Understanding the puppy development stages will help you build the personality and character you want in your pup, which starts with training at each stage of development. To have a wonderfully social dog, that isn't fearful or aggressive, you need to ensure his needs are met during each phase of development.
Probably one of the most important things you can do to achieve this, is to get the right training at the right time. And that's not just for your pup; puppy parents need training too! You need to know how to integrate your puppy into the family and establish yourself as the pack leader. You'll see many behavioral changes during the life stages of your pup, some of which will no doubt test you, particularly when they reach the final stage - adolescence!
Overview of Stages
The puppy development process covers five distinct stages:
1. Neonatal Period at 0-2 Weeks
2. Transitional Period at 2-4 Weeks
3. Socialization Period at 3-12 Weeks
4. Ranking Period at 3-6 Months
5. Adolescence at 6-18 Months
Stage 1: Neonatal Period at 0-2 Weeks
The first stage of puppy development is when they are born. Most of us won't have our puppies at this stage but, if you are getting your puppy from a breeder, you may get the occasional picture from the breeder. At this age, puppies only have the sense of taste and touch and rely totally on their mother.
Stage 2: Transitional Period at 2-4 Weeks
You're still not likely to see your puppy at this age but the breeder will start to notice some more senses developing, such as their hearing and sense of smell. They'll also start to have their puppy teeth coming through and their eyes will begin to open. This is also the age when they start to develop their little personalities. They will interact with their littermates, wag their tails, stand, walk a little and are able to bark.
Stage 3: Socialization Period at 3-12 Weeks
This is the most important stage of a puppy's development. It's also the stage where the most critical changes occur, and guess what, you're probably going to bring your puppy home during this period! Most puppies go home to their new parents at the age of 7 - 9 weeks so understanding this stage is vital. During this period, changes start to occur rapidly, so lets break down this puppy development phase.
3-5 Weeks of Puppy Development
Somewhere between 3 and 5 weeks puppies will start to become aware of their surroundings and will have the ability to develop a relationship with people. Although you won't take your puppy home at this age, it is important to speak with your breeder to ensure that s/he is beginning to nurture a relationship with the puppies. This is also where you can separate the good breeders from the puppy-mill type breeders.
Note: At Centennial GSD, our puppies born and raised in our home where their interaction with humans and other animals begins at birth and accelerates at 21 days old; the most critical time in early puppy development.
Unfortunately, puppies that are from puppy-mills (usually sold in pet shops) don't get the opportunity to develop a relationship with humans until you bring them home. This sets them back with socialization from the start and additional work is needed to enable them to become a fully sociable dog.
Puppies that are born in kennels or outside are also unfamiliar with the day-to-day noises of a regular household such as TV, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, washing machine, phones, talking, laughing, people dropping things, you name it! You'd be surprised by how much noises we make on a daily basis and how frightening that can be to a puppy that has been raised outside.
Once the puppies are at least 5 or 6 weeks old you should, if possible, ask the breeder if you can schedule a visit to see the puppies. Most good breeders recognize that the socialization period has already begun and will gladly welcome future pet parents visiting the puppies. If they aren't keen for you to visit then definitely ask to see some regular photo and/or video updates. What you're looking for in the photos is evidence that the puppies are comfortable around humans and ideally that they are indoors, preferably in a household. If all you see are photos of the puppies in a kennel, or outside, then you may start off with problems with socializing your puppy when you get them home.
If you can't visit, then question your breeder on what plans they have in place for the puppies to be indoors and meet new people between the ages of 5-8 weeks. If they have no plans in place then I would seriously reconsider using this breeder as they are hindering the socialization period of these puppies. These puppies could easily become shy or fearful around people (and noises), which could lead to a fear aggression problem.
If you do visit the puppies at 5 weeks old you're likely to see some fun stuff. At this age puppies are just learning to interact with each other and begin to play. They are also learning their doggie social skills as well as beginning to explore their ranking status within their pack.
Their curiosity is now starting to develop so they will be interested in you and may well nip at you as their biting skills are developing too. Seek out ways to handle puppy biting appropriately.
7-9 Weeks of Puppy Development
By this stage of puppy development, they will have full use of all their senses and will be ready to go home to their new owners.
9-12 Weeks of Puppy Development
Bringing your pup home (usually between 7-12 weeks) is right in the middle of his socialization period. Therefore, it is vital that you introduce your puppy to as many new dogs, people, objects, and surroundings as you can. BUT, make sure you do so in a controlled manner. If you have another dog at home you should make sure you introduce your puppy to your existing dog on neutral territory.
When bringing a new puppy home it is also important that you puppy proof your home for the sake of your puppy and your possessions! It is also a good time to start a program to get your puppy used to being left alone to avoid separation anxiety from developing. From the age of 7 weeks, puppies are more than capable of being able to be house-trained so make sure you start them off right. At this phase of the puppy development, the little guys are developing their reactions to things a lot more. They are also likely to focus more on different types of people and, as long as your breeder and you did a good job initially, should be friendly and approachable to strangers.
During this time they are also going to practice their biting skills a whole lot more! Previously they would play and bite with their littermates. Puppies will yelp when another pup bites too hard which provides feedback to that pup to bite softer. You now have to try and mimic this behavior to teach your puppy not to bite. This is called bite inhibition and is quite easy to learn and teach your pups.
You'll also notice that they may start to wander off a bit as they are more curious and will probably look to explore their environment a lot more. Be prepared for this at this age. That cute little puppy that you could take out for a potty break without a leash now needs to be on-leash! Generally puppies at around 8 - 9 weeks old will not wander off but once they reach the age of around 12 weeks of age curiosity begins to take over and they will venture out or even chase a rabbit rather than stay close.
Stage 4: Ranking Period at 3-6 Months
If you have another dog in your household you may start to see more ranking behavior from your puppy towards other dogs. You'll likely see him practicing his dominance and submission skills, which he may well practice on you too. If you haven't done so already, make sure you start a training program with your pup. It’s great to find a good positive training school but it is also vital that you practice at home on a regular (daily) basis. At this age your puppy is going to go through teething so watch out, as chewing is a big factor at this time. Before your puppy starts chomping on your furniture:
· Don't leave him unattended
· Make sure he has plenty of chewy sticks (bully sticks and pigs ears are best)
· Chew toys are also good (see below on how to make some yourself)
· Use Bitter Apple or Yuk, which is a spray, or gel that works wonders for preventing your puppy from chewing your furniture.
You may also notice that there is blood on his toys and chews or in his mouth during the teething phase. Sometimes a puppy's tooth doesn't fall out and the adult tooth will come in next to it. If you notice this in your pup, take him to the vet as it will need to be removed (by the vet) to prevent it from interfering with the alignment of his teeth and can also cause root infections. Your puppy is usually done teething by the age of 6 months but you can tell when your puppy is finished teething once you see the upper fangs (canines) come in as they are last.
Stage 5: Adolescence at 6-18 Months
Adolescence in German Shepherd Dogs will begin around nine or ten months old and likely continue until they are two or three years old.
Signs of Puberty in Canines
· Starts inappropriate chewing (furniture, shoes, etc.)
· Running around like a maniac, has exuberant energy
· Starts sexual behavior if not spayed/neutered, humping etc.
· Starts claiming bed or couch areas and growling when you try to move him/her
· Starts to pee/poop indoors
· Displays aggressive behavior (towards people or other dogs)
· Resource guarding
· Lack of respect and response
· Lack of focus and concentration (usually noticed during training sessions)
· Selective "deafness" (doesn't come when called)
· May start to display severe guarding tendencies
· Manipulative behavior and continually "testing" you
· Dominance behavior increases
· May start to challenge humans
The best way to handle an adolescent dog through this phase of puppy development, is to give the dog plenty of daily exercise to drain his energy and continue with positive training sessions daily. Consistency is key at this point so is routine.
Puppy Development and Fear Periods
During puppy development, puppies go through fear periods, in fact, on average they go through 4 fear periods.These are approximately at the following ages:
1. Between 8-10 Weeks
2. Between 4 - 6 Months
3. About 9 Months
4. Between 14 - 18 Months
This is a very important part of puppy development, as if you handle this incorrectly, you could end up with an aggression problem for life.
As your puppy enters a fear period, he will suddenly become frightened of something that he used to be OK with or used to ignore. His reaction could be hunched down, shaking, backing away, hiding, running away, or submissively urinating. Or, your puppy could display more pronounced behaviors such as growling, barking, hackles up, or showing teeth. Either way, once you recognize one of these behaviors at the age range mentioned above, you would be wise to stop taking your puppy to new places and introducing them to new things for about a week. And if you can, don't schedule any vet appointments during a fear period. Your new puppy can grow up to be everything you want if you recognize these critical puppy development phases so you can prepare and react accordingly.
Puppy Development Wrap Up
By understanding what each stage involves with your puppy's development, you can get a good idea of what to expect, both developmentally and behaviorally. You'll also be better equipped to provide your puppy with the right care throughout each phase.
Finally, providing a stable routine, consistency, positive training, and plenty of socialization and exercise you are more likely to produce a well-balanced and emotionally stable dog. After all, it is these periods of a puppy's life that will shape his personality and character. Quite simply, puppy development affects behavior, and behavior, molds character.
Content courtesy of Sharon Dianora