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The Development Stages of a Puppy

The Prenatal Period
Before birth - adverse experiences for the pregnant mother may affect the behaviour of the offspring. These include thelack of a balanced diet or a stressful experience such as being hit by a car.

The Neonatal Period
Birth to 2 weeks - a constant human interference will interrupt the instinctive relationship between mother and puppy and can have a detrimental effect on the pup in later life. A puppy who has never had a human touch or external stimulation can grow up less confident and emotionally stable. The need for a happy balance is important if future stability is needed. The needs of a puppy at this stage are; food, warmth, rest, urination and defaecation.

The Socialisation Period
3 to12 weeks - This happens rapidly and is when particular responses are acquired most readily and bonds are made. The socialisation period is characterised by interactions with family, people and its surroundings. The pup learns how to dominate or submit during this stage. Environmental issues at this stage have the greatest effect on the behaviour as an adult.

The Juvenile Period
12 weeks to 2 years - This happens at the end of the socialisation period but the timing is not clear cut. Many puppies regress at around 6 months old when they have a heightened awareness of stimuli previously tolerated such as traffic or strangers which can provoke a fearful response. The puppy is now old enough to start training to heel and stay on command. This can only be for short periods at a time to begin with at first.

The Adulthood Period
2years old is generally accepted as the age of adulthood. This is when entire male dogs make a bid for dominance, either challenging the owner or other dogs in the house. Traumatic experiences which occur during the socialisation period between 3 and 12 weeks of age can have a detrimental consequences and attribute to behaviour problems during adult life. This period is characterised by interactions with it's litter mates, it's mother, with people and the surroundings.

The more POSITIVE experiences that the puppy encounters during this time, the more stable the puppy will be going into adulthood. It should be remembered that this is usually a very stressful time for a puppy as usually they are re-homed at around this age and if the move is traumatic it can have an affect on the adult dog.

The best circumstances in which to buy a puppy include:
Home-reared - where the puppy has been exposed to human handling along with a variety of everyday sights, sounds and smells.
Healthy age - no younger than 6 weeks of age.
Temperament - of both bitch and dog should be observed and the bitches behaviour with the puppies.
The new home - should be as similar as possible to the old home to minimise stress. Most of these points are common sense but people still buy puppies at 4 weeks old, without seeing the mother, from a pet shop, or a puppy that has been ill. They then wonder why they experience problems later.

There are arguments for and against the BEST age to separate a puppy from its mother.

Puppies bought from pet shops or puppy farms are likely to have problems as adults as are puppies who have suffered illness, they suffer from fear induced aggression or excessive barking; this is a result of forced isolation and painful experiences.

Puppies that leave their mother at a relatively late time such as 16 - 24 weeks can show an increased fear of other dogs and traffic. This may be due to a kennel - reared upbringing or a lack of stimuli.

Some psychologists believe that puppies should stay with the mother until 12 weeks of age as before this time puppies are very vulnerable but this is also after the crucial stages of socialisation.

Puppies removed at 6 weeks showed a loss of appetite, increased distress and a susceptibility to illness.

The optimum time for socialisation is between 6 - 8 weeks when the puppy's instinct to make friends with strangers overcomes its natural wariness and is why it is advocated the ideal time to remove the puppy from its mother and litter mates to a new home.

There are gaps in our current knowledge of the early development of behaviour problems. We do not know a great deal about what crosses the placenta to the unborn puppy and this may affect behaviour.

Research shows that puppies are particularly vulnerable to psychological damage resulting in behavioural problems. With children we can monitor progress through interview, dream interpretation and free association but with our puppies we can only guess at what might have occurred.
Dogs Worldwide.com - This article has been reproduced courtesy of Burns Pet Nutrition

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