From the moment your puppy is born till he or she ready to go home with you, they’re learning, growing and developing into the happy, healthy dogs that will be a part of your life for the next 10 to 15 years. As they prepare to leave their mothers and siblings for the first time, get ready to welcome them home by learning about their early development, care needs and training tips throughout the first months and weeks of their lives. Get the basics, below.
Born deaf and blind, your puppy will spend their first two weeks with only three senses and a strong instinct to seek food and water, says Mary Ann Callahan, CPDT-KA, Canine Good Citizen evaluator and director of behavior programs at MSPCA-Nevins Farm adoption center. They’ll continue to develop at an impressive pace from weeks two through 12, with their eyes and ears opening between 14 and 21 days and their legs becoming strong enough to support their weight. From week three to week 12, socialization is essential for puppies to create bonds with other people and animals.
“This important period is when a puppy begins to create lifelong associations with people and other animals,” Callahan says. “It is essential that a puppy have many safe and positive exposures to a wide variety of people and animals.”
Puppy Physical Development
Depending on the age at which you take your puppy home, you’ll notice major improvements in balance, coordination, focus and activity level in your puppy during your first few weeks together. Although Callahan says puppies between the ages of eight and 12 weeks are still physically immature, they’ll need to have plenty of opportunities to play in safe environments with varied terrain to help their musculoskeletal development and balance without taking a toll on their still-developing tissue and bones.
“Care should be taking to ensure there’s no hard impact on their bones or joints and that the puppy can easily play and run but also stop and rest whenever they wish,” Callahan says. “They’re still developing the musculature and connective tissue to support a frame that can change literally every time they nap.”
It’s also important to note that larger breed puppies will develop at a slower rate than smaller breeds, so keep this in mind when researching the right amount of activity for your puppy.
From weeks eight to 12, you’ll notice major changes in your puppy’s behavior, including improvements in their ability to learn, socialize with other species and adapt to house training, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, Diplomate American College of Animal Behaviorists and American College of Animal Welfare and past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. This is a very important time for your puppy to learn social skills and recognize how to act around other people and animals. Puppies at this age tend to be attracted to people and other animals and less interested in exploring their environment, Dr. Beaver says. Use this interest to make sure your puppy has a number of positive interactions with other people to encourage life-long associations.
“Owners should be doing their utmost to ensure puppies are provided with opportunities to develop and be reinforced for behavior that will be desirable later in their dog’s life,” Callahan says.
In terms of nutrition, puppies should be fed puppy-formulated foods instead of adult canine brands. Care must also be taken to feed your puppy the appropriate amount of food and to avoid any human food, medications or plants that can be poisonous to your pup, Dr. Beaver says. Talk to your veterinarian about potentially dangerous products to avoid and a diet and nutrition plan specifically formulated for your puppy.
Because their immune systems aren’t fully developed, puppies between eight and 12 weeks are susceptible to many diseases, Dr. Beaver says. Vaccinations and heartworm prevention should begin between six and 12 weeks of age, with vaccinations given every three to four weeks until they are between 12 and 16 weeks old, depending on the specific product the veterinarian is using, Dr. Beaver says. Vaccinations take about two weeks for your puppies body to respond appropriately, so they should be kept out of any situation in which they’d be exposed to a virus or potential bacteria during this time. In addition to their vaccinations, see your veterinarian as soon as you bring your puppy home for an overall evaluation.
“A good physical exam by a veterinarian will help identify any congenital problems that puppy may have been born with and determine if and when appropriate treatments might be needed,” Dr. Beaver says.
Puppy Training Tips
By six weeks of age, your puppy can learn simple commands including “sit,” “down” and their name, Dr. Beaver says. Because their attention spans during these first few months will be very short, keep training sessions short and entertaining to make the most of your puppy’s attention. Most puppy socialization classes include these basic commands and will also help socialize your puppy to other people, dogs and environments.
Training should be positive and pro-active to encourage both you and your puppy to have fun teaching your puppy valuable skills and strengthening your bond, Callahan says. Do your research to determine what the most updated, effective and enjoyable methods of training are and create acceptable ways for your puppy to “ask” for what it wants (like food, attention or a potty break) by “offering” good behaviors (like sitting and looking at you versus jumping or mouthing), Callahan says. This will set you up for a lifetime of mutual respect and learning.
Keep In Mind
Though they may try your patience during the first few weeks of housebreaking, training and trips to the vet, it’s important to have patience with your puppy and remain consistent in their daily routine, bathroom breaks and training schedule. If you’ve never housebroken a puppy, Dr. Beaver recommends discussing a routine with your vet and then committing to it until your little one is fully trained.
Because they’re constantly learning at this age, use positive reinforcement as often as you can to encourage good behavior and prevent negative situations by puppy-proofing your home and providing puppy with the proper activity, socialization and attention it needs.
“Having a well-thought plan that incorporates safety, socialization and successful learning can ensure that this is a period of great joy and meaningful progress towards having a healthy and happy adult dog,” Callahan says. “Invest your time and attention carefully and you and your pup will reap wonderful rewards.”