same lines, don’t overwhelm them with an abundance of new things all at once. Encourage them to sniff and explore, help build their confidence by giving plenty of positive reinforcement.
TWO: 6 – 14 months
Small breed pups tend to experience it a little earlier than larger breed pups. New dog owners may not be expecting this second fear stage, so you must remember that even though they look big like an adult – they are still puppies. They may show uncertainty and timidness towards things that yesterday they were just fine with. Continue with positive reinforcement and gently introduce new things and experiences.
As important as it is to understand the different stages of puppy and dog development, I strongly encourage you to also do heavy research into the breed you have. Understanding your breed’s specific desires, what motivates them, what their tendencies are… this is imperative. How you raise your dog is an important factor, but it’s not the only thing to determine his eventual behaviors and personality. Temperament is determined by their genetics, so whether your dog is a mixed breed or purebred – digging deep into what your dog was bred for will teach you and help you in raising a happy puppy.
Dog Training in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Corrales, Placitas
The mission of Good Buddy Dog Training is to help build the bond between dogs and their owners through positive training methods. We teach dogs to accomplish new behaviors and humans to bring out the best in their furry friends. For the most effective training, we work with people directly in their homes, where dogs and their humans feel most comfortable. And the training we do is based on the science of how dogs learn by using a positive and fun curriculum to build confidence in both dog and owner.