How does a puppy's mental development impact behavior?

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Answered by: Beth, An Expert in the Care for Dogs and Puppies Category
Training a new puppy is a challenging endeavor that requires effort and patience. During the first four years of life, puppies typically go through five separate phases that affect their ability to adapt to various situations. Understanding the impact of your puppy's mental development on his behavior will help you to raise a happy and well-adjusted family member.

Canine Socialization Period

This first phase of development begins at birth and continues until seven weeks of age. During this time, it is critical that the puppy remain with his mother and siblings so that he can learn basic canine behavior. Through this early interaction, he will quickly learn to read body language and understand the concepts of leadership and submission. If removed from the litter too soon, a puppy may have lifelong issues including displaying fearful and aggressive behaviors towards other dogs.

Second Socialization and Fear Imprint Periods

Between seven and twelve weeks of age, puppies are extremely adaptable and should be introduced to as many different sights and sounds as possible. This is a great time for him to meet people of all ages and begin to socialize with other animals. At this age, the puppy is likely to quickly settle into his new home and easily form deep bonds with family members.

Owners will want to proceed with a bit of caution as this socialization period also coincides with the first fear imprint period. Efforts should be taken to avoid frightening situations such as exposure to aggressive dogs or loud fireworks. If you find yourself in a situation where your puppy is fearful, it’s best to avoid coddling and instead distract him with a treat, toy, or other positive reinforcement. This will help to ensure that he doesn’t retain the memory of that fear. This is a critical time in the puppy's development because a negative experience that is handled incorrectly during this period can result in future behavioral problems.

Seniority Period

At twelve weeks of age puppies begin to exercise their independence and test boundaries. During this phase of your puppy's mental development it becomes critical to enforce rules and discourage negative behaviors. Training should always be positive and reward-based. Actively working on training with your dog during this time will help you to solidify your role as the pack leader.

Second Fear Imprint Period

Once your puppy reaches six to 14 months of age, he’s likely to experience a set-back in the form of a second fear imprint period. He may suddenly be afraid of something familiar or begin to show signs of anxiety. When this fear arises, it is important to avoid forcing your dog to confront the thing that scares him. Instead, keeping a calm demeanor and distracting him with simple commands such as “sit” will allow you to offer praise and boost his confidence.

Young Adulthood

From his first birthday through the early years of adulthood, your puppy may once again test your role as leader of the pack. Ongoing training and socialization are necessary to ensure that your dog does not become aggressive towards other dogs and that he continues to accept his status within your family pack.

Following these simple guidelines will help to avoid common frustrations and ensure that both you and your dog are able to enjoy a lifetime of happiness together.

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