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Two Unexpected Ways Puppies Communicate

By Colleen Williams
November 15, 2018 • 3 min. read
mom and pup

During a dog’s 58- to 62-day pregnancy, known as the diestrus phase, a litter of about four to eight puppies will develop. While this seems incredibly fast compared to other mammal gestation periods (280 days for humans and 660 days for elephants), what’s more incredible is the speed at which puppies develop once they’re born.

Puppies go through numerous developmental milestones in their first few months after birth:

  1. Neonatal from 0 to 2 weeks
    • Puppies can’t see, smell or stand (just touch and taste).
  2. Transitional from 2 to 4 weeks
    • Sensory development including vision and hearing, they will also start walking and controlling their own bladder.
  3. Socialization from 4 to 20 weeks (1 month to 5 months and sometimes more)
    • Behavioral and social skills development including positive experiences with humans, bite inhibition and dog interactions.

During their development, it’s easy for us to miss small cues on how puppies communicate with each other and their mother during this time. Below we have shared two fascinating examples of how puppies communicate with each other and mom during their first few weeks after birth.

Hunger Cues

At birth a puppy is both blind and deaf, which is because their external ear canal is closed and their eyes are too. This is known as the neonatal phase and lasts for only two weeks. During this phase a puppy must rely upon her reflexes alone to survive, and even thrive, with her litter mates. These reflexes are known as primary reflexes and a puppy is born with four:

  1. Suckling Reflex for Feeding
  2. Burrowing Reflex for Keeping Warm
  3. Perineal Reflex for Urination and Defecation
  4. Carrying Reflex to Prevent Injury

All of these reflexes are essential to support a puppy’s development; however, the suckling reflex is one of the first methods used to communicate. It expresses the need for feeding, and mom responds.

Additionally, the suckling reflex combined with the burrowing reflex enables puppies to stay warm, as they can’t regulate their body temperature. Having successfully communicated with mom for the first time, a puppy will soon learn to communicate to get what she needs.

Bite Inhibitionpuppy bite inhibition

As a puppy’s nervous system and sensory development continues into the transitional phase, they start to develop teeth. Like most mammals, a puppy has two sets of teeth during their lifespan. Milk teeth will “erupt” (the formal term for what we call “coming in”) from between three to six weeks; the first teeth to erupt are typically the canines followed by the incisors and finally the premolars.

Teeth serve two communication purposes during this critical development phase. Many pet parents notice that a pup’s baby teeth feel very sharp, like little needles! This is also very much noticed by the pups’ mother, and will encourage weaning. The second form of communication is between the littermates themselves. As puppies develop teeth they begin playing more too, especially during week six and seven. As they begin to learn to control their jaws (i.e. bite inhibition) they will take turns pinning and nipping each other. As each puppy learns to control their bite strength or if they nip the submissive puppy too hard, you will hear a quick high-pitched squeal, lasting only for a split second. This communicates to the offending puppy it was too hard and typically the puppy who was nipped will stop playing. This removal of attention is nature’s way of eliminating bad social skills.

This form of communication allows all of the littermates to develop bite inhibition, which is an essential part of every puppy’s development from puppyhood into a well-adjusted socialized dog.


During the initial development phases and milestones, puppies will be communicating regularly and frequently with each other. Initially puppies communicate through their four primary reflexes, before progressing towards more sophisticated forms of communication such as verbal. Next time you have the exciting opportunity to see a litter, have a look to see if you can see any forms of communication between the mom and her puppies!

This article was provided by All Things Dogs —a digital dog publication looking to educate over 40,000,000 dog owners on how to care for their dogs.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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