When a human baby is born, they are unable to move or control their bodies in any meaningful way, and will not even be able to lift their heads on their own until they are a few weeks old. Puppies, on the other hand, are able to crawl and pull themselves along from within a few hours of birth, and they never really go through a phase when they are unable to move at all, even though their ear canals and eyelids are closed at birth, rendering them blind and deaf during their early stages.
However, like human babies, puppies go through distinct developmental stages in terms of learning to walk and use their legs to move about and tackle obstacles during their first year of life, as a result of their muscle, bone and joint development and learned behaviours. Knowing what to expect from your puppy and understanding what they are capable of doing and learning at different stages can help you to enhance and encourage their development and also, spot any potential problems and avoid prompting them to take on too much too soon.
In this article, we will look at how puppies learn to move and the various stages that their abilities to move unaided pass through during their first year of life. Read on to learn more.
Immediately after a puppy is born, they will tend to lie helpless for the first few hours, until their instinct to nurse and take on nutrients kicks in and they begin to home in on the scent of their dam’s milk. This period of time allows the pup to recover from the trauma of the birth itself, and allows the dam a short period of rest after she has delivered all of the pups, before the real hard work of feeding and caring for them kicks in.
Puppies are born both blind and deaf, and it is only when they reach a couple of weeks of age that their eyes and ear canals will open and begin to function properly, and during this time, your pup’s sense of smell is their guiding and driving force.
The instinct to nurse kicks in not long after birth, triggered by both hunger, and the scent of the dam’s milk and the hormones that ensure that she produces it to feed her litter.
This scent is what the puppy homes in on and what gets them moving in the first instance, but they will only be able to drag themselves along on their tummies a short distance to reach their dam’s teats to nurse at this stage.
During the pup’s first couple of weeks of life before they are able to see and hear, the litter will master crawling, and begin to use their back legs as well as their front legs to propel themselves along to feed from their dam, and to reposition themselves to get comfortable and move about a little.
The nourishment from their milk and also, the exercise provided by movement both helps to strengthen the muscles of all four legs and teach them the movements required to walk, and as the muscles begin to get used to the movement of crawling, the pups will begin to start standing up fully and walking on their paws.
At around two weeks of age, when the pup’s eyes first open and their ear canals start to open up so that they can see and hear is usually when they are likely to stand up on their four paws for the first time, although it can take a little longer for them to be able to stand up properly without wobbling and tipping over!
As soon as the pup has mastered standing up unaided, they will begin to walk-and this is the stage at which they will develop a little more independence and self-awareness, and their dam will have to keep a weather eye on them to make sure they are not running into problems or getting into mischief!
As the weeks pass, the pups will begin to actively seek each other out for play and entertainment as well as warmth and company, often using their bodies to push each other and their paws to swipe at each other, teaching the pups better balance and other skills. At this stage they will be able to walk around unaided without falling over often, and as they become more playful and more energetic, their walking abilities will improve and speed up until they break into a trot for the first time, and then begin to run for short bouts of a few feet at a time.
As the pups play with their dam and littermates, their interactions will begin to show the development of other types of movement such as jumping and climbing. The side of their nesting box will begin to look like less of a challenge to surmount and they will begin putting their front paws up on the edges of it and scrabbling with their hind legs to see over the top, or climb out to see what is going on!
When the pups first manage to get in and out of the nesting box on their own, they are apt to become a lot more active, as their ability to walk, trot and begin to run is supplemented by an ability to climb and make small hops and jumps.
The pup’s ability to do all of this is due to a combination of their physical growth, muscle development, learned behaviours and instincts, which can be variable in terms of when each phase of development occurs.
Steep learning curves such as learning to tackle a flight of stairs both up and down successfully usually do not begin until the pup is around twelve weeks old or a little older, but by this time they are well on their way to a full range of movement and skills!