Critical Phase is defined as a period during a dog’s life when a seemingly unimportant event may, and usually does, have a profound impact on later behavior and training success. These phases apply to all dogs in varying degrees, and can occur at slightly different times depending upon the size of the breed.
From birth to seven weeks, puppies learn valuable lessons from their littermates and mother. Pups begin to understand what it feels like to bite and to be bitten, how to communicate with sound and posture, and how to accept the swift and clearly-communicated discipline actions from mom. When a pup does not learn to accept this early leadership, later attempts with training are often difficult.
Socialization Phase (7-12 weeks)
During this phase it is crucial to frequently introduce your puppy to as many different situations as possible. He should meet, and be touched by, people of all ages, looks, and activity levels. Allow him to discover sounds, both loud and annoying, other animal species, the “feel” of riding in an auto, the commotion of children running and yelling as they play, and the awkwardness of exploring strange buildings. Experiences should be short and pleasant. This is not designed to scare the pup, but is intended as a means to help him become accustomed to his world. Keep in mind that puppies “learn” whether we control their learning environment and experiences, or leave them to discover things alone. All learning, at this stage, becomes “permanent”.
Fear Imprint Phase (8-11 weeks)
In this phase of development, all painful or frightening encounters leave a lasting imprint. Veterinary visits and trips in the car should be as pleasant as possible. When a pup becomes frightened, “coddling” him will reinforce that responding with fear will bring him rewards of affection. Diverting his attention, and offering praise, affection, or favorite toys once he becomes calm will prove beneficial in the long run. Socializion should be continued while giving thought to avoiding potentially frightening situations.
Discovering Pack Heirarchy Phase (12-16 weeks)
At this age a puppy will begin testing his new family members to try and discover who the leader is going to be. When he reaches this phase, it is essential to be able to recognize canine dominance activities, and take steps to halt any “dominance seeking” activity immediately. Yielding authority, or bending the rules for him during this stage can lead to much bigger problems later on. If the furniture is to be off limits when the dog is full grown, then it must always be “off-limits”. It is crucial to maintain consistent firmness during this phase.
Challenging Pack Heirarchy Phase (16-32 weeks)
Continue to keep a clear definition in mind of long term expectations for your dog’s behavior. This “challenge” phase is marked by a dog’s sudden desire to ignore voice and command, even running in the opposite direction sometimes when he is called. He is beginning to test for the position of pack leader. If you have family members, take special care to insure that the dog does not overpower anyone in his attempt outrank current “family positions”. Dogs can easily sense the “pack position” of each person and will eventually bully those he believes to be inferior (often the younger, weaker, or quieter family members).