At birth, puppies are helpless little critters that are born blind, deaf and incapable of eliminating or regulating their own body temperatures. They totally rely on their mothers to eat, eliminate, feel protected and be kept warm and healthy. If you own a small puppy, don’t let puppyhood go by without being aware of the many physical and behavioral changes your puppy undergoes. Puppies go through several stages as they mature and being aware of these stages will help ensure your puppy is blooming into a healthy and happy adult dog.
Stages of Puppyhood
There are ultimately no rules set in stone when it comes to the developmental stages of puppies. Depending on your dog’s breed and size, there may be individual variances. The developmental stages listed below are to be used as a general guideline only keeping into consideration that small dog breeds tend to mature more quickly than the larger ones.
Neonatal Stage: Birth to 2 Weeks
During this stage, puppies sleep about 90 percent of the time and the remaining 10 percent is spent nursing. Puppies stay close to each other and their mom to maintain optimal body temperature. Mother dog licks the puppies to clean after them and encourage elimination. Puppies are blind, deaf and unable to walk during this time and tend to crawl about. Rapid growth occurs during this stage as the pup’s weight doubles during their first week. Their weight should be recorded to ensure proper growth. The ingestion of colostrum, the first milk mother dog produces in the first hours post-whelping, provides the pups with an important immune system booster.
Transitional Stage: 2 to 4 Weeks
Many changes occur within this time frame. At around 2 weeks, the eyes and ears begin to open allowing the puppies to explore and learn about the world surrounding them. The first vocalizations include small yelps, barks and whines. Puppies become more mobile during this time. You’ll see more wobbly walking rather than crawling. During this stage, you’ll notice the puppies becoming a little more independent as they start interacting and playing with their littermates. You may see them occasionally wander away from the play area and eliminate on their own. As they wander about, you’ll also notice them sampling some food from mother’s bowl. Mom may start showing some reluctance in nursing as the sharp puppy teeth start growing and hurt her during nursing. The weaning process may begin at this stage.
Socialization Stage: 4 to 12 Weeks
Puppies undergo a very important stage at this point where experiences can really make a difference on how the puppy interacts with the world. This critical socialization stage will deeply affect the puppy’s future interactions. It’s important that the breeder works on ensuring the puppy undergoes positive experiences during this time. Also, during this stage, mother dog will produce less milk as the puppies begin to nurse less and eat more solid foods. The puppies also learn the basics of bite inhibition through play with their littermates. Puppies will squeal and stop playing when another puppy bites them too hard. The rough puppy will therefore soon learn that, in order to play, he will need to better gauge the pressure of this jaws.
Fear Stage: 8 to 12 Weeks
Right when the puppies are exploring the world, they also go through a fear stage. It’s important not to expose the puppy to overwhelming situations during this stage as they may leave a negative lasting impression. Exposing the puppy to frightening situations such as being shipped on a plane across the country or undergoing elective surgery such as ear cropping may cause fearful responses. The puppies may be curious, but at the same time, they may react with fear to stimuli around them. It’s best to wait for the puppy to outgrow this stage before sending him to a new home. Don’t feel rushed to send the puppy to a new home: the puppy at this stage still benefits from a few more weeks spent with mom and littermates. This allows the puppy to further refine his bite inhibition and learn more about the ABC’s of canine communication.
The puppy socialization phase closes between 14 and 16 weeks. Afterward, puppies continue to grow and further develop. They will undergo a flight stage between 4 and 8 months during which they may wander off and become reluctant to come when called. Afterward, between 6 and 14 months they officially enter the doggy adolescence phase during which they may become rebellious and a second fear period occurs. Finally, depending on breed and size, puppies reach social maturity anywhere between 12 and 18 months.