Q: Why do people recommend behavior training for puppies? Is there really a social development schedule for dogs?
— L.J., Akron
A: Just as children, canines go through social development stages. It can aid in understanding your puppy’s needs by having a little understanding of these developmental periods. Time frames may vary by one or two weeks depending on individual dogs.
Puppies should be about 8 weeks old when they leave their mothers. Though a puppy might be weaned, it still needs interaction with mom and littermates. During this time, a puppy learns correct play, including proper bite inhibition — knowing how strong it is biting. Grasping that concept will make your training much easier.
Always avoid rough play with the puppy. Age training should be fun and positive.
During the seventh to twelfth week, the puppy needs positive introduction to the world around it. This is a “critical period,” which should include visits to the vet, groomer and puppy socialization classes. The puppy needs to get accustomed to loud noises, such as your vacuum and disposals, as well as things like water/baths, wheel chairs and walkers, etc.
Use lots of treats to encourage the puppy as it “explores” the unfamiliar and learns there is nothing to fear. Make a game out of everything. Have it walk on different textures of flooring, even floors that move.
Accustom the dog to be restrained during this period, which helps with vet and grooming visits and hugs from children. Being restrained is not a natural thing for a dog to accept and must be taught. It is also time to teach the puppy to accept feet, ears and mouth examinations. This age can also be a “fear period” for a puppy.
Research has shown that a puppy’s temperament and personality is almost completely established by the time the puppy is 12 to 16 weeks old which is why the first four months of the puppy’s life is so important. It is during this period that the puppy will gain confidence in new and different situations. Experiences should still be as positive as possible.
It is important for the puppy to learn to be handled by people other than the owner as well as to walk away from their owner with someone. This will help with vet visits and grooming and be less stressful for the dog. It is also during this time the puppy should be learning that the leash is a positive, fun thing.
A puppy will begin to lose its puppy teeth at about 4 months of age. You must make sure that the puppy’s teeth are actually coming out. It is fairly common in some of the small breeds and their mixes to need to have some of the puppy teeth pulled by a veterinarian in order to allow adult teeth to come in correctly.
It is also during this time that mounting often begins. Females as well as males might mount pillows, one another and people. Don’t make a big deal of it, but simply tell them “off” and get four feet back on the ground. At this stage a puppy will become more independent and strike out on its own to explore its environment. Starting formal obedience classes is essential because it is the best time for learning — especially to come when called — which will be covered in classes.
The teenage “years” hit somewhere between 6 and 12 months when a puppy may regress in all its manners. It is important to keep the rules consistent during this time.
At some point the puppy may go through a second fear period. Do things to build confidence during this time. Classes to learn good manners and acceptable boundaries will help the puppy during this time.
Depending on the breed or mixes that makes up the dog, full maturity can come anywhere between a year and five years. It is difficult sometimes to look at a 9-month-old, full-size dog and remember it still has puppy brains. Understanding the stages of development can help you raise a social, confident dog.
— Susan Jenkins
Owner of Papp’s Dog Services and a member of the
Association of Obedience Instructors and the
International Association of Canine Professionals
Please send questions about your pet to Kathy Antoniotti at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; or send me an email to email@example.com. Please include your full name and address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached. I will forward your questions to the expert I think is best suited to answer your particular problem. Phoned-in messages will not be taken.