The Stages of Puppy Development 

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English Bulldog Puppy
Image via Andrew

Puppies are great examples of how the nature vs nurture debate can never really be resolved. Whilst puppies can often be a ‘chip off the old block’ and carry on traits from their parents, a lot of a puppy’s personality is down to the way they are nurtured by their human parents too.

Well socialised puppies usually come about as a combination of being born to well socialised dogs and being brought up by human parents that teach them to be well behaved and confident animals.

Puppy weaning generally occurs at age six to seven weeks but this doesn’t mean that their littermates and mother don’t have any more teaching to offer. Puppies that stay with their litter for three months or longer will develop great social skills as they use their siblings as role models, and Mum is there to keep them on track.

If a puppy is separated from its litter too early, there is a risk that they will fail to develop the social skills required to grow into a great dog. A dog that doesn’t understand the rules of communication, hierarchy, how to play fight and how to use an inhibited bite can be a difficult dog to train later on.

The first eight weeks of a puppy’s life is crucial in developing skills that if not learnt straight off, could be lost forever.

Puppies are generally considered as puppies for the first year of their life. After this time, depending on the breed, they start moving towards adolescence. A puppy goes through some essential stages as he grows towards adulthood. These are listed below to help you understand what your puppy is experiencing as he moves from crazy fluff ball to a well socialised, well behaved and loyal companion.

Birth to two weeks old: Neonatal Newness

  • Life begins! Puppy can immediately taste and touch the world around him
  • Mummy dog is the centre of Puppy’s world, and has the most influence on his learning

Two to four weeks old: Transition Time

  • Puppy hangs out with Mum and his littermates, starting to learn how to be a dog
  • Puppy’s eyes open, with his eyesight being well developed by the fourth week
  • Puppy starts to hear and smell things and his teeth start growing
  • Standing, walking, tail wagging and barking helps Puppy become a little more independent

Three to twelve weeks old: Socialisation Sessions

  • A critical time for Puppy, who needs to experience as many new people, animals, sounds, sights, smells and tastes as he can
  • Play is a great way to develop Puppy’s understanding of surroundings, relationships and companions
  • Littermates start to take over influencing duties from Mum at age four to six weeks, teaching Puppy what it means to be a dog, including play, hierarchy, inhibited biting and social skills
  • Between four to twelve weeks, people become more influential on Puppy, and he needs positive interaction with humans from around five to seven weeks
  • By seven to nine weeks, Puppy has all his senses and is further developing his coordination and housetraining
  • Eight to ten weeks old, and Puppy can experience fear when faced with new experiences – lots of reassurance and positive reinforcement is needed during this time
  • Nine to twelve weeks is a great time to introduce basic training as Puppy learns to focus on people and investigates the world farther away from his littermates

Three to six months old: Pack Panic

  • Puppy learns about pack ranking, dominance and submission so it is imperative that hierarchy is established within the household
  • Puppy’s buddies, which can be animals other than dogs, such as a household cat, become more influential on his behaviour
  • Teething begins, and with it, lots of chewing
  • At four months old, Puppy experiences another fear stage which will require support and positive introductions to new situations

Six to eighteen months old: Terrible Teens

  • Human and dog ‘pack’ members now have the most influence over Puppy
  • Exploring the hierarchy of the pack may lead to Puppy trying to exert dominance, so be prepared to manage this stage
  • Puppy starts exploring more of his territory at the seven to nine month mark, leading to another chewing phase
  • Sexual behaviour starts rearing its head if Puppy is not spayed or neutered

These general guidelines highlight the major experiences that a puppy faces as it grows up. It is up to his owner to ensure that all of the experiences are positive ones, in order to ensure a happy, healthy dog. It is hard work, but worth every second!