An Illustrated Guide to the Cycle of GSD Development
German Shepherd Puppies At Birth
GSD development begins at birth. German Shepherd puppies, as with all other dog breeds, are born with their eyes and ears closed.
At this stage the GSD puppies are completely dependent on their mothers for care, food and the like and the newborn puppies are relatively immobile.
A small section of the umbilical cord will still be attached to the German Shepherd puppy - this will dry up and fall off on its own within a few days.
The first 3 days are the most critical in a GSD puppies life.
Birth is the beginning of the neonatal period in GSD development and it lasts roughly 2 weeks. Their body temperature is also lower than an adult GSD (at around 94º to 97º versus the normal 102º or so for an adult dog) at this stage and the heart rate is very fast, at around 200 BPM.
Typically the puppies will curve into a comma type shape when picked up. This is because their nervous system at this time is still very immature. Additionally, they can't eliminate unless the mother, or caregiver, stimulates their anus or urethra by licking or gently rubbing the area. Gentle, frequent handling by humans is very helpful from this age onward.
Around Day 5
The GSD puppies are now beginning to stretch their little legs. As their nervous system development continues they will now also now arch their backs when they are picked up and held rather than curving into a more comma shaped position as before.
Around Day 7
German Shepherd puppies now begin to crawl more readily and more often during this phase of GSD development. Short periods of daily handling and exposure to some stimuli can also be very beneficial to stimulate weight gain in the puppy, earlier eye opening, hair growth and motor development in all members of the GSD litter.
Around Day 10
Your German Shepherd Puppies eyes and ears are beginning to open. The German Shepherd puppies eyes will appear to be blue in color at first even though they can't focus right now. They will be able to see shapes after about 2 weeks of age during continued GSD development.
The German Shepherd pups eyes and ears should be fully open by now and many may have their first incisor teeth beginning to erupt. The puppies should also be crawling quite well by this time. This is the beginning of the transitional period of GSD development which typically lasts about a week or so. This is also a period of profound changes in the German Shepherd puppies growth and development.
The German Shepherd puppy will begin to be more independent from it's mom during this time. During this time the German Shepherd puppies will begin to eliminate on their own and should start walking within 2- to 3 days (by about day 16 or so) - very shaky at first, but with practice growing legs will soon become less wobbly.
Around Day 16 - 18
Beginning social interactions with other GSD littermates also begins around this time in GSD development. You can observe tail wagging as well as the beginning of play fighting. German Shepherd puppies will also be eliminating on their own by this time.
Around Day 21
Around this date the German Shepherd puppy will move from the transitional phase into the socialization period of GSD development. By this time GSD puppies should be able to walk pretty well, with a more adult-like gait. They will also begin a more active exploration of their environments and that of their GSD littermates.
This period is thought to last from about 2.5 weeks of age to 13 weeks. This is an extremely important time for the emotional and social development of the German Shepherd puppy.
This is also a period of dramatic changes in your German Shepherd puppies life. This is the period in GSD development when puppies can form bonds with species outside of its own (such as human beings). This is also the time when the puppy can identify their own species as well as being able to identify future social partners. Oftentimes, the peak of sensitivity to the formation of social bonds is described to be between 6 to 8 weeks of age. This is also called the fear period in GSD development!
By now social play becomes an important factor in GSD development and German Shepherd puppies learn how to interact with litter mates and adult animals of their species as well.
They can also play with toys, play fight, play with humans and other animals and are beginning to eat other soft foods to supplement their mother's milk. Many times the GSD puppies are fearless during this time - exploring their environment and all that is about them.
This is also a good time for continued exposure to new and novel things, to various people and other kinds of animals, all while the German Shepherd puppy continues to develop. The body temperature of the GSD puppy at this time has reached a steady temperature of about 100º while the heart rate has slowed to about 170 BPM. It is also important to note that most German Shepherd Puppies will have a full set of teeth by this time - poor mom :~(.
The socialization stage is very important in the growth of GSD development, however it should be looked at within the context of the developing emotional system of the puppy. At around 3 - 5 weeks of age attraction responses in German Shepherd puppies are very strong. These kinds of responses begin to diminish between 5 - 7 weeks of age as fear responses begin to emerge.
It is important to note that early socialization is tremendously important in the development of well-adjusted GSD puppies. During these few weeks, your German Shepherd puppy will also learn how to play and communicate with it's littermates, respond to humans it comes in contact with and how to get along safely in the adult dog world.
Around Week 6
German Shepherd puppies begin exhibiting more adult like behaviors such as mounting of other litter mates and demonstrating dominance roles. Sniffing of tails and noses also becomes an important part of the greeting process among their canine peers. Between about 7 - 9 weeks of age the fear response may become so strong as to begin to overwhelm the attraction response. For other puppies the social motivation to make contact may very well overcome any wariness during this phase of GSD development.
Around weeks 7 - 12
Among other things, this is an ideal age of socializing your German Shepherd puppy to humans, other animals and new surroundings and objects. It also a great time to learn such important skills as: leash training, housebreaking, crate training, accepting gentle handling and grooming and to accept human domination and control.
The socialization period is absolutely critical in GSD development and acceptance of other animal species. If a GSD puppy is not exposed to horses, sheep, goats, other dogs, cats or small children before it reaches 12 weeks, it is likely it will never accept them.
You may also observe that your German Shepherd pups ears are beginning to come up in some form or fashion. Don't be surprised by the wild and interesting shapes that they may take on as they mature. As the puppy goes through the teething process the ears will go up and down and will do all sorts of weird things - one up one down; one flopping to the left, the other to the right; both in the center, etc.
Around 3 Months
The socialization period of GSD development ends and the juvenile period begins. This period is thought to occur from the end of the primary socialization period through sexual maturity. All puppy teeth should be in by now and the German Shepherd puppies temperature is now at an adult level of 102º, or thereabouts.
Motor skills are increasing for the GSD puppy. During this time the puppy is still refining both learning and social skills as well. While puppies in this phase can learn quite well, they are easily distracted and very hard to keep on task. This is an excellent time to start puppy kindergarten. This is also a good time to start being very aware of your GSD puppies ear carriage.
Around 4 Months
German Shepherd puppies will begin to lose their puppy teeth and will soon replace them with their adult teeth, generally starting with the incisors. Young German Shepherds will continue to learn about their environment and all the individuals in it throughout their social maturization process. This is often the time when older puppies are learning about their social relationships within the environment they live. Social maturity takes more time to achieve than sexual maturity.
In the beginning of social maturity dogs will begin to display more mature, adult social behaviors. This time is thought to vary between breeds and from dog to dog and to occur anywhere from 12 - 36 months of age, especially in the larger breeds such as German Shepherds.
Generally speaking, I do not consider my German Shepherds to be adults until the males are between 2 1/2 - 3 years old and the females are over 2 years old. Again, this varies from German Shepherd to German Shepherd but this is a good place to start. If your German Shepherd puppies ears are not standing up by this time on their own it is a good time to consider taping them. Detailed directions for this process can be found
Around 6 Months (or later)
At this age the pediatric period ends in GSD development. Overall, most of the puppies internal body systems are nearly "adult" even though the skeleton is still growing and will for some time to come. In many respects your German Shepherd puppy is now a "small adult". The heart rate has decreased again to about 70 BPM and by the end of this month the GSD puppy should have a full set of adult teeth.
Also an important milestone: German Shepherd females reach sexual maturity and have their first estrus (heat) period. If the GSD's ears are not up by this time you need to take action quickly to get them up before it is too late. Read the article on
Around 7 - 12 Months
German Shepherd males reach sexual maturity and begin to hike their leg when urinating. It is important to be especially firm and consistent about setting limits and enforcing commands during this time since your older GSD puppy may challenge dominance of other dogs or humans during this stage. If the German Shepherd puppies ears are not standing on their own by this point, there is a good chance that they will never stand on their own.
Around 14 - 16 Months of Age
The German Shepherds attention span is now much longer. This is an ideal age in GSD development to start "Beginning" level classes of obedience training. Bonding to humans is now very firmly established and your German Shepherds vocal and body communications are now that of a more mature individual dog - and more easily understood, and well on their way to many years of happy companionship with you.