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What to Expect with a New Puppy

Understanding Stages of Puppy Development & Socialization

newsletter1.jpgLike children, puppies go through developmental periods that affect not only their behavior, but also what they’re learning – and feeling! – about the world around them.

Understanding these stages will help you more accurately interpret current behaviors you’re seeing in your puppy and can help you be prepared with appropriate training and behavior-shaping techniques. At The Local Bark’s premier dog training and boarding facilities, we’re here to help you through every stage.

Human Socialization Period (7-12 weeks): puppies are learning how to respond to people.

*  Don’t bring your puppy home from the breeder until it is at least 7 weeks old.
*  This critical period is when we can have the greatest impact on our dogs. Lack of exposure to new people – especially children – can dominate a puppy’s behavior for the rest of its life.
*  Puppy’s mental abilities are fully formed but it lacks experience. 
*  Don’t assume because your puppy lives with another dog or children in the home that it generalizes to all other animals or children. Your puppy needs to safely meet several new people and dogs each week (if not each day).
*  Ideal time to teach puppy manners – enroll in a good puppy class. Training during this time will actually increase the capacity to learn by increasing brain cells in the appropriate regions of the brain.
*  Keep in mind, however, puppy's physical limitations and short attention span.


Fear Imprint Period (8-12 weeks): puppies are learning how to cope with “scary” things.

*  During this time, experiences a puppy perceives as traumatic are generalized and may affect him his entire life. Avoid overwhelming situations and those with loud noises (machinery, fireworks, New Orleans during Mardi Gras).
*  Puppies should not be shipped during this period, elective surgery should be put off until the 12th week, and necessary visits to the vet should be made fun.
*  Keep training short, positive & fun.
*  Use food to make positive associations
*  Have volunteers participate in "mock vet examinations" and use treats
*  Practice giving "fake vaccinations" with a pen and use treats
*  Make car rides fun!
*  Make crate training fun with toys and treats.
*  Safely take puppy out in public by carrying him and using blankets on surfaces that may have been traveled by other dogs.


Seniority Classification Period (3-4 months): puppy wonders “who’s boss?”

*  Otherwise known as the "age of the cutting teeth and apron strings”.
*  As long as you provide structure, guidance and leadership, this transition should be relatively painless.
*  By 16 weeks of age the brain of a puppy will reach 80% of full development where his emotional makeup is developed and cemented for life. After this period you’ll need to employ desensitization training to re-work certain behaviors and responses. 
*  Do not put off training...you're literally on the clock.
*  Teach a great and always-positive RECALL (‘come’ command) and practice it every day.  Do this before pup enters the "flight period" at about 16 weeks.

Flight Instinct Period (4-8 months): owner wonders “why did we get a puppy?”

*  When you notice a change in your dog during this time, he is probably going through his "flight instinct" period. Characterized by independence and willfulness, this stage can last from a few days to several weeks and can occur anytime during this period.
*  Like a teenager going through puberty, your puppy is changing physiologically. Your awareness of these changes in behavior will help get you through this commonly difficult period.
*  Even if you have done your homework it does not mean your puppy won't go through this - just be aware of it and ride it out.
*  Your once 'obedient' pup may not hang on your every word.
*  Your pup may not come when called, even though he has up until now. Use a long line in the park as life insurance. Don't allow him to find out how much fun it is to run down the block with you chasing him!
*  They may not play fetch even though they once did. 
*  A puppy may have lapses in potty training.
*  A puppy will be uncomfortable because its adult teeth are growing in. Be prepared with appropriate chew bones (large enough so that the pup will not choke) to help with your pup's need to chew.

Second Fear Imprint Period (6-14 months): puppy thinks “now THAT is scary!”

*  This fear period corresponds with hormonal changes & growth spurts. 

*  Many dogs will show a rise in their level of reactivity (aggressive displays when startled or frightened) to new situations, objects, people or other dogs during this time.

*  They may become protective and territorial.
*  Incidents of “teenage flakiness” and testing of owners may recur.
*  In large breeds this period could extend longer since it is tied to sexual maturity.
*  Incidents may occur more than once.
*  Positively reinforce the behaviors you want.
*  If your puppy appears apprehensive, avoid pressuring him. Allow him to approach as he is ready. Praise confidence.
*  In the event of an aggressive display, provide space, not correction. You are his support system. When confronted by scary things, he needs you to give him space and time to acclimate and build confidence. He needs to feel safe. The fear of new situations must be handled with the utmost patience. Continue positive socialization exposure, but be careful to avoid overwhelming situations. Flooding (throwing him in to "sink or swim") is to be avoided.
*  Avoid any potentially overwhelming circumstances you cannot personally oversee, such as shipping your pup in the cargo bay of an airplane.

Most importantly, understand this is a learning adventure for you and for your puppy. Enjoy the process, and take some time to appreciate and celebrate every milestone. He’s only a puppy once!


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