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Puppy Stages: Everything You Need To Know

happy puppy smiling sitting in the grass
If you've ever raised a puppy, you'll know how quickly they grow into playful and independent pups and develop unique personalities. However, caring for a puppy is no walk in the park, as each puppy development stage comes with different needs to be met.  Knowing about the different puppy stages from newborn to adolescence will help you understand what your pooch is experiencing and what they need from you. In this article, we're sharing the standard puppy timeline of development to prepare you to give the best care, socialization, and training to any baby dog you raise.

Puppy Development Stages

There are five key puppy growth stages, all of which have significant milestones. However, bear in mind that this timeline can differ between dogs as every puppy develops at its own rate.

Neonatal Stage (0 – 2 weeks)

Puppies are born blind, deaf, and almost immobile. For the first 2 weeks of their life, they are entirely dependent on their mother (or foster caregiver) to survive. This is because the gestation period of a dog is just 58 – 68 days, which is very short compared to human pregnancies. Because puppies are born in an undeveloped state, puppies in the neonatal period (up to 2 weeks old) require constant round-the-clock care. All they do during this time is eat and sleep, which is vital for their growth.  Neonatal puppies only have two senses; scent and taste. Moreover, they cannot meet any of their essential needs themselves. For example, puppies can't pee or poop without their mother's help until they reach 3 weeks old. The mama dog helps them relieve themselves by licking their genitals after eating. If a human is caring for a puppy, they will need to stimulate them by rubbing a soft, damp tissue on their genitals instead.  Visually, neonatal puppies look very different from an eight-week-old. The size of a neonatal puppy will vary significantly depending on the breed and can be anywhere between 2.5 ounces and 2.25 pounds. For example, a newborn Bulldog will weigh 10 and 14 ounces, whereas a Great Dane will weigh 1 to 2 pounds at birth. Puppies gain weight rapidly during the first 2 weeks, around 10% of their body weight each day, depending on the breed. Aside from their size, newborn puppies have their eyes closed and ears folded down, as these senses are yet to develop.

Transitional Stage (2 – 4 weeks)

In the first 4 weeks of their lives, you can track puppy development weekly. When puppies reach 2 weeks old, you'll notice some fundamental changes. For example, many puppies open their eyes between 2 and 3 weeks. However, some breeds like Fox Terriers may take a little longer. Most puppies' hearing starts to develop by 3 weeks old, with their ears unfolding between 18 to 20 days. Moreover, between 3 and 4 weeks, a puppy gains control of its bladder and anus muscles and can relieve itself without its mother's assistance.  Another milestone in the transitional stage is the puppy taking its first steps. When puppies are born, their joints and muscles are fragile, but by 2 to 3 weeks old, their limbs have become strong enough to hold their weight up, so they start to stand up. Then by four weeks, they will likely have taken their first few steps and may walk a very short distance, albeit shaky. Around 3 weeks, you may start to see or feel a puppy's first teeth coming through, starting with the incisors and then the canines and premolars. A puppy should have all their baby teeth through by eight to ten weeks old.

Socialization Stage (3 – 12 weeks)

3 to 12 weeks is one of the most crucial puppy stages. Once a puppy develops its vision and hearing and starts to walk, it can interact with the world. During the socialization stage, puppies start playing with their littermates and exploring their environment. At around 4 weeks, puppies also begin to wag their tail to show their emotions and express themselves vocally by barking. From 3 or 4 weeks, you might also start to see your puppy's personality developing. If you have a litter of puppies, you'll be able to notice differences in the way each one behaves.  In this period, they can develop relationships with humans and notice more things in their environment, including noises. Therefore, this is the ideal time to start socializing them by gradually exposing them to new people, other animals, and everyday household sounds like TVs, vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, and traffic. A puppy's interaction with humans during this puppy growth stage will determine the type of companion dog they become. For example, if a puppy doesn't receive adequate socialization, it may get anxious in social situations or become aggressive. Between 8 to 12 weeks, puppies have a high fear threshold. While they may be fearful, their experiences during this time create an imprint. So giving them lots of positive experiences will help them become confident, well-rounded dogs. Training puppies during this Stage is ideal as they soak up information. However, negative training experiences, such as shouting and hitting, will create painful and frightening associations that they will struggle to shake off later in life.

Testing Stage (3 – 6 months)

3 to 6 months is one of the most challenging puppy development stages for owners, as this is when they start to test you. This usually begins between 9 to 12 weeks when they gain more confidence and become less fearful. These cheeky canines will begin pushing the boundaries to see what they can get away with; thus, training is essential.  By training your puppy, you can help them learn their spot on the pecking order and understand that you are the pack leader. Without training, you'll struggle to get a puppy to listen to your commands. Their lack of respect may result in behavioral issues like barking and aggression. Bear in mind that some dogs are easier to train than others, so you might meet some resistance when you begin the process. However, do not give up, as, without training, your pup will not understand its limits. If you feel you cannot train them on your own, reach out to a qualified dog trainer. Two of the most common behavior issues during this stage are chewing and biting because pups begin teething at around 12 weeks old, which lasts approximately 6 weeks. Therefore, it's essential to be firm but patient, focusing on redirecting your puppy's teeth to its chew toys.  

Adolescence Stage (6 – 18 months)

If you wonder "how long is a dog a puppy," it depends on the breed. Smaller dogs reach their full size between 9 and 12 months, such as Yorkshire Terriers and Jack Russels. Larger dogs like Labrador Retrievers and German shepherds can continue growing until 18 months.  Therefore, the 6 to 18 months period is known as the adolescence stage. Other changes during this time include getting their adult teeth (around 6 months old) and reaching sexual maturity (between 7 and 10 months). Like a human teenager, puppies in the adolescence stage may start to rebel. Thus, it is regarded as the most challenging puppy stage for many dog owners. They continue testing the boundaries until they are around 9 months old, so keeping up a regular training schedule is necessary.  Never give in to your teenage pup's demands, no matter how tempting. If you do, your mischievous canine will see it as a sign of weakness, which they will then take advantage of by misbehaving even more.  You may also notice that training your pup becomes more challenging during adolescence as they adopt a stubborn attitude. Therefore, you might find that you need to set stricter boundaries and focus on positive reinforcement during your training sessions.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, growing a puppy is pretty much on par with raising a human child, except luckily, they become adults much sooner! So knowing the puppy timeline will help you prepare for what's to come if you're planning on getting a puppy for the first time. While it requires hard work and patience, raising a puppy is well worth it for the years of loyal companionship you will enjoy.
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