The Four Critical Periods of Puppyhood
I am often called on to offer breed referrals and I am also a breeder of Siberian Huskies and German Shepherds. I am also a certified obedience instructor, an AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, and a certified Service Dog Evaluator and trainer. Over the years I have trained several dogs. I have bred my own litters and trained each and every one of them up to the age of 12 weeks; but I have also trained them into adulthood. I have trained many other puppies and rescues and I have seen many mistakes made by breeders, pet stores, and new owners. Puppies have four critical periods of life. The following is the first in my series: The Four Critical Periods.
I have used the information I am sharing for years in raising puppies and preparing them for life. It is my hope that the novice and the expert in raising and training of dogs appreciates the information being shared and utilizes this information to raise well-balanced better trained puppies.
NOTE: The purpose of the puppy program is to condition the puppy to learn, and that learning and doing things are fun. The program aims at preventing problems rather than correcting problems later. This purpose of “puppy program” must be fully understood. Therefore, DO NOT attempt to program any puppy until you are familiar with Clarence Pfaffenberger’s “The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior.”
The Third Critical Period, Days 50 – 84
Day 50 – 56: The puppy has the learning ability of an adult dog from 7 weeks onwards. Start house training, crate training, and manners. Begin teaching the pup boundaries.
Start conditioning the puppy to grooming, and to wearing a collar and leash.
Start puppy obedience, using a flat-collar. 5 minutes per session.
ALL week do the following:
Handling and restraining the puppy. (cradle, touch, pull ears, fingers in mouth, pinch toes gently (service)
Obedience (habitual) training, follow on your left side off leash, sit.
Location conditioning in different places
Isolation conditioning, start in crate
Play retrieve and bag work or appropriate work for what dog will be utilized for e.g. begin working on picking up objects (take it and give)(service dogs)
Practice gaiting and show-posing everyday (use “stand” during grooming)
Practice obstacle course work (exposure to medical equip. wheelchairs, strollers, bicycles, skateboards, etc.)
INCLUDE NIGHT WORK! (Especially service, search and rescue, sled dogs)
NOTE: Begin collecting your “set of 12 articles”, i.e. those required in the “reversed incentive” system of tracking training. A set of 12 objects, all known to the dog is accumulated and includes one special or favorite article – usually one of the puppy’s toys. It also includes 4 black leather gloves and 18 utility scent discrimination articles (6 leather, 6 metal, 6 wood).
Day 56: 8 weeks old: Test for sound startle. Swim (5-10 minutes in still water).
Day 57 – 63: This is a fear period when traumatic experiences have a profound effect. Keep the puppy in stable circumstances, and keep the puppy safe from trauma.
- Continue house training
- Do handling and grooming; touch therapy and cradling
- Do puppy obedience, using the flat collar. Do attention training, sit, stand, down.
- Man-dog and dog-dog socialization.
- Location conditioning and longer isolation conditioning.
- Retrieving now includes a wide variety of objects. Include all the “puppy toys” in the set of retrieved objects.
- Bag work. Introduce a piece of Hessian (burlap) (protection)
- Introduce light harness (no pulling) sled dogs and assistance dogs
- Introduce booties (5 minutes)
- Show stance and gaiting practice
- INCLUDE NIGHT WORK!!!
- Practice obstacle course
- Take the puppy into traffic
- Take the puppy into crowds
Day 63: 9 weeks: Test for sound startle. Swim.
Day 64 – 70:
- Puppy obedience training increased to 15 minutes. Still use flat collar. Introduce the finish, introduce the go-out. Introduce Line-out (sled dogs) Introduce Get-dressed (Assistance)
- Take puppy for walks in the neighborhood
- Continue location conditioning and continue with longer periods of isolation.
- Practice retrieves, bag exercises, harness, booties; test for sound startle
- Practice show stance and gaiting
- Practice obstacle course
- Do some dominance exercises. Handle the puppy a lot.
- INCLUDE WORK AT NIGHT AND IN TRAFFIC AND IN CROWDS.
Day 70: 10 weeks: Test for sound startle. Swim in still water, or surf.
Day 71 – 77: Take the puppy into crowds and traffic; work at night often. Continue with man-dog and dog-dog socialization, puppy obedience training, retrieving, bag-work, harness, booties, location training: do elevators, many different places, isolation training, longer periods, posing and gaiting, obstacle course, handling and grooming, walks in the neighborhood.
Day 77: 11 weeks old: Test for sound startle. Swim
Day 78 – 84: the puppy receives the first polyvalent vaccination this week! Continue exactly as in previous week. This week you must decide whether or not your puppy is to undergo “bite-inhibition” conditioning. This is normally done between week 12 and week 16, as follows:
The puppy must have free periods to engage in play fighting with one or more puppies of the same approximate age. When they “attack” each other, they learn to inhibit or soften their bites. Do NOT omit this unless you are skilled in handling and living with a Schutzhund, Police, or Protection dog.
Puppies which do not undergo bite inhibition grow up to be very hard biters. This is very useful for dogs that are intended for the Schutzhund sport or for service as a Police or Protection dog. These dogs will have to be played with using an object such as a burlap sack, or other pulling and biting object, because they are too rough for play using one’s hands or unprotected arms for the dog to grasp in play. NOW is when you must decide on this part of your puppy’s program.
Day 84: week 12: Test for sound startle. Swim.
Note: Prepare early. Get a journal, a digital camera, or video camera. These items make it easy to archive your notes and recording each puppy in its critical periods. This can be helpful when you go to place your puppy in his/her new home. You can share these archives with your new puppy owner and be sure to go over your training program so that it can be followed.
Michele Forto is Denvers Dog Training Examiner, a certified canine trainer at Denver Dog Works and the co-host of the Dog Doctor Radio Show program.