On Good Behavior LLC

Is It Just A Stage? Behaviors Your Puppy Will Outgrow.

Often clients ask me if chewing/nipping/zooming etc is just a stage. What they forget to ask is if staying in the yard/coming when called/loving everyone is also just a stage! We are quick to attribute developmental explanations to unwanted behaviors and just hope that puppies will outgrow them, but it doesn’t usually occur to us that nice stuff may also be outgrown!

Puppies go through a number of developmental stages, but I find the most noticeable change occurs at between 4-8 months (early in toy breeds, later in giant breeds). This is when dogs enter adolescence and go through the flight instinct period and the second fear imprint period.

During the flight instinct period, your puppy will want to run off.

In the wild (for wolves), or in the garbage dump for stray dogs around the world, this change corresponds to leaving the den for the first time. Up until around four months, young puppies are left home at the den while the adults are off hunting and scavenging for food. If the puppies were to wander off when left alone, they wouldn’t survive for long! This is why your puppy tends to stay in the yard and doesn’t want to go on walks. It’s also why your puppy up until about 16 weeks is very curious. The den is a safe area and he should be exploring his environment and making social bonds with his pack.

After four months, he would be joining in the hunting/scavenging and he is eager to go everywhere! This is known as the flight instinct period. Please don’t be surprised when your formerly reliable puppy starts to leave the yard to visit your neighbors and completely ignores you call to come. His instincts are telling him it’s time to go explore the big wide world! He may also go through a second fear period (the first one happens around eight weeks) as he is now going to be away from the den and exposed to things that may be dangerous. He is now inclined to be suspicious rather than welcoming of new things.

How can we use this knowledge?

  1. We can take advantage of the socialization period to get your puppy comfortable with everyone and everything he needs to live with. After four months, it is going to be hard to convince your puppy that new people/places/things are safe, so do it early! It’s OK for wolves and wild dogs to be suspicious of everything outside of their den and pack, but we want our pet dogs to be comfortable with lots of different people and places (You’ve heard me say this before, right?!).

  2. Use social attraction to start teaching ‘Come’ to your young puppy (associate the command with something he wants to do anyway at this age). Run away, squat down, and call your puppy. He will come running and you can reward him with food, petting and play. Just be aware that when he hits the flight period, you won’t be able to trust him for a while and you’ll need to double down on teaching that come means come. Long lines are a big help here!

  3. Be prepared for the flight period and make sure that by the time your puppy is sixteen weeks, you have your fenced yard fully escape proofed or a plan to keep your puppy on leash or in places he can safely be off leash.

Oh, and about the nipping/chewing/peeing everywhere? Yes, they are worse at the young puppy stage and will naturally improve some with age. So if you are OK with lots of these things now and less later, you can let nature take it’s course 🙂 However, most of us aren’t OK with any biting at hands, chewing on furniture, or peeing on floors, so we will need be sure to prevent those things from happening so that they don’t become habits.

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