We all know that doodle pups are a bundle of precious fluff, clumsiness and snuggles, but there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. Most experts agree that dogs are not considered developmentally full grown or officially reaching adulthood until around 18 months of age. So what are the various stages of puppy development? Let’s find out!
While the stages that will be most familiar to you as an owner occur after 8 weeks, let’s first visit the first 8 weeks because these are equally critical. The manner in which the pups are handled during these critical first couple months make all the difference and sets the stage for training and bonding with you as the new owner when the pup comes home at 8+ weeks of age.
Birth-2 weeks: Puppies are born with their eyes/ears sealed so the first two weeks are mostly a frenzy of nursing, snuggling and sleeping. Even during this “neonatal period,” you may be surprised to learn that it’s still crucial to handle the pups at this age. We start Puppy Culture when the pups are only three days old - holding them in different positions and offering other tactile stimulation such as tickling toes.
2-4 Weeks Doodle Behavior Stage: During this “transition period” there is a huge leap in sensual development and early motor skills such as learning to walk, wagging the tail and beginning to engage in play with siblings.
Weeks 4-12: These weeks are often referred to as the “socialization period” — as what and how your pup is exposed to at this age may make all the difference in his/her level of emotional stability and comfort with new experiences later in life.
During this time one of the most important developments is the introduction to people and other dogs. Beginning at five weeks, puppies begin enjoying playtime and become aware of their surroundings and positive interaction with people will play a large part in how they continue to relate with humans.
Establishing positive experiences and relationships with humans will help their continued development in the future. In the meantime, the eight weeks spent with their littermates are crucial for developing bonding, playing skills and other dog socialization cues.
As previously mentioned, at JLDD we utilize the Puppy Culture development program during the first 8 weeks which includes among other things: LOTS of exposure to new stimulation every day, animal sounds on YouTube, introduction to other dogs, introduction to water (pool day), individual time away from littermates, obstacle courses, introduction to household noises and even people wearing alternate clothing items (sunglasses, hats, dangly earrings, etc.).
By the time your pup comes home at eight weeks they are very well socialized and set up well to navigate the ensuing “fear period.” The initial fear period generally takes place at 8-10 weeks and during this time your pup will be especially sensitive to bad experiences. This period often aligns with growth spurts and you’ll notice that many new experiences will appear intimidating to your new pup.
Not to worry…this short period can be helped by positive, encouraging training and your puppy will grow out of it! If a new experience (such as using a blow dryer after a bath) seems particularly frightening to your pup, introduce it again more gradually and reward with treats!
While your pup has developed by leaps and bounds since birth, he/she will still be very much like a baby at 8 weeks old. They still need frequent naps and very frequent potty breaks (potty training begins during the latter stages of our puppy culture program). Overall, they are quite manageable as they are still so snuggly and sleepy.
Beginning structured training at this juncture is crucial - a stable schedule and consistent boundaries are helpful for the pup navigating the fear period and setting the framework for future obedience training.
The “Golden Window” of puppy training takes place during weeks 9-12, when your dood is actively working on social skills and is still in a very eager-to-please mindset as they are looking to other pack members (older dogs and confident humans) for guidance at this age.
3-6 Months Doodle Behavior Stage: At this point, your pup isn’t such a baby anymore! This phase is often referred to as the “ranking stage” as your pup is figuring out the concepts of submission and dominance and learning his place in the pack. It is also when we start to hear from a lot of owners complaining about biting. Remember that this is developmentally normal and does not mean your pup is aggressive.
Dogs are very wired to use their mouth—chewing and play-biting are ingrained in their DNA, especially at this age when a pup is losing his baby teeth and growing new permanent teeth. It’s not for the faint of heart and those puppy teeth can really hurt. It can be especially difficult for families with young children as children may not understand the dog is playing and/or get the pup riled up.
We have three words of encouragement here: patience, patience, patience! This phase will pass in a couple months! Even the most authoritarian dog trainers tend to say that you can’t break this chewing/biting habit overnight as it’s developmentally hardwired into their brains to bite and chew at this stage.
Sound familiar, parents? This behavior is actually very similar to a crawling human baby putting everything in their mouth. The good news is that just like baby humans, they will grow out of it. In the meantime, do your best to discourage it by disengaging and redirecting.
JLDD Behavior Stage Training Tip: As soon as your pup begins biting you instead of a toy, make some kind of disciplinary noise like a harsh “no” and then completely ignore her or turn your back on her until she stops. Then you can re-engage and redirect with a toy. In other words, be all kinds of excited when she is chewing on a toy, but immediately end play and be a total stick in the mud when she bites you.
Also at 3-6 months old, your pup is navigating his/her social environment and learning where exactly they fit into their new pack structure. A little word of advice here on dominance – it’s critical to be consistent with training during this phase so the dog learns where he/she fits into the pack!
Also don’t be surprised if you see a little more fearful behavior resurface at around 16 weeks of age. Some pups enter a secondary fear period at this age—again, consistent positive socialization experiences will help him navigate this period and come out more confident than before.
6 to 18 Months Doodle Behavior Stage (Adolescence): Somewhere during this phase your eager to please, well-trained dog may suddenly start having selective hearing and/or the penchant for creating all kinds of new mischief. For parents of teenagers, this might feel familiar!
Your pup will go through a testing boundaries stage but if you’ve set up consistent boundaries and training methods it should be quite easy to redirect them again. Pups often start experimenting with “running away” at this point. This means that pups that have previously stayed nearby their owners may suddenly want to take off exploring and not obey the “come” command…so be vigilant about this!
It’s noteworthy that some pups may have a secondary biting phase around 7-9 months old – just when you thought you had cleared the first hurdle – so be prepared and give lots of grace and consideration for that canine-ingrained DNA!
In conclusion, remember that doodles are a fairly active breed so the puppy phase is not for the faint of heart. We recommend consistent discipline and exercise (mental and physical stimulation will definitely keep your pup more settled in the house).
Trust us…somewhere between 18 months and 2 years you will wake up and think to yourself that your pup has really assimilated nicely into your family and that he/she seems to understand his place in the pack, follow a routine well and understand what is expected behaviorally.
It may be a long first year or two, but you’ll soon find you have a well-behaved friend to enjoy for your next season of life!
Jenna and the JLDD Team
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