By Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH, DACVPM
Quality time with mom
Newborn to eight weeks
Taking your puppy home
The fear period
The training period
Your pre-adolescent puppy
Your adolescent puppy
Puppies are cute and charming and winsome and hard to turn down. We get it.
It’s easy to be swayed by cute puppies, not knowing what is actually needed to help that little pup thrive.
So you bring home a brand-new puppy, convinced you are going to give your little pup the best life possible.
Yet you are at a loss on how to actually do it.
Sound familiar? You are at the right place.
Today we are looking at what it really means to help your little puppy mature into a thriving adult dog.
Of course, there are physical needs like food, hygiene products, and a safe space to call home.
Perhaps you scan across your mental list, double-checking you have everything you need.
Organic food and treats – check.
Hypoallergenic doggy bed – check.
Natural (and clean!) shampoo – check.
It’s obvious your puppy’s basic needs are covered.
Perhaps you even went so far as to download top pet apps on your smartphone to help with puppy parenthood.
Still, this is only the beginning of puppy care.
Like children, puppies have psychological stages of development. Believe it or not, the first year of a puppy’s life is actually the equivalent of a baby maturing into a teenager.
Your puppy needs your love, leadership, and patience to grow into a well-adjusted adult dog.
In today’s post, you are about to discover how to best care for your puppy’s psychological needs.
We’ll talk about why it is so important for a puppy to spend his/her first days with Mom, when is a good time to bring your puppy home, the stage at which your puppy is most impressionable, and more.
In the end, you’ll have a tight grasp on how you can best care for your little pup’s psychological needs so he/she can mature into a well rounded and healthy adult dog.
Welcome! Let’s get started.
Quality Time with Mom
Few things in life are more adorable than a newborn puppy.
They are tiny and vulnerable and the perfect newborn size.
Instinctively, you may wish to cradle them, cuddle them, and take them straight home.
However, you can’t. Not just yet.
During those early newborn days straight up until eight weeks old, it’s the mother who knows best how to provide proper puppy care.
Not only is a puppy growing physically during these weeks as she opens her eyes, learns to walk, and thickens her darling fur coat.
She’s also learning valuable social and behavioral cues too.
By simply living alongside mamma dog and interacting with her littermates, a puppy will learn even the most basic dog behaviors including proper biting, barking, and good doggy discipline.
What happens when a puppy is separated too soon?
On the flip side, puppies who are removed from the nest too early or who don’t receive quality time with their pupper family are at a psychological disadvantage later in life.
Studies have found that when a puppy leaves its mother too soon (prior to eight weeks), the puppy is placed at a serious disadvantage.
Behavioral problems spike, the puppy is likely to grow more fearful, and a lack of confidence often surfaces.
Not to mention, these same puppies are slower to bond with their human family after arriving home.
In addition, puppies removed from their mother prior to eight weeks suffer from inappropriate biting.
Their little puppy bite will be harder and more frequent than usual.
Plus, the biting will be harder to curb even with positive training.
Housetraining is another trouble.
The bowel and bladder control for puppies younger than eight weeks isn’t mature yet.
These young pups simply aren’t ready to be housetrained.
Separation anxiety is likely to sky-rocket as the little pupper has no idea how to self soothe.
She will be quick to feel anxious and she’ll appear discontent as she fearfully wades through life.
Lastly, puppies taken from their mothers too soon suffer from a lack of good socialization skills.
These puppies will act differently from their pupper friends as they struggle to navigate the ropes of life.
They’ll react poorly to other dogs and pets while struggling to make new friends.
Ultimately, they’ll prove socially inept and require excessive positive training just to get back on track.
Snowdog Guru states it simply, “No human or puppy comes into the world knowing the rules that apply to his social group. These rules are mutable and reflect the unique circumstances of each particular group. The rules must be taught to the group members.”
By leaving a puppy with his mother and littermates during the first eight weeks of life, puppies are able to learn proper social rules before launching into a new home.
Newborn to Eight Weeks
Now that we understand the importance of staying with Mother dog until eight weeks old, let’s look at what is really happening during these weeks.
During the first eight weeks out of the womb, puppies transition through three stages.
First is the neonatal stage.
This occurs from birth to two weeks old.
It’s during this stage that a puppy learns to eat, sleep, pee, and poop.
Next is the transition stage, occurring from two to three weeks in age.
During this stage, puppies become more aware of their surroundings.
Eyes and ears both open, and puppies enjoy an increase in senses.
Starting at three weeks and stretching on to thirteen weeks is the socialization stage.
Puppies are now ready to start limited interactions with their society.
Social rules are learned, and good behavior is reinforced.
Inside of this third stage, occurring between six and eight weeks, puppies are weened and start enjoying solid foods.
The mother dog’s interactions distinctly change as a puppy encounters his first lessons in submission, compliance, and social ranking.
For these reasons, the evidence rings clear: the first weeks of your puppy’s life are indeed the most important!
Taking Your Puppy Home
The best time to bring your puppy home and start forming strong bonds is between seven and eight weeks – the 49th day to be exact.
With that said, we encourage people to wait the full eight weeks.
Occasionally a breeder may even require waiting until twelve weeks to ensure each puppy has fully developed.
Though you’re excited to welcome your new family member, big transitions can be scary and confusing for your puppy.
He’s just been separated from his mom, siblings, and the only environment he knows.
So remember, take things slow.
Allow your puppy time to adapt to his/her new surroundings before launching into a full and busy life.
To ease your puppy’s anxiety, consider snagging a Newborn Celebration Pack as a little welcome home gift.
Not only do these celebration packs include a cozy blanket and bone-shaped pillow to vamp up your puppy’s comfort level, they also come with impressionable clay so you can stamp prints of your tiny puppy’s paws and always remember those precious first days.
The Fear Period
While the name can feel a bit scary, fear is a natural development stage for puppies.
It’s during this stage of puppy care when your little fur bundle is most impressionable.
It spans from approximately eight to ten weeks in age.
Associations during this period are sure to leave permanent imprints.
Allow lots of negative experiences to creep in and you’ll likely have a fearful canine on your hands.
When a puppy or dog is feeling fearful, he will be quick to cower beneath a table, lung at or even bite unsuspecting visitors, and whine or bark at inappropriate times.
As a result, it’s essential your puppy encounters positive experiences with people, other animals, and new situations during the fear period.
Talk in a relaxed and cheerful manner, as puppies are quick to detect your tone of voice.
Pet your little puppy often and have some hearty playtime together.
And always, no matter the occasion, don’t panic or overreact.
Stay calm, carry on, and your puppy will be the better for it.
Lastly, avoid painful, scary, or unpleasant situations – like vet visits – until after eleven weeks.
If such circumstances are simply unavoidable, make it feel positive by including treats while responding positively to the experience.
The Training Period
A puppy’s training period window occurs between eight and sixteen weeks of age.
It presents a stage of rapid puppy learning, making it the ideal time for both training, and establishing house rules.
Starting on day one, start your puppy on a consistent feeding schedule. Begin house training, and toss in a bit of crate time.
Next, at 10-12 weeks, discourage your puppy from biting, nipping and chewing while setting clear boundaries to keep your pup away from certain areas of your house.
At the same time, you might also leash train your puppy while training her to sit and be polite while in public.
One excellent method for puppy training is positive reinforcement.
With positive reinforcement, rather than always telling your puppy what he/she is doing wrong, you’re instead extra intentional to reward any positive behavior you see.
In short, you focus on the good by rewarding with treats, while ignoring the bad.
Rewards can include favorite foods, positive praise, extra playtime, a favorite toy, or simply a few friendly pats on the back.
In time, your puppy will catch on and understand which behaviors are truly desired.
To access the winning DIY guide for dog training, don’t miss this article here.
Should the first days ever feel overwhelming to you, pause and imagine how your puppy may be feeling.
Overnight they are suddenly trying to understand what you are expecting of them, their new environment, and how to control their behavior.
Remember to be calm, be consistent, and be patient.
Your Pre-Adolescent Puppy
Months four to eight are your puppy’s pre-teen years.
Their natural curiosity and increasing confidence will cause more independent behavior.
So instead of shadowing your every move, your puppy may now seem more likely to venture on his own if given the chance.
What can you do?
Train, train, and train some more; in a class if possible.
Spend plenty of time with your puppy in active play and exercise.
Play fetch in the backyard.
Visit your local dog park together, and go on hikes outside together.
Visit pet-friendly stores and socialize your puppy to family and friends.
It’s during these months that you want to be creating a bond strong enough to withstand the upcoming teenage years.
Not to mention, unless you wish to introduce sex hormones, this period of puppy care also means spaying or neutering by six months of age.
Your Adolescent Puppy
Perhaps the most challenging season of puppy care is during the teenage years.
Naturally, how this period plays out will vary from one puppy to the next.
It can start as early as eight months and last until two years old.
During this season, your puppy becomes larger, stronger, and often naughtier.
You can expect your patience to get tested.
Your puppy is nearly finished teething, and new sleeping patterns are underway.
Bonding is extremely important during this stage, along with continued exposure to good socialization.
Your puppy will become more independent, so you’ll want to switch up your training routine.
Keep each training fun by tossing in brain games, playtime together, and lots of positive praise.
It should also be noted that sometimes during this stage, puppies appear to forget their earlier training.
Sit and stay may suddenly feel impossible.
Your puppy is simply noticing more of the world and it’s harder than ever to focus.
Know that this is totally normal, and it’s okay to revisit and repeat earlier training as needed.
Also, your puppy isn’t ready to enjoy free-rein just yet.
It’s crucial you keep your spot as the pack leader.
To help do this, Three Lost Dogs advises, “In order to control your dog, you have to be the most interesting thing in the world to your dog.”
Easier said than done, of course.
Yet the truth remains: remind your dog to listen first to you. Then reward your pal with whatever he finds most fascinating.
Fortunately, if you’ve been consistent with training in the months leading up to adolescence, then these months will likely be much easier to endure.
Continue to practice basic obedience, reward your puppy for making good decisions, and be intentional to provide mental stimulation.
Q. What happens when a puppy is taken away from the mother too early?
Removing a puppy from its mother prior to eight weeks can create multiple problems that will surface later in life. These include heightened anxiety, excessive barking, and poor socialization.
Q. How long do puppies need to be with their mom?
The most common age for puppies to leave their mom and transition into their new home is eight weeks. At eight weeks, puppies are typically weened and alert to their surroundings.
Q. What age do puppies go through adolescence?
It’s true that the adolescent period varies among puppies. However, typically puppy adolescence will start as early as eight months and continue until a puppy is two years old.
Q. Do puppies have a rebellious stage?
Many puppies encounter a rebellious stage between 6 and 18 months as hormones are changing and small pups enter their adolescent months. Use positive training to ease this stage.
Sometimes puppy parenthood will feel like a winding road.
Hang in there.
With a dose of love and a heap of understanding, your puppy will come around.
Always be kind, firm, and consistent.
In time, the journey is sure to be worth it.
As always, we’re glad you are here.
Thanks for being a part of this puppy-loving community!
Until next time,
Early removal of puppy from mother (2019). snowdogguru. Retrieved from https://www.snowdog.guru/early-removal-of-puppy-mother/.
How to Survive Your Dog’s Teen Months (n.d.). 3lostdogs. Retrieved from https://3lostdogs.com/just-kill-me-now-surviving-your-dogs-teen-months/.
London, K. B. (2020). Adolescent dogs go through fear periods. Retrieved from https://thebark.com/content/adolescent-dogs-go-through-fear-periods.
London, L. (2018). Puppy training stages. Retrieved from https://thehappypuppysite.com/puppy-training-stages/.
Tucker, N. (2020). Adolescent dogs: 6 facts to know. Retrieved from https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/puppies/adolescent-dogs-6-facts-to-know/.
When Should Puppies (2017). thehonestkitchen.com. Retrieved from https://www.thehonestkitchen.com/blog/when-should-puppies-go-to-their-new-home/.
Dr. Heather Venkat has been a veterinarian since 2013, working in companion animal medicine with dogs and cats, as well as veterinary public health. Her passion is in prevention, One Health, and strengthening the human-animal bond. A bonafide animal-lover, she competes in dog sports and currently shares her home with a border collie mix named Luna, three cats, and two leopard geckos.
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