The Developmental Stages of Puppy Growth

Raising a puppy is an incredibly rewarding experience. Puppies grow up so fast that, if you’re not careful, puppyhood will be over before you know it.

By paying careful attention to every stage of your puppy’s development you can raise the best dog that you can.

Here’s what you need to know about your puppy’s development.

Puppy Development Stages

Birth to 2 weeks: Dependent stage

Puppy in dependent stage (neonatal stage)

For two weeks after a puppy is born, it is entirely dependent upon its mother for food and basic care. During this time, puppies can’t hear or see. They interact with the world entirely through their senses of touch and taste.

Puppies are born with strong front limbs, so they can pull themselves towards their mother nurse. Puppies are also born with the ability to make loud squeaks and yelps to communicate with their mother so that she will take care of their needs.

During this time, the mother takes care of every need of the puppies: feeding them, cleaning them, and keeping the nesting area clean. Although you don’t need to do much to assist the mother and care for the puppies during this time, it is a good idea to handle them and the mother, so that they grow up accustomed to your smell.

2 – 4 weeks: Hello world! (Transitional Stage)

Puppy in transitional stage

From two to four weeks, puppies open their eyes, their hearing develops, and their baby teeth begin to emerge. During this stage, puppies become aware of one another and other things in their environment. They begin to walk, bark, and wag their tails. Puppies will take their first clumsy steps and begin playing with their littermates.

During this time, puppies develop the ability to eliminate without needing their mother’s help and they learn to leave the sleeping area before they relieve themselves, developing the beginnings of potty training. This is also the time when puppies begin to experiment with more solid food, as their teeth emerge.

Offer soft food in a shallow dish to supplement the mother’s milk. Even puppies this young can learn to come when you call and enjoy interacting with you.

4 – 6 weeks: Learning life skills

Puppy in learning stage

As puppies develop the ability to eat, go to the bathroom, and move around freely on their own, they develop more independence and begin to learn social skills from one another. By playing together, puppies learn to bite gently and recognize pain signals in one another. Puppies become much more vocal during this period, as they use barking, growling, and yelping to communicate with one another, during play.

Puppies mimic their mother’s sounds and behavior during this time. This is also when puppies will begin to mimic any fear or aggression from their mother, so it is important to provide positive socialization and normal experiences during this time.

It is a good idea to handle a puppy’s paws, mouth, and ears while providing plenty of rewards and encouragement so that they learn to associate being handled with positive experiences.

House training can begin during this period, since puppies will tend to follow their mother when she goes outside to relieve herself. Encourage puppies to relieve themselves with their mother and reward them for doing so.

This is a great time to encourage puppies to learn other training, as well. They can learn tricks and basic training by watching their mother.

6 – 8 weeks: Training and socialization

Puppy in training and socialization stage

From six to eight weeks, you can begin training your puppies. This is a time when puppies learn equally from their canine family and their human family. Puppies continue to learn bite inhibition and how to establish their place in their social structure from their siblings and mother.

From you, puppies can begin to learn how to come when they are called, how to walk on a lead, and basic training. Self-control and trust building exercises now will prepare a puppy for the fear stage to come.

Between six and eight weeks is a good time to expose puppies to things that may otherwise be scary. Allow them to meet other household pets, like birds, and livestock, like chickens and cows.

Expose them to as many potentially scary things as possible, like vacuum cleaners and car rides. Make sure that all these experiences remain positive, by using plenty of praise and treats and going at the puppy’s pace.

Between six to eight weeks of age, your puppy will receive their first set of vaccinations. Ask your vet when it will be safe to expose your puppies to new dogs. You don’t want to take a risk of your puppy getting sick from another dog, but it is also essential that puppies socialize with as many dogs as possible, as soon as possible, so that they develop a prosocial attitude about other dogs.

8 – 12 weeks: Fear period

Puppy in fear stage

Between eight and 12 weeks of age, puppies go through a fear period, during which they may react negatively to new things and things which previously didn’t bother them. This period may seem to come on suddenly, with puppies suddenly displaying fear to things they had been fine with moments ago.

It is extremely important that the human family provide a secure and positive environment for a puppy during this time. Playing into a puppy’s fears may encourage them to believe that a circumstance really is dangerous.

On the other hand, forcing puppies to have interactions they may not want to have during this period could have permanently traumatizing effects. Be consistent and positive, but don’t force your scared puppy to do something they don’t want to do.

During this time, continue exposing your puppies to new experiences in a positive and encouraging manner and encourage your dog to look to you for guidance. If you can guide your puppy through this frightening time, they’ll be more likely to look to you for comfort and guidance in the future.

Since this is so often the time when puppies are rehomed, it is even more essential that the new human actively bonds with and builds trust with a new puppy, during the fear period. Continue training to bond with your dog and encourage self-control and conscious thought, rather than blind fear.

Take advantage of your dog’s clinginess during this time to train your dog to stay close to you.

3 – 6 months: Energy and chewing

Puppy in energy and chewing stage

A puppy’s age from three to six months is some of the most challenging times of dog ownership. Dogs begin to come out of their fear period, replacing it with relentless curiosity and energy.

Adult teeth begin to come in during this period, which can be very uncomfortable, painful, and even stimulate puppies to chew to relieve the pressure. Even if your puppy has never chewed on anything before, this is the time when you may suddenly find that random objects have been destroyed.

Your puppy will try to relieve their discomfort by chewing on a wide variety of textures. It is essential to provide your puppy with plenty of toys designed for teething puppies. Frozen toys are especially helpful during this time, since the ice will relieve the discomfort temporarily.

This is also a time when your puppy develops more aspects of their adult personality. They’ll begin to figure out where they fit in your household and test you with new shows of independence and assertiveness.

It is essential to provide plenty of activities to positively occupy your dog’s active mind. Equally important is to maintain your rules and routine, so that your puppy doesn’t learn that they can run roughshod over your household. This does not mean that puppies should be punished.

This is an especially delicate time, during which a traumatic experience can scar your puppy for life. Provide calm, confident, and consistent leadership for your dog during this difficult time.

It is a good idea to spay or neuter your dog by six months of age. Some arguments exist for waiting longer, in order for your dog’s physical development to be complete, but many dogs become sexually mature at around six months.

Hormones can negatively affect your dog’s behavior and also lead to health problems. Six months is a good compromise between allowing your dog’s development to complete, while also preventing hormone-related problems.

6 – 18 months: Testing boundaries

Puppy in testing boundaries stage

As your adolescent dog gains independence, they will look to you less and be more likely to give into instinctual urges. This is when instinct comes out most strongly in most dogs and it is also when dogs realize that they do not need you as much as they did when they were younger.

Dogs that have been perfectly trained to stay by your side up until this point may suddenly be prone to running off. Dogs that have always come when they are called may suddenly appear to go deaf.

During this time, it is important to keep your dog’s safety in mind and avoid working on any off-leash behavior that can put your dog at risk. Remember that your dog may suddenly display uncharacteristic independence at any time. To keep your dog engaged, continue challenging them with new training and situations. Teach your dog that you can satisfy their instincts and provide them with more stimulation if they follow you, rather than if they go off on their own.

Some dogs may go through a second fear period at some point during this time, refusing to go places or do activities that they had been fine with up until this point. It is important that you remain a stable and consistent presence in your dog’s life, as they struggle to solidify themselves as a mature dog.

18 Months +: Adulthood

Puppy in adulthood

By 18 months, most dogs have settled into their mature personality. Many dogs will still display puppyish behavior for two years or more, but by 18 months dogs will begin to develop self-control and the maturity to respond to more advanced training.

While personalities may continue to develop, in general, your dog’s personality will have solidified to some degree by 18 months. You will probably have a good idea of whether your dog is outgoing and fearless or shy and apprehensive.

Whatever your dog’s personality, you can continue to develop and expand it by training and exposing your dog to continuous new situations, but you also must be realistic about your dog’s personality at this stage.

Large Breed vs Small Breed Development

In general, all dog breeds go through the same development stages, regardless of their size. That said, the time frame of these stages can differ, depending on their size. The smaller the dog, the more quickly their adult size will be achieved.

Smaller dogs often develop mental maturity earlier than larger dogs. While many large dogs continue to grow both physically and mentally until they are two years or older, most small dogs are fully grown and mentally mature at about a year.

Each dog is an individual and development varies, both mentally and physically.

Feeding Your Growing Puppy

In the past, it was often thought that it is best to free-feed growing puppies, since it is essential that they receive plenty of calories and nutrition for their growing bodies.

Research now suggests that it is better to monitor how much a growing puppy eats. Puppies who eat too much and gain too much weight too quickly as they are growing are more likely to suffer from hip dysplasia and other joint problems.

On the other hand, puppies who don’t receive enough nutrition while they are growing will be underweight as adults and have a wide range of problems stemming from malnutrition.

In order to make sure your puppy is getting the right amount of food, choose a high-quality food that is designed for puppies and for your dog’s breed. Keep in mind that large breed and small breed puppies may have different nutritional requirements.

Puppy food is much denser in calories and protein than adult dog food, so puppies should never be fed adult dog food. Follow the guidelines recommended by the food and keep an eye on your dog’s waistline to make sure that they are being fed the right amount.

Your dog’s ribs should not be visible, but you should be able to feel them easily by running your hand over their flank. You should also be able to see your puppy’s waist from above and from the side. From above, their flank should curve in at the waist before their hips. From the side, their stomach should slope up so that it is highest before their back legs.

If you find that your puppy is over or underweight, slowly adjust the proportion of their food until you have remedied the problem.

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Graph Showing The Gradual Development Of A Puppy

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