Puppies grow quickly, and growing up brings many changes. Your puppy will change not only physically, but intellectually and emotionally, too. As a new doggie parent, you can better understand and anticipate your puppy’s needs if you recognize where she’s at in her development. Remember to be patient – she’s only a kid once!
Stage 1 – Neonatal – from birth to two weeks
Newborns are completely dependent on their moms (or surrogate) for food and warmth, since they can’t regulate their own body temperature yet. They spend 90% of their time sleeping and the remaining time eating. At this stage, they find their mother’s teats through smell and touch. In the early days, they get colostrum from their mother, which builds their immune systems. Puppies can be handled gingerly at this stage but it’s important not to stress out the mother.
Stage 2 – Transitional – 2-4 weeks
At this age, puppies add two new senses to touch and smell. Ears start functioning at two weeks and eyelids open at between ten and 16 days. Communication goes from mews and grunts to barks. They start walking and wagging their tails, and their baby teeth begin emerging. Soft food can be introduced towards the end of this phase. Now more independent from Mom, the puppies will start to play together and explore what’s around them. Increased human interaction is also important at this age.
Stage 3 – Socialization – 4-12 weeks
Puppies begin socializing in earnest during this phase, learning social skills from their littermates during playtime, as well as acceptable activities such as inhibited biting. Ensure your puppy has lots of interaction with a wide variety of humans, from young to old, male and female. Handle the puppy all over so he becomes used to being touched. Limit exposure to dogs outside the family until after vaccinations (your vet can make recommendations on this). Weaning is usually complete by week seven or eight. Somewhere between the eighth to 12th week, puppies go through a “fear period”. Instead of being curious about everything, they may be frightened of everyday items and experiences. Don’t fret – your puppy will get through it – but take care not to overstimulate your new buddy with too many new situations
Stage 4 – Rapid growth – 3-6 months
Be prepared for daily changes during this stage. Puppies grow very quickly in these weeks, and may test boundaries with other animals and with you. If you have other dogs, expect some play fighting as the puppy learns where he fits into the group. You can count on an abundance of curiosity, affection and maybe even some stubborn behaviour. Start positive training with your pup at this stage but be careful not to over-exercise him.
Puppies begin losing their baby teeth around three months so you may find your puppy chewing on anything he can find to alleviate the discomfort of adult teeth erupting. Introduce age- and size-appropriate chew toys. Hormone levels may factor into behaviour too, since an unneutered male puppy’s testosterone level increases fivefold toward the end of this stage. This level will remain elevated for several months and occurs so that adult dogs can recognize the puppy’s age and teach him the ropes about dog etiquette. Some puppies go through a second fear phase during these months. If you notice some aberrant protective or fearful behaviour, don’t shower your pup with more attention since that may encourage the unwanted behaviour. Use positive training to make your puppy more confident. As the human in your puppy’s life, you will require lots of patience, but puppies are so darn cute – and the rewards are worth it.
Stage 5 – Adolescence – 6-12 months
Your puppy should achieve his maximum height by the end of this stage, although he’ll likely still be building muscle and adding weight. He’ll also have boundless energy so provide lots of opportunities for exercise and play time. Continue the training and socialization processes so he becomes well adjusted and well behaved in situations with other animals, as well as kids and adults.
Male puppies will start to show an interest in girls at this point, while females may experience their first heat as early as five or six months. Recent research has shown health benefits to waiting until after one year of age to spay and neuter so do some research and speak to your veterinarian about this.
Stage 6 – Social maturity – 1-2 years
By the end of this stage, your puppy will be physically mature. The breed plays a role in this, with larger dogs taking longer to attain maximum physical growth. For most dogs, social maturity takes place during this time period too. Your puppy’s experiences up to this point will have an impact on his relationships in the future. Continue positive training to reinforce good behaviours and ensure a respectful dynamic between your dog and his human family members.