The Four Critical Periods
I am a breed referral specialist and 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 Fourth Critical Period: Days 85 – 112:
Day 85 – 91: If the puppy is to undergo bite-inhibition, place him/her in the yard or pen with peers of approximately similar age for at least 2 hours daily.
- Continue with obedience training to include introduction to all the AKC obedience exercises
- Do longer isolation periods, socialization, location conditioning; crowds and night work
- Do retrieves, bag work, harness, booties, show posing and gaiting.
- Practice obstacle course
- Take puppy traveling and include overnight stays.
The puppy is working off-lead now if you have been following the program.
Day 91: 13 weeks old: Work in crowds and traffic at night. Test for sound startle. Swim.
Day 92 – 98:
- Bite inhibition
- Socialization (man-dog) If you stop now, your puppy may become DE-SOCIALIZED.
- Bag work; play-retrieves; location and isolation conditioning continues; booties
- Harness work; hook up to gangline, allow pulling lines, no weight
- Puppy obedience training session
- Show standing and gaiting
- Do crowds, traffic, and night work
Do not let up on any of these programs. You are on your last 3 weeks.
Day 98: 14 weeks old: Test for sound startle. Swim.
Day 99 – 105:
- Bite inhibition
- Socialization (man and dog) Bite inhibition can be combined with dog-dog socialization, only if the same-age peers are being used in both.
- Location and isolation conditioning. Retrieves, bag-work, booties, harness, gangline exposure.
- Posing and gaiting.
- Obedience training, now you can start increasing the demands on attention.
Day 105: 15 weeks old: Test for sound startle. Swim.
- Bite inhibition
Review all parts of the program. Test responses. Expose the puppy to as much as possible.
Day 112: 16 weeks old: CELEBRATE!!!
The puppy receives the second polyvalent vaccination today (distemper, hepatitis, leptospiroses, and parinfluenza). The dog gets a yearly booster for the rest of his/her life.
Postscript: If you have NOT followed your program, you can now prepare to begin months or even years of “remedial” or “corrective” training. If you have, progress into any type of advanced obedience, guide dog work, hunting, herding, guard, mushing, sport, Schutzhund work – or just know that you have a companion animal which is steady, fearless, and reliable among men, women, and children, in crowds, traffic, storms, gunfire, etc. and around other dogs.
If you are going to proceed with formal obedience training, you are now ready to begin in earnest, to learn to communicate with your programmed dog.
From birth to 16 weeks puppies follow the same development. After 4 months, the larger breeds develop slower than smaller breeds.
4 – 6 months: Teething. This puts stress on some puppies. Some puppies are oblivious to the teething, others seem to get painful gums. Be careful and show and tell rather than correcting a puppy during this period. Puppies tend to chew a lot during this period, so provide lots of safe chew toys. Feed 2 meals a day from now on throughout the dog’s life. The puppy should receive a rabies vaccination.
4 – 8 months: Sometime between 4-8 months fear periods may appear with the flight instinct dominating the puppy’s behavior. A fear period may last up to two weeks. Handle onsets of fear calmly. Do NOT under any circumstances “comfort” the puppy. Do not make a big issue out the puppy’s fear. Try to make the puppy investigate, or at least ignore the object that he/she found scary. Allow the puppy to work it out. Walk past the object many times, so the puppy gets used to it again.
6 – 12 months: Some breeds are mature at 10 months. Larger breeds tend to take longer, and could take up to 2 -3 years to fully mature. During this period, the puppy could have more fear periods of new situations. These fear periods may be correlated with growling periods. Allow the puppy to work it out. Do not push, but continue training. The training is a confidence builder in itself. If you followed the whole puppy program there will be considerable fewer, if any, instances of fear periods. Teach a 30 minutes down-stay.
Between 1 – 2 years: There will be tests for dominance. The dog, particularly the males attain a new level of assertion. The first serious dog fights occur. Use obedience training to assert yourself, particularly the 30 minute down stay. If you have a submissive dog, the obedience training is even more important as a confidence builder. However, if you have followed the puppy program from Day 1, you should be able to assert yourself over the dog with just a look and a voice reprimand.
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.