Key Puppy Stages Every Pet Owner Should Know

Published August 25, 2021
Newborn puppy with mother

Puppyhood is a fascinating, thrilling, demanding, curious, and transition-filled experience. Puppies are busy learning physical, mental, and social skills, all of which progress in a fairly predictable order. By learning and understanding the life stages their puppies go through, puppy owners can be better equipped to raise a well-rounded, happy, healthy adult dog.

Key Puppy Stages

Newborn to 2 Weeks

Puppies are fully reliant on their mothers for nourishment and care, including keeping themselves clean, from birth to two weeks of age. At birth, the senses of touch and taste are present, but their other senses are still developing. Newborn puppies have limited movement and can only crawl slowly. They remain fairly close to their mother for warmth, food, and safety.

2 to 4 Weeks

The puppy's second week of life is marked by significant milestones. Ears and eyes that have been sealed for protection since birth begin to open during this time. Ears begin to open around 2 weeks and eyelids open between 10 and 16 days old.

Talk about a fresh perspective on life; their entire world changes with these senses being made available to them. They begin to learn what the world around them looks like and hear sounds from their mother, littermates, and human family. You'll also notice they begin to increase their own vocalizations. You may hear grunts, yelps, whines, and barks. Puppies also generally stand by the time they reach 15 days old and take their first wobbly steps by 3 weeks of age.

This is a period of rapid growth, during which the puppies transition from complete reliance on Mom to an ounce of independence. They start playing with their littermates, learning about their environment and their surroundings, and you may notice them trying to steal a little food from Mom's bowl.

4 to 6 Weeks

4-6 week puppy

Puppies continue to be impacted by their mother and littermates between the ages of four and six weeks. They learn to play and pick up necessary social skills from their littermates, such as biting inhibition (biting to play, not to hurt, also known as mouthing). The puppies also pick up on the ins and outs of where they belong in the pack. During this time, puppies become significantly louder, with play barking and growling being common.

By 5 weeks, their eyes are open and their vision is fully developed. Their senses of hearing and smell are maturing, and their baby teeth are beginning to emerge. Puppies begin to walk, bark, and wag their tails at this stage. Puppies are able to excrete without their mother's stimulation at the conclusion of this phase.

This is the time to begin careful socialization. It's critical to expose your puppy to common experiences throughout the socialization stage, including car rides, crate training, vacuuming, ringing doorbells, and a variety of items and sounds. Handling of the paws and other body parts is also a wonderful thing for a puppy to learn at a young age. This will make grooming much easier. If there are any small children in the home, this process will assist the puppy in learning that appropriate touch is acceptable.

Keep in mind, although training and socialization can begin as early as the first week of life, do not completely separate a puppy from their mother and siblings until they are 8 weeks old. Housebreaking can start as early as 5 weeks, when puppies will follow their mother through a dog door or be taken outside for potty time.

6 to 8 Weeks

Puppies can begin in-home training at the age of 6 weeks. You should handle the puppy from head to toe, introduce their first collar and lead, urge them to come when called, and praise and reward them with light treats.

Puppies begin to experience fear around the age of 8 weeks, and everyday things and experiences may frighten them. This is a totally normal reaction; nevertheless, it does not imply that your dog will be scared, especially if they have been socializing already. Their fear stage will peak at about 8 weeks old.

The puppies should be consuming solid food and no longer nursing by the time they are out of this stage.

8 to 12 Weeks

8-12 puppy

Although most puppies are adopted to new owners at about 8 weeks, there are some who wait until the 12 week mark to allow their puppies to be adopted. The remainder of the critical socialization period occurs throughout this time. This is often referred to as the "time of fear." Although your puppy learned to sense fear several weeks ago, this is the time period where the fear may stay with them for the remainder of their lifetime if not addressed.

That doesn't mean your puppy will grow up to be fearful of the world; it's just a natural part of their development to learn to be more careful. During this time, continued careful socialization can help counteract fear emotions.

They will acclimate more easily and make better companions if they stay with their littermates and the mother dog until they are at least 8 weeks old, but if they're able to stay with their mother until 12 weeks this could result in a more well-rounded adult dog. Bite inhibition, understanding and reacting to typical dog language, and learning their place in doggy society are all taught through interaction with siblings and Mom.

Be Careful Socializing Before Vaccination

You shouldn't socialize your puppies with other dogs or cats until they've been vaccinated, as they could contract diseases such as parvo, distemper, and hepatitis, which can be fatal to puppies. In general, your dog can play with other equally vaccinated puppies in a class with a dog trainer about one week after their second parvo/distemper vaccination. Talk to your veterinarian about your specific puppy and whether they are aware of any parvo or distemper epidemics in your area.

Puppies can associate with other animals, as well, including horses, cats, and whatever other creatures you want your puppy to be comfortable with. If you want your pup to be extremely well-rounded and comfortable in any environment, interacting with other animals could prove extremely beneficial. Naturally, you must use caution and ensure that the other animals are amicable.

Keep in Mind Puppies are Not Adults Until 1 or 2 Years Old

Even after the cute puppy phase has passed, dogs still have a long way to go in terms of development. Puppies aren't regarded as adults until they have gone through a few more developmental stages and reach 1 to 2 years of age, depending on their breed.

Despite the fact that your puppy appears to be an adult dog, the stages of puppy development span from birth to a year or even two before they are deemed an adult dog. The most significant changes in a puppy's development occur between birth and 12 weeks of age. However, they are far from being an adult even after this time period passes.

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Key Puppy Stages Every Pet Owner Should Know