Breeders and new owners should be aware of the critical phases of puppy development and how they affect the formation of a dog. Ethese taps are called critical periods for a reason. These periods are extremely important from the point of view of further development of the dog. What happens or doesn't happen during their lifetime will shape him for the rest of his life. It is worth remembering to avoid unnecessary behavioral problems in the future.

We distinguish the following critical phases of puppy development:

  1. Neonatal phase 0-12 days
  2. Transition period (short period between two critical periods 13-20 days)
  3. Socialization period (4-12 weeks)
  4. Adolescence (12 weeks - 6 months)

Below I will characterize the above phases, but before I do, let me quote a quote: "Research has shown that the offspring of mothers who were subjected to various stresses during pregnancy will be nervous and fearful" (1).

Yes - the whole adventure begins in the prenatal period. As S. Coren writes, if stressful situations occur in the last trimester of pregnancy, the offspring may have weaker learning abilities, show a tendency to extreme behavior or emotional hypersensitivity. Following his lead - if the stress-related hormones produced by the mother's body adversely affect the fetus, the endorphins produced in the body may be beneficial for the fetus. We are able to influence the level of endorphins produced by the mother's body by providing the pregnant bitch with appropriate stimuli.

Already at this stage we are able to influence the developing fetus and every breeder should remember about it.

Neonatal Phase (0-12 days)

When the prenatal phase ends - the puppy eagerly enters a new - neonatal phase of development. It has closed ears and eyes, but all other senses function normally. It has a sense of taste, smell, feels pain and changes in temperature. It is the mother that stimulates his excretory functions and her saliva provides information about the surrounding world. By licking it, it gives it the information contained in the saliva. Getting to know this scent will be crucial for him. It is very difficult to feed your puppy from a teat bottle during this period, but try dipping the teat into the bitch's saliva and your puppy should have no hesitation. I am not advocating bottle-feeding here, but unfortunately, sometimes it may be necessary. This phase of development is dominated by eating and sleeping. Puppies cuddle up to each other for hours.

The electrical activity of the brain is still very weak and it is difficult to distinguish periods of sleep from activity using an electroencephalograph. During this period, the puppy is also unable to maintain body temperature on its own, which is why contact with its mother and siblings is so necessary.

"Studies clearly show that moderate stress - touching, picking up or stroking, as well as changes in temperature - has an invaluable, positive effect on the development of puppies during this early period" (2). Here I will refer to the methods of stimulation described in more detail in the article "Early Neurological Stimulation of Puppies". Such sessions have a good effect on the physical and mental development of young puppies.

In the first days of life, the puppy is able to send the first calming signals - mainly by yawning. Some begin to use this signal a few hours after birth, others after a few days. It is easiest to observe if we separate the puppy from the rest of the litter and take it in our hands. This is a stressful situation for the toddler and the signal sent is a sign of discomfort he feels.

Transitional period (13 – 20 days)

It is not without reason that it is called a period of turbulent changes. At this time, the eyes and ear canals open. Puppies are slowly starting to play with each other, take their first steps. They also have social awareness. During this period, it is advisable to continue the stimulation, with the simultaneous introduction of new stimuli. As puppies begin to see and hear, you can slowly introduce visual or auditory stimuli (radio, TV, various sounds, exploring rooms). Note, however, not to overdo it - we do not want to expose the puppy to permanent stress.

The EEG graph now shows clear discrepancies between periods of activity and sleep. Teeth are starting to erupt. Puppies are beginning to control their bladder and bowels to some extent. In the third week, they empty themselves, make their first attempts to defecate away from the bed.

Socialization period (4 - 12 weeks)

Different sources treat the time frame of this period differently. There is little dispute as to when this period ends. Some say 12 and others 16 weeks. The truth is that the socialization period ends when the puppy begins to react to new events or situations with increased fear. There are significant differences in its duration in different breeds.

This period is the most fateful period in a dog's life. As S. Coren writes, “All the events that have happened and those that have not happened will shape the dog's behavior forever”(3).

We distinguish different areas of socialization - socialization with the mother, litter and with people. The dog must be well socialized with its mother and with its siblings so that it knows what species it belongs to, but also must learn to be with a human because in the future it will be with a human that it will live. It is very important not to separate the puppy from its mother and the rest of the litter until the end of this phase. Puppies learn how to interact with each other, the dog's way of communication and how important it is to control the grip of the jaws (biting inhibition). Some breeders, in pursuit of a quick profit, separate puppies from their mother too quickly - thus doing them great harm. Others, for fear of harming the puppy, separate him from his mother when she behaves at least indelicately, while she teaches him the first very important lessons in his life.

During this critical period, the dog must be exposed to the maximum amount of stimulation, here I would like to refer to "The Golden Dozen" by Margaret Hughes. The program consists in exposing the puppy to the maximum number of stimuli up to the twelfth week of life, which in the future will fulfill the task of a vaccine, immunizing the dog against potential stressful situations it may encounter.

In other words, by 12 weeks of age, your puppy should:

1. walk on at least 12 different surfaces (e.g. parquet, carpet, cobblestone, concrete, linoleum, grass, newspapers, sand, etc.)

2. play with at least 12 different objects (e.g. soft and hard toys, large and small balls, jingling toys, wooden objects, paper or cardboard, metal objects, etc.)

3. get to know at least 12 different places (e.g. yard, other people's apartments, school playground, meadow, basement, elevator, bus, underground passage, etc.)

4. get to know and play with at least 12 different people (e.g. children, men, women, the elderly, people in wheelchairs, people with canes, people with hats, umbrellas, habits, sunglasses, etc.)

5. learn at least 12 different sounds (babies playing, crying and screaming children, trucks, motorbikes, skateboards, washing machine, mixer, shopping carts, falling pot, vacuum cleaner, ambulance siren, etc.)

6. recognize at least 12 fast-moving objects (e.g. skateboards, roller skates, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, running people, cats, etc.)

7. cope with at least 12 different challenges (e.g. entering a cardboard box, going through a tunnel, walking on openwork stairs, walking on a footbridge, electric doors, swimming in a lake, etc.)

8. being touched by the owner and family in at least 12 places (e.g. being picked up, turned onto back, held between legs, paw pads, teeth, ears, etc.)

9. eat from at least 12 different containers (metal bowl, box, paper, mug, pan, plastic cup, spoon, paper bag, etc.)

10. eat in at least 12 different places (e.g. backyard, cage, basement, bathroom, friend's house, car, school playground, umbrella, etc.)

11. play with at least 12 puppies and well-balanced adult dogs

12. be alone at least 12 times away from family and other pets for approximately 5-45 minutes.

All these puppy experiences should have a positive or neutral effect.

The key is to fit in the period between the third and twelfth week of life. And here moderate stress is important - let's not exaggerate with the number of stimuli given at the same time. If a puppy approaches something with reserve, let him see for himself that it's worth it, don't force it, because we can get the opposite effect to the intended one.

The puppy is absorbent like a sponge, let him explore - it is very important for his development. The period of socialization is also the period of vaccination and certainly none of the owners want to expose the puppy to potential sources of disease. However, there are ways to ensure that the fact of vaccination does not adversely affect socialization. I took my puppies to my friends, I invited my friends to my place, I organized car rides for them. As you can see, you don't necessarily have to let your dog go to a park full of germs. Dog kindergartens, which are starting to operate on an increasingly large scale, are also a good solution. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with their program.

In this phase of development, puppies make early attempts at communication, communicating in canine language. It is very important that they learn to communicate with each other and use body language. Learning and assimilating this specific language can prevent conflicts between dogs in the future.

However, it should be remembered that between 8 - 10 weeks of age a puppy goes through a period of increased fear and we must be careful not to expose him to any traumatic experiences, because it can affect his psyche.

Adolescence (12 weeks - 6 months)

Technically, the socialization period is over, but that does not mean that we should not expose the puppy to various stimuli - on the contrary, if we stop doing it now, the puppy may forget what he has learned so far. Let's continue our work and it will certainly not be in vain. Some dogs begin to go through a difficult period, reminiscent of adolescence. We might even think that they have regressed in development. However, being aware of what is happening to our puppy, let's be understanding for him. If he is going through a training crisis - let's reduce our requirements, let's go back to the previous stage.

During adolescence, our young adults may fall into the so-called escape phase - feel the so-called. the call of freedom. This is natural and instead of getting angry at the dog - change your habits. Take him for walks in various other places where he does not feel so confident, walk with him on a leash. Me on a walk with Blanka, from time to time I hid behind a tree, she was looking for me then. Such exercises made her more alert, and while minding her own business, she always had me in her sight.

Author: Edyta Gajewska

  1. Stanley Coren, "The Secret of the Dog's Mind," Galaxy, Chapter 9, Page 143
  2. Stanley Coren, "The Secret of the Dog's Mind," Galaxy, Chapter 9, Page 146
  3. Stanley Coren, "The Secret of the Dog's Mind," Galaxy, Chapter 9, Page 149


Stanley Coren "The Secret of the Dog's Mind", Galaxy

Terry Ryan, Kirsten Mortensen "Outsmart Dog", Galaxy

John Fisher "Okiem Psa", National Agricultural and Forest Publishing House

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