Adding a puppy to your family is an exciting time. As you plan to bring your little bundle of joy home, there are many factors to consider. Of course, you’ll want to rush right out to the nearest pet store to buy a collar, leash, bed, and some treats. Then there are the decisions regarding what food is the best choice for your pup and the stockpiling of toys for Fido to play with. But there are more preparations to consider than simply the acquisition of the things a puppy will need to have in place in his new home. There are many “firsts” a puppy will experience during his first year of life, and it is always a good idea for families to be prepared with the knowledge of what they can expect and what their role is in helping their puppy to develop into a well-adjusted canine good citizen.
The first four weeks of a puppy’s life are a time when critical physical and emotional development occur. At the time of whelping, puppies are born without the ability to see or hear since neither their eyes nor ears are yet fully developed. During the first two weeks of life, puppies remain both blind and deaf with eyes starting to open as early as Day 10 and hearing becoming evident sometime within the third week of life.
During these initial few weeks, puppies also lack the ability to eliminate their urine and fecal matter independently and must be stimulated via licking from their mother. They also are unable to walk, crawl, or stand, relying on the pulling motions of their front legs to move.
Puppies do little more than sleep and nurse during their first two weeks of life. These two functions are vital to a puppy’s growth and health. Food provides the nourishment for their bodies to gain strength and continue to grow, and sleep plays a vital role in the developmental process as well.
At this stage, puppies must be kept warm. If they succumb to a chill, they will die as they lack the ability to regulate their own body temperature at this young age.
During the first four weeks of life, puppies experience the following things:
- Are born with their eyes and ears sealed tightly shut
- Need colostrum from their mothers during the first 24 hours to provide a baseline of maternal immunity against disease.
- Nurse and sleep to develop properly with appropriate weight gain being an indicator of good health
- Gravitate towards their littermates and mother to remain warm, a critical component of survival
- Cannot urinate or defecate independently until approximately week 3 or 4
- Cannot regulate their own body temperature with this ability developing before the end of the first month of life
- Begin their social development between weeks 3 and 4 and start exploring their world by standing and taking the first steps, learning about people, and using their mouths and nose to explore their environment
Many changes continue to occur in a puppy’s second month of life. By week 5, your puppy should now be able to toddle along quite well though he will still gravitate towards the company of his mother and littermates.
Motor skills are refined during this time frame, and socially, your puppy is learning how to play and how to use his mouth appropriately. During the second month of a puppy’s life, his little teeth are starting to erupt through the gumline, a process that can be painful for your pup, and for you, should your pooch decide to chomp on your fingers. As part of the teething process, your breeder will provide your pup with safe chew toys to ease the discomfort experienced as a result of your puppy’s new set of chompers. These teeth are known as deciduous teeth and will be replaced by adult teeth as early as five months of age or as late as eight, depending on your puppy’s personal growth trajectory.
When your puppy’s teeth begin to break through the gums, his mother will begin the process of teaching him to use his mouth appropriately. This is a vital skill that teaches a puppy how to live in a human’s world.
In the second month of life, potty training can begin though it will still need to be practiced in the puppy’s new home once he joins his family at eight weeks of age. Many breeders begin by implementing a separate potty area within the puppy’s playpen to teach the puppy that there is a particular spot he needs to go when it is time to relieve himself.
Puppies are extremely curious and social during this month, and it is important to expose them to as many new experiences as possible; however, these interactions must remain positive as during this developmental phase all novel situations leave a lasting imprint on a puppy’s future emotional development and behavior. Since a puppy has not yet received all of his puppy vaccinations and is relying on maternal antibodies, it is best to limit social activity to occurring within the breeder’s home only.
During the second month of life, puppies learn to:
- Stand and walk on their own
- Urinate and defecate independently
- Gain their puppy teeth and learn how to use them appropriately
- Begin playing with their littermates and learning to be social with human beings
- Explore their environment with their teeth and nose
- Develop more acute motor skills
- Start the potty training process
- Transition from mother’s milk to soft gruel then kibble
- Leave for them new homes at eight weeks of age or later
- Receive their first set of vaccinations and final deworming
- Learn important lessons from their mother and littermates
The third month of a puppy’s life is typically the time frame when a puppy first joins the home of his new family. During this phase, puppies undergo a large transformation in social development, and they are most amenable to building strong bonds with people.
It is also during the third month of life that puppies begin to experience fear periods with the first one often occurring at 9 weeks of age. It is again important during Month 3 to ensure that all experiences your puppy encounters remains positive as his response to new stimuli is still being formed. Negative experiences will leave a lasting impact on your puppy and can affect future behavior. For this reason, extra care must be taken to limit your puppy’s new social experiences until the fear period has passed.
During this time, many puppy owners enroll their new family member in a puppy socialization or early obedience class. This is an excellent idea since a puppy’s brain is undergoing rapid development during this month, and he is eager and amenable to learning new skills.
With the first vaccination in a puppy series occurring at week 8, the second set should be administered during week 12. Many veterinarians will also recommend an additional de-worming just to be on the safe side.
Month 3 brings these changes to a puppy’s life:
- Joins his new family at age 8 weeks or later
- Develops socially
- Experiences fear periods
- Bonds deeply with his family
- Is curious and affectionate
- Begins puppy socialization or obedience classes
- Receives the second set of shots in his puppy series at week 12
- May receive an additional deworming
By Month 4, a puppy is well-established and comfortable in his home. He has come out of his shell, and his true personality has emerged. It is important for families to continue appropriate socialization during this time period to encourage proper canine behavior and discourage the development of bad habits.
Month 4 continues to be a time of introduction to new things, and it is an excellent idea for you to take your pup to experience the things that he will regularly engage in during his life with your family.
Play time with other dogs is encouraged to continue social development as other dogs of appropriate size and temperament help to teach your puppy essential life skills such as acceptable play, bite inhibition, and dog to dog interactions. Limit your puppy’s play time to playmates that are suited to his size and energy level and interrupt any play that is becoming too raucous or that appears aggressive. Bear in mind that your puppy will want to play longer than he is emotionally and physically ready for, so be sure to interrupt play sessions for naptime to prevent your puppy from injuring himself or becoming cranky. At this age, your puppy should sleep two to three times longer than the amount of time he spends playing. An average playtime should consist of no longer than half an hour.
It is also important to limit the amount and type of activity your puppy receives until he has passed the important physical marker of 18 months of age. Since the growth plates of a puppy do not close until after this point, exercise that is too frequent or too strenuous can negatively impact a puppy’s structure, potentially leading to problems with joints and muscles later in life.
Puppies begin to lose their deciduous teeth as early as four months of age, and you may find your pooch gnawing on things you’d rather he not like your shoes and furniture. These lost baby teeth will be replaced by a full set of adult teeth as early as five months or as late as eight. To ease the pain of teething, provide your puppy with chew toys to soothe his gums. Some people also like to give their puppies frozen treats to numb the pain.
At age 16 weeks, your puppy should receive his final vaccination in his puppy series, and most vets also encourage a final round of deworming medicine as a precaution.
During Month 4, puppies:
- Continue to develop socially
- Begin losing their baby teeth
- Can experience inappropriate chewing
- Should spend supervised and limited time playing with other socially appropriate dogs
- Receive their final vaccination in their puppy series at age 16 weeks
- Continue to grow and learn
By Month 5, your puppy is ready to assert his independence and may begin to challenge your will…and your rules. Though he is cute, you must remain vigilant during your pup’s bout of adolescence,a or your pup will soon rule the roost in your home.
Puppies become very mischievous during this time frame, so ensuring your home is completely puppy-proofed is a vital first step in keeping him out of harm’s way. During this independent period, puppies who would normally come when called begin to resist having their own plans interrupted by a persistent owner. For this reason, off leash activity should be restricted to fenced areas.
Month 5 should continue to be filled with novel and positive experiences and plenty of socialization. It is also during this time period that you should begin to consider at what age you would like to have your puppy spayed or neutered. This is a conversation best held between your breeder and your veterinarian who can provide valuable insights into the appropriate time for a puppy to undergo this change in their reproductive health.
In Month 5 of a puppy’s life, he:
- Begins to assert his independence, occasionally challenging authority
- Needs to continue appropriate socialization
- Will continue to lose teeth which will be replaced with his adult set
- Become mischievous and need consistent training and firm expectations
This last month in the sixth month period takes your puppy to the halfway mark in his first year of life. Physically, your puppy may begin to resemble an adult dog though he will still have some growing yet to do.
Within his larger frame still lies an immature dog in need of guidance, love, support, and training. Socialization should continue during this time period as well. At age six months, you may discover your puppy experiences mood swings, a normal part of this age. You may also encounter the puppy who once knew all of his obedience commands solidly has now promptly forgot them all. Patience, persistence, and consistency are key to helping your puppy weather through this time period.
Female puppies will soon begin their journey into sexual maturity with their first heat cycle occurring as early as six months for some dogs. Larger breed females often do not experience their first cycle until much later, sometimes as late as 15-18 months of age.
Male puppies may also reach sexual maturity at this age. Often this change is evidenced by the lifting of legs to pee and/or mark in your home. Since a male puppy is capable of impregnating a female was young as six months of age, it is important to keep your boy contained on your property and to discuss with your veterinarian the correct age for spaying and neutering.
Though dogs can be spayed or neutered as young as six months of age, recent research shows that doing so at this age can have a negative impact on a dog’s adult health. It is best to discuss this thoroughly with your veterinarian and breeder to make the best informed decision for your pooch.
At six months of age, your puppy:
- May reach sexual maturity
- Should have or be well on the way to having a full set of adult teeth
- Will experience adolescence during which time they may forget previously established obedience commands and household rules
- May undergo mood swings
- Will continue to exert independence
- May already look like an adult dog
Yes, the first six months of a puppy’s life can be a fun time! It seems the months just fly by, leaving you a little teary-eyed at the rapid passing of time. But not to fear, there are still six months of puppyhood yet to enjoy!
Months Seven through Twelve of a Puppy’s Life—What to Expect
Congratulations! You’ve successfully made it through the first six months of your puppy’s life. For many owners, there is a lot of wistfulness when the realization hits that their little pup is growing up. But not to worry, there are still six months of puppyhood yet to enjoy. Though most small breed dogs will reach full maturity by 12 months of age, larger breed pooches enjoy a longer developmental period which often extends up to 24 months or slightly longer. During the next six months of a puppy’s life, changes continue to occur; however, they are not as easily spotted as during the initial few months since the rate of development begins to slow. Still, it is always a good idea for owners to familiarize themselves with what they can expect from the next 7-12 months of their puppy’s life.
By age 7 months, most puppies are racing around, taking their world by storm. During this important developmental phase, your puppy will experience his largest growth spurt, leaving most breeds near the size they will remain throughout their lifetime. For small breed dogs, this period finds them reaching between 80 to 100 percent of their full adult height, giving a strong indication of the puppy’s adult size.
By age 9 months, a puppy will most assuredly now have his full set of adult teeth. For many female dogs, their first heat cycle will have occurred though in larger breeds this may be yet to come. Male dogs also reach sexual maturity by 9 months of age with many breeds experiencing this shift sooner in their growth trajectory. It is at this time that many vets recommend spaying and neutering puppies who are not projected to participate in the breeding plans of a reputable breeder. Your veterinarian can assist you with making an informed decision as to what time is the right time to consider this type of reproductive surgery as well as its advantages and disadvantages.
During this period, your puppy will begin to experience some emotional, social, and behavioral changes. Your puppy has had several months in your family to learn what his role is and how he is to interact with the people, animals, and things in his home environment. Now, he turns his attention to what it means to be a dog when around other creatures of his kind.
When out on a walk, you will begin to notice your puppy making use of his body language to communicate with other dogs. The most common things dogs do to relate other dogs include such things as:
- Body posture
- Eye movements
- Ear positioning
- Tail positioning
It is important for you as an owner to understand what each of these gestures means as your puppy is conveying important information regarding his emotional and physical well-being at a time when he is still learning how to communicate with his own species. If your puppy’s body language expresses tension or fear, it is critical that you not force him to approach the dog, person, or situation eliciting this response from him. Instead, provide a way of escape by walking the other way if possible or moving to the opposite side of the street. During this time period, your puppy is still formulating his assessment of how trustworthy you are, and he needs to understand that you will support and help him when he needs you most.
Since your puppy will continue to grow during this developmental stage, you will want to continue feeding him an appropriate amount of the puppy food that you, your breeder, and your vet have selected for him. Though some people will opt to transition to an adult stage food now, it is best that your puppy remain on a food that is formulated specifically for the needs of a growing puppy. Be sure to not give in to overfeeding as a result of extra helpings or too many training treats as excess weight on a puppy’s frame can harm his development, even having a lasting impact.
Training should be an important part of a puppy’s life between ages 7-9 months. By this point of his journey, your puppy should have completed his puppy series of vaccinations and have received all of his necessary de-wormings. He is now sufficiently protected to begin engaging with the world outside of his immediate home environment. However, this doesn’t mean that your puppy now has the manners he needs to have in place to be considered a socially appropriate dog in society. Of course, it is far too much to expect a puppy this young to be able to walk properly on a lead, but now is a good time to begin this level of instruction. Because a puppy’s growth plates still have not yet closed, it is best to limit walks to a maximum of 30 minutes and for them to only occur on level paths or grass areas to prevent injury or strain. Bring along lots of treats to help reinforce the proper walking technique to avoid your puppy learning to pull when on a lead, an important skill for all puppies to master. Be prepared for setbacks as puppies like to challenge your authority during this time period. Remain consistent and firm but loving for the best results.
To summarize what you can expect in the period of 7-9 months in a puppy’s life:
- Your puppy will experience a large growth spurt.
- Your puppy will now be 80-100 percent his full adult size.
- Your puppy will have a full set of adult teeth.
- Your puppy will most likely have reached sexual maturity.
- You will need to continue to feed appropriate amounts of puppy food, carefully monitoring your puppy’s weight.
- Your puppy will need continued manners and canine life skills training.
- Your puppy may test your authority.
- Your puppy begins to communicate with other dogs via his body language.
- Your puppy will continue to bond with you and need your ongoing support.
The Period Between 10-12 Months
When your puppy reaches age 10-12 months, you’ve officially got a teenager on your hands! Just as with human teenagers, you will begin to see changes in attitude and demeanor which must be monitored and properly shaped to encourage social and emotional development into a well-adjusted canine family member.
During this phase of life, puppies truly being to embrace their independence. They have gained sufficient physical maturity to enjoy lengthier periods of activity and have the confidence to explore places more freely without need for the immediate proximity of their owner. Though these changes are needful and positive, they must be properly directed to ensure the well-being and continued safety of your puppy.
By this age, small breed dogs will reach their full adult height with only the filling out of the dog’s frame remaining for him to achieve complete physical maturity. It is often during this phase that dogs prone to health issues will begin to exhibit early symptoms. It is always an excellent idea to be aware of what genetic issues may befall your breed and to speak with your breeder to understand what ailments may have surfaced in the ancestry of their lines. Knowing what to look for is a critical component of detecting changes in your dog and catching them early enough for an illness or injury to respond positively to treatment.
Your puppy’s brain is going full speed ahead at this time. Because of this, it is vitally important to continue investing quality time in training. Mental stimulation will also play an important part in keeping your puppy a well-adjusted and content companion. Now is a good time to introduce such things as treat puzzles or Kongs stuffed with treats which provide both satisfaction for the brain and the jaws and promote stress relief and calmness.
The teenage/adolescent years are most often the time when behavioral problems begin to rear their heads. This is why it is so critical for you to remain alert for potential troublesome behaviors and to be quick to head them off at the pass to prevent them from becoming ongoing issues. Because our dogs still bear ancient instincts, their desire to join a “pack” is primal for them, meaning they will often test the limits of their boundaries to join up with other animals within your neighborhood. Though independence is a positive trait you want to encourage, it is a crucial component of keeping your dog safe that he understands his limitations and not go beyond them. To accomplish this, it is wise to invest quality training time into teaching a solid “come” and “stay.” These two commands carry the potential of not only keeping your dog from danger but also of saving his life. Once your dog has established that he can come and stay when commanded to do so both in familiar and unfamiliar environments, it is a good idea to continue training these commands in the midst of distractions. Dogs do not generalize well and often will shut out the voice of a well-meaning owner in the presence of something they find appealing or distracting. For this reason, it cannot be overstated how important it is to teach your dog that when you issue a command, it must be obeyed and obeyed immediately. This is not to exert control over your dog or to crush his spirit; it is to protect him and, if necessary, to save his life. If you find your dog struggles when placed under a certain distraction, don’t despair. Simply take a few steps back to something less challenging for him then advance slowly, allowing your dog to set the pace for what he is ready to accept. Over time, he will gain the confidence and focus to fulfill commands within environments that were once too stimulating for him.
At age one year, most owners opt to booster their puppy’s vaccination series to provide a final layer of immunity. At this time, it is an excellent idea to discuss with your veterinarian your vaccination plans going forward. Some veterinarians recommend a three year protocol while others are more open to performing titer tests as a means of measuring the remaining antibodies at work in a dog’s system prior to considering revaccination.
During this phase, you can begin transitioning your puppy from puppy food to a high quality adult food. Your breeder can provide valuable insights into what brands are best suited to your particular breed. It is also an excellent idea to discuss this with your veterinarian who will want to ensure the brand you select has the correct caloric content, distribution of ingredients to meet appropriate nutritional standards, and is properly balanced to support good health. Carefully observe the amounts recommended for your dog’s size and current weight. If your dog seems hungry or is incredibly active, you can increase portion sizes incrementally, taking care to watch his weight to ensure he is not gaining, and thus, putting excess stress on his joints and skeletal frame. You will also want to be sure your dog has access to a plentiful supply of clean water whenever he wants it.
Training will need to continue throughout this phase as well, though by this time, your dog most likely will have his basic manners and obedience commands well in hand. Dogs respond best to positive reinforcement training, so it is always wise to frame any learning experience with treats and lots of praise. Continue to train fun things with your dog as well. Most dogs love to learn, and all dogs enjoy time spent with their favorite people. Trick training is an excellent way to engage your dog’s brain and to build your bond.
Here are the things you can expect during months 10-12 of your puppy’s life:
- Your puppy is now enjoying his adolescence.
- Your puppy will most likely have reached his full adult height, depending on his breed.
- Your puppy’s independence will need to be shaped appropriately.
- Your puppy may need his puppy vaccinations boostered at age one year, as your vet recommends.
- Your puppy will need to have his “come” and “stay” commands reinforced and practiced in increasingly distracting environments.
- Your puppy will transition from puppy food to adult food.
- Your puppy will need continued training to maintain optimal mental stimulation.
- Your puppy will need regular and appropriate exercise for his age.
Yes, the first year of a puppy’s life is full of fun and firsts! Enjoy the ride—the first year of life goes too fast, but thankfully, you’ve got a lifetime of good times yet to enjoy together.