Developmental Stages

Canine Development

As dogs grow from puppies to dogs, they go through different stages of development. These stages are extremely important that aid in forming and facilitating the appropriate socialisation, experience and learning of your puppy. The way we interact, how and when we expose our puppy to different things can determine the way our puppy views and responds to the world around them. If we know what our pup is going through during these “sensitive periods” of growth, it will assist us in supporting them and appropriately exposing them to differing stimulus and situations in the big wide world. 

The table below will help you understand what your puppy/dog is going through and enable you to better support them through these changes. Please see the bibliography/reference section for a comprehensive reading list and further information. 

Developmental Stages


Learning and Development

What you should be doing

Further Information

Early Development and Reflexive Behaviour                

Neo Natal Period

Birth - 12 days

Puppies cannot see or hear very well. They stay close to their litter mates and dam (mother).

Temperament is influenced during gestation and is affected by the dam’s (mother) temperament and emotional state during this time.

Breeder should provide warm environment. Between days 3 -16 mildly stimulating the puppy assists in developing the pups neurological system early*

Dr. Michael Fox conducted a study showing mildly stimulating puppies during the first five weeks facilitates in developing dogs which are superior when put in learning or competitive situations. They are better able to handle stress, are more outgoing and learn faster. Mild physical stimulation at an early age increases the size of the brain.

Transitional period

13 - 20 days

Pups eyes open and they begin to hear. 'Startle’ responses begin to external stimuli such as noises.They begin to learn how to walk on wobbly legs as this is a time of rapid motor development (movement). Pups are capable of responding to taste and smell. Emergence of teeth.

This is the time to introduce new items to the whelping box such as a plastic milk bottle, knotted towel, cardboard box, etc. Intro to new smells and scents. A good time to introduce puppies to friendly cats. It is important to continue picking up, cuddling, talking to, and spending a few minutes with each pup individually. Interaction with breeders family advised. Please check your breeder is doing the aforementioned and please see our chapter on "Choosing Your Dog or Puppy" .

Primary Socialisation Begins 

Awareness period

21 - 23 days

Period of rapid sensory development. Pups can use senses of hearing and sight. 

Provide very stable environment for pups. No changes to environment (ie do not move whelping box) As Pups are  being exposed to many new things* - this assists in ensuring they do not get over whelmed. Pups must remain with littermates and Dam

Learning he is a dog

Canine Socialisation

Primary Socialization period -

3 to 5 weeks

Secondary Socialization period - 6 to 12 weeks

21 - 49 days

At this stage dog learns to be a dog! 

This is a vital time in the pups development. They learn all intrinsic dog behaviours - barking, biting, chasing, fighting and posturing. Learns to accept discipline 

from the Dam and bite inhibition. Dam starts to wean pups (4 -8 weeks) but allowed unlimited time with pups if she desires.

Critical learning begins

Lots of play time. Single/Orphaned pups may need extra help with socialisation.

Crate training should begin - leaves sleeping area to eliminate facilitating a distinction between sleeping area and elimination assisting with house training. One to one time  with humans. Short car rides. Separation in small increments begins using positive reinforcement Continue to provide sensory stimulation for pups. Easy reward based training sessions (approx 5 weeks)

"This period is especially significant 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 

Into a new home with a human family.

Human Socialization

7 - 12 weeks 

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

Pups should be fully weaned.

Most rapid learning happens during this stage. Greatest impact on future social behavior will be formed by experiences that occur at this point. At this stage pups have an easier time accepting new stimulii. The window of opportunity is closing. As the puppies get older it will be difficult for them to become comfortable with new things.

Optimal time to bring a puppy into 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 pups should be socialised - take advantage of this time! Ideal time to capitalise on education and training.

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

"100 new people by 12 weeks"

- Dr. Ian Dunbar, PhD

"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

Fear imprint period

8 to 11 weeks

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

All training sessions shoule be short, fun and all positive/reward based. Always set your pup up to succeed Gentle guidance and management are essential. This mindset will enable you to be successful, as you continue to socialise and train your puppy. 

Shipping pups should be avoided during this period, elective surgery should be put off until the 12th week, and any necessary vet visits should be made fun and positive.

Experiences a puppy perceives as traumatic during this time are generalised and may affect him all his life. If subjected to physical or psychological trauma during these four weeks, a dog is most likely to develop an avoidance response.

Learning to compete and cope

Seniority Classification

Social status - 10 to 16 weeks

10 - 16 weeks

Pup has now been living 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.

Providing structure and consistency, will aid in   this transition being relatively painless. If these things are not  provided, all heck is about to break loose!

Flight Instinct Period

6 - 14 months

May unexpectedly be uneasy about new things or 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.

Pup starts to sexually mature: male commences to lift leg, and female has first heat period anywhere from 6-12 months. Puppy coat changing to adult coat, starting down the spine.

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

Incidents may occur repeatedly

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 being chased by you

Second Fear Period

6 - 14 months

May unexpectedly be uneasy about new things or 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.

Pup starts to sexually mature: male commences to lift leg, and female has first heat period anywhere from 6-12 months. Puppy coat changing to adult coat, starting down the spine.

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

Incidents may occur repeatedly

The fear of novel situations must be handled with the extreme patience. Continue positive socialisation exposure, but be cautious to avoid overwhelming situations. Avoid “flooding” (throwing him in to "sink or swim") is to be avoided.

If your puppy appears apprehensive, avoid pressuring him. Permit him to approach in his own time. Praise and reward confidence. In the occurrence 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 – you need to provide this.

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

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


1 - 4 years

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

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.

You are not done socialising or training. These continue into adulthood and throughout a dogs life. These things are ongoing and a process. Your dog still need to meet and greet people, go to other environments and be part of your world and experiences if you want him to remain being the happy friendly dog he is today.