During the first four months of a dog’s life, they learn as much, or more, than they will during their entire life cycle. That’s why this critical bonding period should be handled very intentionally to establish an optimal footing for a lifetime of loving companionship from your canine friend. What they learn and experience during this quickly changing time, can create “good” or “bad” behaviors in your dog that can last for years to come. It will also shape their personality, establish them as a well socialized pet, and set them up for easier training.
By establishing a relationship with the dog mom’s family, you can become a part of the dog’s life from the very beginning, and help to ensure that everything is done to set them on the path to success. Too many dogs end up in shelters, or moved from home to home, because of lapses in the earliest stages after their arrival into this world that develop into lifelong challenges.
First Seven Weeks
Puppies are born with their eyes closed, nearly immobile and dependent on their mothers for sustenance, as all mammals are, through nursing. In the first seven weeks, their eyes open, their senses sharpen, they gain mobility, begin to grow teeth and transition to solid food. They are learning essential lessons about how to be a canine. This is why, for your puppy’s health, it is critical they be left with their birth mother until they are weaned.
It’s important that their environment be one that offers them challenges appropriate at each stage of this process. They need to be appropriately socialized, to gain confidence around human strangers, and other dogs, and given opportunities to play with their litter mates, under mom’s supervision.
It is also important to make sure that proper veterinary care is given, and nutrition is optimum, both for the mother,and the puppy transitioning to solid foods. Just as human babies develop so much of their life long health immediately after birth, so do dogs. Their mental stability and physical well being can be impacted, for good, or bad, during this time.
Weaning To Four Months
While it’s very popular to choose “rescue” dogs as family pets, many of the challenges facing those adoptive families, are not as prevalent when puppies are placed in families between seven and eight weeks. When receiving a new puppy it is critical to establish a routine that allows for socialization and training, right from the get go. Waiting to start can lengthen the training process and allow bad behaviors to develop into habits that can be harder to untrain in just a few short weeks.
By making sure your canine friend is appropriately socialized with humans, and other animals, you can establish the confidence they need to be a steady, reliable pet. It’s also a great time to train them away from yapping, shyness and aggression, that can make them difficult to manage later in life. At no other stage, will your dog take training as readily, or respond as rapidly as right now.
This period, from seven to sixteen weeks of age, is often referred to as the “second socialization” period, when they are carefully introduced to the wider world outside their home. It is important that these interactions remain supervised, to encourage right behavior, and prevent something called, Fear-Impact.
If you have met a dog that appears afraid of certain things, noises, smells, people, or other animals. This critical time between the second and fourth months of life, is often where those problems begin to develop. A puppy during this stage, is like a small, impressionable child, and anything negative they experience, can establish patterns that will challenge them, even throughout their adult years. e right behavior, and prevent something called, Fear-Impact.
Watch your puppy carefully, when introducing them to new, or strange surroundings and situations. If, for any reason, the dog exhibits fearful behavior, carefully remove them from whatever circumstances they find frightening, to keep the impact from being imprinted in their mind. At this stage, things they experience as trauma, will likely register as things to avoid, or fear, for the dog’s entire life. This can include noises, aggressive people, or animals, or unfamiliar surroundings that cause them to lose confidence. e, is often where those problems begin to develop. A puppy during this stage, is like a small, impressionable child, and anything negative they experience, can establish patterns that will challenge them, even throughout their adult years. e right behavior, and prevent something called, Fear-Impact.
Likewise, if they are introduced to things dogs often find threatening, in a positive way, during this period, it’s likely they will imprint those experiences as positive. Remember not to short circuit your dog’s natural fight, or flight instincts. A dog that grows up, for example, not afraid of traffic, could find themselves in trouble later in life. Some fear is healthy, but can be developed later, when the dog is better equipped to cope.
It is best to simply remove them from circumstances at the first sight of fear, whether the thing they fear is dangerous, or not, to prevent them imprinting it as something to be feared. Once the puppy is calm and playful again, things they originally found frightening, such as a leaf, blowing, for example, can be reintroduced in new surroundings for them to gain more understanding of the thing they feared.
By following best practices, and establishing behavior training early, you can be well on your way toward having the family pet everyone wants. Use this critical time to establish the relationship between you and your dog and help them grow into a delightful animal you’ll always be glad you met.
Past sixteen weeks, your dog will begin to lose their puppy teeth, put on an adult coat and begin to take on the characteristics of a full grown dog. By taking the time to establish them well while they are in their imprinting stage, in the first sixteen weeks of life, you will save yourself time and trouble, and go a long way toward to building the personality of a lifelong companion that will be welcome wherever you go.