Puppy Development Growth Stages
By Josh Weiss-Roessler
Some of us, when we think of a puppy, imagine an adorably tiny dog that can barely open his eyes stumbling around as he explores the world. Others see a whirlwind of doggy energy that can’t keep still for a second because there are too many balls to chase, scents to smell, and things to pee on… and then roll in.
There are two reasons for this discrepancy:
Puppyhood isn’t something that lasts just a few weeks. Dogs don’t become adults until sometime between 1 and 2 years of age.
Despite the fact that they go through a number of stages of growth and development, we tend to consider dogs either puppies or adults.
So what are the stages of puppy growth and development? Depending on what methodology you want to follow, there are anywhere from 5 to 7 stages of puppyhood that start at birth and end when your dog reaches adulthood. To keep things simple, we’re going to stick with five.
Neonatal period (0 to 2 weeks)
Puppies can touch and taste at birth, but that’s about it. During this period, they are going to be most influenced by their mother (or mother surrogate) and littermates, and will start learning some simple social skills, coordination, and the ranking process. Mostly, they’ll just eat — newborns need to have milk from mom or a commercial milk replacer about every two hours.
Transitional period (2 to 4 weeks)
Their eyes open, they stand and walk, their sense of smell and hearing develops, they wag their tail, teeth start coming in, and they’ll even start to bark. By the end of this period, they should be able to use the bathroom on their own and see quite well on their own.
Socialization period (4 to 12 weeks)
This is the stage and timeframe where it’s incredibly important to introduce your pup to other people and dogs. By five weeks, puppies are aware of their surroundings and start really enjoying playtime. Good experiences with people from weeks 5 to 7 will play a large role in how they continue to interact.
But even though they’ll start being influenced by people after about a month, ideally you want puppies to remain with their mother and littermates for eight weeks to learn inhibited play biting and other dog socialization cues.
By week seven, you may be able to start house-training your puppy. From weeks 8 to 10, your pup will go through a normal “fear” period that can be helped with training that is positive and encouraging. But the true training “golden time” is from 9 to 12 weeks, because your pup is actively working on social skills and paying attention to both people and littermates.
Ranking period (3 to 6 months)
Think about this period as “elementary school age.” Just like human children, dogs at this point are most influenced by their playmates — both dogs and people. During this stage, your pup will begin to understand and use ranking in terms of submission and dominance.
Teething and related chewing (and chewing issues!) happen around this time, and when the puppy is about four months old, she’ll go through another fear stage.
Adolescence (6 to 18 months)
Your pup now understands that he has a pack (which may consist of both humans and dogs) and his behavior will be most influenced by this group. You can expect your dog to challenge you more as he explores dominance and his role in the pack.
Dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered will also start exhibiting sexual behavior during this period, and a second chewing stage will likely begin somewhere between 7 to 9 months.
By knowing what to expect and at which times, you can better prepare yourself to deal with specific behaviors so you handle them in a way that is both positive and encourages the kind of behavior you want.
Common dog behaviors explained
Communication begins with understanding. If you want to build a better relationship with your dog, you can start by working to understand the meaning and causes behind some of her most common dog behaviors. Here is a list of common dog behaviors and what they mean.
Because dogs sweat through the pads on their feet, most of their body heat is expelled through their mouth when they pant. It's their primary means of regulating body temperature. Dogs also pant to cope with pain.
In nature, dogs bark to raise an alarm at the first signs of possible danger or to herald a new arrival. Barking is an important means of canine communication. See What your dog's bark is telling you.
Just as a growing child, your dog will want to chew on toys and other objects to relieve the pain of a new set of teeth coming in. If your dog is full grown, you may also come home to find your couch cushions or favorite pair of shoes ripped to shreds, but it is not because they enjoy the taste. Your dog could be exhibiting signs of separation anxiety or anxiety in general. See 5 steps to correct inappropriate dog chewing.
Digging is an instinctual activity, written deep in a dog's DNA. It is especially strong in terrier breeds. Dogs in natural packs will dig to hide food or to uncover food such as small rodents. A den dug in the cool earth can also provide shelter from the heat. See Cesar's dog training advice on how to get dogs to stop digging.
Though it may seem like play behavior, or an enthusiastic greeting, jumping up is a sign that your dog is attempting to assert her dominance over you. By encouraging jumping up with affection, you are reinforcing the behavior. See Cesar's training video on how to deal with dogs jumping when excited.
A dog will bite a person as a way of communicating their current state of mind. The dog could be reacting in aggression, fear or nervousness. There are, however, ways to prevent a dog bite from ever happening if you stay in tune to the dog’s body language. See Dog bites 101: Why bites happen and how to prevent them.
Dogs live and travel in packs, so it's natural for them to feel anxious when they are separated from their pack-mates. Try taking your dog on a nice, long walk before leaving her alone in the house. Leaving her in resting mode can calm her anxiety.
Once you understand these behaviors, you'll be better equipped to recognize when your pack's needs are not being met! When your dog's needs go unfulfilled, unwanted behaviors begin to emerge. Consider: Are you giving Exercise, Discipline, then Affection?
How has your dog misbehaved lately, and how do you plan to solve the issue? Share your story in the comments.