This page is a component of the Glossary of the Dog Science, CBC
Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network
The Critical Stage of Development
The term critical stage of development refers to a brief period of special sensitivity that occurs early in the life of all animals. If properly stimulated during that time of special sensitivity, the subject will quickly develop skills relevant to the domain in question and a propensity toward the later development of expert and eminent performance will be established.
For dogs, the critical stage of development comes in the first twelve weeks of life. Some amazing things occur during that brief period of rapid learning, while despite the fact that your dog is still a tiny pup, simple lessons can be deeply absorbed.
The critical stage represents a once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity in which you can imbue your dog with a profound understanding of what is and is not acceptable, and you can do it in an extremely compressed time frame.
Indeed, a critical stage puppy can very often be dissuaded from ever again engaging in an undesirable response by a single correction. On the other hand, a dog can develop an abiding lifelong love for a given activity by just a small amount of reinforcing encouragement, if it dispensed precisely, and especially if it is delivered repeatedly during his critical stage.
Your dog's critical stage of development is his golden age of learning. Any activity he learns to like at that stage, he is likely to grow to love as he ages. Any pursuits in which he invests his energies at that age, he is likely to master in his maturity.
No amount of later tutelage can ever repair the damage done by a lack of proper stimulation during your dog's critical stage.
For humans, the critical stage of development occurs between the ages of two and five.