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Puppy Life Stages: From Birth to Adulthood

puppy from birth to adulthood

Stages of Puppy Development

Getting acquainted with your puppy's life stages is important. Puppies, just as infants and toddlers go through different stages of their growth which are characterized by both physiological and psychological changes.

By recognizing these stages, as a new puppy owner, you will benefit by knowing what to expect and being one step ahead of puppy training.

It's important to recognize that these stages are not clear-cut in all dogs. No exact timing of these stages can be determined considering breed-specific variations. On top of this, certain life stages may overlap.

Following are the life stages of puppy hood through adulthood.

The Neonatal Stage (0 to 2 Weeks)

Being born blind and deaf, as an altricial species, puppies are very vulnerable beings that must stay close to their mother which may become particularly protective in some cases.

During the neonatal stage, also known as infantile stage, puppies have yet immature brains and must stay close to their mother in order to be fed, stay warm and survive.

Mother dog is also important during this time as she helps the puppies eliminate. By licking the puppy's bottoms, she stimulates them to pee/poop.

At this stage, puppies aren't very mobile, they just crawl. They are equipped with special sensors in their noses which detect heat allowing them to quickly re-unite with their moms and litter mates in case they get separated.

During this stage, puppies do a whole lot of sleeping. The puppies twitch a lot during their sleep. This is called "activated sleep" and it helps pups develop.

The Transitional Stage (2 to 3 Weeks)

This is an important time. The puppy's eyes open and the ear canals are no longer sealed shut usually by the 14th day. Around 16 days, puppies can orient the source of a sound, and by the eighteenth day, they can become startled by certain sounds. This time of sensory awakening stimulates pups to interact more.

On top of seeing and hearing, puppies at this stage are more mobile, they will take their first steps which encourages them to start interacting more and more with their environment. Puppies at this stage will start interacting with their litter mates.

Puppies still seek care from their mothers and their brain is still at an immature state. Brain activity in puppies during their first couple of weeks of life indeed is the same during awake and sleeping states as proven through electroencephalography.

The Primary Socialization Stage (3 to 5 Weeks)

Starting at this stage, the brain starts maturing and there is myelination. What happens during myelination? Basically, the axon of each neuron is coated with a fatty substance known as myelin which helps the neuron conduct signals more efficiently.

The pup's central nervous system also develops at a rapid pace at this stage paving the path towards conditioning and associative learning (Scott, 1958).

This is a time where the pups start to explore more. They will start to move more and play with their mother and litter mates.

This stage teaches pups how to be dogs. Puppies therefore start to identify themselves with their own species, a process known as "filial imprinting." They become accustomed with species-specific behaviors such as specific body postures and vocalizations.

Since mother dog at this stage frequently leaves the den area for brief periods of time, puppies tend to form strong relationships with their litter mates. This social adherence, promotes the tendency to form social groups.

This is a prime time for learning bite inhibition. As the puppies play, rough bites evoke the other puppy to yelp and withdraw from play. This teaches puppies how to gauge the pressure of their jaws in order to keep on playing.

Mother dog will further impart this lesson. As the puppies latch on to nurse, the sharp teeth now hurt the mom. She will start to withdraw by walking away and showing other body language meant to tell the puppies to back off.

The Secondary Socialization Stage (5 to 12 Weeks)

This stage occurs from approximately 3 weeks up until 12 weeks of age.

Research has reveled the importance of human contact during this time. According to a study, puppies who weren't exposed to much human contact before 14 weeks, weren't capable of forming normal relationships.

After 6 weeks, puppies will start exploring more and more their surroundings and they will become more independent. At 7 weeks, puppies are often temperament tested and considered ready to leave their breeder's home, but many advocate waiting a little longer until the puppy is at least 8 weeks (or older in certain small breeds).

At 8 weeks, electroencephalography of the puppy's brains shows adult-like patterns. Many puppies are generally put up for adoption by now and are ready to go to their new homes.

By now they must have been fully weaned and have effectively learned by their mother acceptable social behavior. Through play fights with their siblings, puppies have improved their motor skills and have also learned to interpret body postures and vocalizations.

Good breeders who have raised puppies in their homes would have exposed their pups to normal household sounds and other stimuli (sound of vacuum cleaners, got puppies used to being handled etc)

The great thing about puppies is that at this stage they are mentally very elastic, being able to learn and absorb from their new owners new behaviors.

Puppies at this stage must be socialized as much as possible because they undergo a grace period where they are much more open to being introduced to new people and new scenarios.

It has been proven that positive experiences during the socialization stage are likely to have long-term beneficial effects on the puppy's social behavior as an adult.

Fear Periods (5 Weeks, 8-10 Weeks, 6 to 14 Months)

Several fear periods may take place during certain puppy life stages. Scott and Fuller's research has found that puppies at 5 weeks of age demonstrate a strong fear response toward loud noises and novel stimuli, however, overcome these fears through gradual introductions, and if proven non-harmful, over time accept them as normal part of their lives.

Between the ages of 8 to 10 weeks old, puppies undergo another ''fear'' stage where they can be easily startled. It is important to helps pups overcome their fears through baby steps and by creating positive associations.

At approximately 6 to 14 months puppies may go through a second fear stage. During this stage it's important to build the dog's confidence levels by praising the dog when exhibiting confidence and taking initiative in inquiring the world around him.

Flight Instinct Period (4 to 8 Months)

As the name implies, a puppy during this period will put on its wings and start "flying". Of course, this is not in the real sense of the word!

During this time, the puppy becomes more independent, confident and even stubborn. This is a time when puppies may no longer linger by your side and they may be reluctant to come when called.

In a natural setting, this period takes place when young canines are old enough ( 4 months old) to start leaving the den and start learning how to hunt and explore their surroundings.

The Juvenile Stage (12 Weeks to 6 Months)

During this stage, puppies go through a growing spurt and develop new teeth as the baby teeth start falling out. It's a good idea to keep on hand a good supply of chew toys to redirect inappropriate chewing.

Puppies at this stage are full of energy and will benefit greatly from lots of exercise and training.

Socialization efforts must continue. Indeed, the juvenile stages is also referred to as the second socialization stage. Puppies should continue to be exposed the many experiences that pups will likely encounter over the rest of their lives. It's important to keep in mind that the process of socialization does not end when the socialization period officially ends.

Further socialization during this time will reinforce what was learned in the earlier socialization period. A study by Appleby et al in 2002, indeed, revealed that exposing dogs during this stage in busy, urban environments were less likely to develop behavioral problems later in life.

Around six months most veterinarians recommend spaying or neutering your dog. You may however, own a large breed dog such as a Rottweiler which matures more slowly and you may want to hold off for now as the hormones may help growth and prevent bone cancer in the long run.

The Adolescent Stage (6 Months to 36 Months)

Think only children go through adolescence? Think twice since your dog will go through its gawky teen age phase at this point. Expect some testing, reluctance to obey commands, and a rebound effect where your puppy may act as if he has forgotten all about what your basic commands mean.

At this stage female puppies start to go into heat, however there is some variation based on breed and size. There is some variance as to when and for how long dog are stuck in this stage. Generally, expect the smaller dogs to sail through it up until they are 18 to 24 months, while large dogs may linger in this stage up until they are 36 months.

Continue to be consistent and firm and your dog will get back to norm after this critical phase. Provide lots of stimulation, training and exercise. Obedience training may be helpful in resetting goals and refreshing commands.


Most adult dogs have reached their final growth at this time but they still may be building muscle mass. He or she may be easier to deal with having surpassed the teenager rebellious stage.

Dogs at this stage still however may benefit from advanced training to keep the mind stimulated and to continue to build confidence. Agility training may be helpful at this stage or you may enroll your dog in the Canine Good Citizen Test.

Socialization should continue throughout the dog's life. Providing ongoing training, mental stimulation and socialization, is therefore important considering that the dog's brain remains plastic in adult life and therefore is always capable of forming new neural connections.

While it's true that this capacity for adjustments is substantially diminished compared to during the socialization stage, it remains important nevertheless.

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