Four Critical Periods of a Puppy’s Life, Part 3

What are the Four Critical Periods of a Puppy’s Life and how do they affect my dog’s physical and mental growth

Welcome to Part 3 of our Four Critical Periods of a Puppy’s Life. If you have not read  parts 1 and 2, head over and check them out. We will be right here when you get back. I have been involved with the physical health and well-being of dogs since I was 15 years old. At that time there weren’t many VHS videos about dog training and there certainly was not a search engine called Google or a YouTube channel that can literally teach you anything you want to know in minutes.  I learned by trial and error, by talking to others and eventually gaining a mentor or two over the years, all the while reading books about learning theory and doing my best to stay up to date. In the late 90’s I stumbled upon a book called the New Knowledge of Dog Behavior by Clarence Pfaffenberger.  This book set in motion not only a viable career in dog training but shaped my approach to it and my understanding of it so that I could help people make better choices when choosing their own dogs and has assisted in the development of my own breeding programs with German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies and eventually Alaskan Huskies.

If you are a canine enthusiast, dog trainer, dog breeder, or just someone interested in how dog’s learn then this is the program for you. If you know someone that may benefit from this information please share this podcast, Dog Works Radio with them. So far we have learned about the first few weeks of a puppy’s life. We learned about when they are first able to hear, see and walk on their own. We also learned about the importance of imprinting, early socialization and the fear period now Let’s get started with Part 3 of 4.

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Are you one of the few people that train your dog? As a professional dog trainer, I find it interesting that every inquiry I receive is always about unwanted dog behaviors that I immediately recognize as starting during the Four Critical Periods of a puppy’s life. On part 1 we talked about the first three weeks of a puppy’s life and this week we are going to dive deeper and cover weeks 7 through 12.

If only the breeder whether a professional or an amateur had just taken the time to learn about canine development and behavior and had then incorporated it into their breeding program, even if it was just a one-time breeding or accidental then the dogs they are producing would actually gain a better start in life that would stick with them far into adulthood, thus producing a well-rounded adjusted pup that owners would be highly unlikely to be wary of and ready to give up on.

I often do breed referrals for people looking for the right dog for their family and I am the one who choses your pup for our Lead Dog Service Dog Program.  Over the past two decades I have trained several hundred dogs, in fact, I average about 250 new dogs every year.  That’s a lot of 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 many them into adulthood.  I have trained many other puppies and rescues and I have seen many mistakes made by breeders, pet stores, shelters, fosters, and even the new owners themselves.  Puppies have four critical periods of life.  This is part 3, I hope you tune in next week for part 4.

Again, 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.

Reminder: 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, I recommend that you 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.

Man-dog socialization

Dog-dog socialization

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
  • 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.

Now we are going to learn what we need to do on weeks 10 through 12. If you are new puppy owner, it is mostly likely you will have your new companion in your home by this time and it is important that you continue to set a good foundation moving forward to ensure that you set your new pup up for success.

[bctt tweet=”The puppy has the learning ability of an adult dog from 7 weeks onwards.” username=”alaskadogworks”]

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. It’s easy to set up your phone or a GoPro and do a video journal. You’ll also want a Calendar with ample space to take notes. 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.

Be sure to join us next week for Part 4 of the Four Critical Periods of a Puppy’s Life series.


Michele Forto is the lead trainer of Alaska Dog Works and works with service dog clients from around the country.