When people think about puppies they generally imagine a few different scenarios. Some people see a cute, adorable ball of fur to snuggle with, others see a crazy ball of energy chasing and chewing on everything in sight, or some see a baby that poops and pees everywhere and needs to be cleaned up after. Whatever we think of puppies, we generally consider there to be two general stages of a dogs growth and development, either they are a puppy or an adult.
However, puppyhood is a fairly large chunk of a dogs life, lasting anywhere from one to two years. Being able to break down this stage of development can provide us with a better understanding of what behaviors to expect and how best to approach training and socialization. Every dog is unique in their personalities and developmental progress, just as with children, but these stages of puppy development present a general guide to how your puppy will grow through the first weeks, months, and years of their life.
0 to 2 Weeks
At this stage of your puppies life they are not capable of doing very much at all. They are able to touch and taste, but their eyes and ears will not begin to open for another few weeks. The pup will only be concerned with its basic need for food, sleep, and warmth.
2 to 4 Weeks
This stage is when your puppy’s eyes will open, teeth start to come in, start to use the bathroom on their own, their sense of smell and hearing will begin to develop and they will start to stand and walk around (although still very wobbly!). As their awareness of self and surroundings begins to grow as does their curiosity to explore and expand their home. This stage is the beginning of your puppies emotional development and their unique personalities and characteristics will begin to develop, as such they are very susceptible to positive and negative experiences.
4 to 7 Weeks
During this stage your puppy’s curiosity will continue to blossom and they will want to explore farther out into their world. It is important that not be isolated, but continue to be exposed to people and what is happening in the home, as they will begin to respond to sounds, voices, and start to recognize different people. In this stage the puppy will continue to learn from their mother, litter mates, and people. They will establish pecking orders and there place in the group, as well as learning vital social skills regarding what behavior is acceptable and what is not. Postive experiences with people and their litter mates are important for the development and socialization of the puppy. Interacting with people on a regular basis will help shape how they interact with people throughout their lives. Also negative interactions with litter mates (example – one puppy who bullies the others) can lead to other puppies in the litter becoming timid and shy and not learning how to positively interact with other dogs.
7 to 12 Weeks
For most people this is the start of the most important stages of puppy development as this is the stage where pups will be brought home and transition into their new families. Puppies should never be taken away from their mother before 7-8 weeks as they will miss out on learning many social skills that could lead to future behavior problems. This is the optimal stage for puppies to move to new homes for a variety of reasons. First, it is around when mothers will start pushing away their pups and stop nursing them. Second, it is the stage where they are the most open to accepting new people into their pack. Third, it is a golden era of training as the pup is actively working on social skills and paying attention to people and other dogs. Training that is positive and encouraging can be started around this time and can build a strong foundation to build on as the pup continues to develop. Socializing with other people and dogs, as well as exposing them to the outside world is very important at this stage.
3 to 6 Months
In terms of a human comparison this is a sort of the elementary school stage of your puppies development. There personality has already been shaped and formed, but they are aware of the need to form a pack and are seeking to find their place and role in the group. They are also very susceptible to the influence of the people and dogs around them as they develop their place in the family. The rules of the home should be established and unacceptable behavior should be addressed firmly and assertively (can be done with a simple NO,) but should ensure that you do not lose control or the pup will lose respect and possibly rebel.
6 to 18 Months
In this stage your puppy has reached or will reach their full grown adult size, but is still emotionally immature. The pup should understand where he stands in the family pack (both people and other dogs). Although the pup may continue to explore dominance and their role in the pack, remaining consistent and confident will help them understand and be comfortable with their place in the pack. Having established a solid training foundation from when the pup is first brought home will be beneficial in limiting the impact of behavioral problems such as jumping or biting, as well it will help the transition into more formal obedience training or other activities you wish to do with your dog.