It is important that you understand the various stages of development your companion will undergo.
It is a fact that a puppy learns a lot from his parents in the beginning and that we must take on a part of that upbringing. An adult dog is the result of its genetic material and the influences of his environment.
A good pedigree is no guarantee of a good dog if he is not well educated.
A dog is not a machine in which everything is nicely programmed, it is a creature that learns from its experiences, is open to the things around it and can adapt to different living conditions.
The periods described below and the typical trends and behaviours make it easier for us to understand what is going on with our puppy or dog. The phases are not accurately determined and vary from dog to dog. In addition, the one phase gradually passes into the next.
In the wild, many of the females will not breed. This is because; in general this is the prerogative of the alpha female (the mate of the pack leader).
If people force unsuitable or unwilling bitches to breed then, if they are unable to cope with the responsibility of raising a litter of puppies, they may exhibit deviant behaviour such as aggression and panic.
Often people are surprised when a bitch in heat is not covered by a male dog. There can however be very valid reasons for this. It could be that the bitch is unsuitable for breeding, the dogs do not feel at ease, the bitch or dog is not healthy or it’s not the right time to mate. A common reason is that the dogs simply don’t fancy each other and we humans can’t do much about this. We also prefer to choose our own partner!
Weeks 1 and 2: birth and vegetative stage
The gestation period of most purebred dogs varies between 63 and 65 days. As from day 30, the bitch will start to take charge
When the puppies are born, the male will provide food and defend the den, later he will help educate the puppies. Because the male guards the den the bitch will not usually take on this responsibility.
Dogs retain a real connection with nature. Puppies may be born when it is warm or cold and it does not matter, whatever the weather. they will grow up to be strong and healthy Giving birth requires a huge effort and the fact that the puppies come intermittently allows the bitch to lick the puppy, bite through the umbilical cord, eat the afterbirth and then have time to recover until the next pup is born. Six puppies is a normal number to be born in a span of about two hours. When the puppies are born they will start to cry and start searching for a nipple and will latch on with some force.
Dogs will often offer a paw when they want something from us and this gesture probably originates from the ‘kneading movement’ puppies make when they want milk from the mother. If a puppy does not have the ability to make this kneading movement, then something is wrong and it is ignored or even killed by the mother. We find this hard and people often do everything they can to keep an unhealthy puppy alive, sometimes out of pity, but also for profit. The livelihood of a breeder depends on the number of puppies they can sell. However an unhealthy puppy or one showing unusual behaviour from the very beginning does not augur well for the future.
Pups are born with eyes and ears closed, and they are 100 percent dependent on the mother. The mother will stimulate the digestive process and encourage the puppies to relieve themselves by licking the abdomen. The puppies can make squeaking noises and normally the mother will respond to this immediately
The puppies can crawl, they have to in order to feed, however they do not crawl in a straight line but in a circle so that they cannot stray from the den
Puppies triple their original weight. An adult dog weighing thirty pounds will have a brain of approximately 100cm ³, at birth this will have been only 10 cm ³ in size.
A puppy’s brain will be influenced even before birth. Research has shown that when the mother suffers high stress levels (the stress hormone corticosteroid) during her pregnancy, the puppies are slower to learn and may have emotional problems.
The den is a place where it is soft, warm (the puppies huddle together) and safe. They do not really need social contact or contact with the environment. They lead an almost unconscious existence, an extension of the time spent in the mother’s womb.
24 hours after birth, the male starts to take part in the upbringing, imprinting occurs as the puppies start to focus on the first moving object that they sense.
Imprinting can be to parents, peers, people, and sometimes other pets like cats, which are around the puppies.
Personally, I find it useful to pick up and hold the puppies individually, exposing them to a very small amount of stress. I am convinced that it makes them less anxious and more confident later on.
Week 3: transition period
From day 13 the ears and eyes start to open and from day 17 the puppies can see..
During the transition phase, they get to know their littermates and actively explore their immediate surroundings. If they leave the den the male will be quite rough with them, teaching them that the den is a safe place and also about respect and submission.
The puppies will quickly learn to submit by lying on their back and remaining silent.
It is a golden rule that if you want the puppies to respect you then you should copy the behaviour of the adult dogs.
The parents provide supplementary feeding by bringing up half-digested food for the puppies, hence the begging and licking behaviour shown by the puppies when the parents come back to the den. They will also do this when humans are around.
Week 4 to 16: the sensitive phase
A puppy will always remember what it learns during this phase.
However the reverse is also true: in later life it will be difficult to make up for what is not learnt in this period. Minimum experience during this period has a maximum effect at a later age.
The sensitive phase can be divided into a number of sub-phases.
The imprinting (from the third week, but especially from the 4th to the 7th week)
Imprinting is a very fast learning curve, without reward or punishment.
What the puppies are learning during this time, they will never forget.
At the end of this phase, the senses are fully developed, and the puppies no longer require so much sleep.
Puppies can now maintain their own body temperature.
The social behaviour (learning things together, communicating, interaction, learning by observation and imitation, etc.) begins to develop and body language is learned such as tail wagging, holding the tail between the legs, raising the hackles…
From now on they will be watching their parents, and they will learn through observation and imitation. They will also notice that their mother obeys humans.
This is a busy time for the breeder, the bedding will need changing, food must be provided, toys and games should be introduced….
This is important for the next few weeks but also has repercussions on the puppies’ future lives.
The puppies will also venture further away, possibly going up to 50 metres from the den.
The imprinting is characterized by curiosity and inquisitiveness. Everything is seen, chewed on, touched…touch is probably the most important. Touching and making contact with people is an important part of this phase. What they are given to eat during this period is what they will prefer later in life; they must also learn what is edible and what is not. This period is also known as the primary socialization.
The socialization phase (from the third week but mainly from the 8th to the 12th week)
This phase is a slow learning process in which knowledge is created with incentives, objects and situations. Repetition is necessary.
Around the fourth or fifth week of the puppy’s life, the mother will start to move away from the puppies when they want to drink. This is when their total dependence ends and is the starting signal for real life. Now they must learn to stand up for themselves, know when to be submissive, respect the hierarchy of the pack etc…
In the wild, the parents bring small live prey back to the den so that the hunting instinct of the puppies will develop.
Our domesticated dogs wont do that anymore, but the instinct is still there and the parents will let their puppies eat first, ensuring that they have enough.
The puppies will begin to squabble over the food and their individual characters start to emerge.
They have play fights, learning to win and to loose and about self control.
This is when the owner will teach the puppies that hands are not for biting.
The male dog has an important role now, testing the puppies and keeping them in their place. The puppies will show that they recognize his authority, for example by licking his face or offering a paw.
It is very important at this point to work on socialization, introducing different sounds, strange objects, other breeds of dog and new people
The owner must ensure that the puppies are handled kindly, avoiding mistakes. However the puppies will test their owners, just as they push the boundaries with their parents.
If the puppies are allowed out of the den you must keep an eye on them, otherwise they will have to remain in the den, which as this point is usually a puppy pen.
If you want to get a puppy to do something then you need to offer a reward, or rather with what he perceives as a reward.
During this period, the basis for the bond between man and dog is built up.
A breeder has a great deal of responsibility as they will be dealing with the puppies during the first eight weeks of their lives.
From seven to eight weeks the puppy is discovering different things but at around twelve weeks they will enter a fear phase (a phase which will reoccur after about six months).
Everything that they have already seen and been used to during the first sensitive phase may now become new and strange during the second sensitive phase. It is important that owners and breeders keep this in mind.
It is a good idea to plan for a second socialization period when your dog is about six months old, exposing it to various stimuli, objects and situations.
Allow the young dog to go at his own pace and to face his fears in his own way.
Habituation or tolerance to someone or something can happen throughout life, real socialization with people and objects not. When a dog is not properly socialized he will always during his later life have problems getting used to new things
A golden rule for socialization and habituation is the following: the phenotype (or behaviour) consists of the genotype (or genetic material) and the surroundings (or the environment).
The education of the dog, socialization and the experiences he gains are at least as important as the genetic material that the dog was given at birth.
The ranking phase (from the 7th week, but especially from the 13th to the 16th week)
By showing, in response to stimuli in the environment and certain behaviour, the puppies will recognize and then take their place in the pack.
One breed may mature earlier than another, and the period is difficult to distinguish. Order of precedence is related to psychological predominance (e.g., experience), and not necessarily or only by physical prevalence.
In dogs of the same litter precedence is determined by playing games, with unfamiliar dogs by a (pseudo) fight.
If we want to establish our rank it is wise at this stage to imitate the dog’s behaviour.
Play hunting and prey games are not just games for the puppies, but practice for later life and a way of establishing rank.
Make sure you alternate the games to avoid boredom but also to prevent the puppies from feeling as though they have continually failed to win.
Practice and play for no longer than fifteen minutes. In this phase, the focus is no longer on individual abilities, but on group activities.
Now we should focus on one golden rule: everything that we want the dog to like, we make fun; everything we do not want him to like, we make unpleasant.
It is important to remember that even after the socialization phase the learned behaviour must occasionally be energized to prevent extinction.
This was demonstrated by a test in which young wolves, used to being in contact with humans and well socialized were put back into a pack of wolves that had had little or no contact with people.
After a while the wolves that had previously been well- socialized responded to humans in the same way as their counterparts who were wild, i.e. by avoiding contact.
This has been seen in dogs as well. Puppies that have been well socialised and then at the age of three or four months are shut up in kennels will loose their social character
This phenomenon is called de-socialisation or loss of socialization.
When we have dogs we should think in terms of good parenting rather than leadership and dominance.
In a pack of wolves or dogs a puppy is allowed a lot of leeway before an adult dog will intervene. Violence is not necessary. Why should you fear a small, often defenceless puppy?
The puppy must of course respect the pack rules, but not everything can be learned in one go. By using punishment and violence, such as grabbing a puppy by the neck and shaking it will only result in an anxious, stressed puppy that tries its best to avoid coming near you.
A puppy comes to you full of trust, expecting loving and patient humans, just as his parents were. Treat your puppy is the same way that you would treat your own children: with love and respect and patience.
Please do not buy your puppy from a puppy farm! They are taken from the mother far too soon and have no chance to develop their social skills. Moreover, they are often sick and they come from poor blood lines. It is a pathetic sight when you see the poor wretches in a shop window or in a wooden box, huddled together with their litter mates. However if people keep buying them then there is a market and the trade will continue. So never (again) buy a puppy in a pet shop or from a puppy farm or indeed anywhere where numerous different breeds are offered for sale.
If you go to look at a litter at someone’s home or at a breeder’s kennels or at a rescue shelter, think calmly about your decision because a dog is for life. Buying a dog is not the same as buying a fashion accessory. You need to ask yourself some serious questions before you buy. Does the dog’s character, breed, etc. suit your lifestyle and that of your family?? You must not buy a dog for the wrong reasons and do not buy out of pity. If you already have a dog will it welcome the newcomer?
Put any agreements in writing with the person selling the dog before you pay. It is important that the pet passport is in order and that all vaccinations and worming have been done. Listen to the person talking about their dogs and ask yourself, does this feel right? Also look at how he treats the puppies and other dogs that may be present.
The mother should be present because when you are buying a puppy because you need to assess the mother’s temperament and character.
Week 12 to 24: the juvenile stage
During the juvenile period, the (social) behaviour of the puppies will take on a more mature form
An owner brought a 16 week old puppy to me. It was biting and pulling on the leash. . The owner complained about her rambunctious puppy’s behaviour, adding that the puppy would even growl at her. “How can I cope with such bad behaviour? Did I buy the right breed? How can you teach this dog anything? ”
During my puppy classes and parties, I am asked all sorts of questions. Often people have formed an opinion, shaped by something they have heard from friends, family, a vet or something they have read somewhere. Sometimes I have to shatter their illusions. I do try to always explain why and what it is that l base my theory on.
These are some of the most frequently asked questions.
– At what age should I consider my puppy as a dog? Personally, I think from about sixteen weeks, which is four months and certainly after five to six months.
– At what age can a puppy go to its new home? I believe that a puppy must stay with his mother until he is at least eight weeks old. Some people say even longer (ten, twelve or even sixteen weeks) but I think that not enough research has been done on this for me to offer an opinion. Everything has its pros and cons . Of course, if the puppy comes from a pet shop he should be taken home as soon as possible, even if he is only three weeks old!
– What is socialization? Socialization will enable an animal to function within a social group, knowing what is acceptable and what is not. It is important to socialize your pet with all kinds of other dogs, different people, different places and strange sounds in the socialization period and in the fear stage.
– – How can I stop my dog from chasing other animals? It is a good idea to allow a puppy to run loose with other animals, such as chickens and rabbits so that he learns not to chase them, even when they are running around
– Why does my puppy bite the lead? Possible causes for this behaviour could be: too long out on a walk, you have previously allowed and rewarded this behaviour because you thought it was cute, the puppy sees this a tugging game, there is pressure on the lead (pulling) and the puppy wants this stops, a protest against the restriction of freedom, the puppy does not want to bite the owner’s hand and therefore bites the lead, out of boredom … To stop this behaviour you need to try and prevent it and if necessary give the puppy a ‘timeout.’
– What about vaccinations and possible diseases? Veterinarians and behavioural specialists will regularly organise puppy parties where they will explain about basic education, nutrition and everything to do with vaccinations and diseases. .
Month 5 to 6: the developmental phase
Among the littermates basic tasks and the division of labour will have been established. Characteristic of this phase is that the young animal will start to go further a-field on hunting trips.
Our domestic dogs will not develop this behaviour as we provide their food. They will not have to hunt or establish a pack of their own. You could say that the natural development is in a way stunted.
It is important that during this time the education of the young dog continues, he will continue to learn, play is important and clear guidelines are given.
Rather than trying to be a pack leader we should be parents as our domestic dogs never really mature. Dogs need to feel confident, knowing that there is someone they can depend on, failing this they will themselves attempt to take control because for dogs the idea of a leaderless pack or family is not conceivable.
Towards the end of this phase the dog should be paying attention to the owner, he will know his place in the family and will feel a part of the family group. This does not mean that his education is finished!
In the case of wolf cubs all scents and animals known and recognised by the age of about 11 weeks are considered pack members. As from about 12 weeks each new scent can mean a potential intruder or enemy.
During the cooperation or pack phase (16 weeks), the puppy learns adult behaviour and the tasks necessary for the well being of the pack.
During this period the second socialization or anxiety phase occurs, during which the dog will again become cautious or fearful, even of previously known things.
Patience and encouragement are key here, it is important to refrain from any form of punishment when a young animal is anxious and afraid. Punishment will simply make things worse.
At around the age of seven months comes a new phase, puberty, and then the adult stage of sexual maturity. A dog can now be considered as an adult and ready for further training for more specific tasks: a guide dog, a guard dog …
Let us look back at these different stages and the important points to remember:
– Young puppies should have contact with both dogs and humans so that both are part of the imprinting process.
– In the first few weeks puppies should be given the chance to play with other dogs and with humans.
– Puppies should be given the opportunity to explore their environment which should be rich in stimuli.
– They must be given the opportunity to discover and encounter everything that they will come across later on in their lives.
– Each puppy should be made aware from the outset of the place he occupies in the pack and he needs to learn the rules and etiquette of the pack.
– A breeder has a huge responsibility with the initial imprinting and socialization phase of puppies. He needs to keep the puppies busy and not simply educate and care for them.
– Puppies brought into a purely human environment at the early age of three to four weeks, will at a later age become antisocial towards and have problems relating to their own kind. .
– The best time to take a puppy home is halfway through the socialization phase. His mother and the other dogs will have taught him how to relate to and interact with his own kind and there is still time to form an attachment with humans.
– At the age of 8-12 weeks, the puppy will adhere strongly to its environment and a sudden change can unbalance him.
– Dogs that alone at home for a large part of the day while their owner is out at work, may feel socially isolated and therefore will exhibit behavioural problems.
– Excessive coddling and being overly protective of a puppy means that the puppy will grow up in an environment low in stimulus. The puppy will be greatly restricted in its development and lack the opportunity to experience and cope with new things.
These dogs tend to be easily frightened and stressed, exhibiting behaviour such as constant circling.
– Young dogs should be given the chance to meet other people and even after the socialization phase regular contact with different people and animals is essential.
6 months to sexual maturity (2 to 3 years): Puberty
Puberty is also often called the second fear phase because the dog may suddenly become wary of familiar things.
The young animal may also try to undermine authority, becoming destructive, no longer being clean in the house, running off, refusing to retrieve… be patient this is only a (teenage) phase!
It is important to continue to work on ‘house’ rules, rank and etiquette at this stage
About this time the young male dog will start to lift the hind leg when urinating and a bitch will come into season for the first time, however a bitch will still be emotionally immature and not ready to have a litter of puppies.
A female may come into season a second time during the same year.
After the second year, the dog is fully grown, physically and psychologically, although our domesticated dogs never really seem to be mature.
I find it irresponsible to breed from a bitch before they have reached this age.
A young male dog will begin to lick at urine and respond to the scent of an in season bitch with the typical chattering of the teeth.
Unlike a bitch a dog reaches both emotional and physical maturity at the same time, but it happens a little later.
During the first two years of a dog’s life, most owners are faced with problems caused by miscommunication leading to unwanted behaviour.
The relationship still needs to be built up; the dog must learn to obey, undergo basic training and know and understand certain boundaries.
The dog’s education and most behavioural problems are concentrated in the first two years of life. During this period you also have socialization, the second phase of fear and puberty all happening.
We live in a fast paced society, where time is money.
Patience is often in short supply and yet patience is essential if you intend to educate and train a dog.
Buying a dog and then paying for ten lessons to have him trained just does not work!
Training in haste, which is often the case, is counterproductive.
Throughout our dogs lives we should continue their education and care for them, although the emphasis is on the first three years.
While still with his mother and littermates a young puppy would understand and respect the boundaries that were set. As he moves on and becomes a member of a human family it is normal that he will test them to see how they react.
If unwanted behaviour is allowed he will learn that he can get away with it and the behaviour will continue and become stronger.
Educating a dog is all about doing things together but with you always being the leader, going places together, enjoying activities and also relaxing together. Eye contact and positive behaviour is rewarded. In this way you forge a real bond with your dog.
As our dogs become older we enter a second major period of care as sensory capacity and overall health weaken.
Behavioural problems and apprehension will often have a medical cause.
Anyone who breeds, educates or engages in any form of dog training should have the necessary insight into the various stages of life; these are not black and white or sharply defined and can vary depending on the dog.
As the dog becomes older he will be slower to learn, he will have less energy, may require a different diet, his joints stiffen and his senses will deteriorate…
However generally, an older dog is accustomed to you and vice versa, he is educated and his body language and behaviour are clear.
What should you bear in mind?
A dog that is in the senior phase of his life is generally quieter and the diet should be adjusted as the dog uses less energy.
It is important to keep a close eye on the dog’s weight as if he becomes obese there will be additional pressure on his musculoskeletal system.
The bones become brittle and the muscles become stiff and should not be overtaxed and certainly not by being made to carry excess weight.
Older dogs can also suffer from dementia.
As a result, they have difficulty learning or adapting to new things, can suffer from memory loss, are easily startled, and can be apprehensive.
An aging dog will often not like being left alone.
His senses, especially sight and hearing, are less sharp.
If he does not obey or listen to you he may well have a problem hearing you.
Do not sideline your aging dog, but change his lifestyle and recognise his needs!
What phase is your dog in currently? Do you recognize certain behaviours?
What tips can you share with us?