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Puppyhood is mysterious, exciting, challenging, curious, and full of transitions. Puppies are busy developing physical, cognitive, and social skills, which follow a very general timeline. If this sounds familiar, it’s not so different from the timelines and transitions we recognize in human babies and toddlers. And, as with children, understanding what happens and when helps us know what to expect and what puppies need from us in order to grow into happy, healthy, and well-adjusted adult dogs.

A Puppy’s Beginning: Newborn to Four Weeks Old

  • For the first three weeks or so, a puppy’s senses haven’t started working. They don’t see hear, or smell yet and spend most of their time asleep.
  • A lot starts to happen between two and four weeks. Puppies begin to interact with their littermates and their mother. Their eyes open, they can see, and their other senses develop.
  • By four weeks, a puppy can walk and may even start to bark and wag his tail. Prior to four week, puppies need stimulation from their mother to eliminate; around the four-week mark, they can do this by themselves. And, as anyone who’s raised a puppy knows, this is also the time those razor-sharp puppy teeth emerge.

Cute newborn welsh springer spaniel puppies, one month old.

Lots of Changes in Your Pup’s Life: Four to Eight Weeks

  • This is a busy time for a young pup. The mother begins weaning her pups and teaching them how to behave.
  • A puppy at this stage plays with his siblings, which is the equivalent of learning the rules of the playground.
  • This is also the time when young puppies begin to explore and have a high fear threshold and can be gently and gradually exposed to everyday stimuli in the environment.
  • The eight-week mark can be an important time in a puppy’s life because this is often when he goes to his permanent home. He’s matured enough to adjust to a new environment and still has a high fear threshold.

The “Fear Period” for Puppies: Eight to Twelve Weeks

  • It seems counterintuitive that you’ve brought your pup home at eight weeks, just when he’s becoming fearful and wary of new experiences. But he’s also at his most impressionable, and positive experiences will help him adjust to his new environment. This is your opportunity to expose your pup to as many new people, new animals, and new situations as you think he can handle.
  • Like a young child, a puppy at this age is like a sponge, soaking up information and experiences. But it is important to avoid frightening or painful experiences as much as possible. And, when such things do happen, “jolly” your pup through it, heap on the praise, and generally respond positively to allay your puppy’s fears.
  • Most rewarding of all during this period, this is the time when puppies form strong attachments to their people. You’re forging a lifetime relationship.

Cute looking welsh springer spaniel puppy

Pre-Adolescence in Puppies: 12 to 24 Weeks

  • Starting around 12 weeks, your puppy is less fearful and is becoming more curious and independent. He has a lot to figure out, including his place in the family pecking order. Personality traits, like dominance and submissiveness emerge, as he learns more social skills.
  • Also emerging are his permanent teeth, which means chewing, chewing, and more chewing. It’s one of the ways that puppies explore, so chew toys will become a household necessity.
  • By sixteen weeks, your pup is ready for school. This is a good time to sign up for training classes, where you’ll learn how to train your pup and he’ll start learning some social skills. Choose classes that are fun and enjoyable for you both. Your pup is also ready for house-training and some basic commands like “come.”
  • Keep up the socialization, exposing your pup to new people, places, and other animals. If you observe him closely, you’ll soon start to understand his body language and the signals that he’s uncomfortable or frightened. Exposing your puppy to new things in a controlled way will help him feel confident and secure. With his newfound confidence and growing independence, he’ll start exploring further away from your side.

Welcome to Life With a Teenaged Dog: Six to Twelve Months

  • Remember that adorable cuddly little puppy of just a few months ago? He’s a teenager now and things could get interesting. Dogs of this age start to test boundaries and many will try to assert themselves in the pack. They may challenge their humans and other pets in the household.
  • Pups at this stage need a great deal of stimulation and activity; their boredom threshold is about the same as a young teenager’s. You can expect some misbehaving and disobedience during this stage, as your pup reaches sexual maturity. Keep up the training and provide lots of opportunity for play and exercise.
  • Your puppy will become quite the explorer during this stage. Walks around the neighborhood become an adventure for him as he uses scent to learn about his environment; where other dogs live, the best spot to stop for a pee, the bushes where squirrels hide, and whose grass is the best for rolling around on. Combine teaching good leash manners with enough freedom for some neighborhood exploration.

Not a Puppy Anymore: 12 to 18 Months

  • Most dogs reach their emotional maturity between 12 and 18 months and have the temperament and personality they’ll have through adulthood.
  • In general, smaller breeds mature sooner, while larger breeds can take longer to reach both physical and emotional maturity.
  • You can still expect some puppy hijinks and energy and, depending on breed, that energy could last for several more years.

You’ve spent the last 18 months giving your pup a safe environment in which to grow. You’ve been preparing him for adulthood by teaching him to be a good family member, and you’re becoming familiar with his temperament and needs. Most importantly, you’ve created a bond that will last a lifetime.

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Related article: Puppy Training Timeline: Teaching Good Behavior Before Its Too Late
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