The stages of life that we list here have general concepts and ages placed with them, but these are not concrete. Each dog is an individual with separate demands, both physiologically and mentally. The most common variation for these timelines are in smaller dogs, which will often achieve movement from one stage to another a couple of weeks earlier than a larger dog. Environmental issues, such as insufficient feeding or being shuttled to different environments will also retard a dog’s ability to move through the normal phases on the timeline that is set out here. Allow for slight variations on timing and focus, but the basics are sound for any of your dogs.
0 Months – 2 Months Old
With a dog’s gestation being very different from a human’s the dog has a somewhat different experience for the first couple of months of its life. The dog’s eyes are not open at all, but that is where the human’s advantage ends. The dog will develop far more quickly than a human baby would, but that is to be expected when comparing the two’s lifespans. This is a period of complete dependence on the mother and litter mates for life. You should never come into contact with a dog at this age unless you are breeding a dog. The mother is very protective of her puppies and we carry far too many germs to be interacting with them safely. We will bypass the first two months of the dog’s life as inappropriate for a walker.
The two months to four months period for a puppy that you will see on him TV commercials, where he looks so goofy and cute. In reality, there is a lot that is going on for them at this age. They are not properly set up to handle the world and would normally be under constant care from their mother. Their eye sight is significantly impaired, making them very near sighted. The world is much smaller for them at this time. Their digestive tracts are not yet evolved enough to handle a lot of the things that might end up in their mouths. Be prepared for upset tummies during this time. Also, their ability to control the sphincters that control urination and defecation are not properly exercised. It’s not so much that they aren’t smart enough to be housebroken, as much as they don’t really have consistent control of those muscles yet. As the puppy ages more towards the four month old mark, these biological restraints will fall aside as the body develops.
Another significant factor is, here, in the city, vets do not give a dog all of its shots until it is about four months old. Since the dog has not been able to build its natural defenses with nursing on its mother, it does not have all that it needs to survive. Without those shots to fill in those gaps on disease prevention, as well as the shots to ward off parasites, the dog should not be taken outside during this time. Some people will want to take their dogs outside anyway and avoid paper training. If this is the case, please keep the dog off any dirt and/or poop. These materials are how the dog will get infested with parasites, such as worms.
Looking at the dog’s biological restraints, as well as the societal and medical ones, the dog has very limited access to the world. Appropriately, the dog will have limited interaction with the things that catch his interest. You will find that he stops and stares at things now, rather than putting his mouth on them to explore. Of course, he will explore with his mouth and nose somewhat, but nothing like he will in the next stage. Understanding all of this will make it easier to understand the real goal of this stage of life. This is the age that the dog is trying to understand his body. He will notice the immediate environment but the rest of the world is secondary to this dog.
2 Months – 4 Months Old
4 Months – 7 Months Old
This is an amazing, wonderful, horrible time for dog owners. The puppy really starts to come into himself at this 4 month old period. He focus shifts from trying to understand himself to trying to understand the world. His eye sight will finally develop to what it will be for most of his life, allowing him to see much more of the world that he has ever seen before. His digestive tract will stabilize and he will be able to handle the things that he puts into his mouth without as many gastric ramifications that he has suffered in the past. This will allow him to explore the world with his mouth, his primary way of interacting with things, up to this point. His ability to hold control of his bladder and colon will also have come about much more so. Some dogs will demonstrate this ability and some won’t. A lot of that depends on the dog’s desire to wait rather than ability. This allows for a sense of control that will be brand new to the dog. When we allow for these three biological factors, as well as the mental abilities that result from them, it becomes easier to understand what and why the dog will be doing during this time.
The final piece of the puzzle will be that the puppy will receive his final vaccinations that allow him to leave the home and gain full access to the outside world. He is, basically, prepared for whatever comes.
Now that he is properly equipped to handle the world that is out there, he will begin to search it out. Everything will be new and will require this exploration. Sometimes that is a good thing. He will be exploring the park and learning about the leash. He will also go explore all the things that make parents crazy, like the computer cables, trash cans, and underwear.
This is the most important stage for the parents. This is when the puppy is trying to understand the rules of the world so this is when training should happen. A dog can be trained after this time, but it will never be as easy as it is now. Consistent boundaries will be a human’s best friend here. He wants to understand his role in the family and will never again be so open to the role that he is assigned.
The dog will also try to understand the dog world during this time and socialization will be most effective now. This is when a dog can learn from the other dogs what is and is not allowed in dog society. The adult dogs will show far more patience with a dog this age that is trying to learn than they will with an older dog. Every chance your dog can interact with others will be a new lesson or a reinforcement of an old lesson. This is very important to remember and encourage.
At approximately seven months, the puppy will go through that time that every little puppy will have to face; puberty. Sexual maturation begins and there are a host of physiological issues that go along with it. The one that has the greatest effect is the hormonal change that occurs. Testicles will drop out of the abdomen and menstruation will begin for the puppy during this time. The puppy begins to smell like a dog instead of a puppy. This will cause the older, adult dogs to have less and less patience with the dog learning its place. The corrections that the older dogs offer will be more direct and immediate. It can be scary for the dog, but even more so for the human.
This is the prime time for dogs to be spayed or neutered. Having these procedures done now will actually have a wonderful effect on your dog. The other dogs will show increased aggression towards dogs that are non-fixed. This can actually teach the unfixed dog that an aggressive stance is the proper one to take with other dogs, leading to a dog that is unfriendly. There are also studies that show that dogs that have been fixed have lower cancer rates. Finally, if you have never been through a dog in heat, it is a miserable, messy, loud period of time that has absolutely nothing good to add to your life. Having to place a feminine napkin on a dog is an experience that no one will enjoy.
At this stage, the dog takes the critical goals from Passive Exploration and Active Exploration and places them together. The dog is going to try to find out his place in the world and how much effect he can have on it. The primary way of being able to do this is by assert himself against the environment. This will be usually accomplished by working contrary to others; in short, saying “No” to the parents and other dogs. If you want to go north, the dog may choose to go east or not at all. This is a way of testing you. If you want to leash him up in the dog run, he will refuse to come over or even run away. You may find the dog up on the kitchen counter at this stage. He will basically say, “Hey, thanks for teaching me the rules of the world. I appreciate it and love you. But, let’s see if you are really serious about it.”
With the other dogs, you may see a couple of variations, depending on the psychology of the dog, but they should all revolve around increased confidence. A dog that is already firmly in the dominant category may root himself solidly there or can move into the aggressive category. Puppies that were appropriately submissive can move into a dominant classification, often in ways that will really benefit their lives. Dogs that are severely submissive or even fear based may remain there. You may find them more willing to stand up for themselves when they are placed in a position that triggers any irritation or fear. With some experience and a lot of attention to earlier stages, this personality shift should be reasonably predictable.
Making it through these teenage months can be difficult for the parents. With all the testing that needs to be done to learn the dog’s place, the primary target for the testing will be the humans. This interaction cannot be prevented or avoided if you will spend any time with the dog. Do not expect that the dog will be an angel in this period and you will not be disappointed. The only thing that you can do to help yourself in this time is to minimize the time. Firm and consistent boundaries throughout testing lead to a clear place in the world for the dog. If one person allows a behavior and another doesn’t, it is confusing for the dog to understand what is and is not OK. Because of this, the testing period will last longer if there are flexible or inconsistent boundaries.
There are two things that are important to remember, aside from boundaries. The first is that this is not a personal affront against you. This is the dog trying to learn and you are the best place for him to learn. The second is that it gets better. This is when we want to ship our puppies to Mongolia because they are so frustrating. Once they have figured this all out, they will go back to operating within the rules they understand.
7 Months – Between a Year and Year And a Half Old
Approximately 2 Years – Old Age
Dogs will finally move out of testing and be more settled in who and what they are for most of their lives. The manic puppy energy will dissipate. His place in the household, as well as the place he assigns to the humans, will become fixed. It can be a little bittersweet for the humans. The dog is no longer going through the difficulties of puppyhood but he loses some of his goofiness, as well. This is the dog that will be around for the rest of his life.
There will be some changes that are distinct. These tend to happen around two years old. Some dogs will become less interested in playing with dogs that they don’t know. Some dogs will lock onto one type of play and no longer show interest in other types. Some will gain a little weight at this point, but as far as growing goes, they have been done with that for over a year. They will also be less interested in changes in routine or environment than they were as puppies. This doesn’t mean that they won’t like to go on a different route on a walk, necessarily, but they may be confused and a little resistant in some cases. They have their routine and likes and dislikes. Keep an eye on them but let them be who and what they are. They have worked hard to achieve the dog they have become; let them enjoy the fruits of their labors. If this presents any difficulties, then we can find a way to prevent or avoid that problem. They can be trained somewhat at this time, but it is far more difficult, when compared to active exploration.