The mental and physical development of a puppy


The first few weeks in the life of a pup are very important as this is the time for his mental and physical development.

First two weeks in a pup’s life – totally dependentDuring the neonatal period (first two weeks) of a pup’s life, the majority of his time is spent sleeping deeply and suckling his mother. The mother spends a lot of time licking her puppies to clean them, stimulate them to suckle, urinate and defecate as the puppy cannot do this without her help. He cannot regulate his own body temperature, so he gets cold very easily. However, he overcomes this by crawling around to fi nd the warmth of his mother, his littermates or from artifi cial heating whenever he feels cold. The puppy is totally dependent on his mother for survival.The pup’s eyes begin to open at around 10-14 days, he will have doubled in weight and will be a little more active. Some puppies will have chosen a favourite teat and may not allow other siblings to suckle from it. The mother continues to feed and clean her puppies at this time and they are still completely dependent on her. Puppies don’t need too much human intervention or interaction at this stage. Best to leave most of it to the professional (the puppies’ mother)!Next 2-4 weeks – the transition startsThe transitional period takes place during 2-4 weeks, when the pup’s ears begin opening and they will be aware of sounds around them. The senses such as smell, taste, hearing, and sight have improved and he can wag his tail, bark, growl and play with his littermates. He will now be able to urinate and defecate by himself and will probably go outside the nest to eliminate. Teeth will also start appearing. He will be balancing on his feet and beginning to walk. His EEG (electroencephalograph) now starts to show that environmental factors stimulate his brain and he can now start to regulate his own body temperature.Puppies begin to get a little adventurous as they wander off from each other and explore outside the sleeping area. Now, his surrounding environment has a great impact in the formation of his brain and this is the most critical period of his life. The images and environment around him form the building blocks of the future of his mind that will infl uence him for the rest of his life. All his life experiences at this stage must be positive in order to prevent developing phobias and behaviour problems.The puppy will begin to nurse from his mother on his own and she will begin to leave the pups for longer periods of time. At around three weeks, the puppy should be introduced to semi-solid food for the fi rst time. The puppy may even start jumping up at his mother, licking her mouth to stimulate her to regurgitate food for him. Access to fresh water should also be available for the puppies at this stage, but nothing too deep that could put the puppy at risk of falling in and drowning.
He will be learning to interact with his littermates and his mother and simply learning to be a dog through this interaction. This is very important for his future welfare and temperament development. His mother will be teaching her puppy how to behave and her own behaviour will be imprinted on the puppy. She will discipline her puppy and teach him bite inhibition.
Everything the puppy experiences and all his environmental infl uences during these fi rst few weeks of life have a signifi cant impact on the puppy’s development and the fi nal form and structure of his mind.
After 4 weeks – shaping is behaviour
From four weeks of age, a puppy is conscious of what part of his body is being touched. Breeders need to regularly handle each puppy, very gently and calmly turning them over and checking them, touching different parts of the body, such as feet, ears, and teeth, etc. In this way, the breeder will be exposing the puppy to minor stress, which will help him build up his coping skills for stress levels he may encounter later in life. This is good for the development of the pup’s mind and also infl uences the adrenal-pituitary system which will help him later in life.
All experiences at this stage must be positive. Breeders should allow people of all ages, including small children, to frequently and gently handle the puppy and he should also be exposed to as many different situations indoor and outdoor in a careful, calm way, which help stimulate and develop the pup’s mind. Exposure to different situations should be handled carefully and with a positive association so that the pup may not develop fear. The puppy will become habituated to his normal surroundings, which will prevent him from becoming fearful or spooked by everything around him.
The socialisation period between 4- 12 weeks is another critical and most sensitive time in the puppy’s life. His communication facilities will have developed to almost that of an adult dog by the time he is four weeks old. Now, he can show calming signals, use body language to communicate, bark, growl, chase, play and carry objects in his mouth. He will leave the sleeping area to urinate and will have clearly established a place for eliminating. This is the beginning of his house training.
His senses have matured so that he can smell, hear, and touch adequately. The male puppy will behave in a masculine way due to a surge of male hormone. By the time, the puppy is fi ve weeks old, the mother will still want to clean him and she will now feed him while standing, but will begin to walk away from her puppy from time to time as he tries to feed. This is to teach the puppy, there is now a change from depending totally on his mother to becoming a little more independent.
Learning about communication through maternal discipline is essential for the development of the pup’s mind and his future survival. This discipline and play with his mother and littermates are vital, if he is to grow up as a well-balanced dog. Breeders should never give their puppies before this period of discipline with their mother is completed. If he misses out on this vital learning period and he has not learnt to interact or communicate with other dogs, he will grow up with developmental and behaviour problems as he will not have learned how to be a mature adult dog and problems may develop later on.
At 10 weeks – time to go to new homes
A good age for puppies to go to their new homes is around ten weeks old, provided the puppies have a good mother who is taking care of them At this stage, puppies should have passed their fi rst fear period and ready to settle into their new homes, families, vets and environment, etc, before the next fear period comes at around eighteen weeks old.
A puppy will find the first few nights in his new home very frightening. He may need a little help to settle by keeping him close to you for the first few nights. He should be on four small feeds a day and exercise is not necessary at this stage as he will get plenty of that just playing and exploring his new home.
(Nicole Mackie has over 14 years of experience in handling, exhibiting, training, observing, studying and sharing her life with dogs, gaining many qualifi cations over the years such as canine behaviour, canine psychology, general animal science and experience in veterinary nursing. She is a regular radio speaker and writer for magazines, works with behavioural problems in dogs and runs socializing groups for dogs with social problems.)

-by Nicole Mackie