Puppies – the first 14 weeks are critical to overall life!

Recently I have been working with a new mum, not the normal human type of new mum but a four legged, hairy one. I use the term working with very deliberately  as Cherry is an experienced mum with her third litter and now 9 puppies over the last six years and she knows a lot about how to raise healthy, happy well adjusted puppies. Having a keen interest in Animal Behavior I have used the experience to carefully observe how and what she does to raise her puppies and to refine what I do to ensure these puppies will be successful in their future homes.

It is tough watching a dog give birth as it is a long drawn out process and each pup is born enclosed in a sac of fluid attached to an individual placenta. As humans we naturally think we know best and want to jump in and immediately take over. In fact many dog owners do just that, breaking the sac, removing the placenta and then cleaning up the puppy and eventually putting the puppy back with mum sometimes not until after she has finished birthing all the babies. As Cherry has done this a few times now, always successfully,  I have to respect that she knows exactly what to do and sit back and let her do it, without interference.  This was her third litter, she had no difficulty delivering any of the babies and it was all over and done with in a much shorter time than usual. There are important benefits for both mum and babies if the bitch is allowed to break the sac, eat the placenta and then clean and stimulate the puppies. Puppies that are born first will not suffer is they are ignored for a short while as the next puppies are born, so long as it is not freezing cold and the whelping box is of sufficient size.

Cherry for the first week spends all her time with her puppies. Leaving only briefly to eat, drink and defecate. Rushing back at the first noise from them to jump back in enclose them under her body and encourage them to nurse.  Puppies in the first week or so also make a fair amount of noise day and  night as  they adapt to their new world. Then over the following weeks she gradually spends more and more time further away from them and her reaction to their noises changes. She is never far from them and when not in the same room it is evident she is listening carefully to even the slightest noise. Initially she reacts to every noise but does not automatically go to them, in fact she stops and assesses the reason for the noise and determines if the puppies will self calm first. She assesses the situation and determines if there is a threat, if the puppies need feeding or if one has got lost from the others.  As the weeks go on she gradually spends less and less time with them, until by approximately 4 to 5 weeks she is only checking on them from time to time, gradually removing herself and letting them work out how to find food, water and comfort. She also makes it harder for them to feed, increasing the amount of good stress the pups experience and thereby learning to handle stress. She gradually transfers care for their needs such as food, poo cleaning and socialization over to me.

Dr Ed Bailey writing in Gun Dog Magazine in an article called “Producing Behaviourally Sound Dogs”  talks about the window of secondary socialization and states:

“The window of secondary socialization is open widest from birth through six weeks, before the development of the fear response which starts gradually in the fifth and sixth week and then rapidly escalates during the seventh to the tenth weeks. After six weeks old, the sponge like social learning in pups gradually decreases until the window closes when pups are 12 to 14 weeks of age. The primary and secondary socialization that has not gone on during the time when the window was open is never going to happen.”


By: Dr. Ed Bailey -Originally published in Gun Dog Magazine

The major reason dogs are surrendered is behavioural issues, many of which can be prevented by puppies experiencing as much as possible in this first 12 or 14 weeks. In the first couple of weeks of life noises made by puppies are not those of fear, they are just the noises you hear from all young animals, including babies. They need to be in a regular environment with televisions on, radios, all sorts of people and other animals coming and going and consequently hearing and experiencing a wide variety of stimuli. They should be exposed to noises such as thunder and lightning, car engines, vacuum cleaners, fridge motors etc as all these are noises that many dogs may find scary.  They need to be handled sometimes slightly roughly, held up in the air, have noises, ears, eyes, feet and legs touched and manipulated. They need to experience brushing, nail trimming and the feel of clippers against their coats. They should walk in different surfaces see different dogs, people and inanimate objects. The more puppies experience in the first 14 weeks the better. Cherry will not run to their aid if they appear frightened as she knows that it will teach them to be afraid of things. A bitch that has a generalized level of anxiety does and therefore raises puppies that also develop or have inherited her generalized anxiety.
Baby puppies need to be allowed to play, sometimes roughly with their litter mates and mother in order to learn good canine communication. To find out what is and is not ok to do to other dogs and in time to humans.  They learn what a lip curl, growl and snap means, they learn how hard to bite another animal and what areas not to bite. They learn how to show another animal that they are “just playing”.  Pups as they move closer towards leaving their litter mates also need to learn how to be a single dog, hopefully with a stuffed toy for company and humans in their lives for many hours but not for every hour of the day. But overall of great importance is that they need time to learn and experience all these things before the critical window of socialization closes. New pet owners need to understand all these requirements and chose a puppy that comes from a breeder that also understands and provides for these needs. If this happened every time for every puppy I would be exceptionally happy to never again have to perform a fearful dog consultations where sadly it is too late to provide what can only have impact in the first 14 weeks of a puppy’s life.

Remember to  “kiss the dog, hug the cat and tell your goldfish you love them” and be thankful that you brought your puppy from a breeder who understood what an awesome responsibility it is to bring puppies into the world.

Tell me your stories about where you got your dog from and how you think that impacted on its behavior.


Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician


Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behaviour, training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.


Posted on July 29, 2012, in Behaviour, Dog Training, Health, Puppies, Training and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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