Critical Periods in a Dog Life -
Critical stages of canine
development have been well covered in both
scientific and popular literature and are
based primarily on the work of John Scott
and J. L. Fuller in the forties, fifties,
and sixties. Clarence Pfaffenberger's book "New
Knowledge of Dog Behaviour" introduced
these stages of development to breeders,
trainers and pet owners over 20 years ago.
Jack and Wendy Vollhard and Richard Wolters
further popularized this field by
aptitude testing based,
in part, on Scott and fuller's findings.
Drs. Michael Fox and Ian Dunbar, initially
studying canine development and behavior in
clinical settings, have written copiously
for the lay press regarding puppy
Unfortunately, many writers have led new
puppy owners into believing that a puppy
purchased at any age older than exactly 7
weeks will bond less well and be less
trainable than a puppy purchased at exactly
49 days of life. The 49th day
of life may be the earliest time a puppy may
leave its littermates, but it may not be the
The Early Critical
Period - Birth to 21 days.
(Birth - 12 Days)
period the puppies development is limited to
two functions; nursing to obtain nutrition
and staying warm. A puppy is totally
dependant upon his mother to meet all of his
physical needs. He needs to be stimulated to
urinate and defecate. His sense of taste,
touch, smell and his ability to hear is
limited. The puppies environment affects him
only as much as it touches him.
happy, healthy, and well-fed. Her physical
and emotional well-being will supply
everything the puppies need during this
puppies very gently with very slow,
massaging movements. Very light stimulation
of the nervous system (called
"pre-stressing") may be beneficial when
applied during the second week of life.
This could involve rotating pups gently in
your hands, applying light pressure to the
ear leather, and holding each pup gently on
its back for a few seconds each day. Pups
should, of course, be weighed daily to
monitor growth and this would be a good time
to handle each pup. THIS IS NOT
SOCIALIZATION OR TRAINING. Pre-stressing
does, however, assist in developing brain
visitors (human or canine) during this
period. Avoid anything that will stress the
bitch (house guests, parties, home repairs,
etc.) Also try not to move puppies or
remove mother from the litter at this time.
If the pups or dam need to see a
veterinarian try to arrange for a home
visit. Despite the common practice, this is
not a good age to take a litter to a dog
show in your RV.
Eyes and ears
open and pups slowly begin responding to
light, movement, and sound. Puppies become
more mobile as they gain awareness of their
surroundings, their mother, litter mates,
and objects. Pups may also begin to alert
to human presence during this period. This
is still a reaction to stimuli rather than
a social bond or emotional attachment.
attempt to get up on their feet, but
continue crawling backward and forward.
They may begin trying to get out of
whelping box toward end of this period.
toys as obstacles to climb over or bump
into. This helps pups develop spatial
awareness. Some pups may begin briefly
interacting with toys near the end of the
third week. Continue handling pups daily
using slow, massaging movements. Pups are
growing fast and need frequent nail
trimming. Introduce brushing with soft
brush. Again, this is not training but
startling pup with loud noises or sudden
movements while hearing and eyesight are
developing. If you must move or change
puppies' environment, this is the time to do
so. Do not remove from dam.
Awareness Period- 21 to
Most important period with
rapid sensory development. Puppies are
fully alert to their environment and will
startle easily at sudden sounds and
movements. During this time they are able to
recognise their breeder and other
significant humans by smell, sight and
sound. However, they have lost the natural
insulation of the neonatal period and
negative events can easily imprint in basic
behaviour during this period.
Social bonding begins to
occur during this week.
Neonatal behaviours such
as head swinging, mewing and crawling back
and forth stop. Pups are more active and
moving well on their feet. This is a time
of rapid physical change. There are also
significant changes in brain waves during
this period and pups are now able to learn
from experiences and to retain what they
Introduce new tactile
sensations in puppies' box. Pups enjoy
burrowing in shredded newspaper, for
example, or crawling over a rolled up towel
or blanket. Continue daily handling, adding
new sounds and sights to the environment
radio, TV, telephone, computer printer.
Introduce toys that make sounds. Pups can be
removed from the box and placed on new
surfaces. Do this with two pups at a time
rather than separating from litter.
AVOID LOUD NOISES OR SUDDEN
CHANGES DURING THIS PERIOD. Negative events
can permanently imprint on pups during this
week. Do not run vacuum cleaner around
pups, blow hair dryers, run clippers, etc.
Postpone having work done on your home and
ask prospective purchasers or curious
friends to wait until the end of the 4th
week to visit puppies.
Do not move puppies or
separate from dam during this week.
Period 21 to 49 DAYS
Puppy is with mother and
littermates. During this period, puppy
learns about social interaction, play, and
inhibiting aggression* from mother and
littermates. Puppies must stay with their
mother and littermates during this critical
period. Puppies learn the most important
lesson in their lives--they learn to accept
awareness, learning to become dogs (note:
first week of this critical stage of
development overlaps with second period of
development). Play fighting behaviour
becomes increasingly intense. Pups are
developing problem solving abilities,
physical co-ordination, bite inhibition.
Mother begins weaning pups during this
period, those beginning to initiate
discipline. During this time puppies will
begin to move to the far corners of their
bed, box, or pen to urinate and defecate.
House breaking can begin!
* Some lines of dogs don't
begin to get incisors until about 7 weeks,
so this time period may last two
additional weeks in
those dogs--one can't learn to inhibit his
bite if he has no teeth.
During entire period leave
pups together as litter and allow dam free
access to pups.
During 4th week (21-28 days) introduce food
to pups without removing dam. You can feed
her in the litter box at the same time.
Begin escalating sensory experiences (see
notes on second critical period). Continue
daily handling by breeder and family
During 5th week (28-35
days) introduce pups to the outdoors. Take
them outside to urinate and defecate after
waking or eating. When this is not possible
provide pups with a designated bathroom spot
to begin their housebreaking.
Begin handling pups
individually away from litter mates and dam
for at least 10 minutes each day. Enlist
the help of family members, friends,
neighbor and prospective puppy owners in
this process. If you cannot handle 10
minutes each do, do 5 minutes. Daily
experiences away from litter mates are
During 6th and 7th weeks
(35-49 days) increase sensory experiences
with brief car rides. Introduce pups to
vacuum cleaner. Puppies can begin simple
training routines using food lures and
social attraction at this time. Start
teaching pups to stand on grooming table to
be examined or to be brushed.
This is the prime
socialization period. Introduce new people,
especially children. Pups enjoy interaction
with a gentle adult dog ` a kindly aunt or
uncle who will baby-sit with
patience. Introduce situations that will
stimulate problem solving behavior -
tunnels, cardboard boxes, gates, steps,
fences, logs, etc. Allow pups to have
successes and reinforce these successes with
DO NOT REMOVE PUPPIES FROM
LITTER DURING THIS PERIOD! Do not
completely remove mother. Do not correct
for play fighting, housebreaking errors, or
Fear Impact Period 8 to
Enlarging social awareness
and bonding outside of litter. Mental
abilities are fully formed but pups lack
experience. This is the optimum time to
teach new things and is, in fact, the period
of fastest learning. Research has shown that
behaviors can be shaped and modified most
easily during times when learning is
occurring most quickly. Training during
this time will actually increase the
capacity to learn by increasing brain cells
in the appropriate regions of the brain.
Bladder and bowel control
developed and pups are capable of sleeping
through the night without an accident.
Greatly enlarge the puppies'
world between 49 and 56 days. Begin puppy
rotation, playing and sleeping in smaller
groups. Pups that remain with breeder can
be crated with one or two other pups. Be
sure to switch puppies around.
Continue individual grooming,
play and training sessions with each pup.
Gentle but firm discipline from humans may
be begun. Begin teaching response to simple
commands such as sit, down, stand, come,
walk on lead at this time. Pups during this
period can learn complex behavior chain and
can make associations.
Do not isolate from humans or
unnecessarily restrain during this period
(only restraints should be crate or
necessary fencing). Avoid inadvertently
reinforcing fearful responses.
fear imprint period occurs between 8-10
weeks. Avoid placing pups during this time.
Avoid shipping pups, ear
cropping, traumatic experiences.
Pups that have been
properly socialized and bonded with breeder
can be successfully placed at 10-12 weeks
after they have passed the first fear
imprint period and while they are still
young enough to be "babies."
Dominance Period 3-4
Dominance period where pup
solidifies social position. Pups will begin
testing their place in the world during this
time. They tend to become emboldened. This
is a period of very fast physical growth.
Pups must be treated as
individual dogs. If they are still with
breeder they should no longer be treated as
part of a litter and should sleep alone in
individual crates at night and all training
and grooming sessions should be individual.
behavioural dominance exercises.
"Alphabetise" yourself and your family -
feed pup after you eat, move crate to
different locations so pup doesn't become
site protective, take food and toys away
from pup while eating or playing.
Continue socialisation and
obedience training providing slight
distractions. TEACH THE RECALL AND PRACTICE
IT SEVERAL TIMES EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!! Do
this before pup enters the "flight period"
at about 16 weeks.
No tug of war games. Do not
allow pup to sleep in bed with humans.
Absolutely forbid all chasing games with
IMPORTANT NOTE; DO NOT RAISE LITTER MATES
OR TWO UNRELATED PUPPIES TOGETHER DURING
Flight Instinct Period
The flight period,
corresponding to teething. Pups begin
testing limits. May attempt to assert
dominance over human pack members
(especially children). May "forget"
This period is characterised by independence
and wilfulness. Owner or breeder is no
longer Mommy substitute.
Keep pup on lead when outside
fenced enclosures. Continue recall training
and response to commands. Continue passive
dominance and touch sensitivity exercises
and handling all parts of pups body.
Do not let pup off lead if at
all possible. Do not chase pup or play
Second Fear Imprint
Period to 14 Months
Sexual maturity, hormonal
changes. Fearfulness of new situations,
objects, people, other dogs. Male dogs begin
lifting legs. Some individuals will pass
through this periods faster than others,
often with no noticeable problems. Others
may display marked changes in behavior in
strange situations. Reinforce the behaviors
you want; do not reinforce fearfulness by
coddling or protective behavior. But also
try to avoid punishing fearfulness. Try to
adopt a firm but patient and kindly attitude
to the pup's fearful behavior. Continue
socialization to humans and other dogs.
Avoid or postpone extremely stressful or
traumatic experiences for animals that
appear to be in this fear imprint period.
Rule of Sevens
Seven Weeks to
From the age of 7 weeks until
7 months, a puppy should meet 7 new people
every 7 days. Everyone she meets should give
the puppy treats, and as much variety as
possible in terms of size, age, color, and
personality type should be represented. The
puppy should also go 7 new places every 7
weeks (or at least one new place a week),
and the places should be as different from
each other as possible, such as a lake, a
park, a shopping mall parking lot, the vet's
office, a pet store, etc. And don't stop
there! These recommendations are minimums
the more people and places your puppy
experiences, the more well-adjusted he'll be
as an adult. Keeping track of the people
your puppy meets and the places he goes can
be fun for young children and will ensure
that you meet your goals. Be sure the puppy
is put on his own four feet for these
introductions and visits; holding him in
your arms can send him the wrong signals and
prevent him from experiencing the world on
~ Author Unknown
References and Related
Dunbar, Ian. Dog
Dunbar, Ian. Seminar
notes from puppy training and behaviour
problems seminars, 1990 and 1991.
Dunbar, Ian and Gail
Bohnenkamp. Socialisation. Oakland:
Kenneth James. 1985.
Integrative development of brain and
behaviour in the dog. Chicago: Univ.
of Chicago Press. 1971. Fox,
Michael. Superdog. New York: Howell.
Understanding your dog. Originally
published 1972. Reissued.
O'Kelley, Joyce. Super dogs are made
not born. Offlead. Series from July
through Oct. 1978 (reprinted by Offlead
The new knowledge of dog behaviour. New
York: Howell. 1963.
Scott, John. Attachment
and Socialisation: The Critical
Period. American Kennel Gazette, May
1988, pp. 74-79. Scott, John and J.L.
Fuller. Dog behaviour. Chicago: Univ.
of Chicago Press. 1965.
Scott, John. Critical
periods in behavioural development
Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley. 1972.
Wolters. Richard. Family
dog. New York: Howell. 1975.
~ Source: http://www.dogwoodshelties.net/dog_info/Behavior/Development.htm