Puppy Development Stages
We all know puppies are cute and cuddly with their tiny paws and puppy breath: it’s enough to make anyone go “Awwwww!” Even though they stay adorable forever, they do not remain puppies forever. Eventually, your tiny ball of fur will become a full-grown dog.
Dog adulthood isn’t an easy thing to define. Each breed has its own rate of growth, as does each individual dog. Your puppy will reach adulthood once he/she has matured in three areas, sexual, mental and physical maturity — all occur at different times.
Your pup will go through different growth stages before he/she reaches adulthood between 1 and 2 years of age. What are these stages and how do they affect your puppy?
The Stages of Puppy Growth
Neonatal (0 - 2 weeks)
Transitional (2 - 4 weeks)
Socialization (4 - 12 weeks)
Ranking (3 - 6 months)
Adolescence (6 - 18 months)
Maturity (1 – 2 years)
Male vs Female Puppies
The first thing you should know is male and female puppies undergo the same puppy development stages. With most breeds, females are typically lighter in weight than males and tend to be smaller in size. The size difference is more noticeable in larger breeds than smaller ones.
Puppy Development Stages
Age: Birth - 2 Weeks
Puppies have not yet opened their eyes nor ears. Puppies can touch and taste at birth, but that's about it. They’re completely reliant on mom’s milk for nutrition and spend most of their days curled-up with their littermates to stay warm. Newborns need to have milk from mom or a commercial milk replacer every two hours. During this stage, it’s important for the breeder to handle the puppies as much as possible. This helps them get used to being touched. It also teaches them how to handle stress later in life. You likely will not meet your new puppy at this stage, but this is what is happening in the new life of a healthy puppy with a responsible breeder.
Age: 2 - 4 Weeks
At this age and stage a puppy’s eyes and ears open and he/she gets a first full taste of the world. Their sense of smell and hearing develop: they wag their tails and baby teeth start coming in. They might even start to bark and make other cute puppy noises. Puppies now begin to practice walking. They stumble around a bit until their legs get stronger and their motor skills develop. Weaning from the mother begins at this stage too, as puppies should begin their transition to solid foods around three weeks. (By week eight they should be on solid food.) By the end of this period, puppies should be able to go to the bathroom on their own. Prior to this mom is responsible for stimulating their bowels.
Age: 4 -12 Weeks
By this age, puppies start learning what it means to be a dog. They learn polite doggie behavior from mom, so the better-behaved mom is, the better her puppies will behave.
If you know the breeder, ask about the temperament of both the Sire (Father) and Dam (Mother). If you do not know where the puppy came from, do your due diligence and find out as much as you can about the puppy’s origins.
This is also the stage and timeframe where/when it’s incredibly important for puppies to be introduced to people and dogs. In fact, it’s crucial to a puppy’s overall behavior and temperament. During this stage puppies are learning and picking-up life signals from people and other pets in the home.
Even though people start influencing puppy behavior after about a month, ideally, they should remain with their mother and littermates for eight weeks. They learn inhibited play biting and other dog socialization cues. Responsible pet owners won’t take a puppy home before the eight-week mark. Likewise, responsible breeders will not release a puppy from its mother before this time.
By five weeks, puppies are aware of their surroundings and start really enjoying playtime. Good experiences with people from weeks five to seven will play a lifetime role in how they continue to interact with both pets and people.
At seven weeks puppies can typically begin training and even house-training. The true training “golden time” is from nine to 12 weeks, because this is when they are actively working on social skills and paying attention to both people and other pets, especially their littermates if they are still together.
During this socialization period, (usually between weeks eight and 10) puppies are exposed to some scary stuff. The world can seem like a pretty frightening place. This period is referred to as a fear-impact phase when puppies are very easily frightened.
Aren’t we all a little scared of new things? How they react to these new things has a lasting impact on their lives. If someone or something really scares a puppy during this phase, he/she will likely be afraid of it for life.
Keep this in mind as you begin to train your puppy. This fear-impact period can be eased with training that’s both positive and encouraging. Make all new experiences as fun as possible, especially visits to the vet. Bring puppy’s favorite toys and treats along to any stressful event.
Try to distract your puppy from bad experiences with his/her favorite treats. During this fear-impact phase be calm, gentle and understanding with your puppy.
Ranking Period (Juvenile)
Age: 3 – 6 Months
This phase for dogs is much like a child’s elementary school days. Just like human children, dogs at this point are most influenced by their playmates — both dogs and people. During this stage, puppies begin to understand and use ranking amongst themselves in terms of submission and dominance — that is, they start testing where and how they fit into their group.
The Ranking Period is also when puppies grow rapidly in height and weight. This is a good time to change a puppy’s diet to fit his/her nutritional needs or even increase feeding frequency. A puppy’s coat will lose its fluffy puppy look and become more adult-like at this time too, but the timing of the change varies with breed.
Your puppy will be mouthier too since his/her baby teeth are starting to fall out and this irritates the gums.
Teething and related chewing (and chewing issues!) also happen so gentle training with rewards is very important. Puppies need plenty of toys to chew during this phase. You can find indestructible dog toys
that last and keep your pup entertained and even though puppies are very energetic, don’t exercise your pup too much right now, since he/she can overdo it.
By this point, puppies will become sexually mature. This is the best time for them to be spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering help with certain behaviors and can prevent diseases down the road. Discuss this with your veterinarian and expect to discuss rabies vaccines and heartworm prevention too. They may also collect a fecal sample to check for parasites.
Second Fear-Impact Period
Puppies may also experience another fear phase (usually around four months) that lasts about a month and seems to come from nowhere. Again, this is a perfectly normal part of development and is nothing to be alarmed about. Praise your dog’s good behavior and be encouraging, supportive and positive.
Age: 6 - 18 Months
Your pup now understands that he is part of a pack (which may consist of both humans and dogs) and his/her behavior will be most influenced by this group. Affirm your position as the pack leader.
You can expect your dog to challenge you more as he/she explores dominance and his role in the pack. Essentially, the dog is testing the boundaries that its owner(s) have set. Dogs challenge one another for dominance too: this is normal.
Dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered will start exhibiting sexual behavior during this period. A second chewing stage will likely begin somewhere between seven to nine months. Also, if your puppy has not experienced his/her second fear-impact period, it will probably hit now for about three or four weeks.
Puppy owners sometimes get discouraged at this time, but the truth is, a dog will indeed grow out of this phase. By knowing what to expect and at which times, you can better prepare yourself to deal with specific behaviors. You handle them in a way that is both positive and encourages the kind of behavior you desire from your dog.
By now puppies are bundles of energy and they can test your patience. Like most adolescents, puppies are very rambunctious. Continue the process of training and socializing your dog during this phase.
Socialization and training are necessary if you want your puppy to be comfortable and act acceptably in public places such as dog parks, beaches or anywhere that he/she will meet new dogs and people.
Be sure you work with your dog during this phase and not against him/her. You should make plenty of time to help your puppy burn off excess energy with daily walks, play sessions and training. Be consistent no matter what your pup throws at you.
The more prep-work you put into the previous stages, the better.
Age: 1 - 4 Years
By this age, your dog has reached adulthood. Changes in social preferences and habits can occur up to two years of age. Dogs in this phase look more like their breed and have the confidence of a grown dog.
Ongoing training will ensure a respectful relationship between your dog and all human family members, which makes having an animal in the family a daily pleasure and a lifelong love affair.
Mental and physical maturity occur between years one and four. Larger breeds take more time to mature than smaller breeds. While your dog may be sexually mature, he/she still has some growing up to do.
If your dog is still easily excited, worry not, all dogs eventually grow out of their excitable phase. This is when all
your hard work will shine through. Your dog pays attention to your commands and has grown into an amazing companion.
And now that your dog has a better attention-span, this is a great time to try more difficult and sophisticated training. This is a good time to have yearly check-ups with your vet. As your puppy grows into maturity, there are health risks to consider.
Puppy development stages have different aspects and importance. Understanding each will help you bond with your puppy. Each stage has different needs. Knowing these needs helps your puppy mature into a happy, healthy adult dog. It can also help you select the right breed for you and your family.
The bond that exists between a puppy and its family is one of life’s greatest joys!