Stages of puppy development

Just as the saying “a chip off the old block” often holds true for humans, it can apply to dogs as well. Puppies that are well-socialized are more likely to come from dogs that are well-socialized.

A basic part of a pup’s socialization is based on their mother’s attitude–relaxed or skittish–toward people. The way you interact with your new puppy can play a big role, too. Playing, petting, and talking with your pup can help him or her develop the “people skills” needed to be a good member of the family and the neighborhood.

While weaning for puppies can take place at six to seven weeks, they are still learning important skills from their littermates as their mother gradually leaves them for longer periods of time. Puppies that stay with their litter for at least three months are more likely to develop good social skills as they act as role models for each other.

When puppies are separated from their littermates too early, they often fail to develop key social skills, such as sending and receiving signals, the hierarchy process (who is in charge), how far to go in play-wrestling, what mouthing pressure is acceptable (inhibited bite), and so forth. Play is important for puppies. It increases their dexterity, social interaction, and helps them to learn their boundaries.

Through these interactions with their mother and littermates, puppies learn what being a dog is all about. During the first eight weeks of age, skills not acquired may be lost forever.

Most dogs are considered puppies for up to two years of age, though puppyish behavior may end sooner or last longer in some breeds. The stages listed below are essential and fairly constant. However, dogs are open to new knowledge and training well beyond the puppy years. Here are some general guidelines for puppies’ stages of development.

The neonatal stage: Birth to two weeks

  • The senses of touch and taste are immediately present after birth.
  • The mother has the most influence over the puppy.

The transitional stage: Two to four weeks

  • Mother and littermates continue to influence a puppy’s behavior.
  • The sense of hearing and smell develop, eyes open and the teeth begin to appear.
  • A puppy begins to stand, walk a little, wag its tail, and bark.
  • A puppy’s eyesight is well-developed by the fourth or fifth week.

The socialization stage: Three to twelve weeks

  • A puppy needs occasions to meet other pets and people during this stage.
  • By three to five weeks, play becomes important as a puppy becomes aware of his or her surroundings, companions (both people and dogs), and relationships.
  • The influence of the puppy’s littermates increases at four to six weeks as he or she learns more about being a dog.
  • From four to twelve weeks, a puppy’s interaction with people becomes more influential. With littermates, the puppy learns to play, develops social skills, learns the inhibited bite, explores his or her social boundaries and hierarchy, and improves physical coordination.
  • By five to seven weeks, a puppy needs positive human interaction as he or she develops curiosity and explores new experiences.
  • A puppy has full use of his or her senses by seven to nine weeks. A puppy is refining his or her coordination and physical ability, and can begin to be housetrained.
  • At eight to ten weeks, a puppy can experience real fear involving everyday objects and experiences. During this stage, a puppy needs support and positive reinforcement.
  • Enhancing responses, advancing social skills with littermates (proper contact), and investigating the surroundings and items takes place from nine to twelve weeks. This is a good time to begin elementary training as a puppy will begin to focus on people.

The ranking stage: Three to six months

  • Ranking (dominance and submission) within the household or “pack,” including people, is seen and used by a puppy in this stage.
  • A puppy’s play group, which may now include those of other species, becomes influential in his or her life.
  • Teething and chewing begins.
  • A puppy experiences another fear stage at four months of age, so be prepared with positive reinforcement and introductions to objects and situations.

The adolescence stage: Six to eighteen months

  • A puppy is most affected by human and dog “pack” members.
  • A puppy may challenge people as part of exploring his or her dominance in the “pack.”
  • At seven to nine months, a puppy will begin exploring more of his or her territory, prompting a second chewing phase.
  • A puppy will experience the beginnings of sexual behavior if not spayed or neutered.

Source: Adapted from the Humane Society of the United States