The development stages of a dog

The developmental stages of dogs have been neglected in today’s dog training. Developmental stages are incredibly important as they provide the basis for how your dog will develop in the future, and thus lead to an understanding of how you should react and handle your dog. Without knowledge or understanding of these stages, having a family dog can end in failure, and neglecting these stages can have consequences for your dog’s development. We have observed that many dogs are sold or euthanized due to poor behavior. Read on for an explanation of what you as a dog owner should be aware of in these stages.

1. The vegetative phase

Age: 0-2 weeks

This phase is simply about the puppy growing. The senses begin to develop, such as the sense of smell, and the eyes open slowly. The puppy has innate reflexes such as circling around, which can be translated as “searching for food.” The mother dog does not leave the whelping box, as it is a matter of survival.

The mother is 100% focused on providing food and stimulating the puppies by washing them from behind so they can urinate and defecate. It is genetically encoded in the mother dog to clean her puppies and show them where they belong. It is a quiet time, and the mother only leaves the nest if she feels secure in her surroundings.

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2. The transitional phase

age: 3-5 weeks

The ears are now open. The puppies are exploring their surroundings and making contact with humans and other animals – their curiosity has started. This is the time to start training for recall and touch, which is very important for the puppies’ future.

The mother dog is more relaxed and leaves her nest for longer periods of time, but she is still very protective. She feeds them more at night and ignores whining, which may seem very harsh to us humans, but the puppies will survive and react only to the presence of their mother, which means safety and food.

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3. The imprinting phase age

age: 4-7 weeks

Now the little balls of fur really come to life – the sense of smell develops further and the hunting instinct is tested. The mother dog has her hands full – and the little rascals start nipping at her. The puppies can start eating puppy food, and the mother’s milk production slowly decreases. The mother plays with them, but also leaves them often, as they can be quite rough with their needle-sharp teeth.

The imprinting phase is a vulnerable and very important phase. Now the breeder should give the puppy a good start, as it has a significant impact on the puppy’s later development. The puppy must learn to interact with humans and dogs – so the puppy sees them as conspecifics. If the puppy is not imprinted in the above, it will have significant consequences later in the puppy’s development. It can leave such deep scars on the puppy that at some point, behavioral problems will occur as the puppy will not meet people with openness and trust in general.

This is seen when the little puppy comes home to its new family. The puppy will be marked for life and will carry this nervousness on and off. Choose a breeder carefully, as it will be you as an owner who will have to deal with these challenges together with the puppy.

Think twice – when you rescue a dog from a shelter or the like – are you skilled enough? It’s not just about having your heart in the right place. It also, to a large extent, concerns your skills and knowledge about it.

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4. The socialization phase

age: 8-12 weeks

Now the puppy is going home to its new family – Congratulations. The puppy can either react by being more reserved or the opposite – it is very individual how they react. This phase is an extremely important period, as the puppy is very receptive to new learning.

Start training at home immediately! Puppies are very adaptable and learn quickly to navigate the world we offer. When talking about socialization, it is about environmental training and not just meeting other dogs. Environmental training is everything we experience in the world we live in – it is people, floor coverings, traffic noise, cars, bicycles, everything under the sun. You should not rush out and experience the whole world at once.

It is as the dog is trained in the 6 basic exercises that you can expand its horizons. The puppy simply needs to have established some tools to be able to be comfortable in new surroundings – in other words, be able to lean on you and what it has learned. Cleanliness is important to establish immediately – and here there is a very big difference between breeds. Small breeds pee much more often than large breeds – so after eating, drinking and resting, the puppy should go out for a walk.

Remember that the imprinting phase runs in parallel until 12 weeks.

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5. Ranking phase

age: 13-16 weeks

During this phase, the puppy undergoes half of its sexual maturity, resulting in a change in behavior. This is the first critical phase out of three. The puppy becomes more independent and may start going its own way if communication and relationship with the owner have not been established. Recall should ideally be established by the end of week 16.

The hormonal changes can lead to increased aggression, and the puppy will be more sensitive to new influences. It is a sensitive period for the puppy, and if it has a bad experience during this time, it may manifest in the puppy’s behavior later in its life.

Make sure to be patient and positive, no matter what challenges you may face. It is important for the puppy to trust and feel secure with its owner, which is the essence of having a dog. Negative experiences during this period will show up in the puppy’s behavior later in its life.

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6. Flocculation phase

age: 4-7 months

Now is the time to train and set demands for the puppy/dog. It’s a calmer period for the puppy, having gone through the first critical phase. Training is incredibly important to give the dog a good solid foundation, so you can communicate and have a healthy relationship with each other.

The 6 basic exercises are a brilliant way to establish a good friendship that ultimately gives a fantastic, calm family dog. During this period, the puppy changes teeth, which can cause itching. Offer meat bones or a kong filled with treats that have been in the freezer – your puppy will be grateful.

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7. Puberty

age: 7-10 months

Your dog is now a young adult and has entered its physical maturity and is in hormonal imbalance, i.e., their second critical phase. Hormonal imbalances can cause irritation and slight aggressions towards us. Some female dogs become affectionate during this period while others have a lower tolerance threshold. The same goes for males, as it depends on how well-trained the dog is, as well as how much of the male sex hormone “testosterone” the male dog produces. If your male dog is allowed to mark excessively, it will produce more testosterone than usual.

It is quite individual and again very breed-dependent how the dog reacts to hormonal changes. During this period, it requires extra patience from the owner’s side and continuing training without too much stimulation. If you have come well out of the first critical phase, this period will be much easier for both dog and owner, as the foundation is established to create calmness during this sensitive time.

Book a private lesson: See our dog trainers here.

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8. Obedience training period

age: 10-17 months

This phase can vary as the heat period can vary depending on the breed, size, and individual. The learning phase comes after the dog has had its first heat period – and the hormonal disturbances have settled. The dog is receptive to learning – and here you can make demands of the dog.

If the dog does not come into heat, it may be due to a lack of hormone production in the brain, cysts, low thyroid function, or stress-related issues. Contact your veterinarian and get a diagnosis. It is not good to demand and train your dog if it is unwell.

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9. Physical maturity

alder: 17-22 måneder

This is the 3rd and final critical phase – the period can last until after 22 months of age. The dog may react differently in this period’s “conflict situations” with other dogs if the foundation and communication have not been established. That means everything you have NOT learned and obtained from the 1st and 2nd critical development phases will come as a boomerang.

The dog has entered the adult ranks – which will be expressed in the way they react when several dogs are gathered. Strong dogs will show their strength, and weak dogs will be more prone to conflict if training has not been learned correctly. It’s about being proactive, so this phase goes smoother for both dog and owner.

Read also: Are you a new dog owner? Do you have too high expectations?

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