Puppies go though some critical stages in their life when they are a few months old. Understanding these stages is important for breeders and new owners.
There are some critical stages in the life of a puppy that will be crucial for the making of a future stable minded dog. The outcome of these stages will leave an everlasting impression in the puppy. Positive experiences during such stages will likely lead to stable temperaments, while negative experiences on the other hand, may lead to significant deficits and even dysfunctional behaviors. Following is an overview of the early developmental stages in puppies.
Early Developmental Stages in Puppies
This stage takes place even before the puppies are born. Interestingly, a dog’s tactile perception develops before birth, therefore unborn puppies can detect touch when the mother is petted from the outside of the abdomen. This creates ideal grounds for puppies that tolerate well being touched, when compared to puppies born to mothers that were not petted.
Pregnant dogs who also are exposed to stressful events tend to release hormones that can be detected by the fetuses and that can negatively influence their future development. Thus, the importance of providing pregnant dogs a stress free and tranquil environment.
This stage takes place in the puppy’s first two weeks of life. During this stage the puppy needs lots of rest, indeed puppies will sleep 70% of the time, where the remaining 30% is dedicated to meeting its nutritional needs. The puppy during this time cannot see or hear and fully depends on the mother which provides them with warmth and helps the puppies eliminate by stimulating their bottoms by licking.
Studies conducted by Dr. Michael Fox, former vice president of the Humane Society of the Unites States, were able to demonstrate that mildly stressing puppies in the first five weeks, caused them to end up being calmer when exposed to stress as adults. Interestingly, this mild stress also appears to increase the size pf the brain.
The sleep of puppies is characterized by muscle tremors and twitches. This is called ‘activated sleep’ and it helps strengthen the puppy’s muscles so to allow it to start walking soon. Because puppies are unable to regulate their body temperature they will often be seen sleeping on top of each other to maintain warmth.
This stage takes place in the puppy’s third and fourth week of life. While formerly the puppy relied only on its sense of touch and taste, now around the fourteenth day, the puppy’s eyes and ear canals will open and by the eighteenth day the puppy will be able to detect where a sound is coming from.
Puppies at this stage also start to walk with a wobbly gait. Because they are better capable of regulating their temperature, they will leave the nest to explore and start playing with their litter mates. It is important to continue handling the puppies ensuring they receive many opportunities to use their senses and associate humans with positive happenings.
By three weeks of age, puppies will begin eliminating on their own and lapping up liquids for the first time. It is important to provide puppies a designated area for elimination characterized by a different surface than the nest area, such as lining it with news papers. This is also the stage when puppies start learning to be dogs. Orphaned puppies therefore may have a hard time on learning how dogs are supposed to act.
This stage goes from week four to week sixteen of the puppy’s life. This window of opportunity is when the puppy should be socialized as much as possible. This is the most important stage of the dog’s life since it will form the dog’s future behavioral and emotional development.
Puppies at this stage (around day 30 to 40) learn bite inhibition by litter mate puppies. When a puppy bites too hard, the wounded litter mate will yelp and withdraw from the game. Shortly, the biting pup learns to not bite too hard, something that humans must further teach since a human’s skin is much more sensitive than the skin of a dog.
This is also the stage where puppies are generally separated from the mother (eight weeks). Since puppies at this time are better capable to adapting to new circumstances, separation is less likely to be traumatic. Interestingly, during this time, the dam will also stop producing dog appeasing pheromones, a substance produced by the mammary glands during lactation that causes the puppies to bond with their mother.
Puppies at this stage should be exposed as much as possible to humans of different races, children, babies, other animals, dogs of different breeds, disabled people, sounds, textures etc, so that its cultural background is sufficiently enriched. Puppy classes are often a good place to start.
It is important to point out however, that a dog’s socialization should not end at 16 weeks. Rather, it should continue throughout the dog’s life. It therefore is up to the responsible dog breeder to start working on bringing up a well raised pup, and then the new owner should take over by further exposing the dog to positive and stimulating experiences in the ‘making of the well balanced dog.’