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The Critical Stages of Puppyhood

Definition, a critical stage: A short period during which a relatively small amount of effort produces a major, lasting effect.


1st through 3rd weeks;
0 through 20 days

Puppy needs dam, food, warmth, sleep. Sense of smell is developed, but pup cannot see or hear. Responds by reflex, benefits from daily handling. Ears, eyes open by end of 2nd week.


4th week; 21 through 28 days

Puppy needs mother most and should not be weaned. All senses are functioning. Rapid development. Starts to learn and benefits from being taught simple exercises. Socialization with people and dogs, careful exposure to household routine should begin.


5th through 7th weeks; 29 through 49 days

Needs mother and littermates. Individual attention and training away from dam and littermates should begin. Socialization with people and other dogs is intensified. Weaning starts and is completed by end of 7th week. Regular feeding schedule aids in early housebreaking.

49th Day

Puppy has now reached the full adult capacity for learning, but of course, not the experience. Dominant pups should be separated from littermates and each other. Dam should be separated from pups, but have daily access to them under supervision.


8th through 12th weeks; 50 through 84 days

Pups go through fear period from the 8th through 10th weeks. Avoid traumatic experiences. New experiences should be non-fear producing. Training and socialization with people and other dogs should continue. Each pup must be given individual attention entirely away from its dam and littermates. THIS IS THE OPTIMUM TIME FOR LEARNING.


13th through 16th weeks; 85 through 112 days

Pup begins venturing from his den area. Confidence is built by teaching each pup to handle new and different situations and surroundings. Motor skills are perfected. Play with children is necessary and should be supervised. Training and socialization become crucial.

Juvenile to Young Adult

4 through 12 months

As the pup goes through the teething period he must be given suitable toys, but is not allowed to chew on hands, wrists, ankles, clothes. Continue training and exposing pup to new situations. Reassure, but don’t coddle if pup shows initial apprehension. Between 4 and 8 months the flight instinct develops and reaches its peak. (The pup must be taught to come when called before this period.) Territorial behavior develops and sexual maturity is reached. As a result human and canine pack leadership may be challenged.

Pfaffenberger, C.J. THE NEW KNOWLEDGE OF DOG BEHAVIOR (Howell, 1963)
Scott, J.P. & Fuller, J.L.’ GENETICS AND THE SOCIAL BEHAVIOR OF THE DOG (University of Chicago Press, 1965)
Trumler, Eberhard UNDERSTANDING YOUR DOG (Faber and Faber, translated 1973)

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National Canine Research Association of America