Soft, cuddly, squirmy, mischievous puppies! There’s nothing quite like bringing one of these adorable bundles home for the first time, and because the experience is so unique, it’s important to be prepared. Your puppy will go through many changes during the first 18 months of their life, and knowing what to expect will make the process a lot easier. Ready to embark on an exciting adventure? Here’s what to expect from your growing pup week-to-week.
BIRTH TO SEVEN WEEKS
From the moment they are born, puppies can taste and feel. Between two to four weeks their eyes open, their teeth begin to come in, and they develop their senses of hearing and smell. By the fourth or fifth week their eyesight is well developed and they are starting to stand, stumble around, and wag their tail.
This period of time should be spent with their mother and littermates, as it is in that environment that they will begin to learn appropriate social behaviors, including bite inhibition, confidence, appropriate attention seeking, and appropriate submission. This is the time when a pup really learns how to be a dog.
EIGHT WEEKS TO ELEVEN WEEKS
Puppies are usually weaned off of their mother’s milk at six to seven weeks, and by eight weeks most puppies are ready to go home with a family.
During this time your puppy will be sleeping a lot, but they will also be getting familiar with their surroundings. Your pup will be very curious, impressionable, and easily scared. Be careful to avoid frightening experiences, and any necessary ones (such as vaccinations at the veterinarian), should be made less scary with treats, praise, and your positive attitude. However, never overly coddle or console your pup at this time, as it can affect their confidence.
You can start working on housebreaking and some training, but don’t expect too much, and don’t even think about discipline! Your pup is much too young to understand and punishment will only serve to frighten your pup and strain your budding relationship.
TWELVE TO FIFTEEN WEEKS
Your pup is starting to notice what gets your attention and who is in charge (in some cases, it may not be you). You may see signs of independence and confidence in your pal, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still looking to you for leadership. In fact, this is exactly when you should start showing them who is the boss with close supervision and regular training. Just remember to stay positive and avoid getting frustrated. Your pup is still very vulnerable and they are watching your every response.
A great thing to do during this time is enroll in a puppy training class. Classes are not only an excellent way to socialize your pup and get them comfortable with unfamiliar situations, they also teach critical skills like how to come, sit, and walk properly on a leash. Be sure that any class you enroll in is positive and not punishment-based.
SIXTEEN TO TWENTY FOUR WEEKS
Hold on tight -- adolescence is here. Your pup may begin ignoring known commands, chasing, nipping, barking, mounting, demanding attention, and basically acting like a little rascal. What’s it all about? They are nearing sexual maturity, and with it comes high energy and a need for stimulation.
Your pup will also probably begin teething, which occurs when they lose their baby teeth and adult teeth begin to push through the gums, causing pain and irritation. Your pup may act a little anxious and may even take out their pain on the leg of the dining room table or your favorite pair of sneakers. Combat this by offering safe toys for chewing.
During this time it is important to provide plenty of exercise and keep up with training, but don’t expect perfect obedience. Some dogs also go through a fear phase at four months of age, so try to keep a positive attitude.
Most veterinarians suggest spaying or neutering your dog at the end of this phase -- around six months of age.
SIX TO ELEVEN MONTHS
You’re not out of the woods yet! Even if your pup was spayed or neutered at six months, chances are they will still be causing a bit of mischief. At this time your growing pup is trying to come to terms with two conflicting ideas: they want to please you, but they also want to be independent. Expect to be tested. Give your pup an inch during this time, and they may take a mile. The best you can do is remain calm, and never let your puppy ignore your commands. Reinforce the meaning of the word “no,” which your pup will begin to understand (but may not obey!) when they reach adolescence.
TWELVE TO EIGHTEEN MONTHS
At some point during this phase, your pup will reach emotional maturity. It usually happens sooner for small dogs and later for large dogs. In some cases, a dog may continue to behave like a puppy until they are two years old! Enjoy it while it lasts, even if it comes with some behaviors that make you want to pull your hair out. Your dog likely won’t be this energetic and playful forever, so have fun while asserting your dominance and keeping up with training.
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