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Puppy Development

When I adopted my first dog, his breeder gave me a book called “Behavior, Development, and Training of the Dog: A Primer of Canine Psychology” by Frederic J. Sautter and John A. Glover. This book is incredible. The copyright is 1978, but if you are able to find a copy anywhere, I highly recommend picking it up and reading it cover to cover. As a first time dog owner, it gave me great insight into canine behavior, including how dogs learn, and their critical stages of development during their lifetime.

I’m going to describe the periods of development as described by Sautter and Glover.

Neonatal Period (0 to 13 days)

A puppy is born with its eyes and ears closed. Taste is a strongly developed sense already, touch a little less so. The puppy isn’t capable of efficient movement but can crawl about slowly by moving its head from side to side. This is how the pup finds its mom. The pup will also whine and yelp for attention. Unable to maintain its own body temperature, the pup relies on snuggling close to mom and its littermates to keep warm. At this age, the puppy is unable to even eliminate waste without the stimulation of its mother’s licking.

Complex learning will not occur during this time period, because the puppy’s brain, motor and sensory capabilities are not highly developed.

Transitional Period (13 to 20 days)

A puppy will open its eyes at approximately day 13. This is when this second development phase begins. Now that its eyes are open, many behavior changes take place in just one week. The puppy will develop motor capacities, allowing the puppy to walk instead of crawl. Now the puppy can explore the world a little more, rather than just seek the warmth and food of its mother. During the period, the pup is able to make clumsy attempts at drinking from a dish. By its third week of life, it will be able to stand and eat from a dish, much like an adult can. The puppy is much less vocal during this time of development. The puppy will even begin wagging its tail when it is interacting with its littermates.

By day 19, the puppy’s ears will have opened, allowing the puppy to startle from loud noises. At day 20, the puppy’s first set of teeth begin to emerge.

Socialization Period (3 to 14 weeks)

At the beginning of this period of socialization, the puppy will be able to move around, but will probably look clumsy. By the end of this period, the puppy’s coordination will have drastically improved to the point where the puppy will be able to run.

When a puppy first starts socializing, it will show following patterns, just like a duck and its chicks. The pup will emotionally attach himself to any object and be willing to follow it. Soon after, the puppy develops its strong avoidance, fear, and withdrawal emotions. Sautter and Glover outline an older scientific study by Freedman, King, and Elliot from 1961 where several sets of puppies of different ages were raised in a field away from humans were brought into a room with human beings. The first set of pups were 3 weeks old. They immediately run up to the human observers with their tails wagging. The other set of puppies were 7 weeks old and they were more hesitant about approaching the human observers. A third set were 14 weeks old. They showed an immediate fear response and never developed a positive approach response. Their conclusion was that during this period of development, if puppies are not exposed to humans, they will become extremely fearful, and are practically wild. On the other hand, puppies who are over-socialized with people during this time period can become over dependent on their owners. It’s not uncommon for these dogs to suffer from separation anxiety even when their owners are absent for short periods of time.

Sautter and Glover describe other studies, which conclude that somehow a lack of human socialization leads to puppies that are less trainable. In one study, by C.J. Pfaffenberger and J.P. Scott in 1959 used German Shepherd dogs in a guide dog raising/training facility. Pups that were kept in the kennel for an extra two weeks (14 weeks as compared to 12 weeks) before being sent to a private home for training, failed the trainability tests five times more frequently than the others.

At the beginning of this development period, the puppies interact more with each other. As their teeth emerge, they will playfully bite and paw at one another. This is when the dominance hierarchy between the littermates begins to develop. When a puppy rolls on its back and extends its paws, it is displaying signs of subordination. This play fighting is important for their adult sexual development.

At the end of the transitional period, and the beginning of this socialization period, a puppy will begin to defecate in certain spots in a consistent manner. Usually the pup will smell the ground, and if it smells that the area has been used before, it will use it again. This is why a new puppy owner is in for many accidents after the first one occurs. You should rush your puppy outside and take him to the same place each time to train him to use this area. To make housetraining easier, use an indoor crate or kennel. Puppies will not urinate or defecate in their own nest, so this will encourage them to hold it until you rush them outside.

A puppy will begin to bark during this phase. At the beginning of this time period they will be vocal when they are in an unfamiliar area, but this will decrease after week 7.
At the beginning of this developmental period, the mother of the puppies will leave the puppy nest. She’ll return to regurgitate for the puppies. This is the beginning of their weaning phase. By the time the puppies are 5 weeks old, she will begin to snap and growl at the puppies when they try to feed from her. Weaning will be complete between weeks 7 and 10.

Juvenile Period (12 weeks through Sexual Maturity)

By sixteen weeks, a puppy should be approximately 60% of its adult size. Maximum physiological development is attained when the dog is two years old. The speed at which a puppy learns things actually slows down at 4 months old, probably because the new learning interferes with its previous learning. This is why you should be consistent in your training from the beginning. Of course a young puppy’s rambunctiousness will interfere with its attention time span for learning some complex tasks!

By 15 weeks, the puppies will have learned their rank in the dominance hierarchy and play fighting will decrease. The more dominant puppies will hold their tail erect, growl, and will place their front paws and jaws over the forequarters and back of the neck of the other more submissive puppies. More submission puppies will flatten their ears, cower, and crouch with their tail between their legs.

Males will begin to lift their leg when they urinate between the ages of 5 to 8 months. This is also when they will learn to scratch the ground after they defecate. These behaviours indicate sexual maturity. At this time, the dog may also begin establishing its territory by peeing on posts and other objects.

The puppy’s second set of teeth appear around week 16. Once they have their adult teeth, they’ll be able to chew hard objects and bite effectively.

This represents a very brief summary of just one chapter of this book. Find a copy of you can. It is a very educational read!


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