Just like children, puppies have a “window” of time in their development when they are most impressionable. These windows are called “critical periods”. Puppies move in and out of these periods, with the first four months (imprinting or critical learning period) being the most important.
Here at Southern Cross Australian Labradoodles, we take these developmental stages very seriously and do all we can to guide the puppies in the right direction just when they need it the most.
Puppies are born with their eyes and ears firmly closed and without any teeth. They can not regulate their body temperature, nor can they urinate or defecate on their own. They do have a keen sense of smell which helps them root out their mother’s nipples. During the first two weeks, puppies sleep 90% of the time, spending their waking moments nursing. During this time they double in size.
At Southern Cross Australian Labradoodles we keep the puppies in our bedroom during this vulnerable time. We want to make sure the puppies are kept warm, using heat lamps when necessary. We weigh the puppies every day, sometimes twice a day, to make sure all of them are gaining and, if it’s a big litter, give the smaller puppies extra time with mom without the other puppies around. But, the most important thing we do for the pups during this time is care for their mom. We take her temperature several times a day to make sure she is not showing any signs of infection. We start giving her calcium supplements to make sure she does not develop Eclampsia and we increase her food rations to make sure she is making plenty of milk for her babies. We also give her plenty of moral support and encouragement because taking care of babies is hard work!!
The puppies ears and eyes that have been sealed since birth begin to open, giving puppies a new sense of the world. Puppies begin wobbling around during this time gaining momentum everyday. They start to recognize and interact with things in their environment, including their mother and littermates. They begin lapping water
from bowls and are introduced to diluted goats milk to get their digestive track use to other types of nourishment. They no longer need their mother to stimulate urination and bowel movements.
At Southern Cross Australian Labradoodles, we handle the puppies more and more during this time. We move them out of our bedroom into a space with more room but we make sure they are still kept warm.
Four – Six Weeks
This is the period where puppies learn about social structure and pack ranking. Rules, boundaries and limitations set by their mother begin to take shape. They learn what
various dog postures mean and how those postures affect their mother and littermates. They learn how to bite and what it is like to be bitten. They learn what
barking and what other vocalizations mean and their uses and they learn how to establish social relationships with other dogs. The weening process begins during this time. We start introducing gruel ( a mixture of ground puppy kibble, rice baby cereal, goat’s milk and/or plain yogurt). As their teeth come in we add less and less liquid to the gruel and also stop grinding the puppy kibble as much.
At Southern Cross Australian Labradoodles we continue with our gentle handling but we also begin teaching them that human are not for biting. A gentle “ouch” or “no” when they use their newly emerged teeth on us usually will stop the behavior but if it doesn’t, we put them down and leave the room. They learn if they want to play with us, then they can not use their teeth.
Six to Eight Weeks
This is the most critical period for puppy socialization. It is during this time that we
encourage visitors of all types to come and play with the puppies. The pups receive their first round of shots and can start going outside, exploring the great outdoors. It is during this time that their personalities start to emerge. We begin taking the pups outside for “potty breaks” and they begin sleeping in crates at night.
Puppies also begin developing fear responses to sudden startling sights and sounds so we expose the pups to all the normal household objects and noises and associate them with positive experiences. It is during this time that the puppy’s play can often escalate and lead to dominance with their littermates and humans, which we look for a discourage if necessary.
It is at the end of this period that our job is done and the new owner is ready to take over. We have done everything possible to provide our families with a puppy that is healthy, confident and receptive to training. However, just because he has been socialized doesn’t mean he won’t need guidance as he transitions to his new home. His new owners will need to set rules, boundaries and limitations and consistently enforce them. Please check our recommending reading page for books that will help make this transition from our home to yours a positive one for you and your new furry family member.