Critical Stages of Puppyhood

Puppies learn from each other while in their litter.
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Dogs go through the most amount of change during the first 12 weeks of their lives. This 12-week period can be broken down into critical stages, each of which provides a rare window of opportunity for the owner to influence and shape that pup’s future. The foundations for learning, behavior and socialisation are all laid in this crucial period of a dog’s life. Some of the development stages overlap.


During the approximately 13-day period directly after birth, the pup is entirely dependent on mom. The pup’s eyes are closed, he can’t walk and he even needs mom’s help eliminating. Only in circumstances where the survival of the pup or his mother are at risk should this stage be interrupted. Sometime between 14 and 20 days, the pup will begin to open his eyes, crawl around and get a sense of his surroundings.


Between the 21st and 28th day of life, the pup will become aware of his surroundings. He’ll notice his littermates, identify mom as the source of food and for the first time, he’ll be able to regulate his own body temperature. This is the stage where he starts learning, typically assisted by mom and littermates, who will show him the acceptable limits of behavior.


This stage occurs between week 3 and week 12. The first part of the socialization stage involves the young puppy learning from his mother and littermates. He learns appeasement gestures, play gestures, how to read body language and develops a basic understanding of social hierarchy. During the second phase of the socialization stage, the puppy will learn about interacting with humans. It is only toward the end of the socialization stage, around 10 weeks of age, that a puppy is ready to leave his litter and join his new human family.


After 12 weeks, a puppy will be sufficiently developed to begin exploring the world around him. The beginning of the exploration stage typically coincides with a pet dog being brought into a new family, which means he is at his most inquisitive when there is the most to explore. It is in this stage of his development that a puppy develops his personality, fears and bonds with humans.