Behaviour Post – How dogs mature

Easter is about new beginnings. There’s nothing sweeter than a new little puppy in your life. From their sweet little faces to their wiggly bottoms. Puppies grow up so fast, and before you know it they are a full grown adult dog. Alongside their physical growth, puppies also grow emotionally during the first 2 years of their life.

Once puppies are able to use their senses and explore the world at only a few weeks of age, they begin to learn social skills, influenced by their mum and litter mates. They learn play, group structure and ranking from their litter mates and how to react to different experiences, based on mum’s attitude.

From 6-16 weeks of age their brains are like little sponges, absorbing information from every interaction with the world. During this stage they go to their forever home and will start to develop a bond with their new family. They are exposed to daily experiences and develop basic emotions like happiness and fear. It is important for puppies at this age to have lots of comfortable, positive associations, as their brains are developing quickly and negative experiences can have long lasting impact on their emotions.

From 4 months of age puppies will start to approach adolescence. They gain independence, curiosity and confidence. Consistent socialisation and training, with other dogs and people, will help strengthen your bond with your puppy and create an emotionally healthy adolescent. As physical growth and hormonal surges collide, puppies start to test boundaries. They go through a ‘fear period’, causing them to possibly react defensively to other dogs and people, or become protective or territorial. You can support your puppy’s emotional development with plenty of exercise, comfortable interactions with other dogs, positive reinforcement training and avoiding potentially traumatic experiences.

Dogs reach emotional maturity at around 2 years of age, and are capable of feeling joy, fear, anger and love. Although emotionally mature, dogs still need their feelings nurtured with consistent attention, socialisation, and positive associations. By nurturing your dog’s emotions and tending to your dog’s physical needs you can keep your dog emotionally and physically healthy for years to come.