Stages of Canine Development.
Argo-Heidi von der Lleburg,
BD. 2/9/1928, Oberingenieur W. Kruger,
Critical Periods in Canine Development
By Ellen Dodge.
Reprinted from the
October 1989 issue of the Weimaraner Magazine.
Drs. Scott and Fuller were
the first to document critical periods in the development of the canine
in 1953. Their efforts, recognizing critical developmental periods, the
importance of socialization, the use of the puppy aptitude test and an
effective breeding program, resulted in the remarkable success rate of
over 9O percent in producing guide dogs for the blind.
Clarence Pfaffenbeiger, Dr. Michael Fox
and Joachim and Wendy Volhard have
further documented and
supported the results of Scott and Fuller.
Critical periods in a
dog's life begin at birth, peak between six and eight weeks, and extend
to maturity. It has been proven that environment and socialization make
lasting impressions on the developing dog.
Breeders have an important
responsibility to provide socialization and richness of experience for
puppies in their care, this is especially important from the fourth to
eighth weeks of puppyhood. Pfaffenberger in his book "The New Knowledge
of Dog Behavior" states that from "three weeks of age, when the learning
stage began, to 16 weeks of age, the character of a dog is formed. No
matter how good his inherited character traits, if they are not given a
chance of expression during this period he will never be as good a dog
as he could have been."
Neonatal Period - O to 13 Days
During this time the
puppies require food and warmth. They are not capable of regulating
their body temperature or eliminating without their mother’s
stimulation. They are aware of direct contact.
Dr. Michael Fox conducted
a study showing mildly stressing puppies during the first five weeks
develops dogs which are superior when put in learning or competitive
situations. They are better able to handle stress, are more outgoing and
learn more quickly. Mild physical stress at an early age will actually
increase the size of the brain.
Some of you may have seen
an article in the "Hunter's Whistle" recently, an interview with
Brittany breeders Ron and Dot Stevenson. They have 30 years of
experience producing numerous dual champions. They believe puppies who
are destined for a lifetime of competition must be acclimated to stress
at an early age and they put their pups under stress from the moment of
whelping. They give the pups daily individual attention and emphasize
The type of stress we are
talking about is very mild during the first week. Weigh the pups daily,
placing them on a cool surface. On successive days hold them one at a
time firmly on one side for 10 to 15 seconds. The next day, hold them on
the other side, then up in the air, head down, turn in a circle, etc.
During the second week, the stress is intensified by pinching the ear
flap, the webbing between the toes and placing them on a cookie sheet
just out of the refrigerator.
Transition period - 13 to 21 days
Puppies' ears and eyes
will gradually open. They will begin to hear and will respond to taste
and smell. This is the time to introduce novel stimuli to the whelping
box such as a plastic milk bottle, knotted towel, cardboard box, etc.
How about pheasant or quail feathers? I find it best to
put them in a small cloth
This is also a time to
introduce puppies to friendly cats. It is important to continue picking
up the pups daily, admire them, talk to them, and spend a few minutes
with each one individually.
Awareness Period -
21 to 23 Days
This is an important
subperiod of the Canine Socialization Period. By 2l days the pups have
the use of their senses and it is important not to overload them.
Radical changes in the environment must be avoided, i.e. do not move the
It is a time of very rapid
sensory development. Individual attention is continued. Also, take them
two at a time to new floor surfaces for about two minutes. Take
different pairs each time. Each day introduced a new surface such as
concrete, linoleum, wood, carpet, matting, etc. Taking them two at a
time will make it less stressful than one at a time. Very mild auditory
stimuli is introduced, such as a radio playing quietly.
Canine Socialization Period-21 to 49 Days
Pup learns he is a dog
during this period. He must be kept with his littermates and dam during
this entire period. He will learn how to stop mother’s discipline by
acting submissively. Do not wean the puppies at this time. They may be
supplemented at three weeks but it is left up to the dam how much
nursing is done. A puppy removed from its litter and dam during this
period may become overly noisy, a discipline problem, or a fighter. The
mother is allowed as much time with the pups as she wants.
During, the fourth and
fifth weeks, puppies can go two at a time for short car rides. Again,
alternate puppies and do not always take the same two together. The dam
can go along if she is a good rider. Household noises are gradually
increased, radio, dishwasher, TV, hair dryer, vacuum, etc.
Individual attention is
out of sight and hearing of the mother and littermates. Puppies can be
stood and brushed with their bites checked daily. Introduce them to
stairs (one step at a time). Put them in a position where they have to
solve problems, walking through tunnels, for instance. Individually, let
them drag a show lead around. You don't want another puppy to grab the
lead-no tugging. Put a crate in the puppy pen.
At five weeks obedience
training can begin in a totally positive fashion. Give five minute
sessions on sit, stand, down and leash training. Use a plain buckle
collar and do not pull or jerk the leash. Introduce the pups to the
outdoors. This is a good time for them to meet new adults and children.
During the fifth and sixth
weeks individual attention is imperative. Clarice Rutherford and David
Neil state in their work "How to Raise A Puppy You Can Live With", that
during the sixth week, "It would be a catastrophe if you neglected to
give each pup individual attention. It puts you in the category of being
a producer, not a breeder and you should never again have another litter
in your care."
The 49th day is the ideal
timing for the puppy aptitude test to be done. The brain waves of the
puppy are the same as a mature dog, but the puppy is a clean slate. If
the puppies have been properly socialized and are not somehow
traumatized before the test (by being taken for their first car ride to
the test site, or being crated for the first time) the test is a
reliable measure of their suitability for whatever role in life they are
expected to fulfill. It is an excellent aid in placing puppies in
Human Socialization Period 50 to 84 Days (7 to 12 weeks)
This is the best time to
place a puppy in his new home, since he is now ready to transfer his
affections from his dam to his people. Pfaffenberger says, ”From now to
the 16th week of the puppy’s life, his basic character is set by what he
is taught. This will apply especially to his attitudes toward people and
toward his ability to serve them the very best he can." Socialization
must be continued.
During this time the puppy
is given widely varied experiences and meets as many people of all ages
and walks of life as possible. Once a puppy is reasonably housebroken, I
take it to the bank, hardware store, pet shop, florist, playground and
everywhere possible with me. During the seventh week is a good time to
send a puppy the breeder plans to keep for an overnight visit with a
trusted friend. By ten weeks, puppies should have separate living
quarters, or at least separate sleeping quarters if they are still in
the same household.
Fear Impact Subperiod 8 to 10 Weeks
Experiences a puppy
perceives as traumatic during this time are generalized and may affect
him all his life. It is a fact that a dog is most likely to develop an
avoidance response if subjected to physical or psychological trauma
during these four weeks.
Puppies should not be
shipped during this period, elective surgery should be put off until the
12th week, and necessary visits to the vet should be made fun. Bring
toys and ask the vet to play with pup for a few minutes afterward.
Period - 12 to 16 Weeks:
Otherwise known as the
“age of the cutting’ teeth and apron strings during this period, the pup
is trying to figure out who is boss. If still together, there is intense
competition between littermates. All tests of strength between person
and pup (such as tug of war) should be discontinued. All biting of human
hands, clothing, or leash should be discouraged. By 16 weeks, the
puppy’s emotional makeup is fully developed and cemented for life,
Flight Instinct Period 4
to 8 Months:
There is a time during
this period, lasting two to four weeks, when the pup will test his
wings. He won't come when called, in fact will run away. Just keep pup
on a leash until this passes.
Second Fear Impact Period 6 to 14 Months
This period is otherwise
known as Teenage Flakiness! In large breeds this period could extend
longer since it is tied to sexual maturity. Incidents may occur more
than once. This is a fear of new situations and is handled with the
utmost patience. The dog is encouraged to work it out on his own. If
anything, it is better to ignore the whole situation than to reinforce
the fear by praising the dog or petting him while he is afraid. When you
"reassure" a dog with pets and "it's okay, fella", you are telling him
it is okay to be frightened and you are creating a potential problem.
Young Adulthood - 18 to
Many dogs will show a rise
in their level of aggression during this time. They may become
protective and territorial, and may make a new attempt to dominate
owners. Incidents of teenage flakiness may recur.
To produce a potential
"super" dog takes a great deal of time and effort on the part of the
breeder and new owner. The above is an outline which will help those who
have the time and who wish to give their puppies every possible chance
of preparing to take the world by the tail and achieve their greatest
For those who have less
time to spend with a litter, this can serve as a guide helping maximize
the quality of the time spent and to pinpoint the best times during the
pups’ development to make the effort.
The absolute, bare minimum
amount of individual attention a puppy must have is as follows: Two
minutes of attention two times during the fourth week; ten minutes of
attention two times during the fifth week; a minimum of two ten minute
sessions the sixth week; and one-half hour once per week from 7 through
Surely we all want to
invest more than the bare minimum on our litters of puppies whose
pedigrees we have so carefully planned and whose futures are so filled
with hopes of bench, obedience and field titles. Let's give our puppies
a super start from the whelping pen!
Clarice Rutherford & David
H. Neil. MRCVS. "How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With." Loveland, CO:
Alpine Publications, 1981.
"The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior." NY, NY: Howell, 1979.
Wendy Volhard & Gail
Fisher. 'Seminar: "All You Ever Wanted to Know About Puppies and Dogs."