Developmental Stages of Dog and Puppy Behavior
Dog puppy behavior goes through distinct milestones, especially during the first two years of their lives. These behavior stages vary a little depending on different breeds (large breeds mature more slowly) and even individual dogs, but anyone raising a puppy will recognize these basic timeframes.
The most crucial period of your dog’s development is the socialization period between 3 to 16 weeks. During this time, puppies imprint many things that stick with them their entire lives.
During the first six weeks, puppies need to stay with their litters. During this time, they learn appropriate bite levels and puppy communication during play.
Between 5 and 7 weeks, puppies begin to show fear. If they have not been exposed to a variety of new humans by week seven, they may always be fearful. Week seven is a good time for puppies to be placed in new homes.
Between 10 and 16 weeks, puppies become more independent and begin to explore. It’s important to expose them to a variety of environments at this time. It’s also the time to begin setting rules.
At some time between 6 and 8 months, your puppy becomes an adolescent, often referred to by trainers as “the teenager phase.” Puppies are really exhibiting their independence at this time, and many behavior problems that have previously been trained may appear again.
During this time, it’s good to take a training class with your dog or go back to reinforcing strict rules. Your dog should not be allowed off-leash at this time. It is also important for your dog to play with other dogs to learn proper puppy manners. They should be playing not only with dogs their own age but adult dogs who can correct inappropriate behavior. This is best done in controlled settings, not the dog park.
As this stage ends between 12 and 18 months, your dog starts to become more adult-like. Depending on the breed of your dog, you might see a decrease in the puppy energy at this time. You will see another decrease at some time between 2 and 3 years of age, especially in larger breeds.
By the time your dog is 3, he is an adult. Though he may still be playful and puppy-like in many ways, he will also start to seem older. Though you can still modify behavior problems at this time, your dog’s personality is pretty well set. If your dog has any type of aggressive tendencies, you will usually know by now.
Depending on the dog breed, your dog will start to be considered a “senior” dog between 8 to 10. Small dogs live longer and don’t tend to be considered senior until 10 to 12. Large dogs may only live 10 to 12 years. At this time, their energy will slow, and their behaviors are very routine. Though it’s a myth that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it is much harder to change a behavior problem that has persisted 10 years.
Watching your puppy grow into a dog is a fun and rewarding time. By being aware of developmental stages, you can help prevent and solve behavior issues that may arise along the way.