A puppy will go through several different stages during it’s initial development. While these developmental stages are generally the same for all puppies, it must also be remembered that each litter and every puppy is still an individual and there can be variations depending on breed, the environment they’re born into, how they are cared for, and other factors. But if you’re about to experience the joy of a new litter in your household, this is what you can expect.
The Neonatal Stage: Birth to two weeks
- The senses of touch taste and smell are immediately present after birth.
- They are blind, deaf and toothless.
- They are also unable to regulate their body temperature and can very easily suffer hypothermia if separated from their mom and litter mates.
- The mother has the most influence over the puppy, keeping them warm, fed, clean and comforted.
- The puppies will spend up to 90% of the time sleeping, and the small amount of awake time suckling. During this time all their energy goes to growth and their size increases quickly.
- Their crawling around and clambering over each other to reach a teat helps strengthen their developing muscles and coordination.
The Transitional Stage: Two to four weeks
- Mother and littermates continue to influence a puppy’s behavior.
- The sense of hearing develops with ears opening at about two weeks, eyes open from about ten to sixteen days. A puppy’s eyesight is well-developed by the fourth or fifth week.
- A puppy begins to stand, walk a little, wag its tail, and try to bark.
- The teeth begin to appear.
- They are getting bladder control and will begin moving away from their sleeping area to eliminate.
The Socialization Stage: Three to twelve weeks
- A puppy needs occasions to meet other pets and people during this stage.
- By three to five weeks, play becomes important as a puppy becomes aware of his or her surroundings, companions (both people and dogs), and relationships.
- At about 4 weeks the bitch’s milk will begin to noticeably reduce and with the increased energy levels of the puppies, they will begin to try to eat solid food. Weaning is usually completed by eight weeks.
- A critical phase at about six to eight weeks is when a puppy can most easily accept others as part of their family.
- The influence of the puppy’s littermates increases at four to six weeks as they learns more about being a dog. With littermates, the puppy learns to play, develops social skills, learns the inhibited bite, explores his or her social boundaries and hierarchy, and improves physical coordination.
- From four to twelve weeks, a puppy’s interaction with people becomes more important.
- By five to seven weeks, a puppy needs positive human interaction as it develops curiosity and explores new experiences.
- A puppy has full use of his or her senses by seven to nine weeks. A puppy will be refining its coordination and physical ability.
- At eight to ten weeks, a puppy will go through a “fear phase” when it can experience real fear involving everyday objects and experiences. During this stage, a puppy needs support and positive reinforcement. But at the same time it must not be overprotected from noises or activities. If this happens it makes it even harder for a puppy to become accustomed to every-day life.
- Enhancing responses, advancing social skills with littermates (proper contact), and investigating the surroundings and objects takes place from nine to twelve weeks.
At this stage most puppies have a reasonable level of independence but are very definitely still puppies with lots more to learn. Most breeds are considered puppies until at least 1 year old, sometimes 18 months. But now that it has left it’s mother and littermates, the rest of it’s development is now entirely your responsibility!