During the neonatal period (first two weeks) of a pup's life, the majority of his time is spent sleeping deeply and suckling his mother. The puppies EEG reading (electroencephalograph is an electronic device that measures brain wave activity) is low and irregular and this is a critical time in the pup's life.


After the birth of her puppies the mother will lick her own nipples and her puppy's face, this licking action is the first imprinting that takes place in the puppy's mind. It tells him that this is his mother and the first initial bond is developed between the mother and her puppy as he smells his mother's saliva on her nipples. This licking guides the puppy to her nipples so he can suckle as he is dependent on her to feed him and provide for all his needs at this stage.


The mother spends a lot of time licking her puppies to clean them, stimulate them to suckle, urinate and defecate as the puppy cannot do this without her help. He cannot regulate his own body temperature so he gets cold very easily. However he overcomes this by crawling around to find the warmth of his mother, his littermates, or from artificial heating whenever he feels cold. The puppy is totally dependent on his mother for survival.


The pup's eyes begin to open at around 10 - 14 days, he will have doubled in weight and will be a little more active. Some puppies will have chosen a favourite teat and may not allow other siblings to suckle from it. The mother continues to feed and clean her puppies at this time and they are still completely dependent on her. Puppies don't need too much human intervention or interaction at this stage. Best to leave most of it to the professional (the puppies mother).


The transitional period takes place during 2-4 weeks when the pup's ears begin opening and they will be aware of sounds around them. The senses such as smell, taste, hearing, and sight have improved and he can wag his tail, bark, growl and play with his littermates. He will now be able to urinate and defecate by himself and will probably go outside the nest to eliminate. Teeth will also start to appear. He will be balancing on his feet and beginning to walk. His EEG now starts to show that environmental factors stimulate his brain and he can now start to regulate his own body temperature. Puppies begin to get a little adventurous as they wander off from each other and explore outside the sleeping area.


His surrounding environment now has a great impact in the formation of his brain and this is the most critical period of his life. The images and environment around him form the building blocks of the future of his mind that will influence him for the rest of his life. All his life experiences at this stage must be positive in order to prevent fears, phobias, and behaviour problems developing (see Memory).


The puppy will begin to nurse from his mother on his own and she will begin to leave the pups for longer periods of time. At around three weeks old the puppy should be introduced to semi-solid food for the first time. The puppy may even start jumping up at his mother, licking her mouth to stimulate her to regurgitate food for him. Access to fresh water should also be available for the puppies at this stage, but nothing too deep that could put the puppy at risk of falling in and drowning.


He will be learning to interact with his littermates and his mother and simply learning to be a dog through this interaction. This is very important for his future welfare and temperament development. His mother will be teaching her puppy how to behave and her own behaviour will be imprinted on the puppy. She will discipline her puppy and teach him bite inhibition. Everything the puppy experiences and all his environmental influences during these first few weeks of life have a significant impact on the puppy's development and the final form and structure of his mind.


From four weeks of age a puppy is conscious of what part of his body is being touched. Breeders need to regularly handle each puppy, very gently and calmly turning them over and checking them, touching different parts of the body, such as feet, ears, and teeth, etc. In this way the breeder will be exposing the puppy to minor stress, which will help him build up his coping skills for stress levels he may encounter later in life. This is good for the development of the pup's mind and also influences the adrenal-pituitary system which will help him later in life.

All experiences at this stage must be positive.


Breeders should allow people of all ages including small children to frequently and gently handle the puppy and he should also be exposed to as many different situations indoor and outdoor in a careful, calm way, which help stimulate and develop the pup's mind. Exposure to different situations should be handled carefully and with a positive association so that the pup does not develop fear. The puppy will become habituated to his normal surroundings which will prevent him from becoming fearful or spooked by everything around him.


However be careful that you keep the puppy's socialising and exploring times very short, just a few minutes a day will be enough. Your puppy will tire easily, and can become stressed if he is given too much physical or mental stimulation. The right socialisation in these first three months of your puppy's life are like "vaccinating your puppy for Life" (a term used by Turid Rugaas). He should develop into a well-balanced mature adult dog.


The socialisation period between 4 - 12 weeks is another critical and most sensitive time in the puppy's life. His communication facilities will have developed to almost that of an adult dog by the time he is four weeks old. He can now show calming signals, use body language to communicate, bark, growl, chase, play and carry objects in his mouth. He will leave the sleeping area to urinate and will have clearly established a place for eliminating. This is the beginning of his house training.


His senses have matured so that he can smell, hear, and touch adequately. The male puppy will behave in a masculine way due to a surge of male hormone.

By the time the puppy is five weeks old, the mother will still want to clean him and she will now feed him while standing but will begin to walk away from her puppy from time to time as he tries to feed. This is to teach the puppy there is now a change from depending totally on his mother to becoming a little more independent.


Learning about communication through maternal discipline is essential for the development of the pup's mind and his future survival. This discipline and play with his mother and littermates are vital if he is to grow up as a well-balanced dog. Breeders should never sell their puppies before this period of discipline with their mother is completed at around ten weeks of age. If he misses out on this vital learning period and he has not learnt to interact or communicate with other dogs, he will grow up with developmental and behaviour problems as he will not have learned how to be a mature adult dog and problems may develop later on.

Before a puppy is placed in his new home, the breeder needs to expose him to different situations, such as:

  • The puppy should be allowed to meet other puppies, mature dogs and humans of different ages. He will previously have been exposed to play times with his mother, littermates and family of humans but this is not adequate. When puppies meet other mature dogs the learn how to behave and many other communication skills needed for his future. These skills will have a major influence on all his future relationships with other dogs and humans. Dogs that are not exposed to other dogs and humans at this stage can develop behaviour problems.
  • Puppies should be given an enriched environment (i.e. many toys to play with, places to explore, nosework to do, finding treats, finding toys, tracking food, using treat balls, stuffed kongs, old cardboard box with treats or toys hidden inside it, etc). The puppy should be taken in and out of the house to experience the activity and sounds he will encounter throughout his life such as television, radio, people, children, babies in prams, elderly with walking sticks, other animals, vacuum cleaners, his first visit to the vet, people with umbrella's, sunglasses or hats etc. This way he will become acquainted with the normal activities of everyday life.

All these situations will help his mind to develop and adjust to the activity and adventures he will experience in his new home and it won't be so frightening for him. His mind is very impressionable at this stage and he learns very quickly. Dogs not exposed to these situations during their first three - four months of life can become fearful and less likely to cope when exposed to them later in life. However be careful not to expose the puppy to too much in one day. Puppies learn fast and can appear to be enjoying the adventures but may become stressed or shut down if he is given too much. Perhaps ten minutes once or twice a day would certainly be enough for such young puppies.


A good age for puppies to go to their new homes is around ten weeks old providing the puppies have a good mother who is taking care of them. At this stage puppies should have passed their first fear period and ready to settle into their new homes, new family, new vet, new environment etc, before the next fear period comes at around eighteen weeks old.


A puppy will find the first few nights in his new home very frightening. He may need a little help to settle by keeping him close to you for the first few nights. He should be on four small feeds a day and exercise is not necessary at this stage as he will get plenty of that just playing and exploring his new home.

About the author of this article - Nicole Mackie


I come from New Zealand and moved to the UK in 2001. I have 12 years experience breeding and showing Labrador retrievers and 2 years with Siberian Huskies. Also one year experience as a veterinary nurse and certified in general animal science, Canine Psychology and Behaviour Instruction.


After arriving in the UK in 2001 I was introduced to clicker training by a friend. I was so impressed with clicker training that I bought every book and video on how to clicker train. Ever since learning this new training skill I have attended seminars by Elisabeth Kershaw, Nina Bondarenko and attended many courses run by Sheila Bailey such as UDX, CDX and tracking.


In 2003 I met Sheila Harper who introduced me to Calming signals and showed me a whole new way of understanding dogs from a well known respected Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas. This sent me down a whole new road of training dogs, and changed my whole way of thinking and looking at canine communication from the dog's point of view. I joined the team with Sheila Harper in January 2004 and have not looked back since. I am now a student of the International Dog Training School and also helping out with a little bit of clicker training in a graduate puppy class.


I also take one to one dog training, take clicker training seminars, work as a volunteer assistance dog trainer for DogAid and run a little 5 star dog homestay for dogs that are too stressed to stay in kennels. This all keeps me busy while caring for my own three Labradors Bella, Barbie and Kiwi.

You are welcome to visit my web site - www.arohanui-labradors.com


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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