Puppy Development Stages – The Neonatal Stage

Have you ever wondered what changes your puppy goes through from the time he is born until he turns 12 weeks old? Puppies go through three main stages of development: neonatal, transitional, socialization. Since development doesn’t follow a strict pattern, these three stages may overlap. This article focuses on the neonatal stage.

Neonatal stage – 0 to 2 weeks.

Puppies are born with their eyes and ear flaps closed. Their brains are immature, so their sensory abilities are limited and their movement uncoordinated. Their digestive system is underdeveloped, so they rely on their mother to stimulate their anal-genital area through licking in order to empty their bladder and bowels. Regulation of body temperature is also underdeveloped and this is why they depend on their mother to keep warm.

Although the puppies’ sensory abilities are limited, their sense of smell is developed enough to enable them to find their mother’s teats, and the infra-red receptors in their nose allows them to detect warmth from the mother and litter mates.

During this stage puppies spend most of their time feeding and sleeping. They gain weight rather quickly. It is also during this stage that the puppies are imprinted on the mother’s mind and the mother on theirs. This is done mainly through licking and grooming the puppies so that they learn to recognize the smell of her saliva.

Exposing puppies to mild stresses – being stroked and carefully handled by men, women and children to enhance the ability to recognize different human smells – helps them mature faster, accelerates body growth and helps them cope with emotional challenges later on. Touch is comforting, induces a feeling of safety, and plays a very important role in bonding with humans. So the earlier the puppies are exposed to human touch, which should be a pleasant experience, the more sociable they are likely to become.

Understanding these early development stages will add to your arsenal of information on how to care for a puppy.

The next article will discuss the next stage of development – the transitional stage, from 2 to 4 weeks of age. So, stay tuned! For even more information you might like to consider purchasing a dog care book.

Alexandra Santos
Canine behaviour consultant and trainer

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