Sorry cat lovers but this post is only going to be about dogs. I’ll be treating cat development next Sunday so make sure to check in.
Puppy development, just like human development, is a very sensitive time. Until around 1 year of age puppies go through all stages until maturity. Some stages are trickier than others but all of them prepare the puppy for his/her adult life.
Doggy Developmental Stages:
- Neonatal phase – 2 first weeks of life. Puppies can sense the world around them but eyes and ears are still closed and there is no thermoregulation so they have to be close to a heat source (mother, heating lamp etc.). They can only do two things at this point, sleep and eat. First faint sounds are also present in order to signal the mother, who is a source of nourishment, heat and calming pheromones (did you know there are collars that emit these pheromones for use in anxious dogs?). They are still not emotionally attached to their mother but she is attached to them, she has to be in order to want to take care of them.
- Transition phase – 2nd-3rd week of life. Eyes open and later ears open as well, they still mostly sleep but somewhat less than before, defecation and urination are no longer assisted by the mother, more vocalizations appear and in later days they also start playing. Although still very wobbly puppies start walking and playing with their siblings and develop an attachment to their mother who now guarantees safety in the first days of venturing into the world. Play is a very important part of development because this is how puppies improve their budding motor skills.
- Socialization phase – approx. 3-16 weeks.
Practically everything happens in this phase and it is subdivided further into other stages. Play starts taking a more dominant part in what is called the first socialization period in which puppies learn who they are as a species, they play a lot with their siblings and learn how to interact with their counterparts, for example if one brother bites another too hard the bitten puppy will give a little yelp and stop playing for several seconds before resuming play in order to say “hey bro, that was too much”. The second socialization period beginning at around 5 weeks is when puppies learn how to interact with other species such as humans, cats and others. This is mostly guided by the mother and puppies understand by her interactions with humans that there is nothing to fear. Speaking of fear, 5-8 weeks is also when puppies enter the fear impact period in which they start acquiring fear instincts – this is a very sensitive period because over stimulus can cause issues that carry into adulthood. So for example if you want them to get used to noises start with soft noises and work your way up, don’t start with a hairdryer! In general puppies shouldn’t be adopted before 70 days because they don’t get enough of this stage and they will probably suffer behavioral problems in the future such as how to interact with other dogs.
- Juvenile phase – 4-6 months. Puppies start teething and chewing to alleviate the pain from baby teeth falling out and adult teeth coming in. They also gain more energy, start showing some sexual behavior and a second fear impact period begins so be aware if your puppy starts showing fear in some situations and treat accordingly with the help of a behaviorist. This is the stage in which we failed with Sammy and are now trying to correct – believe me it’s hard. Also, nearing 6 months is a good time to start puppy training. This will help you further on.
- Adolescent phase – this is sort of the equivalent of the terrible twos in human babies. Puppies have more energy, explore more and they may even start to ignore some of their training from before. You have to be consistent.
- Sexual maturity – depending on the breed this may be between 9 months for smaller breeds and 1 yr for larger ones. In males this is a bit harder to detect whilst in females this is marked by their first heat.
- Adulthood – physically this happens at 1 yr for small breeds and can last up to 2 yrs in large/giant breeds (their skeleton takes time until it reaches full size). From a behavioral stand point, dogs usually calm down and become more mature at around 2-3 years.
So these are the main phases, of course further on we have old age that depends on the size of the breed but that’s a subject I’ll treat further on. I hope this has been helpful for everyone, please don’t hesitate to ask questions.
As always I have to mention that I am not a licensed vet this is only stuff I learned at school and from books and since this isn’t an exact science the time periods may vary between individuals, breeds and the source you use as a reference.