Puppies Critcal learning Period


When we hear the term – socialization for you puppy we think – ah play dates – but its SOOOO much more than this. The critical period in which your puppy should be safely introduced to the world around them should take place before puppy is 16 weeks (4 Months) of age. Puppies develop at a fast pace, so this window of opportunity comes around very quickly. These encounters help puppy develop into a more confident, well mannered, co-operative adult dog.

It is important that puppies meet their world as gently as possible, but they do need to learn to “bounce back” after an encounter with something that makes then frightened. We are not talking about “deep-end” treatment, but slow, gradual, and gentle exposure to things. The younger puppies are when they experience challenges during their critical period, the less they will be bothered about these encounters later in their lives. Of course, the opposite applies too, the less they are exposed the more fearful, shy, defensive, and possibly aggressive adult dog they can turn out to be. The development of puppy’s character is a combination of nature (genetics) vs Nurture (the learned environmental factors).

I prefer to call this time – world encounter time – rather than the limiting term “socialization”.


What is enrichment – making a bland environment much more interesting to drive curiosity . . .

Puppy’s encounters should start from arrival in this world, by human handling puppies in appropriate fashion from day 1. The introduction of toys, noisy, moving, interesting stuff into their enclosure to enhance their play and inquisitiveness and enhance body movement and strengthening. Those puppies who have exposed to more complex stimuli develop the ability to better problem-solve as adults. Puppies not exposed were inhibited, and often turned to self-destructive behaviours for self-soothing in anxious situations.


Curiosity stage 5-7 weeks – now fully weaned are virtually fearless to explore the world. Climbing, investigating, tasting everything in reach. New challenges arise, (or should be introduced) bathing, grooming, meeting more humans, car rides, trip out the home to the vet (to get stabbed by sharp things) by this stage they should already have learned to “bounce back”.

Behavioural Refinement (7 to 9 weeks) Pups are able to learn both good and bad things and learning is permanent at this stage. Its up to their humans to make these encounters manageable without it leaving a scar on their emotional landscape. Training should start from the moment they arrive in their new homes at 8 weeks. Teaching them good habits, and boundaries with a stabile training plan. Between 8-9 weeks puppies are more cautious and even fearful of loud noises, sudden movements, strangers, and discipline from resident dogs or humans. Anything that causes a fear response from here on in – will remain a fear stimulant and would need intense de-sensitization to help puppy to learn to recover. Separation anxiety can also set in having been ripped from the world they know to a new one. By forming an attachment to a human or dog without the help for them to deal with small absences from that attachment can create a very long-lasting challenge.

Environmental awareness (9-12 Weeks) learning to apply new behaviours they are not learning to apply (learned in puppy school we hope) choice training will help your puppy to quickly adapt to offering good behaviours that earn them great rewards. More body awareness, and (zoomies) using their motor skills they did not know they had, paying, and receiving more attention from their human beings. Where puppies are raised as an only dog, the bond with their humans is much stronger. In a multi-dog household, bonds with other dogs can become stronger than the human bond, and this makes working with them more of a challenge. Its NEVER a good idea to take two puppies in from the same (or even from other litters) this increases the risk of Separation anxiety or hyperexcitability (see my blog on Littermate Syndrome).

Senior puppies (13-16 weeks) their independence becomes more established, and boundaries are tested. No! they are not trying to dominate or rule the human with “Alpha” (another topic for another day). Biting is at an all time high as experimentation of the sharp implements in their mouths takes place. BUT dealing with this without cruelty is paramount. The continued practice of introducing them to not so pleasant experiences of walking on a lead, nail clipping, not guarding food bowls and toys needs to be gently and humanly dealt with. Redirect and ignore unwanted behaviours, reward and praise wanted behaviours.

So many dogs end up in shelters (or are euthanized) for behavioural problems that could have been avoided with correct exposure during this critical period.

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