From the moment your puppy is born till he or she becomes an adult, they’re learning, growing and developing into the happy, healthy dogs that will hopefully be a part of your life for the next 10 to 15 years. Prepare to welcome them home — or make your first month together easier — by learning about their early development, care needs and training tips throughout the first few months of their lives.
Puppy Physical Development
Between 12 and 16 weeks of age, your puppy will be growing rapidly, according to Louise Murray, DVM and vice president of the ASPCA Animal Hospital. Their senses and motor skills have also developed rapidly — which means they’ll be more adept in their movements and curious about the environment around them. House training should becoming easier, as they’ll have more bladder control, but they should still have plenty of potty breaks. At this age, they’ve been weaned from their mothers and are eating solid foods. As they continue to grow, those tiny puppy (or deciduous) teeth will begin falling out and will be replaced by adult teeth. Because of this, they’ll feel a strong desire to chew on objects, Dr. Murray says. To prepare yourself for puppy’s teething by providing them with plenty of chew toys to prevent them from teething on any unwanted items at home.
A puppy’s behavior between 12 and 16 weeks can vary remarkable due to their early life experiences, says Pamela Barlow, an animal behavior counselor at the ASPCA. At this age, it’s extremely important for your puppy to have positive experiences with things that they’ll need to be comfortable around with as adult dogs. This includes meeting different kinds of people (from children to senior citizens, men to women), traveling to different and new places, hearing new sounds and being introduced to other kinds of dogs and animals.
“Puppies that have not had exposure to new places, people, animals or handling before 12 weeks may be very fearful, withdrawn and sometimes aggressive,” says Barlow. “Those that have had good socialization will be outgoing, playful and active.”
Well-adjusted puppies will also be driven to explore and play with objects using their mouths, says Barlow, making it important to handle them in a positive manner and encourage a variety of safe play and exploration.
According to Dr. Murray, puppies between 12 and 16 weeks will no longer need milk and will rely on a high quality puppy food. They’ll need more frequent meals than adult dogs, particularly small breed puppies that are prone to low blood sugar, so you’ll want to discuss an appropriate feeding plan with your veterinarian.
Your puppy's vaccines should have already begun at approximately 8 weeks of age, so they should be being boostered at 12 and 16 weeks. Making sure your puppy receives all of the appropriate boosters is important, since their mother’s antibodies are still present at this age and can impede the vaccine’s ability to stimulate the proper immune response if the entire series is not given, says Dr. Murray. Talk to your vet about the appropriate vaccinations your puppy requires, as these will vary based on your location, lifestyle and the exact age of your puppy.
Because your puppy is beginning to explore more, you’ll want to keep small objects like, objects that can be chewed into pieces and string-like such as yarn or thread away from them. According to Dr. Murray, they can cause a gastrointestinal blockage if swallowed. If you haven’t done so already, secure all of your trash and cover your electric cords to prevent your pup from getting into anything that could harm them.
Socialization at this age is key, so make the most of it by enrolling your puppy in a group training class outside of the home. As well as teaching manners and impulse control, Barlow says puppy-training classes are a great place for your little one to socialize with new people and dogs for the first time. Your training focus should follow the same route.
“Training at this age should be focused on building positive experience, not creating a perfectly obedient dog,” says Barlow. “Gentle, positive handling should be used with young puppies so they learn to build positive associations with being around people and being touched.”
Teaching manners, like “sit” and “down” can be done by using soft, training treats and luring the puppy into these positions. As your puppy learns these commands, reinforce them with hand signals and plenty of upbeat, positive verbal praise.
A Few Other Puppy Care Tips
According to Dr. Murray, your puppy’s primary socialization window closes at 16 weeks, making it crucial for your puppy to experience as many new and positive environments, people and animals as possible. Focusing your energy on proper socialization will help lay the foundation for a loving, happy relationship between you and your pup for years to come.
Concerned about your puppy socializing with other people and pets before they’ve completed their final round of vaccinations? The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recently released an updated viewpoint on the relationship between puppy socialization and vaccines, and believes it should now be the standard of care for puppies to receive exposure to as many stimuli as possible without creating a negative reaction. Read the full statement here.
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