Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age. Early and adequate socialization and programs of positive training can go a long way to preventing behavior problems and improving bonding between humans and dogs.
In reality, a dog’s behavior and temperament are always in a state of flux, or developmental transition. It would be more accurate to describe the dog’s entire life span as a single extended transitional phase of development. But there are times when a dog is more sensitive to change and environment than others. These are called Sensitive Periods.
The first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life is made up of 8 overlapping sensitive periods. A sensitive period is a point in the puppy’s life when events can have long term effects, when learning is easier and knowledge gained is stored in the long term memory. During the sensitive period, a small number of determining experiences have major effects (or damages) on future behavior. That’s why it’s important to start training early.
Where you get your puppy is important.
Maternal effect is the mother’s influence on her puppies. It can have a huge impact on certain behavior patterns that it can be difficult to distinguish between maternal effect and the effect of genetics. For example, observations have shown that a mother reacting too nervously or fearfully toward certain sounds may cause her puppies into develop noise phobias.
That’s why you should meet the mother dog if at all possible to assess her personality.
Dr. Michael Fox conducted a study showing that mild stress in puppies during the first 5 weeks develop into dogs which are superior when put in learning or competitive situations. They are better able to handle stress, more outgoing, and learn more quickly. Mild physical stress at an early age actually increases the size of the brain.
When a pregnant mother is petted, her litter is more docile. This effect, called the “gentling,” “petting” or “caress” effect can be prolonged by caresses to the new born. A dog’s tactile capacities develop before birth and it is possible that it already becomes used to contact in the uterus, when the mother is petted. Puppies manipulated this way show a greater tolerance to touching than dogs born of a mother who was not petted.
Neonatal Period – Birth to the Opening of the eyes circa 13 days
The puppy can’t walk, hear or see well, stays close to its mother and litter mates. The newborn is a completely dependent being, unable to defecate or stay warm on it’s own. An EEG of a puppy at this age shows little difference whether awake or asleep. Puppies at this age are unable to learn, though the future may hold surprising discoveries concerning the “manipulation” effect on neuro-hormonal development
Transitional Period–13 days to 20 days
The eyes and ears open, puppy begins to walk in a wobbly fashion. Continue picking up the pups daily, admire them, talk to them, and daily spend a few minutes with each one.
Awareness Period–3 to 4 Weeks
Primary socialization begins. Sight and hearing functions well, teeth are coming in, puppies are able to lap milk and soft food. Learning begins. Brain waves increase and the wakeful EEG differs from the sleeping puppy. The puppy is learning that he is a dog and has a great deal of need for a stable environment.
Species identification (filial, fraternal, and sexual imprinting) is dependent on play fighting and begins about week 3½ and ends between weeks 11-17. A stressful environment will close this phase around 7-9 weeks.
Canine Socialization Period–3 to 7 weeks
Interacting with his mother and litter mates, the pup learns various canine behaviors. He is now aware of the differences between canine and human societies. Puppies spend a great deal of time play fighting and this period may be a sensitive one for the acquisition of bite inhibition.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends puppies should be socialized before they are fully vaccinated. In general, puppies can start socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first de-worming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.
Many training and behavior problems are created the first week the pup is at home. Time is of the essence for owners to provide a huge heaping of high quality socialization and schooling. This is the key to creating a socially self-confident, well-behaved puppy that is strongly bonded to you. It is also the key to preventing yappy, shy, and/or aggressive behaviors from developing later in life!
Human Socialization Period–6 to 12 Weeks
The best time for going to a new home. He has the ability to learn respect, simple behavioral responses: sit, stay, come. House training begins. He now learns by association. The permanent man/dog bonding begins, and he is able to accept gentle discipline and establish confidence. At 7-8 weeks the EEG assumes adult form.
Fear Impact Period–8 to 11 Weeks:
Try to avoid frightening the puppy during this time, since traumatic experiences can have an effect during this period. As you can see, this period overlaps that of the previous definition and children or other animals should not be allowed to hurt or scare the puppy–either maliciously or inadvertently. It is very important now to introduce other humans, but he must be closely supervised to minimize adverse conditioning. Learning at this age is permanent. Introducing your puppy to other dogs at this time will help him become more socialized. If available in your area, a doggy day care is great for this.
Seniority Classification Period–13 to 16 Weeks
This critical period is also known as the “Age of Cutting” – cutting teeth and cutting apron strings. At this age, the puppy begins testing dominance and leadership. Biting behavior is absolutely discouraged from thirteen weeks on. Praise for the correct behavior response is the most effective tool. Meaningful praise is highly important to shape positive attitude.
Flight Impact / Juvenile Period–4 to 8 Months
During this period puppies test their wings – they will turn a deaf ear when called. This period lasts from a few days to several weeks. It is critical to praise the positive and minimize the negative behavior during this time. However, you must learn how to achieve the correct response. At about 4 1/2 months, your puppy loses his milk teeth and gets his adult teeth. Puppies become more mouthy and restless from the discomfort and serious chewing begins.
During adolescence, minor puppy rambunctiousness manifests as major-league unruly behavior: jumping up, pulling on leash, hyperactivity, incessant barking and heavy duty household destruction. More disturbingly, the puppy’s lack of confidence may rear its ugly head as fearfulness and/or aggression to other dogs or people.
Second Fear Impact / Adolescence Period–6 to 14 Months
Also called, “The fear of situations period”, usually corresponds to growths spurts. This critical age may depend on the size of the dog. Small dogs tend to experience these periods earlier than large dogs. Great care must be taken not to reinforce negative behavior. Force can frighten the dog, and soothing tones serve to encourage his fear. His fear should be handled with patience and kindness, and training during this period puts the dog in a position of success, while allowing him to work things out while building self-confidence.
Maturity–1 – 4 years
When socialization continues, dogs become even more socialized, whereas when socialization is discontinued (e.g., when dogs are kenneled, or not walked regularly), dogs gradually de-socialize until eventually they may become fearful, asocial, or even antisocial. Many breeds’ especially giant breeds continue to grow and physically change well beyond four years of age.
The average dog develops to full maturity between 1-1½ years and three years of age. This period is often marked by an increase in aggression. They may become protective and territorial and may renew testing for leadership. Males may start lifting their leg in the house. During this time, while testing for leadership, the dog should be handled firmly. Regular training throughout this testing period, praise him for the proper response. Giving him no inroads to affirm his leadership will remind him that this issue has already been settled.