CRITICAL PERIODS OF DEVELOPMENT
During the puppy's life, from birth to 16 weeks of age it will go through four developmental stages, or "critical periods", and anything that happens to the pup during these periods, will have a determining effect on its eventual standard of temperament and character later in life.
From the dog owner's point of view, it is important to understand these changes in order to be able to shape the character traits of their puppy. In this manner this puppy will be instilled with confidence and self assurance. This is important if he is to grow up to be a well adjusted dog. Dogs that can adapt to any situation or circumstance he may come upon, and most importantly can confidently live and interact with the human component in his life.
EARLIEST CRITICAL PERIOD
Birth – Third week
Birth to twelve days, a puppy is totally dependent on its mother. The puppy can neither see, nor hear, his sense of smell, taste and touch are weak and developing, they cannot control body temperature, and require assistance from the mother to urinate and defecate.
SECOND CRITICAL PERIOD Fourth week
This is a major change for the puppy because now his senses of smell, hearing and sight, have developed, eyes open at 13 days. Sight is not possible until around twenty-one days. First teeth appear at approx twenty days; the pup reacts to sound but cannot locate it.
THIRD CRITICAL PERIOD
Fifth through seventh week
The puppy is beginning to form attachments to people, as they are now able to recognise people. Training is begun in simple form because the best time to teach them runs from the 21st through to the 49th day, they are learning whether you teach them or not.
CANINE SOCIALISATION PERIOD
21 – 49 days
The most important time for a puppy, during this time the puppy learns to be species specific. A dog learns to be a dog by interacting with mother and litter mates. The pup learns facial gestures, body postures and finds that vocally he can elicit response from the dam and litter mates. It is during this period that through stalking, fighting, biting, chasing and play, gestures and sounds are cataloged.
FOURTH CRITICAL PERIOD
Eighth through Twelfth week
The puppy is now ready for their new home, the 8th week is also a period of fear for the puppy (see notes on fear impact period), avoid trips to the vet for vaccinations if at all possible. Puppies at this age are capable of learning, puppy kinder training where training is along natural lines without compulsion is recommended.
At this age the puppies developing pack instinct will keep their total attention on you, the leader, at this time, this type of teaching is called "learning on natural lines", whereby the pups owner utilizes the puppy's natural instincts to shape and develop behavior patterns. Patterns and behaviours taught at this age will remain with them for life.
Toilet training, the pup at this stage is capable of going through the night without accidents, and can progress from indoor training to outdoor training, his desire to be clean and a willingness to please, will make toilet training a breeze.
Socialisation with people must continue as this will lead to the puppy accepting humans as part of his everyday life. The puppy can be taken for very short walks in order to introduce him further, to a complex environment that he will need to adapt to.
SENIORITY CLASSIFICATION PERIOD
Thirteenth – Sixteenth weeks
It is at this stage that the scene is set for dominance by your puppy. Should your puppy be strong minded, demanding, biting etc, not breaking the cycle at this stage will cause problems for the dog for the balance of its life.
During this period the pup is cutting teeth and the power of the jaw is soon recognized the pup, discourage rather than encourage play biting, as soon as puppy bite discourage with a deep growl, whilst giving your pup a more appropriate article to chew on.
This is probably the last chance to condition and socialize the puppy to people and the outside world in order to gain the maximum potential for its adaptability and train-ability.
More complex situations should be introduced as the puppy gains more confidence; this conditioning should continue beyond 16 weeks until the puppy reaches 12 months of age.
If the conditioning process is not considered before 16 weeks of age then the puppy will have missed the best chance to grow up as a well adjusted dog; a dog that any one of us would want as a companion.
Caution a puppy’s attitude to training can become very negative. The method of training should be positive and gentle, yet firm.
SENIORITY CLASSIFICATION PERIOD
Sixteenth – Thirty Second week
The pup learns to stretch their legs, the distance between you and your pup increases as they begin to explore and develop independence , they decide whether you are serious about calling them back or not and what you will do if the pup does not come back to you when called.
Introducing puppy to its new home.
As mentioned earlier puppies are quite capable of learning and have been doing so already prior to you bringing the pup home, it is quite necessary to continue this learning by beginning to teach the pup the fundamentals required for them to live as good canine citizens.
However, it is not training in the accepted sense of the word. It is more like playing with the pup and should be a pleasant experience for both owner and pup.