Weeks four through eight of a puppy’s life is an exciting time. Though his life still looms far ahead of him with many new experiences on the horizon, it is during these critical weeks that a puppy will learn the necessary life skills for successfully navigating his world. Puppies removed from their mother prior to eight weeks of age may be able to survive with assistance from a human being, but the lessons learned from their mother cannot be replicated any other way. It is during these weeks that a mother teaches her puppies how to be appropriate companions and prepares them for what awaits them when they leave her nest for their new homes.
Weeks Four Through Eight
During the first twelve weeks of a puppy’s life, he learns most of the skills he will need for a life as beloved family member. The more positive experiences a puppy has during this time frame, the more well-adjusted he will become. The ideal desired outcome is for a puppy to respond to new experiences with confidence and curiosity. This critical socialization period begins at the fourth week of a puppy’s life and continues until he is well-established in his new home.
Here are some of the things you can expect to see during weeks four through eight of a puppy’s life:
While both hearing and sight develop earlier on, a puppy now begins to develop more acutely defined senses of smell, touch, and taste. Puppies begin to explore their world with their mouths and their paws, wrestling more with their litter mates and responding to things that happen when they touch, taste, or smell them.
By four weeks of age, puppies have learned to walk and are toddling along quite nicely. It is also during this time frame that puppies become social beings. They have an interest in interacting with the people in their home, and their favorite activity is roughhousing with their littermates. It is at this time that some breeders allow select guests to begin to visit the puppies. However, since puppies have not yet been vaccinated and are only protected by the immunity received from their mother’s colostrum, extreme hygienic standards must be observed to ensure the health and well-being of the puppies.
Since puppies are the most receptive to new experiences during these next four weeks, now is the time when breeders begin to introduce puppies to one new thing per day. Some days it may be something as simple as vacuuming in their play room next to their pen, others, a new toy, or even something unusual for them to walk on such as bubble wrap. All of these items are intended to help a puppy learn that new things don’t have to be scary and prepares him well for the new items he may encounter in his life with his forever family.
Mother Teaches Discipline
While puppies are hard at work exploring their new world with their teeth and paws, the momma dog begins the task of teaching her puppies appropriate behavior for their future lives as companion dogs. When puppy play becomes too intense, the mother dog will step in to diffuse the situation, correcting the offending puppy if possible. Littermates also play a role in teaching bite inhibition by squealing when a nip obtained in a wrestling match is just a little too hard.
The process of a mother teaching her puppies appropriate manners is fascinating to watch. She will often play with her puppies just a little too rough in order to then discipline them, so they learn the correct response to correction. There is no human equivalent to a mother dog’s instruction of her children, and it is vital that they remain with her until at least eight weeks of age to learn all of her lessons well.
Weaning Takes Place
As teeth begin to break through the gum line, the mother dog loses interest in feeding her young brood. Why? Because those sharp little teeth hurt, and puppies often don’t know their own strength. During this time, breeders begin to feed the puppies a slurry which is typically comprised of soaked then well ground kibble enriched with some warmed goat’s milk to simulate the mother’s milk. At four weeks of age, this mixture remains quite liquid as the puppies are only capable of lapping and not chewing. Over time, the slurry becomes thicker until the puppies are able to manage kibble on their own. This needs to be accomplished by the time the puppies are eight weeks of age as most will soon be moving on to their new homes and must be on completely solid foods by then.
As mentioned in the previous section, teeth begin to erupt at four weeks of age. These teeth are merely baby teeth that will be replaced by a complete set of adult teeth when the puppy is approximately five months of age. During this phase, puppies will often seek out things to sink their teeth into because their little mouths hurt from the pain of teeth breaking through the sensitive gums. It is especially important to ensure puppies have access to toys and bones that will help to ease the discomfort they experience at this time. Cold things are especially soothing.
Hierarchy Is Learned
In order for a puppy to be successfully integrated into a home, he must understand where he fits within the family hierarchy. This begins at four weeks of age while the puppy is yet with his breeder and his mother. Puppies quickly learn that he who holds the resources is the one who rules the roost. They look to their mother for guidance and respect her discipline and correction, but they also begin to understand the role humans play as well as any canine or feline siblings in their home. Dog are most comfortable both as puppies and as adults when they know where they belong in the chain of command.
I’m 8 Weeks Old! Now what?
By eight weeks of age, most puppies are ready to begin the journey to their new home. Socialization should continue there; particularly over the coming four weeks. However, some breeders feel they are better equipped to lead a puppy through that sensitive time period and thus opt to keep their puppies until they are ten, or even twelve, weeks old prior to releasing them to their new families. The work is not finished when a puppy leaves the breeder’s home; however, his foundation should be well set and firmly rooted in solid ground. A good breeder and an excellent mother dog ensures the very best possible start in life for every puppy. Their importance cannot be overstated.
Puppies can be lots of fun, but lots of love and care goes into crafting the ideal companion dog. When it comes to raising puppies well, it truly does take a village!