Puppy Development - August, 2015

Development (Puppies):


  1. Prenatal/Neonatal (inception-12 days)
  2. Transition (12-21 days)
  3. Socialization (3-12 weeks)
  4. Juvenile (12 weeks-sexual maturity)
  5. Adulthood (sexual maturity to 3/4 of expected life span)
  6. Senior Years (last 1/4 of lifespan)

1. Prenatal/Neonatal (inception-12 days):

At birth, umbilical cord is chewed through, placenta is removed and eaten, and the puppy is thoroughly licked and cleaned. Besides cleaning, mother’s licking stimulates reflexive muscular movements and breathing. At birth a puppy is unable to control body temperature and is deaf and blind. The organizing effects of hormones are important here. A number of reflexes are apparent here, i.e. negative geotactic – on tilt, will try to get head  up and rooting – track and oppose pressure to snout area. A number of reflexes ensure adequate warmth, nutrition, elimination, and general survival.

Most time is spent sleeping and nursing. Urination and defecation must be stimulated by Mom’s licking of the anogenital region. Early neonatal handling involving as little as 3 minutes per day and exposure to various mild environmental stressors (i.e. changes in temperature and physical gentling), may have positive impacts on pup’s resistance to disease, emotional reactivity, and learning ability in adulthood. Some amount of handling stress should be part of a breeder’s normal rearing practice to compensate for the absence of naturally occurring stressful changes in the whelping area.

2. Transition (12-21 days):

Steady improvement in motor ability. Eyes and ear canals open. Visual cliff and righting reflexes appear. Puppies can support themselves on all four paws and walk as early as Day 12.

3. Socialization (3-12 weeks):

Litter begins to behave like a pack. Expressive tail wagging appears. Sexual and aggressive play occurs. In regards to play, Lindsey (2000) notes ” . . . in the succinct words of Hediger, ‘good training is disciplined play.’  Play and training are not contrary things, but complimentary activities.  If puppies or dogs cannot be shown the play in an activity, they will not willing perform it for long.  Nothing is more motivationally important in dog training than play.”

Imprinting and process of socialization are important beginning during this stage. Although observational learning has not been adequately demonstrated in adults, Slabbort and Rasa (1997) demonstrated puppies (9-12 weeks) made better drug dogs at 6 months if they were allowed to watch their Moms work. Other studies suggest Mom has influence on food preferences of pups.

Lastly, it is common belief that canine progeny reflect more of Mom’s emotionality than Dad’s.

Puppy Behavior 4 Adult Behavior:

  • Anogenital licking by Mom 4 Passive submission displays (rolling on side, urinating)
  • Jumping, licking and nipping of Mom’s mouth 4 Adult greeting, active submission.
  • Separation distress vocalization (yelping and whining 4 Separation distress vocalization (barking and howling).
  • Distress vocalization 4 Passive submission vocalization.
  • Upward head movement, butting, nursing behavior 4 Social greeting and play solicitation.
  • Competition over teats 4 Dominance related behaviors.

4. Juvenile (12 weeks-sexual maturity):

Stable social hierarchy is established in the litter by about 15 weeks.  Need to be exposed to separation experiences or tend to become excessively reactive when they are finally exposed to it.  Imprinting and process of socialization continue to be important here. Object permanence not reliably observed before 11 months. The “fear impact period” occurs at this time.  Reaches a maximum at about 12 weeks.  May be analogous to stranger anxiety in 1.5 year old humans. As sexual maturity approaches, the activating effects of hormones become important. Very impressionable age where a lot of training should occur.  Short and fun sessions several times per day are best.

5. Adulthood (sexual maturity to 3/4 of expected lifespan):

Activity levels typically decrease somewhat.  “Settle in” and become easier to manage.

6. Senior Years (last 1/4 of lifespan):

Bodily systems start to show wear and tear.


  1. Hormones – Two types of effects: (1) Organizing – occur very early in life and (2) Activating – occur in adulthood.
  2. Imprinting and Socialization
  3. Temperament Tests

1.  Hormones:

Organizing Effects –

Occur neonatally.

Have permanent effects on physical development and behavior, i.e. sexual behavior, urine posture, life expectancy. Females exposed to androgens at birth urinated in the adult male posture 62 percent of the time (Beach, 1974).  Some males (neutered young) do not raise their leg to urinate.

Activating Effects

Produce a state of readiness to respond.

In males, it beings with the lifting of the leg somewhere at 7 to 15 months of age.

Become more interested in smells and spend more time sniffing.

Begin marking and take an interest in the female (especially the odors she leaves behind).

Activating Effects of Castration –

Animals that require more learning for adequate performance continue to be active for longer periods after castration.  In humans, the effect is highly variable.

Two important variables:

  1. age at castration (neonatal and pre/post puberty)
  2. previous sexual experience.

May influence some forms of aggressive behavior in a similar manner.

2.  Imprinting and Socialization:

Imprinting –

Defined as “an instance in which an object acquires significance as a result of early exposure.”  Distinguishing characteristics: (1) requires a small amount of early exposure, (2) occurs during relatively short sensitive period, (3) exhibits long lasting and durable effects, and (4) is largely irreversible.  Primarily associated with social attachment, but may play a role in numerous complex behaviors.  Perfect example of the complex interaction between nature and nurture.

Generality of Imprinting – Extreme isolation (at around 6 months) creates an animal fearful of any social or novel context.

Imprinting in Dogs –  Six to eight weeks is considered to be a critical period for social bonding.

  • Occurs from three to 12 weeks (or 16 weeks), but the dog is most sensitive during six to eight weeks. This age is considered by many to be the most influential time of the dog’s life.  Thus, this time is often called a “critical sensitive” period. Personally, I believe that the first couple of years are sensitive (although the above time frame is especially so)
  • Things Learned During Sensitive Period – Appetites and aversions, social affinities, and responsiveness. Sexual behavior.
  • Patterns of active/passive agonistic behavior and play.
  • Packing (allelomimetic) behaviors.
  • Reactions to separation and other emotionally provocative situations.
  • Approach-avoidance patterns.
  • Development of dominant-subordinate relationships.
  • Functional fear and avoidance responses.
  • General learning and problem solving ability.
  • Trainability.

Specific Things to Train During the Sensitive Period –


Walk on leash without pulling.

Close ranging during off leash walks.

Name and recalls.

Feedback words, i.e. “good” and “no.”



Socialization – A process of exposure to relevant stimuli in the environment (preferably during the sensitive period).

The pup should be pleasantly exposed (food and play can be helpful).

I do trips to Main Street during the first year and regularly during the second year.

Need to be introduced to and interact with people (children, men, women, crowds) regularly throughout the first couple of years. Exposure to different floor surfaces, swimming, baths, grooming, nail trimming, check teeth, etc. Get used to various sounds (i.e. traffic, vacuum, lawn mower, etc.) and other dogs, cats, horses, cattle, etc.

Socialization Deprivation – The following conditions may be observed: (1) patterns of extreme hyperactivity and neophobia, (2) intense precocious aggressiveness, (3) fearfulness toward humans and other dogs (which can lead to aggression).

Deprived pups are more prone to: (1) separation anxiety, (2) oral fixations, (3) coprophagia (eating feces), and difficulty with house breaking.

3. Temperament Tests:

Lindsey (2000) notes – “Puppy temperament tests should not be employed to predict adult aptitudes or the potential exhibition of adult behavior patterns but should be used as tools to isolate and quantify a puppy’s various strengths and weaknesses at the time of testing.”

Common tests – (1) isolate and walk away, recall (sociability), (2) roll ball past, toss toy (retrieve and play), (3) loud noise (reactivity to environment), (4) pinch toe (reactivity to pain), and (5) roll puppy on back, lift puppy (reaction to dominance).