Rottweiler Puppy Life Stages
Once you take your puppy home at eight weeks old you will encounter different puppy life stages as your puppy matures. Your awareness of the stages will help you understand your Rottweiler’s behaviors better and help you become a better trainer. Following are the puppy life stages and important milestones from birth to adulthood.
From birth to 12 days Neonatal Period
Being an altricial species, meaning that puppies are pretty much born in a relatively helpless state, puppies at this time totally depend on their mother for warmth (they are unable to regulate their own internal temperature) and obviously food. Newborn puppies cannot see or hear and they require stimulation from their mother to urinate and defecate. They tend to crawl about at this stage and spend the majority of their time sleeping.
From 13 to 21 days: Transitional Period
The puppy’s eyes will open and the puppy’s ear canals will open as well allowing the puppy to hear. They also will start to walk in a wobbly manner. This is a great time to introduce sensorial stimulation such as new surfaces to walk on, other pets, and continue with gentle handling mimicking light grooming sessions. Exposure to normal household sounds, smells and sights will help the puppy better adjust in a new home once adopted. For this reason, it is important to purchase the puppy from a good breeder, never purchase a Rottweiler puppy that has been raised in a garage or a barn. The puppy’s first deciduous (milk teeth) will appear at around twenty days, and the puppy will start becoming interested in solid food. Mother dogs at the same time, start becoming reluctant to nurse due to feeling the sharp teeth against her nipples. The weaning process is about to start. Puppies start wagging their tails at this time. Social behaviors start to take place with the first play/fight sessions, vocalizations and use of body postures for communication purposes.
From days 21 to 23: Awareness Period
Ellen Dodge in an article appearing in the 1989 issue of the Weimarener Magazine, lists this stage as a sub-period of the Canine Socialization Period. Now that the senses are fully developed, puppies should not be exposed to radical changes that may overload them. Ellen recommends to take two puppies at a time and let them explore by exposing them to a new surface such as concrete, linoleum, wood, and carpet during this time. Taking two puppies at once will make the process less stressful.
From days 21 to 49: Canine Socialization Period
Puppies at this stage learn they are dogs and it is crucial to keep the puppies with their mother and litter mates to learn important life lessons. Removing a puppy during this time may lead to a puppy that has little knowledge about social behaviors, prone to discipline problems and aggressive behaviors. Again, a reputable breeder will never remove a puppy early from its mother and litter mates. Never get a puppy from a breeder earlier than eight weeks, unless it is orphaned.
Steve R. Lindsay a professional dog trainer and author of the book ‘’Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior, claims: “This period is especially important for the development of a stable emotional temperament and effective tone. Many social and emotional deficits observed in adult dogs are believed to result from removing puppies too early from the mother and litter-mates.” It is during this time, that puppies learn to relate with their litter-mates and removing the puppy too early can affect the puppy’s future ability to get along with other dogs.
Also, during this time, the puppies learn about bite inhibition. If the puppy plays too rough, the other puppy will squeal and withdraw from play. This important “ time-out” teaches the rough pup that in order to play, he must be more gentle with his teeth; a very important life lesson enforced as well by mother dog should the puppy bite too hard when nursing; indeed, under such circumstance she will likely stand up and leave.
From 7 to 12 weeks Human Socialization
Dogs are one of the few species that can be socialized with their own species (con-specific) and at the same time with humans (intra-specific). This time is an important sensitive period, meaning that experiences and events taking place during this time will leave a long lasting impression on the puppy. Socializing the dog with as much people as possible will help reduce the dog’s reactivity towards unfamiliar circumstances and fear responses. In a large protective breed like the Rottweiler it’s crucial for puppies to encounter positive experiences and learn behaviors of humans including babies, adults, children and seniors.
Dr. Ian Dunbar recommends “meeting 100 new people by 12 weeks”. During this time, most puppies are fully weaned and ready to be adopted. This is a great time to enroll the puppy in a puppy class (we will discuss the importance of this soon). Puppies in such classes are exposed to people and dogs and derive important life long experiences in a controlled, safe setting and under the supervision and guidance of a professional trainer. Socialization is therefore crucial during this important window of opportunity.
Once the window is closed, your Rottweiler will still continue to learn, but not in a prominent and significant way as during this prime time. If your Rottweiler misses much of this time, you may end up with a dog that is fearful reactive towards strangers or unusual looking people, a dog that is unable to recognize what is normal or abnormal in everyday life. This means you will have an overload of work to deal with in order to to makeup for this lack of socialization When this happens, your Rottweiler will be bigger and therefore more capable of doing harm, his cognitive functions may not be elastic as before, and therefore he will be less apt to learn that people mean no harm, and you may have loads of recuperative work involving desensitation and counter conditioning, which we will address later in the behavior problem section.
However, do not expect that with maturity you are done in socializing your Rottweiler. It does not work this way. Your Rottweiler will need ongoing socialization for the rest of his life. With this breed you are never done with socialization. You will still need to take your Rottweiler with you in places, to meet people, and absorb as much as possible about the world and creating positive experiences. If you were too lax during the socialization period, you may see the results later on; unfavorable reactions towards strangers, weak nerves, unexpected reactions towards unfamiliar scenarios, etc.
First Fear Imprint Period: 8-11 weeks
While the human socialization process takes place up until 12 weeks, it is imperative not to frighten the puppy during this time by exposing him/her to traumatizing events. Try to avoid harsh discipline, shipping the puppy during this time, or having the puppy undergo elective surgeries. A traumatic event during this time, may permanently affect how a dog responds in the future to frightening experiences. Puppies may go into avoidance responses and learn to hide and have long recovery times. Keep training positive during this time and praise your puppy for investigating and taking initiative in facing its fears. Put your puppy up for success by avoiding experiences that can be traumatizing or frightening especially during this time.
Seniority Classification 10-16 weeks
The puppy during this time has likely been in your home for some time. During this phase, your puppy may test a bit his boundaries and see how consistent you are in implementing the rules. So keep it up with your training and guidance, your Rottweiler puppy is just clarifying what he can get away with, so hold on tight and ride it out!
Flight Instinct 4 to 8 months
“Seems to forget everything previously learned.” – “How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With”
This is a time where your Rottweiler will taste his freedom and boundaries. Make sure you have access to a good leash or a long line and polish your recall command. Do not get upset, this is just a phase… your Rottweiler will get over it eventually. Continue to be consistent, make yourself the most interesting thing around, and use lots of positive reinforcement to make coming to you a really big event. Consider as well that is the time where most dogs are relinquished at the shelter due to their testing behaviors and intense chewing. See the section about choosing durable toys for your Rottweiler for help.
Second Fear Period 6 to 14 months
This is a time where your Rottweiler may appear weaker nerved and reactive. The time-frame may extend the 14 months and it is often tied to sexual maturity, The fear period may shift and come and go as in growth spurts. Often you may hear an owner saying during this time ‘Buster just growled at this guy and he never did that before!’’ Dogs also tend to become more reactive during this time, thus you may see your Rottweiler bark more at the fence or for unusual sounds. During this phase, it’s important to not force your Rottweiler to interact with what he fears. Allow him to investigate at his own pace and praise him for taking initiative. Feed treats when he sees the source of his fear. He will pull through this phase if you have socialized him well.
Make safety your top priority, and do not expose your Rottweiler to situations that may overwhelm him. Build up his confidence through training. Have a few strangers volunteer and toss your dog a few treats as you pass by them if he has shown reactive behaviors towards strangers. Tell them to ignore your dog. We will see later a behavior modification program for dogs reactive towards strangers. As in the first fear period, avoid traumatic experiences such as shipping your dog in the cargo compartment of a plane. Your male Rottweiler may likely lift his leg during this time and your female may go into heat. Your Rottweiler is growing into an adult dog.
Maturity 1-4 years old
If you thought your work is done, you are not even near! Your Rottweiler must still continue to be socialized and trained. Maturity takes long in this breed. While some smaller breeds are socially mature around one year, a Rottweiler may be considered mature at 2 to 3 years of age. As mentioned previously, you are really never done with socializing a Rottweiler. You still want to take him along in trips, meet and greet people, and let him learn about the world. If you have not trained and worked in socializing your Rottweiler, now is the time during which you will see problems such as fear aggression, territorial behaviors when people knock at the door, defensive behaviors.. According to Sue St. Gelais; “Additional classes or private help with training may be a wise investment. It can provide you with the structure and commitment to train him that you need at this time. Proceed with training in a matter-of-fact, no nonsense manner and your dog will become a reasonably obedient dog.”
→Did you know? Fear periods were there for a reason. In the wild, this time coincided with when the puppies would learn under the guidance of their mom, which stimuli were threatening and non-threatening. At this stage, once they are fully mobile and outdoors, a lack of caution may cause them to easily get killed, explains Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell, in her book “For the Love of a Dog”.