Puppy Developmental Stages
Updated: Jun 3
Raising a puppy can be a fun journey for a pet owner. We aren’t just introducing this puppy into our household, but we are introducing the puppy to the world. All the new sights, sounds, and smells can all get a puppy’s curiosity going and, as a pet owner, it’s our responsibility to encourage it and make sure these are positive experiences for them.
But what is socialization? And is there a specific age on when it’s most effective? These are both normal questions that require a little bit of research. Now, contrary to the normal belief, socialization isn’t just getting your puppy to experience new things or getting picked up by strangers who think they are cute. It’s really about building your puppy’s confidence with every situation, keeping safety as a main priority, and teaching them to maintain self-control.
For puppy development, the first 3 months are crucial. During this time, you’ll want to get them around people and new environments, test them around obstacles, and safely introduce them to other animals.
Here’s the breakdown:
1 - 3 Weeks (Neonatal stage): Puppies are normally very dependent on mom for food and care. It’s important to make this as easy as possible for the puppy to navigate they are limited in their movement and sense of direction.
2 - 4 Weeks (Transitional stage): Here is where puppies experience a lot of development. At this stage, they are learning how to be around the littermates, how to navigate around the sleeping area, and how to wean from mom and into eating solid food. Here is where you can practice safe handling, such as carefully picking the puppy up, turning it on its side/back, and gently grabbing paws and face. Investing in puppy toys will be a good idea for enrichment as puppies will start to grow sharp teeth very soon. Puppies will generally appreciate the plush and chew toys the most.
3 - 16 Weeks (Socialization Stage): Here, two parts of the socialization stage intersect. Initially, puppies start showing more curiosity, start forming social relationships, and start experiencing fear to everyday objects. Starting at 3 weeks, you can introduce a puppy to tunnels, short slides or a kid's playhouse, but don't expect them to use it properly until they are a little older. At 7-12 Weeks group coordinated activities/games and social play is great for enrichment. Having the puppy be introduced to another family pet or domesticated animal is okay, but they must be fully vaccinated and supervised at all times. At 8 -16 Weeks, association with people with different stimuli (glasses, canes, skateboards, etc.) is also very important. Here, you can get people to safely touch and handle the puppy, have them discover new items, and start implementing structure and guidance through positive reinforcement training.
12 Weeks - 6 Months (Juvenile Stage): At the beginning of this stage, many behaviorists believe that the most effective time for primary socialization closes. Your puppy will likely become more independent as they get ready for their young adult life. Further obedience training with a certified trainer (either private lessons or group classes), doggy playdates, interactive food puzzles, introduction to dog sports (exploring new equipment), and walks to a clean, dog-friendly store are all great ideas for enrichment and socialization at this time.
6 - 14 months (Second Fear Impact Period): Some pups at this time may become a little apprehensive about what initially didn’t seem to bother them. Don’t get discouraged here. Continue creating a positive association to these triggers. Listen to your puppy on what they feel is comfortable. Doggy daycare may or may not be a good idea during these months. One-on-one walks out in the park, scent training, advanced sports, and practicing their obedience all work well. These months are great for physical activities such as fetch and tug in the great outdoors. Practice having your dog control themself around other dogs. Can your dog listen to your cues while around other dogs? If they decide not to play, don't force it. It's okay if your dog doesn't want to be around other dogs. They can just co-exist from time to time.
18 – 24 Months (Young Adult Stage): Puberty starts to set in around this phase. It’s important to already have your dog well socialized at this time. These maturity months will test all your hard work! These months are great for dog hikes where dogs can co-exist around each other and games like long-distance recalls. If your dog can just sit in the grass away from other dogs while you deliver treats, you're on the right track. Remember, a dog doesn't have to play with other dogs in order to socialize.
1 - 4 Years (Maturity Stage): Regular Socialization is encouraged throughout the dog’s life. More advancement with a certified trainer, tagging along with a dog walker, and chilling out with you at a local bar/pub or restaurant are all great options for enrichment at this time.
7+ years (Senior Stage): Larger dogs normally hit the senior stage earlier. Smaller dogs may hit the senior stage at about 10 or 11 years. If done properly, your dog will have accomplished a long journey of socialization. Physical enrichment won’t be as hard to achieve as dogs tend to settle down faster by this point. Keeping up with regular vet visits as well as maintaining joint supplements are good ideas to consider. Going out to chill at a dog-friendly coffee shop, enjoying your dog’s favorite activity are great ideas for enrichment during these times.