Four Critical Periods of a Puppy’s Life, Part 4

What are the Four Critical Periods and how do they affect my dog’s physical and mental growth?

Welcome to part 4 of our Four Critical Periods of a Puppy’s Life. If you did not listen to parts 1 through 3, pause your player and go back and listen. We will be right here when you get back. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve been involved with the physical health and well-being of dogs since I was 15 years old. At that time you actually had to get your hands dirty learning by trial and error how to train dogs and more importantly train their owners. I’ve had my share of puppy kisses, paws to my face, dogs literally pulling my hair out, dog bites, and just about everything you can think of dealing with dogs I’ve dealt with! I credit not only the Monks of New Skete, my husband Robert Forto, but also Clarence Pfaffenberger whose book the New Knowledge of dog Behavior taught me how dogs learn and can be shaped into what we expect them to be as adults. That’s right! You can literally determine what your dog will be like as an adult by introducing them to predetermined experiences and experiential learning opportunities during their four critical periods of life.

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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 the final part.

Hello and welcome to Dog Works Radio. I am Michele Forto and I am the lead trainer of Alaska Dog Works. 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 life for a dog. On part 1 we talked about the first three weeks of a puppy’s life on parts 2 and 3 we discussed the next crtical periods including the fear period and the age of puppyhood. This week we are going to dive deeper and cover age 12 weeks to age 2 years!

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 4, I hope you stick around and subscribe to our podcast. We produce excellent content all year long! If you have a topic recommendation or an idea for an extended series like this one, please shoot us a message on our social channels and we will do our best to make it happen.

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.” Pro tip! We have included an amazon link on the show notes page that will make it super easy to order the book!

If you have listened to the other parts of this series you will remember that this puppy program includes a lot of exercises for dogs that are going on to do other jobs, like service dogs, therapy dogs, protection dogs, or compete in competitions. Remember we are Alaska dog WORKS. We specialize in canine sports and working dogs but did you know what? A program like this really sets us apart from other trainers in our industry? Do you know why? Because training in just about anything is to prepare a dog, or a person, in fact for something else, bigger goals, more fun programs down the line, volunteering or having a job. Think about it, you may train to run a marathon by running a 5K or working out in the gym or swim, bike or whatever, right? The same goes for your dog where you have big goals in mind. We even have a cutting edge program that nobody else in the country offers, it is called Level Up. If you want to learn more about it let us know.

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.
  • Swim
  • 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.

We are going to take a short break here and learn all about First Paw Coffee


Ok we are back. Before the break we covered up to weeks 15 and by this time your new pup is probably in a puppy class, if not give a trainer a call and get signed up. You have worked hard up to this point and it is important to keep the momentum going on making sure your dog is well adjusted and ready to take on the juvenile years! Believe me you will be happy that everything you have done beforehand. If you have ever had teenagers in the house you know exactly what I am talking about!

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.

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.

[bctt tweet=”If you have NOT followed your program, you can now prepare to begin months or even years of “remedial” or “corrective” training.” username=”alaskadogworks”]

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: Before you go pick up your new puppy have a plan in place for the first two years of its life. Commit to this plan. I promise if you do you will have the best trained dog you’ve ever had in your life!


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