Surviving the Puppy Period

Surviving the Puppy Period

In This Chapter

  • Allowing your puppy to socialize
  • Recognizing the importance of an enriched environment
  • Understanding your puppy’s growth cycles
  • Handling the challenges your puppy throws your way
  • Knowing whether and when to spay and neuter
  • Wondering if your puppy will ever grow up
Everyone wants a super puppy, one that’s well behaved and listens to every word you say — a Lassie or perhaps even a Beethoven. Of course, heredity plays a role, but so does early upbringing and environment. From birth until maturity, your dog goes through a number of developmental stages. What happens during these stages has a lasting effect on how your dog turns out, his ability to learn, his outlook on life, and his behavior.
The many scientists and behaviorists who’ve studied dog behavior over the last century have made important discoveries about these developmental stages and how they relate to a dog’s ability to grow into a well-adjusted pet. These stages are called the critical periods, and what happens or doesn’t happen during that time determines how the pup turns out as an adult and how he responds to your efforts to train him.

The first critical period is from birth to 49 days. During this time, the puppy needs his mother and the interaction with his littermates. He also needs to have interaction with humans. Although these particular periods aren’t within your control, we briefly describe in this chapter what happens during the weaning period when the puppy learns to learn. And we also deal with the periods that follow and how they relate to training.

Understanding Your Puppy’s Socialization Needs

At about the 49th day of life, when the puppy’s brain is neurologically complete, that special attachment between the dog and his owner, called bonding, begins. It’s one of the reasons why 49 days is the ideal time for puppies to leave the nest for their new homes so that bonding with the new owner or family can take place.
Bonding to people becomes increasingly difficult the longer a puppy remains with his mother or littermates. The dog also becomes more difficult to train. With each passing day, the pup loses a little of his ability to adapt to a new environment.
In addition, with delay, there’s the potential for built-in behavior problems.
  • The pup may grow up being too dog oriented.
  • The pup probably won’t care much about people.
  • The pup may be difficult to teach to accept responsibility.
  • The pup may be more difficult to train, including housetraining (see Chapter Housetraining for more on housetraining).

The weaning period: Weeks 3-7


You must also be wary of obtaining a puppy from a breeder who has taken a puppy away from his mother too soon, because it not only deprives the puppy of important lessons but can also affect the puppy’s future health. For example, the puppy obtains antibodies to many diseases by feeding from his mother. Every sip of milk is like a vaccine that protects the puppy for many weeks after he leaves the litter and is placed in his new home.

Between 3 to 7 weeks of age, the mother teaches her puppies basic doggy manners. She communicates to the puppies what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable behavior. For instance, after the puppies’ teeth have come in, nursing them becomes a painful experience, so she teaches them to take it easy. She does whatever it takes, from growling, snarling, and even snapping, and she continues this lesson throughout the weaning process when she wants the puppies to leave her alone. After just a few repetitions, the puppies get the message and respond to a mere look or a curled lip from mother. The puppy learns dog language — or lip reading, as we call it — and bite inhibition, an important lesson.
The puppies also learn from each other. While playing, tempers may flare because one puppy bites another one too hard. The puppies discover from these exchanges what it feels like to be bitten and, at the same time, to inhibit biting during play (see Figure 3-1). Puppies that haven’t had these lessons may find it difficult to accept discipline while growing up.
Figure 3-1: Puppies discover valuable lessons while playing.
Puppies separated from their canine family before they’ve had the opportunity for these experiences tend to identify more with humans than with other dogs. To simplify, they don’t know they’re dogs, and they tend to have their own sets of problems, such as the following:
  • Aggression toward other dogs
  • Difficulty with housetraining
  • A dislike of being left alone
  • Excessive barking
  • Mouthing and biting their owner
  • Nervousness
  • An unhealthy attachment to humans

Getting to know everyone: Weeks 7-12

Your dog is a social animal. To become an acceptable pet, the pup needs to interact with you and your family, as well as with other humans and dogs during the 7th through 12th week of life. If denied these opportunities, your dog’s behavior around other people or dogs may be unpredictable — your dog may be fearful or perhaps even aggressive. For example, unless regularly exposed to children during this period, a dog may be uncomfortable or untrustworthy around them.


Socializing your puppy is critical for it to become a friendly adult dog. When your puppy is developing, expose it to as many different people as possible, including children and older people. Let him meet new dogs, too. These early experiences will pay off big time when your dog grows up.

Your puppy needs the chance to meet and have positive experiences with those persons and activities that will play a role in his life. The following are just a few examples:

– You’re a grandparent whose grandchildren occasionally visit. Have your puppy meet children as often as you can.

– You live by yourself but have friends that visit you. Make an effort to let your puppy meet other people, particularly members of the opposite sex.

– You plan to take your dog on family outings or vacations. Introduce riding in a car.

Success Story

We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve been able to take our puppies to our training camps. The wealth of experience they gained from the weeklong exposure to other dogs and people has made it easy for us to take our dogs anywhere. As a result, they get along with people and dogs — and are ambassadors for all dogs.


A common way for people to greet a puppy or an adult dog is to pat it on top of the head, just as they do with children. The fact is that dogs don’t like this form of greeting any better than kids do. The pup will immediately scrunch down and look miserable, especially if you lean over him as well. Instead, greet your puppy by putting the palm of your hand under his chin. Stand up straight, or kneel down and greet him with a smile and a hello. When meeting a puppy or dog for the first time, slowly put the palm of your hand toward him and let him smell you.

Socialization with other dogs is equally important and should be the norm rather than the exception. It also needs to occur on a regular basis. Ideally, the puppy has a mentor, an older dog who can teach it the ropes. We’ve been fortunate enough in always having had a mentor dog who supervised the upbringing of a new puppy, making our task that much easier.
Puppies learn from other dogs but can only do so if they have a chance to spend time with them. Make a point of introducing your young dog to other puppies and adults on a regular basis. Many communities now have dog parks where dogs can interact and play together. If you plan on taking your puppy to obedience class or dog shows or ultimately using the dog in a breeding program, he needs to have the chance to interact with other dogs. Time spent now is well worth the effort — it will build his confidence and make your job training him that much easier.
Remember that you see Buddy as a four-legged person. Buddy sees you as a two-legged dog. You can change your perception, but Buddy can’t. During this time is also when your puppy will follow your every footstep. Encourage this behavior by rewarding the puppy with an occasional treat, some petting, or a kind word.

Suddenly he’s afraid: Weeks 8-12

Weeks 8 through 12 are called the fear imprint period. During this period, any painful or particularly frightening experience leaves a more lasting impression on your pup than if it occurred at any other time in his life. If the experience is sufficiently traumatic, it could literally ruin your pup for life.


During this time, avoid exposing the puppy to traumatic experiences. For example, elective surgery, such as ear cropping, should be done, if at all, before 8 weeks or after 11 weeks of age. When you need to take your puppy to the veterinarian, have the doctor give the puppy a treat before, during, and after the examination to make the visit a pleasant experience. Although you need to stay away from stressful situations, do continue to train your puppy in a positive and nonpunitive way.


During the first year’s growth, you may see fear reactions at other times. Don’t respond by dragging your puppy to the object that caused the fear. On the other hand, don’t pet or reassure the dog — you may create the impression that you approve of this behavior. Rather, distract the puppy with a toy or a treat to get his mind off whatever scared him and go on to something pleasant. Practice some of the commands you’ve already taught him so he can focus on a positive experience. After a short time — sometimes up to two weeks — the fearful behavior will disappear.

Now he wants to leave home: Beyond 12 weeks

Sometime between the fourth and eighth months, your puppy begins to realize that there’s a big, wide world out there. Up to now, every time you called, Buddy probably willingly came to you. But now he may prefer to wander off and investigate. Buddy is maturing and cutting the apron strings, which is normal. He’s not being spiteful or disobedient; he’s just becoming an adolescent.
While he’s going through this phase, keep Buddy on a leash or in a confined area until he has learned to come when called. Otherwise, not coming when called becomes a pattern — annoying to you and dangerous to Buddy. After this activity becomes a habit, breaking it is difficult; prevention is the best cure. Teaching your dog to come when called is much easier before he has developed the habit of running away. Practice calling him in the house, out in the yard, and at random times. Have a treat in your pocket to reinforce the behavior you want.


When you need to gather in a wandering Buddy, don’t, under any circumstances, play the game of chasing him. Instead, run the other way and get Buddy to chase you. If that doesn’t work, kneel on the ground and pretend you’ve found something extremely interesting, hoping Buddy’s curiosity brings him to you. If you have to, approach him slowly in an upright position, using a nonthreatening tone of voice until you can calmly take hold of his collar.

Your puppy also goes through teething during this period and needs to chew anything and everything. Dogs, like children, can’t help it. If one of your favorite shoes is demolished, try to control yourself. Puppies have the irritating habit of tackling many shoes, but only one from each pair. Look at it as a lesson to keep your possessions out of reach. Scolding won’t stop the need to chew, but it may cause your pet to fear you.
Your job is to provide acceptable outlets for this need, such as chew bones and toys. Our dogs’ favorites are marrow bones, which you can get at the supermarket. These bones provide hours of entertainment for any dog, and they keep their teeth clean. Artificial toys are also available. Kong toys ( are a great favorite, especially the hard rubber ones that are virtually indestructible and that can be stuffed with peanut butter or kibble. They come in different sizes appropriate to the size of your dog and can keep most dogs busy for hours. Just be sure they’re large enough so he can’t accidentally swallow one.


Stay away from soft and fuzzy toys. Chances are, your dog will destroy them and may ingest part of them. We personally don’t like rawhide chew toys that have been treated with chemicals or items that become soft and gooey with chewing because the dog can swallow them and get them stuck in the intestines.

When Buddy is going through this stage, you may want to consider crating him when he’s left alone. Doing so will keep him and your possessions safe, and both of you will be happy. Crating him during this growth spurt helps with his housetraining, too. With all the chewing he does during his teething, accidents sometimes happen. (Turn to Chapter Housetraining for more on housetraining.)

Managing the Terrible Twos

The adolescent stage of your dog’s life, depending on the breed, takes place anywhere from 4 months to 2 years and culminates in sexual maturity. Generally, the smaller the dog, the sooner he matures. Larger dogs enter (and end) adolescence later in life.
Adolescence is a time when the cute little puppy can turn into a teenage monster. He starts to lose his baby teeth and his soft, fuzzy puppy coat. He goes through growth spurts and looks gangly, either up in the rear or down in front; he’s entering an ugly-duckling stage.


Depending on the size of the dog, 40 to 70 percent of adult growth is achieved by 7 months of age. If you have one of the larger breeds, you’d better start training now, before the dog gets so big that you can’t manage him. As Buddy begins to mature, he starts to display some puzzling behaviors, as well as some perfectly normal but objectionable ones.

Surviving the juvenile flakies

We use the term juvenile flakies because it most accurately describes what’s technically known as a second fear imprint period (see “Suddenly he’s afraid: Weeks 8-12” earlier in this chapter about the first fear imprint period). Juvenile flakies are apprehension or fear behaviors that are usually short lived. They’re caused by temporary calcium deficiencies and hormone development related to a puppy’s periodic growth spurts.
The timing of this event (or events) isn’t as clearly defined as the first fear imprint period, and it coincides with growth spurts; hence it may occur more than once as the dog matures. Even though he may have been outgoing and confident before, your puppy now may be reluctant to approach someone or something new and unfamiliar, or he may suddenly be afraid of something familiar.
Fear of the new or unfamiliar has its roots in evolution. In a wild pack, after the pups become 8 to 10 months of age, they’re allowed to come on a hunt. The first lesson they have to learn is to stay with the pack; if they wander off, they might get lost or into trouble. They also have to develop survival techniques, one of which is fear. The message to the puppy is “if you see or smell something unfamiliar, run the other way.” Apprehension or fear of the familiar is also caused by growth spurts. At this point in a puppy’s life, hormones start to surge. Hormones can affect the calcium uptake in the body, and, coupled with growth, this can be a difficult time for the growing puppy.

Being patient with the flakies

One day, when our Dachshund, Manfred, was 6 months old, he came into the kitchen after having been outside in the yard. Then he noticed on the floor, near his water bowl, a brown paper grocery bag. He flattened, looked as though he’d seen a ghost, and tried to run back out into the yard.
If Manfred was going through a growth spurt at this time, which is normal at 6 months, he could’ve been experiencing a temporary calcium deficiency, which in turn would produce his fear reaction.
He’d seen brown paper grocery bags many times before, but this one was going to get him. We reminded ourselves that he was going through the flakies and ignored the behavior. A few hours later, the behavior disappeared.
If you happen to observe a similar situation with your puppy, don’t try to drag him up to the object in an effort to “teach” the puppy to accept it. If you make a big deal out of it, you create the impression that he has a good reason to be afraid of whatever triggered the reaction. Leave the puppy alone, ignore the behavior, and it will pass.

Puppy discovers sex

Sometime during this four-month to two-year period, depending on the size of your dog, the puppy will discover sex, and you’ll be the first to know about it.
Our Landseer Newfoundland, Evo, has always enjoyed playing with other dogs. He’s generally well behaved and gets along with people and all the dogs he meets. When Evo was almost 2, he fell in love. We took him to a training facility where we were to meet up with friends who had just adopted an 11-month-old female Labrador Retriever named Indy. Evo was very sweet with her, and at first they played nicely together, chasing and batting at each other with their paws. All of a sudden, a strange look came over Evo’s face, and with his face crinkled up he jumped on Indy’s back and with his front paws clasped her firmly around her chest. We realized that his puppy days were over.
Sex is sex in any language! Evo was a bit of a late developer because he lives with spayed females and hadn’t yet had the pleasure of being involved with an unspayed female. We handled Evo by going up to him, putting his lead on, and taking him away from Indy. He wanted to go back to her and tried several times, but we occupied his mind with training and he soon forgot all about her.
When Buddy experiences a surge of hormones during training, do some heeling or retrieving to get him back into the proper frame of mind.

When hormones kick in, it’s not always about sex


During the period from 4 months to a year, the male puppy’s hormones surge to four times his adult level, and this surge can have important effects on his behavior. You can usually tell when he’s entering this phase. The most obvious sign is that he stops listening to you. He may also try to dominate other dogs in the household or ones he meets outside. Fortunately, after this enormous surge, his hormones ultimately return to normal.

Many pet owners discover at this stage that their dog is becoming difficult to handle, and so they seek professional help or enroll Buddy in an obedience class (see Chapter Seeking Expert Outside Help). This stage is also a good time to consider neutering the dog (see the following section).
Some puppies begin protecting their toys, their food, or their owners. During this period puppies also aren’t looking their best. With puppy fur falling out and adult fur coming in, they can appear quite moth-eaten. They get tall and gangly and aren’t looking or behaving in a very lovable way.


Hormones drive behavior, which means that the intensity of behaviors increases in direct proportion to the amount of hormones coursing through his system. So if you want your male puppy to become calmer and not to assert himself quite so much, neutering him is a good idea.

Although female puppies going through puberty may show similar traits, they more often show greater dependency upon their owners. They follow their owners around, looking at them constantly, as if to say, “Something is happening to my body, but I don’t know what. Tell me what to do.” Females are just as apt to show mounting behavior as males, and you may consider spaying.
If you don’t want to neuter your pet, the necessity for training increases. The freedom that the male puppy had before now becomes limited. The better trained he is, the easier this transition is, but it requires a real commitment on your part. The female, in turn, needs to be protected during her heat cycle, which usually occurs every 6 months and lasts around 21 days. Her attraction is so potent that you may discover unwanted suitors around your house, some of whom may have come from miles away.
Our first experience with a female in season involved our Landseer, Heidi. When we came home from work, we found a good-sized Basset Hound on our front stoop, patiently waiting for Heidi. As we approached, he made it perfectly clear that he was taking a proprietary attitude toward Heidi, as well as to the house.

A sad fact of life

The majority of dogs in animal shelters are delivered at around 8 months of age, when they are “no longer cute” and have “stopped listening.” Millions of dogs are killed annually because their owners didn’t want to spend 10 to 15 minutes a day working with them while they were young.
We had to enter the house via the back door. We then managed to subdue the little fellow with a few dog biscuits just long enough to check his collar. We were surprised to learn that the horny hound had traveled close to three miles to visit.

Spaying or Neutering

Unless you intend to exhibit your dog in dog shows to get a championship or to breed the dog, you need to seriously consider neutering your dog.
The advantages of neutering your pet generally outweigh the disadvantages. For the male, the advantages include the following:
  • Keeps him calm and less stressed around a female who is in season
  • Reduces the tendency to roam
  • Diminishes mounting behavior
  • Makes training easier
  • Improves overall disposition, especially toward other dogs
  • Reduces risk of prostate problems developing in the older male
In short, he’ll be easier to live with and easier to train. Neutering also curbs the urge to roam or run away. So if the front door is left open by accident, he won’t go miles to find a female in season, like our friend the Basset whom we introduced in the preceding section.

Technical Stuff

It isn’t true that dogs that have been neutered lose their protective instincts — it depends on the age when the dog was neutered. Generally, dogs neutered after a year of age retain their protective instincts.

If you spay your female, she, too, will stay closer to home. Perhaps even more important are these benefits:

– You won’t have to deal with the mess that goes with having her in season.

– You won’t have to worry about unwanted visitors camping on your property and lifting a leg against any vertical surface.

– You won’t have to worry about accidental puppies, which are next to impossible to place in good homes.

– You may have a healthier dog with less chance of getting tumors of the mammary glands and infections of the uterus.

Knowing when to spay or neuter


When you have your pet altered, make sure the operation occurs at least one month apart from his rabies shot, which shouldn’t be given before 6 months of age. Until 6 months of age, the puppy is protected against rabies through the antibodies passed along in the mother’s milk. Don’t give your dog vaccines if he’s undergoing surgery because doing so can have long-term adverse effects. So if you decide to alter your dog, think about having the surgery after 7 months of age, for both sexes.

Depending on the breed and size of the female, she’ll go into her first season any time after 7 months of age. For a Yorkshire Terrier, it’s apt to be sooner, and for a giant breed, it’s likely to be later, sometimes as late as 18 months of age. If you want a dog to show more adult behaviors and take more responsibility — like being a protector or guard dog, training for competitive events, or working for a living — think about altering later.


A dog that hasn’t been neutered until after a year of age, or a female that has gone through two seasons, is generally easier to train for competitive events such as obedience or agility trials. Dogs have become fully grown by that time, are emotionally mature, have learned more adult behaviors, and can accept more responsibility.

Disadvantages to spaying and neutering

Altering changes the hormones in the body. Some dogs that are altered develop hypothyroidism as they mature. Hypothyroidism can cause these problems:
  • Dull, oily, smelly coats
  • Increased shedding
  • Separation anxiety
  • Skin problems
  • A tendency to gain weight
Regardless of these disadvantages, we recommend neutering a dog that isn’t going to be bred simply because neutered dogs are so much easier to live with. For the males, neutering eliminates the stress they experience when they become aware of a female in season, makes training that much easier, and minimizes the unwanted roaming. For the females, spaying eliminates the violent mood swings they can experience during their cycles.

Finally He Grows Up

No matter how much you wish that cute little puppy could remain as is, your pup is going to grow up. It happens anywhere from 1 to 4 years. Over the course of those years, your dog will undergo physical and emotional changes. For you, the owner, the most important one is your dog’s sense of identity — the process of becoming an individual in his own right. If you provide leadership through training, he’ll reward you with many years of loyal devotion.

To breed or not to breed your dog? That’s the question

Generally, don’t even contemplate breeding your dog unless 
  • Your dog is purebred and registered.
  • You didn’t get your dog from an animal shelter or pet store.
  • You have at least a three-generation pedigree for your dog.
  • Your dog has at least four titled dogs, such as conformation or working titles, in the last three generations.
  • Your dog is certified free of genetic disorders applicable to the breed.
  • Your dog conforms to the standard for its breed.
  • Your dog has a stable temperament.
Breeding dogs for the purpose of exposing your children to the miracle of birth is not a good idea. The world already has enough dogs that don’t have homes, and finding homes for your puppies will be much more difficult than you think, if not impossible. Rent a video!
by Jack and Wendy Volhard