Critical Periods in
By Ellen Dodge.
Reprinted from the October 1989 issue of
the Weimaraner Magazine.
Drs. Scott and Fuller were the first to
document critical periods in the development of the
canine in 1953. Their efforts, recognizing critical
developmental periods, the importance of socialization,
the use of the puppy aptitude test and an effective
breeding program, resulted in the remarkable success
rate of over 9O percent in producing guide dogs for the
Pfaffenbeiger, Dr. Michael Fox and Joachim and Wendy
further documented and supported the
results of Scott and Fuller.
Critical periods in a dog's life begin at
birth, peak between six and eight weeks, and extend to
maturity. It has been proven that environment and
socialization make lasting impressions on the developing
Breeders have an important responsibility
to provide socialization and richness of experience for
puppies in their care, this is especially important from
the fourth to eighth weeks of puppyhood. Pfaffenberger
in his book "The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior" states
that from "three weeks of age, when the learning stage
began, to 16 weeks of age, the character of a dog is
formed. No matter how good his inherited character
traits, if they are not given a chance of expression
during this period he will never be as good a dog as he
could have been."
Neonatal Period - O to 13 Days
During this time the puppies require food
and warmth. They are not capable of regulating their
body temperature or eliminating without their mother’s
stimulation. They are aware of direct contact.
Dr. Michael Fox conducted a study showing
mildly stressing puppies during the first five weeks
develops dogs which are superior when put in learning or
competitive situations. They are better able to handle
stress, are more outgoing and learn more quickly. Mild
physical stress at an early age will actually increase
the size of the brain.
Some of you may have seen an article in
the "Hunter's Whistle" recently, an interview with
Brittany breeders Ron and Dot Stevenson. They have 30
years of experience producing numerous dual champions.
They believe puppies who are destined for a lifetime of
competition must be acclimated to stress at an early age
and they put their pups under stress from the moment of
whelping. They give the pups daily individual attention
and emphasize socialization.
The type of stress we are talking about
is very mild during the first week. Weigh the pups
daily, placing them on a cool surface. On successive
days hold them one at a time firmly on one side for 10
to 15 seconds. The next day, hold them on the other
side, then up in the air, head down, turn in a circle,
etc. During the second week, the stress is intensified
by pinching the ear flap, the webbing between the toes
and placing them on a cookie sheet just out of the
Transition period - 13 to 21 days
Puppies' ears and eyes will gradually
open. They will begin to hear and will respond to taste
and smell. This is the time to introduce novel stimuli
to the whelping box such as a plastic milk bottle,
knotted towel, cardboard box, etc. How about pheasant or
quail feathers? I find it best to
put them in a small cloth bag.
This is also a time to introduce puppies
to friendly cats. It is important to continue picking up
the pups daily, admire them, talk to them, and spend a
few minutes with each one individually.
Awareness Period - 21 to 23
This is an important subperiod of the
Canine Socialization Period. By 2l days the pups have
the use of their senses and it is important not to
overload them. Radical changes in the environment must
be avoided, i.e. do not move the whelping box!
It is a time of very rapid sensory
development. Individual attention is continued. Also,
take them two at a time to new floor surfaces for about
two minutes. Take different pairs each time. Each day
introduced a new surface such as concrete, linoleum,
wood, carpet, matting, etc. Taking them two at a time
will make it less stressful than one at a time. Very
mild auditory stimuli is introduced, such as a radio
Canine Socialization Period-21 to 49 Days
Pup learns he is a dog during this
period. He must be kept with his littermates and dam
during this entire period. He will learn how to stop
mother’s discipline by acting submissively. Do not wean
the puppies at this time. They may be supplemented at
three weeks but it is left up to the dam how much
nursing is done. A puppy removed from its litter and dam
during this period may become overly noisy, a discipline
problem, or a fighter. The mother is allowed as much
time with the pups as she wants.
During, the fourth and fifth weeks,
puppies can go two at a time for short car rides. Again,
alternate puppies and do not always take the same two
together. The dam can go along if she is a good rider.
Household noises are gradually increased, radio,
dishwasher, TV, hair dryer, vacuum, etc.
Individual attention is out of sight and
hearing of the mother and littermates. Puppies can be
stood and brushed with their bites checked daily.
Introduce them to stairs (one step at a time). Put them
in a position where they have to solve problems, walking
through tunnels, for instance. Individually, let them
drag a show lead around. You don't want another puppy to
grab the lead-no tugging. Put a crate in the puppy pen.
At five weeks obedience training can
begin in a totally positive fashion. Give five minute
sessions on sit, stand, down and leash training. Use a
plain buckle collar and do not pull or jerk the leash.
Introduce the pups to the outdoors. This is a good time
for them to meet new adults and children.
During the fifth and sixth weeks
individual attention is imperative. Clarice Rutherford
and David Neil state in their work "How to Raise A Puppy
You Can Live With", that during the sixth week, "It
would be a catastrophe if you neglected to give each pup
individual attention. It puts you in the category of
being a producer, not a breeder and you should never
again have another litter in your care."
The 49th day is the ideal timing for the
puppy aptitude test to be done. The brain waves of the
puppy are the same as a mature dog, but the puppy is a
clean slate. If the puppies have been properly
socialized and are not somehow traumatized before the
test (by being taken for their first car ride to the
test site, or being crated for the first time) the test
is a reliable measure of their suitability for whatever
role in life they are expected to fulfill. It is an
excellent aid in placing puppies in compatible homes.
Human Socialization Period 50 to 84 Days (7 to 12 weeks)
This is the best time to place a puppy in
his new home, since he is now ready to transfer his
affections from his dam to his people. Pfaffenberger
says, ”From now to the 16th week of the puppy’s life,
his basic character is set by what he is taught. This
will apply especially to his attitudes toward people and
toward his ability to serve them the very best he can."
Socialization must be continued.
During this time the puppy is given
widely varied experiences and meets as many people of
all ages and walks of life as possible. Once a puppy is
reasonably housebroken, I take it to the bank, hardware
store, pet shop, florist, playground and everywhere
possible with me. During the seventh week is a good time
to send a puppy the breeder plans to keep for an
overnight visit with a trusted friend. By ten weeks,
puppies should have separate living quarters, or at
least separate sleeping quarters if they are still in
the same household.
Fear Impact Subperiod
8 to 10 Weeks
Experiences a puppy perceives as
traumatic during this time are generalized and may
affect him all his life. It is a fact that a dog is most
likely to develop an avoidance response if subjected to
physical or psychological trauma during these four
Seniority Classification Period - 12
to 16 Weeks:
Otherwise known as the “age of the
cutting’ teeth and apron strings during this period, the
pup is trying to figure out who is boss. If still
together, there is intense competition between
littermates. All tests of strength between person and
pup (such as tug of war) should be discontinued. All
biting of human hands, clothing, or leash should be
discouraged. By 16 weeks, the puppy’s emotional makeup
is fully developed and cemented for life, barring
Flight Instinct Period 4 to 8 Months:
There is a time during this period,
lasting two to four weeks, when the pup will test his
wings. He won't come when called, in fact will run away.
Just keep pup on a leash until this passes.
Second Fear Impact Period 6 to 14 Months
This period is otherwise known as Teenage
Flakiness! In large breeds this period could extend
longer since it is tied to sexual maturity. Incidents
may occur more than once. This is a fear of new
situations and is handled with the utmost patience. The
dog is encouraged to work it out on his own. If
anything, it is better to ignore the whole situation
than to reinforce the fear by praising the dog or
petting him while he is afraid. When you "reassure" a
dog with pets and "it's okay, fella", you are telling
him it is okay to be frightened and you are creating a
Young Adulthood - 18 to 24 months:
Many dogs will show a rise in their level
of aggression during this time. They may become
protective and territorial, and may make a new attempt
to dominate owners. Incidents of teenage flakiness may
To produce a potential "super" dog takes
a great deal of time and effort on the part of the
breeder and new owner. The above is an outline which
will help those who have the time and who wish to give
their puppies every possible chance of preparing to take
the world by the tail and achieve their greatest
For those who have less time to spend
with a litter, this can serve as a guide helping
maximize the quality of the time spent and to pinpoint
the best times during the pups’ development to make the
The absolute, bare minimum amount of
individual attention a puppy must have is as follows:
Two minutes of attention two times during the fourth
week; ten minutes of attention two times during the
fifth week; a minimum of two ten minute sessions the
sixth week; and one-half hour once per week from 7
through 16 weeks.
Surely we all want to invest more than
the bare minimum on our litters of puppies whose
pedigrees we have so carefully planned and whose futures
are so filled with hopes of bench, obedience and field
titles. Let's give our puppies a super start from the
Clarice Rutherford & David H. Neil. MRCVS.
"How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With." Loveland, CO:
Alpine Publications, 1981.
Clarence Pfaffenberger. "The New
Knowledge of Dog Behavior." NY, NY: Howell, 1979.
Wendy Volhard & Gail Fisher. 'Seminar:
"All You Ever Wanted to Know About Puppies and Dogs."