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Diamonds in the Ruff

Developmental Stages & Socialization

What happens when - how your puppy changes and develops

"Puppies provided with poor socialization or deprived of environmental exposure often develop lifelong deficits and dysfunctional behaviors. A puppy isolated early in life from other puppies and humans will not only fail to establish satisfying social contact with conspecifics or enjoy companionship with people later in life (such puppies are extremely fearful of any social contact), they will also exhibit widespread behavioral and cognitive disabilities as well. Isolated puppies exhibit poor learning and problem-solving abilities and are extremely hyperactive or rigidly inhibited, are emotionally over-reactive and unable to encounter novel social or environmental situations without extreme fear and avoidance, and are socially and sexually incapacitated." - Handbook of Applied Behavior and Training, Steven R. Lindsay

Developmental stages                        Age                         Learning and Development                          What you should be doing


Early development &

reflexive behavior:

Neonatal period

Birth to

12 days

Puppy can't hear or see well, stays close

 to mother and littermates.

Breeder provides warm environment. 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.






Transitional period

13 to

20 days

Eyes open, puppy can hear, begins to walk in a wobbly fashion.  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. This is also a time to introduce puppies to friendly cats. It is important to continue picking up the pups daily, cuddle them, talk to them, and spend a few minutes with each one individually.




Primary Socialization Begins


Awareness period

21 to

23 days

Puppy is able to use senses of sight and hearing.  Learning begins.

It is a time of very rapid sensory development. A stable environment is crucial. 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 essential that the puppy remain with the litter and the mother.


Each day introduce 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 playing quietly.






Learning he's a dog.


Canine Socialization

Primary Socialization period -
3 to 5 weeks


Secondary Socialization period - 6 to 12 weeks


21 to

49 days

"This period is especially important for the development of a stable emotional temperament and affective tone. Many social and emotional deficits observed in adult dogs are believed to result from removing puppies too early from the mother and littermates." - Steven R. Lindsay

Puppy learns species specific behavior that makes him a dog (biting, chasing, barking, fighting and body posturing.


Learns to accept discipline from mother and to use submissive postures.  Learns not to bite too hard.

Learns to relate to other litter mates and develops a pack hierarchy through play.


Mother begins to wean puppies between 4-8 weeks, but should be allowed as much time with the pups as she wants.

Puppies require plenty of playtime with littermates, so they can socialize.  Singleton & orphaned puppies may need extra socialization help. 


Leaving the litter before 7 weeks can affect the puppy's ability to get along with other dogs later and they will likely have trouble learning to inhibit the force of their bite.


Put an open crate in the puppy pen. Clear distinction between sleep and play area should be made. This ensures the puppy can leave his sleeping area to eliminate. This will make housetraining later much easier.


Each puppy should have one-on-one individual attention with humans. Take two at a time for short car rides.


Occasionally isolate puppies to prepare them for separation.


Puppy's rate of mental development will now depend on the complexity of their environment. Exposure to a variety of noises and different floor surfaces is important.


Begin positive training sessions at 5 weeks.





Into a new home with a

human family.


Human Socialization

"100 new people by 12 weeks"

- Dr. Ian Dunbar, PhD


7 to 12


”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." -Pfaffenberger

The 49th day. The brain waves of the puppy are the same as a mature dog, but the puppy is a clean slate.


Puppy should be completely weaned from mother.


This is the age when most rapid learning occurs. Greatest impact on future social behavior will be made by any experience that happens at this point.


The window of opportunity is closing. Although puppies can continue to learn to be comfortable with new things, it is not as easy.

The best time to bring a puppy into its new home is around week 7 or 8. "The 49th day" is recommended by Guide Dog raisers and supported by studies.


Absolutely critical period in which puppy should be socialized - maximize this time! Enroll in a good puppy class!


Ideal time to capitalize on educating your puppy.


Take into account puppy's physical limitations and short attention span.






Fear imprint period


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 weeks.

8 to 11


This period falls within the human imprint period.  Anything that frightens the puppy during this period will have a more lasting effect than if it occurred at any other time.

Keep training fun. Use short sessions, and keep all training positive. Gentle guidance and management are essential. Set your puppy up to succeed. This kind of mindset will enable you to be successful, as you continue to socialize your puppy.


Puppies should not be shipped during this period, elective surgery should be put off until the 12th week, and necessary visits to the vet should be made fun.





Learning to compete and cope


Seniority Classification

Social status - 10 to 16 weeks

10 to 16


So long as you provide structure and consistency, this transition should be relatively painless.


If these things have not been provided, all heck is about to break loose!





Puppy has been in the home for approximately six weeks. This period is known as the "period of cutting teeth and apron strings." Pups will attempt to clarify and resolve where they fit in the group.

Flight Instinct Period


"Seems to forget everything previously learned."
- "How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With"

Even if you have done your homework it does not mean your puppy won't go through this - just be aware of it and ride it out.


Just keep your pup on a leash until this passes. Don't allow him to find out how much fun it is to run down the block with you chasing him!

4 to 8


This stage can last from a few days to several weeks and can occur anytime during this period.  A puppy will test its wings.


He may not come when called.  He may not play fetch even though he once did. 


He will be uncomfortable because his adult teeth are growing in.

It is because of this stage that prevention over cure is advocated -- socializing and training must have begun before now!

When you notice a change in your dog during this time, he is probably going through his "flight instinct" period. Like a teenager going through puberty, your puppy is changing physiologically. Your awareness of these changes in behavior will help get you through this commonly difficult period.


This is the time when obedience schools get most of their calls. Puppies that have not been socialized and trained take a different path in life than pups that have.


Be prepared with appropriate chew bones (large enough so that the pup will not choke) to help with your pup's need to chew. Use a long line in the park as life insurance. Your pup may not come when called, even though he has up until now.

Second Fear Period


Many dogs will show a

rise in their level of reactivity (aggressive displays when startled or frightened) during this time. They may become protective and territorial. Incidents of teenage flakiness may recur.

6 to 14



In large breeds this period could extend longer since it is tied to sexual maturity.

Incidents may occur more than once.


May suddenly be apprehensive about new thingsor shy or timid of new people or situations. Most of height growing is over, but pup will start to fill out over the coming year.


Puppy begins to mature sexually: male begins to lift leg, and female has first heat period anywhere from 6-12 months. Puppy coat being replaced by adult coat, starting down the spine.

The fear of new situations must be handled with the utmost patience. Continue positive socialization exposure, but be careful to avoid overwhelming situations. Flooding (throwing him in to "sink or swim") is to be avoided.


If your puppy appears apprehensive, avoid pressuring him. Allow him to approach as he is ready. Praise confidence. In the event of an aggressive display, provide space, not correction. You are his support system. When confronted by scary things, he needs you to give him space and time to acclimate and build confidence. He needs to feel safe.


Avoid any potentially overwhelming circumstances you cannot personally oversee, such as shipping your pup in the cargo bay of an airplane.



Are you done socializing?


NO.  Like your training efforts, which continue on into adulthood and throughout your dog’s entire life, you are never done with socialization. He still needs to meet and greet people, go places with you, and continue to share your world and your experiences, if you want him to continue to be the happy, friendly dog he is today.



Until this period has been reached, it is recommended that your pup remains crated or the equivalent (structure) when you are not available to supervise his behavior.


You will know when your dog can be trusted by testing him for short periods (10-15 minutes) while you leave the house. If your dog is damaging property while loose, he is not ready.





Refers to sexual maturity as opposed to being full-grown. Smaller dogs mature earlier, larger dogs later. If you were lax in your work earlier on, you may now see the things you have missed: object guarding, unfavorable reactions towards unfamiliar people, animals, or things that your dog missed during the socialization stage.

Information gleaned from:
"The Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training" by Steven R. Lindsay
Weimaraner Club of America website, article by Ellen Dodge
"The Urban Puppy Toolkit"
"How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With"  by Clarice Rutherford & David H. Neil
"The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior"  by Clarence Pfaffenberger
Instructor Training Course -  by Dr. Ian Dunbar, PhD


(c) Carol Byrnes, Diamonds in the Ruff  - 2003

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