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Critical periods for puppies...

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The following article, "The critical Period in the Life of a Puppy," is based on the research of Dr. J. Paul Scott, Animal Behaviour Division of the Rosco B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory, U.S.A.

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After studying hundreds of puppies as they grew up with their mothers and litter mates, it was found that the social development of puppies can be divided into defined periods, based on the beginning and ending of certain important social relationships inherent in all breeds.

FIRST PERIOD (0 - 3 weeks)

The puppy is on its mother, or substitute mother, for the first 21 days of it's life. Some of us have worried because a mother will scarcely leave her litter during this first five or six days after the puppies come, even to eat or to relieve herself. This is because the puppy is so completely dependent upon her and its litter mates for warmth, that it is necessary for it to snuggle up to its mother and brother and sisters. A temperature of 85 F - 90 F (29.4 c - 32.2 c) is about right for the first week of a puppy's life.

It has been noticed that the puppies just seem to sleep and eat, and the mother constantly massages them with her tongue. This licking is necessary, not only to keep them clean, but to cause elimination, for the puppies at birth and for many days afterwards are not able to eliminate on their own. Nursing puppies eat a little and then rest against their mother's warm breast and she massages them. This is repeated many times a day.

The first 21 days of a puppies life is very crucial as the time of survival. Warmth, food, massage, and sleep are the things a puppy needs for this period.There is a slight variation in the length of the first period, but with all puppies of all breeds it is complete by the 21st day and then there is a sharp break. A PUPPY UNDER 21 DAYS OF AGE CANNOT LEARN OR BE TRAINED!

SECOND CRITICAL PERIOD (4 weeks - 7 weeks)

Beginning on the 21st day, the puppy can see quite well, and can hear and smell. From now on, environment plays its part in the development of the dog. Suddenly the big world about him is opened up to his attention and he needs his mamma very much. He can be handled, however, and socialization can start so that he will start to form attachments to human beings. For the next four weeks, his brain and nervous system are developing, and at the end of seven weeks of age puppies have the capacity of an adult dog, but of course, not the experience.

During this period (4 weeks - 7 weeks) the puppies socialize with their mother and litter mates and thus form their attachments to other dogs. This is the normal thing for them to do and plays a very important part in the well-rounded development of a dog. If they are taken from their mother and litter mates before the end of the seven weeks, they miss some of their canine socialization and show less interest in dog activities than if they are left the full seven weeks. Experience has shown that the puppy who does not complete his seven weeks of canine socialization is often the same dog that, when grown, picks fights with all the strange dogs he meets, is terrified of other dogs, or is difficult to mate.

During this four-week period, from 21 days to seven weeks of age, playing and even play fighting begins. In some of the litters this becomes quite serious fighting, and order of dominance has begun.

It is believed that the ideal time for the puppy to go to a new owner is at approximately nine weeks of age, which is also a good time for weaning. The two things are probably best accomplished at the same time.

Experiments have shown that you cannot really teach a puppy until it is about 21 days old, and that it is probably best to leave it with its mother and litter mates until it is 8-10 weeks of age. The question arises 'When is the best time to teach a puppy." The answer is, of course, as soon as it can learn, which is during the second critical period (21- 49 days of age).

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THIRD CRITICAL PERIOD..... (7 weeks - 12 weeks)

During the third critical period, from the 49th day to the 84th day (7 - 12 weeks), the puppies should get as wide a variety of experiences and instructions as their puppy minds and emotions are capable of absorbing. Experience has indicated that it is detrimental to give puppies longer training periods than daily 15 minute sessions at this age. The advice is that a puppy should have the benefit of its trainer's wholehearted and undivided attention to make it feel important.

Evidence points to the fact that puppies have a short period early in life when social relationships are established with members of their kind and after which it becomes increasingly difficult or impossible to establish them. The same applies to their relationships with human companions. The period in which puppies can best be socialized and begin their training is in the period of 5 weeks to 12 weeks of age.

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FOURTH CRITICAL PERIOD...... (12 weeks - 16 weeks)

This fourth critical period is from 12 - 16 weeks of age. This is the age of cutting. At last the puppy, if allowed any freedom, cuts it's mother's apron strings and declares its independence. It wanders away from the nest alone or with a companion. It gets into mischief, it cuts its teeth both literally and figuratively. It will make up, however, for anything lost through neglect in earlier training. This is the time when man and dog decide who is boss. Serious training can and should be started: a transition from play training to disciplined behaviour.

A puppy who has had no socialization before it is 16 weeks of age has little chance of becoming the type of dog that anyone of us would want as a companion. Playing with the litter has some socializing effect, but it misses the important things: the development of the individual dog as a companion. There is no training that develops a puppy to his highest potential faster than the simple expedient of taking him entirely away from the other dogs and having a pleasant session of just getting acquainted.

There is no point in making it hard for a puppy to learn either how to obey, or to pay attention. The more ideal the surroundings, the better the results will be. The puppy must come to feel that he is an important individual before the maximum results can be accomplished.

Understanding the critical periods in a puppy's life gives the dog breeder, as well as the individual dog buyer, an excellent tool with which to sharpen the character traits of individual puppies so that they may attain the highest potential in adaptability to the life they are to lead, and to excel.

THE TIME IS SHORT... from 21 days to 112 days in all... (13 weeks altogether)... and once it has passed, it can never be retrieved. The implications of what this short time means in the development of a dog are so great that it is extremely important for puppy raisers to employ this time wisely. It can never be made up at an older age.

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