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Puppy Power – Let's Break Down Puppy Development - Part 2 of 3

Enjoying nature
Enjoying nature
Traci Murdock

Last time we talked about how your puppy develops from birth to 3 weeks old – here’s how he interacts with the world as he gets older.

Traci Murdock

The Awareness or Identification Period (21-28 days) is the first time the puppies have use of all their senses, so a variety of noises and sights should be part of their daily life. Noises, such as music, radio, bells, and vacuum cleaners, can be introduced and this is when sudden loud noises should happen, when fear has not yet developed. The startle response should be encouraged so that the puppy will startle and then return to normal on its own – something it must be able to do throughout its life. Introduction to a wide variety of sights, such as changes in light level, moving objects, and vibrations, are also important in getting puppies ready for changes in the world around them.

This is also an important time for your puppy to learn to be a dog – puppies raised in isolation during this period and then introduced to dogs at 16 weeks get attacked and rejected. Puppies will begin “play-fighting”, barking increases, and they can begin to eat real food. Mom will begin growling and baring her teeth when the puppies try to nurse – they will then back off or roll over on their backs in submission and learn to keep away from the mother’s teats when told. Puppies learn one of the most important lessons in life at this time – to accept discipline. When mothers are removed too soon, puppies do not learn this submission to adult dogs and that can affect the puppy’s integration with adult dogs.

During the next week (28-35 days), play behavior becomes much more sophisticated and includes growling, chasing, and kill games, and the puppy’s distance perception is much improved. Puppies need both physical and mental challenges during this time – things to move, chew on, climb on, carry, and tug toys to share with littermates. Play helps develop the strength, agility, coordination, and skills to function as an adult. Puppies must develop the problem-solving ability and physical and mental skills to learn and excel at adult activities.

Puppies will start to exhibit different behaviors when separated from their littermates. Each puppy should be separated from the litter for increasingly longer periods of time to help teach independence and prevent separation anxiety problems as they get older, and encourage bonding and acceptance of humans.

This Socialization Period is from 5-16 weeks. Socialization does two things - it reduces the number of things in the world that a puppy might be frightened of and it continually provides the experience of first being afraid and then recovering. According to most behaviorists, that “bounce-back” is one of the most valuable traits you can teach a puppy. The more often the puppy recovers, the list of things/people/experiences that the puppy is not afraid of grows faster and faster. Puppies must be exposed to a wide array of smells, textures, surfaces, sounds, vibrations, tastes, and sights, and a wide variety of people and dogs.

To be continued . . . .

This article includes excerpts from Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development by Pat Hastings and Erin Ann Rouse, Editors. This is an excellent book to read as you prepare for your puppy and has many more details about the development of your puppy, both behaviorally and physically. The list of references included in the book at the end of Chapter 1 will also provide important additional sources of information as you help your puppy grow into best dog he can be.

For more info: If you are interested in learning more about clicker training or different ways to solve problems and communicate with your dog, there are many places you can start, including the link to As always, you can email me at with any questions or comments, or for help with specific issues that you are having with your dog. There are links to more resources at .


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