Congratulations: you’ve just begun one of the most important and fun friendships in life. The bond between a puppy and his owner is like no other. The first year of your puppy’s life is full of ups and downs – but mostly ups!
Here’s what to expect from each stage of puppy development, plus some ways to stay on top of caring for your puppy so he has a long and healthy life.
The first month
Most puppies spend their first month with their littermates, and if you are getting a puppy from a breeder or shelter they should be at least eight weeks old before you take them home. However, if he is already with you, think of this period of his life as one of intense learning. Everything he does, sees, hears, smells, touches and plays with is a learning opportunity.
Since he would naturally be with his mother and his littermates, you should expect him to nip and attempt to play somewhat aggressively, because he would normally learn his boundaries from their reactions. This is one of the most important stages of puppy development, as he is learning everything about the world for the first time.
The second month
By this stage in your puppy’s development he should be mostly weaned off his mother’s milk. He might still be learning from his littermates at this point, but he should also be exposed regularly to humans for play and for training purposes.
The third month
Toward the end of the second month and into the third month is when you should expect your puppy to begin to react cautiously to the world around him. If you bring your puppy home for the first time around this period, it can be somewhat traumatic. This is a period of extreme sensitivity. Even things that your puppy may once have been able to handle are now more of an event. Avoid surgeries, unnecessary travel, and even bathing during this period. Give gentle comfort throughout weeks seven through ten.
Stick to a schedule for eating, going to the toilet and sleeping. Toward the end of the third month, your puppy will likely have returned to his adventurous self. This is when you can begin working with him on training. And if you haven’t done so already, this is a good time to take your puppy for the first visit to the vet. Your vet can advise on heartworm, flea and tick prevention, as well as when you should spay or neuter them.
Four to six months
By this puppy development stage, your young friend will be testing boundaries at every turn. This is the time for you to be firmly consistent in your training. Make him come to you and sit before he eats. Your puppy may experience another fear stage at the end of four months. Praise him when he does something right.
Play with him and incorporate training into the games (see our list of games for ideas). This is the time to expose your puppy to as much as possible. This goes for different types of people (especially children), different environments, cats, other dogs, different toys – almost anything you can think of. This period is crucial; studies have shown that not exposing your puppy to enough at this age can lead to severe shyness or over-aggressiveness later in life. The bottom line: involve him in as much of your life as possible.
At this stage of puppy development expect him to chew things, because his permanent teeth are emerging during this period. When he does chew on something, don’t yell or hit him. Rather, offer him an appropriate toy and praise him for chewing on that. Brush your puppy’s teeth every day.
Six to eight months
At six months, puppies should be able to hold their urine and sleep through the night. By now, your puppy is around 75% of his body weight and nearly fully developed. Your puppy will likely be exploring sexually as he approaches and enters puberty. Unplanned pregnancies are possible, so take extra care during this time. Female puppies that aren’t spayed may experience their first heat around this stage. Be aware that as in human puberty, puppies have a variety of behavioural reactions. Hormonal changes may cause your puppy to be more rambunctious, moody or aggressive. You might also want to consider getting your puppy neutered, so speak to your vet for advice.
He should also be fully vaccinated by now, which means you can let him socialise and even get him started on formal obedience classes. He’ll have lots of energy, so let him play, both indoors and outside, as much as he needs. You’ll want to put him on a regular feeding schedule and keep an eye on his body condition. Don’t feed him too many treats!
Nine to twelve months
Motor skills are usually fully refined by this stage of puppy development. He should be responding to consistent, firm training. He should be confident within his environment and respond calmly and curiously to other environments. Your puppy should also be comfortable with his regular grooming routine and any medication routine that has been established.
During this period, you and your puppy will have become fairly close. It is normal for your puppy to develop separation issues at this time, if he hasn’t already. Handle this by smoothing over the transition (e.g. be calm when you leave and when you return to reduce stress). See our article on puppy separation issues for more information.
Your puppy will have a huge amount of energy at this stage. Take him out for long walks and runs. Take him to the beach or to a place where he can run safely and legally off lead. Play high-energy games with him. You’ll also want to continue to monitor his body condition and stay consistent in your training practices.
Congratulations! You have completed the first year with your puppy – not an easy feat! You and your puppy are well on your way to a long, happy and healthy life together.