Like children, puppies have a small window of time during brain development when they are most impressionable. This is called, "the Imprinting Period" or "the Critical Learning Period". For puppies, the imprinting period is during the first 16 weeks of life. Puppies learn more during this time than they can learn in a life time. Therefore, the quality and quantity of what they experience will have a huge impact on their future personalities and determine the formation of many of their “good” or “bad” behavior tendencies.
In fact, such vast change in development happens with each day that passes, the Imprinting Period is further sub-divided into multiple distinct puppy-stages.
In the first 8 weeks of life, puppies gain use of all the senses, become mobile, start growing baby teeth, transition to eating solid foods, and become completely weaned (independent) from their natural mom. Learning is already rapidly occurring, making it important that human caretakers provide puppies with specific neurological stimulation, a complex environment, and careful, yet thorough, socialization for proper development and adjustment to living in human society. During this time, there are also very critical lessons that the puppies must learn from their dog moms and siblings. Therefore, puppies should not be removed from their original homes before 8 weeks of age.
- The optimal time for puppies to be placed with their new human families is at 8-9 weeks of age. As soon as your puppy comes home, time is of the essence for you to provide a huge heaping of high quality socialization and schooling. This is the key to creating a socially self-confident, well-behaved puppy that is strongly bonded to you. It is also the key to preventing yappy, shy, fearful, and/or aggressive behaviors from developing later in life!
- Fear-Impact Period: During the 2nd Socialization Period, when your puppy is around 8-11 weeks of age, it is important to be aware of what is known as, "the Fear-Impact Period". If puppies have “bad” or scary experiences during this time, the impressions are likely to last a lifetime and resurface during maturity! So, protect your puppy from these long-term effects by avoiding bad experiences. Should your puppy become afraid for any reason, dangerous or not, immediately step in and remove him/her from the situation. That is good parenting! Then after 6 months (when the fear period is over) you must start desensitizing your dog to no longer fear that item, person, dog, garbage truck, whatever, etc...
During this time, your puppy will gain more energy, and become more “mouthy” and restless from the discomfort of teething as the baby teeth begins to fall out and the adult teeth erupt. This will typically occur between 4-6 months of age, but sometimes lasts longer. Your puppy will also begin to acquire an adult coat and attain most of his/her height. During this time, he/she will also become sexually mature, so this is a great time to get your puppy spayed or neutered… before related behavior problems manifest!
2nd Fear-Impact Period: Starting in the 5th month of the Juvenile period, there may be a Second Fear-Impact Period that lasts for 3 weeks. This is similar to the First Fear-Impact Period. If it does not occur at this time, it will occur later during the Adolescent Period.
- Hold on tight—your puppy will now be attaining full “puppy power” and will begin to test his/her wings! This is usually a difficult time for many puppy parents, but can be a mess for those with puppies that missed early establishment of boundaries, socialization, and training!
Your puppy will be likely to have much more energy, spend more time exploring the environment, become easily distracted, and may even seem less interested in you and forgetful of his/her training skills. Just be patient, consistent, and supportive—make sure boundaries are still well in place, review your training, and continue building on your successes.
- 2nd Fear-Impact Period (if has not yet occurred): Puppies that did not experience their Second Fear-Impact Period in the last stage of puppy-hood will experience it during the Adolescent Period. The Second Fear-Impact period is similar to the First Fear-Impact Period and lasts for approximately 3 weeks.