The 5 stages of newborn puppies: a week-by-week guide.

puppy playing with toilet paper in the grass

Seeing a newborn puppy grow is a truly rewarding and adorable experience! There are many bonding moments, house and family transformations, and tons (really, tons) of cute Instagram pictures waiting to be taken.

But there’s also a learning curve for both the human and the puppy in this foundational phase, and it’s important that you know what’s going on within the dog’s body…and mind. Read on for advice in each one of the puppy stages, from day 1 to week 48! 

0-3 weeks old: Sleepyhead

What happens at this stage? For you, there’s probably a lot happening with the new family member in the house. However, there isn’t much going on for the puppy besides sleeping. Their senses are yet to develop, and they can’t really respond to any external stimuli through sight, hearing, or smell. 

The puppy will be mostly sleeping, a lot, and that’s a good thing!

What you should do: It’s always a good idea to start exposing the puppy to sounds and situations that are similar to their future life (like the sound of cars in an urban environment or other animals if you will be living in the countryside). 

Puppies can also benefit from tactile stimulation during this stage, so make sure to provide a lot of gentle handling. 

Never punish your puppy while or after playing: it can cause a lot of anxiety and stress. Instead, try to deviate their attention to other games or toys and practice positive reinforcement.

Beware: Puppies need their mother at this stage. If the mother is not present, you need to make up for maternal love, that is feeding the puppy properly and timely, ensuring warmth (they haven’t developed the ability to regulate body temperature at this stage), and providing a lot of attention. 

3-8 weeks old: Curious about the world

What happens at this stage? Around the fourth week, the puppy will start to walk on its own and visibly develop motor functions and reflexes. The senses also start to awaken, gradually responding to stimuli received through the eyes, ears, and nose.

You will notice more and more independence and playfulness (especially play-biting). They appear curious, enthusiastic, and brave. Their fear threshold is high.

What you should do: The process of puppy socialization starts here, as we explained in this article, and you play a vital role by introducing situations and experiences that will be normal in their lives from now on (this is a good time because they are not naturally afraid of things). Also, if possible, the puppy should spend as much time as possible with the mother and siblings. 

Beware: Take your dog to the vet and make vaccination appointments! As the puppy starts exploring the world, it becomes more and more important to follow preventive healthcare.

8 to 12 weeks old: Independent, but close

What happens at this stage? This is a crucial period in the puppy’s life. During this period the puppy will be taking in all the external information at a remarkable pace. Their movements also become coordinated and confident.

While it is at this stage when puppies are eagerly learning and decoding all the delights of the world, they also learn about its dangers. They are now capable of distinguishing what is safe and what isn’t.

What you should do. You should actively welcome your dog’s new sense of independence, but don’t get too far away! Find the balance between letting them explore on their own, and providing passive company.

For example, you could give them toys, games, and activities to enjoy on their own but stay in the same room. Don’t leave them alone for too long. 

Most importantly, this is the acclimation stage. Here’s where your puppy will learn to feel safe in a specific environment, so make sure to propose the right stimuli. Unpleasant feelings or experiences at this stage can leave a mark on your dog’s behavior forever.

It is recommended to use toys instead of playing rough – if you don’t want the dog biting your fingers when playing, it is in this period that they will learn what is appropriate.

Beware: between stage 2 and stage 3 (this one) is the ideal moment for the puppy to be adopted. According to experts, this is when the puppy is more likely to easily adapt to a change of environment. 

12 to 24 weeks old: The Chewbacca phase!

What happens at this stage? Teeth start to appear, and so does the chewing. They will chew everything! 

Puppies are even more confident and they will leave the mother to go around and investigate the world on their own.

What you should do. There’s a lot to do here. First of all, prepare to provide chew toys to keep them entertained. You can even fill toys with food to stimulate chewing even more.

Then, you can officially start some soft dog training. Start easy with some in-house training, for example, take them out every two or three hours so they get used to ‘answering nature’s call’ outside. Do it when they wake up and after meals.

Don’t get upset if they do their business where they’re not supposed to. This won’t have any positive consequences in their process and, after all, they just started to learn the rules! 

You can also enroll the puppy in a training class or socialization class during this time. They will benefit from lots of human interaction and exposure to different kinds of people. 

Beware: if you need to call out your puppy, use a happy voice. Studies suggest they’re more likely to learn about the experience if your voice sounds nice and kind. 

24 to 48 weeks old: Adolescence

What happens at this stage? Once a cute baby, the puppy is now closer to being a teenager, almost literally. You can expect your puppy to experience mood swings, undergo surprisingly rapid growth, and even challenge your authority.

What you should do: Take the teen puppy on regular walks and allow it to sniff around everything. They communicate through scent, so sniffing and smelling are quite important. 

More advanced training and veterinary care are also in order. Put efforts into ensuring that the vaccinations remain a positive experience. If you get your dog comfortable with visiting the vet at this point, you will never have a problem with this in the future!

Beware: Neutering and spaying are usually performed around this time. Talk to a professional to decide on the right time and circumstances. 

And there you go! The puppy is now stepping into their adult life. By understanding their needs and changes at every step of the way, we can give them the love, care, and learning they truly need to set the foundation for a happy, healthy adult life!

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