If you or someone you know has just welcomed a litter of puppies into the world, congratulations! You've made it through the easiest part! Now that you've got anywhere from one to ten new little lives to worry about, it's time to start thinking about what comes next.
As cute as newborn puppies are, first-time breeders and seasoned professionals alike can get worried when they're not progressing the way they "ought" to do. Knowing the stages of puppy development can help you keep an eye out for any potential issues and ensure that your puppies are perfectly safe and healthy!
1. Birth to 2 Weeks
For the first two weeks, your puppies should be sticking close to their mothers. They are completely dependent on the mother for food and comfort. The mother will even help them eliminate waste, as newborn puppies lack the muscle control to do so themselves.
This earliest stage is the most delicate. If you have a puppy that is going to succumb to fading puppy syndrome, they will most likely do so during the first few weeks. Keep your puppies warm and in close contact with each other, and check on them as often as possible.
2. 2 to 4 Weeks
After the first ten days, your puppies should start to open their eyes! As they explore their new world, they may become more active and playful. Make sure they have a safe environment to run and play with litter-mates, other dogs, or humans!
During these weeks, your puppies may seem even hungrier than they were before. Because dogs grow so much faster than humans do, it's important to make sure that your little fur babies are getting all of the food and nutrients they need in order to grow up happy and healthy!
3. 3 to 8 Weeks
At three weeks, the puppies should be starting to wean. They'll need less milk and more solid food as their palates develop and they continue to grow. During this time, each puppy's personality will begin to reveal itself, and you'll be able to get a better "feel" for each individual puppy!
You can train your puppies at home during these weeks, as they should be sufficiently mentally developed to understand basic concepts like house-training, quiet times, and proper indoor behavior. However, you may have to wait to start training them in public.
4. 8 to 16 Weeks
Eight weeks is usually the jumping-off point for introducing your puppies into society. This will give them a change to adapt to unfamiliar dogs and humans while still being old enough to handle vaccines and potentially dangerous environments.
Your puppies' attitudes during this time period are extremely important. Any negative behaviors that they may have picked up prior to eight weeks will become permanent unless you counteract these behaviors through careful exposure to new and strange situations. After they're vaccinated, your puppies should be meeting a varied, diverse set of people and places.
5. 4 to 6 Months
Between four and six months, you're going to see the most physical growth. Especially in larger breeds, this is the time when puppies will shoot up to their full size, despite an awkward, gangly phase somewhere in the middle.
This is also the time when most puppies will begin to establish and understand pack dynamics and hierarchies. If you have any other dogs, this is the perfect age for puppies to observe and try to establish their own place within the household pecking order—so keep an eye out for any personality clashes!
6. 6 to 12 Months
Between six months and a year, your puppy's mental age is roughly equivalent to a human adolescent or teenager. Like teens, puppies need lots of social interaction and positive reinforcement, so make sure you're getting your puppy plenty of time in unfamiliar environments with unfamiliar people.
As always, the proper socialization of a dog can go a long way towards determining how well they interact with humans, so use this time to make sure that your puppy is having a blast at all sorts of new places—the beach, the dog park, etc.!
7. 1 to 2 Years
After the first year, you should have a pretty good handle on your puppy's personality, as well as their likes and dislikes and any general comfort zones. Keep pushing your dog to interact with new people, but be respectful of their boundaries as they grow bigger and stronger.
Remember also that your puppy will probably be full of personality for the first few years—or possibly even longer, depending on the breed! Be patient with your puppy and give them plenty of opportunities to work out all that energy in a safe environment!
8. Beyond 2 Years
At this point, it's probably not strictly accurate to refer to your dog as a "puppy" anymore. However, they will still be full of energy and excitement about the outside world, especially if placed in a new environment or situation!
Keep working with your dog to develop new skills and habits, whether you're training them up for a dog show, an agility course, therapy work, or even just hanging around the house with you and your family! It's never too late for a dog to learn good patterns of behavior and follow them forever!
While this general timeline is by no means set in stone, it still provides a basic framework for what you should be expecting. If you notice any one of your puppies flagging behind the others or acting differently from the other puppies and dogs in your house, there may be an underlying issue.
At the same time, each house is different and so is each litter and each puppy. Check in with your vet if you have any major concerns over puppy behavior, but take your individual circumstances into account and allow a little bit of wiggle room!
If the mother is healthy and no serious issues present themselves at birth, your newborn puppies will most likely be able to adjust to life on planet Earth without too much difficulty. However, it's important to know the general benchmarks of each developmental stage in order to accurately identify and treat any potential issues.
If you're ever in doubt about your litter's health, contact your local veterinarian and smooth out any concerns before they become problems. Otherwise, enjoy your time with your new four-legged friends and get as much one-on-one time with those adorable puppies as you possibly can!