The Last Two Weeks of the Critical Learning Period For Puppies
The puppies are just a couple of days shy of 9 weeks old and are leaving or being scheduled to leave with their new families.
While it is a very bitter/sweet time for us, it is a time of great excitment and more new learning experiences for the puppies and their new families.
The new families are going to have their puppies for the last two and half to three weeks of the “CRITICAL LEARNING PERIOD” (the critical development/learning period for puppies is from 3 weeks to 12 weeks of age).
While I personally do all I can to prepare the puppies for this stage of their lives by raising them with lots of enrichment exercises and socialization, they may still go through a brief fear impact stage so it is important for the new families to protect their new puppy from any long-term effects of being frightened during this brief window of time by avoiding any experiences or situations where the puppy could be “spooked” . Should the puppy become afraid for any reason – perceived as dangerous or not, always remove the puppy from the situation immediately.
As soon as the puppy goes home, time is of the essence for the new family to provide a huge heaping of high quality socialization and continued enrichment. This is the key to creating a socially self-confident, well-behaved puppy that is strongly bonded to you. It is also the key to preventing yappy, shy, and/or aggressive behaviors from developing later in life!
Please do remember that puppies need lots of sleep/rest though and keep all meeting of family or dogs or experiences brief and then allow the puppy to nap as long as they want to afterwards. I will get more into the importance of puppy getting lots of rest/naps, later.
It is recommended that you get your puppy out to meet as many different dogs of as many different breeds as possible. (CAUTION: this should be done in a safe, neutral place and only with supervision and other dogs you KNOW for a fact to enjoy and get along with puppies.)
Next, give your puppy experiences doing what you will want him joining you in as he grows up. If you enjoy boating, take him or her boating (with his own safety vest), if you go to if you do a lot of road trips and traveling, take him with you on a few day trips at first and then try an over night trip. If you own a store or work at office where he/she will be allowed – take him to work with you. Don’t wait until he/she is potty trained or has manners, expose him/her right away, even if only for a few minutes at first. Take the puppies’ favorite treat or toy with you and “reward” him/her as you introduce them to friends, co-workers or experiences.
A broad range of positive experiences at this age will help the puppy grow up to be a well-rounded, stable dog and a lack of continued socialization can create a puppy that grows up to be a dog who is afraid of new places, people or other dogs.
CAUTION again: Always ask yourself if the experience will be safe and pleasant for the puppy. If you have any doubts at all – do not allow the puppy to experience it. Just as your puppy is emotionally stable, curious and open to learning fun, new things, he/she is actually just as vulnerable to become fearful when placed in an experience that could cause him fear. For instance,if you have to wonder and think twice about the neighbor’s dog that you “THINK” would be so gentle and sweet to you puppy once introduced, then do NOT introduce them or do so very slowly and gradually with plenty of positive reinforcement for your puppy as you do so.
Appropriate Training for Puppies under 12 weeks of age:
The first and most important skills to learned during this critical puppy learning period are:
- Walking on leash
- Sitting to ask for things (Puppy Culture calls this – “manding”)
- Crate training
If just these three things are taught with positive rewards (food or safe, healthy treats work best), this basic training will serve to better imprint the puppy to look to you for what you are asking him/her to do. Training further will be so much easier because he/she will have learned that training is a good thing and during the critical learning period, most puppies learn super fast!
Alright, more on the importance of rest/napping for your puppy. The ratio of play to sleep for a puppy at 9 – 12 weeks of age tends to be about two or three hours of nap to every one hour of play or being out and about socializing.I had my last litter sitting/manding for their food and for treats in just two days – working with them for only about 3 minutes, twice a day (a nap in-between).
It is a proven fact that when something is learned prior to napping or going to sleep at night, the student remembers what they learn far better than those who studied without taking a nap after studying or that studied earlier in the day and not right before they went to sleep. Breeders and a handful of dog trainers have found that puppies learn fastest when their training periods are kept brief (1 – 3 minutes) and done just before taking a nap or resting undisturbed.
The Puppy Culture DVDs have a great little session on this amazing phenomenon with more information and illustrations on how this works in their “Communication Trinity” video along with lots of great training tips for puppies. I highly recommend the DVDs and Jane Killion’s wonderful dog training book, “When Pigs Fly“.