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What To Expect In Your Puppy’s First Year



8 to 12 weeks


Physical Development


Your puppy is getting his act together physically – he’s still clumsy, but learning to coordinate his growing body well enough for playful jumping and tumbling.  Toward his 12th week, he’ll start shedding puppy teeth as permanent teeth emerge.  By his 12th week, bladder control is improving.



Behavior – changes and challenges


As your puppy shifts his dependence to you as his leader, you’ll become the center of his world.  He’ll probably like to lie down on top of or beside your feet.


He’s very curious, has a short attention span, and is easily distracted.

Although he had little sense of fear in earlier weeks, at some point between 7-9 weeks he may be suddenly cautious of anything new in his environment.  This “fear period” is normal.  He may be fearful of abrupt movement or loud sounds.  Try to prevent undue trauma during this phase.


Much as a toddler explores with hands and fingers, young puppies like to investigate things using their mouths.  Combine this with the increasing urge to chew as permanent teeth start to come in, and you have one mouthy customer!  Be prepared for this by providing him with lots of safe, chewable toys.



Keep in mind…


Like any baby, your young puppy needs to sleep for much of the day.  Keep playtimes short and give him lots of “down time”.  Don’t force him to keep up prolonged activity and resist the urge to show him off to everyone right away!



Health and nutritional reminders


Your pup’s immune system is not fully developed until he is about 12 weeks old.  To protect him from several serious diseases, it’s crucial to keep up with his vaccination schedule (puppy shots) as recommended by your vet.  It’s also very important to keep him away from other dogs and from areas where other dogs may have soiled the ground, until he’s 12 weeks old.


Don’t give him “people food” but feed him 4 times a day or “free feed” with a high-quality puppy food that has the nutrients his growing body needs.



Training tips for this stage


Introduce “pre-training activities” – Although your puppy has a very short attention span, you can begin gently developing a few basic behaviors such as wearing a collar, following on a leash, and coming when called.  Keep each session about 3 minutes long, with the emphasis on FUN, using plenty of treats and praise.


Since his immunity isn’t established, your pup can’t yet go to training classes or public places.  But, it’s important for him to start meeting a variety of people in the safety of your home – simply have visitors gently interact with him whenever possible.


Not until about 12 weeks, as your puppy gets a hold of his bladder and bowels, can more focused housetraining begin.  Right now, be sure to take him out very frequently – after every time he eats, drinks, awakens, or has a bout of activity; and at least every hour or so in between.  When not with him, provide a safe, confined space, including a place for him to sleep and a separate “toilet area” to relieve himself.



12 to 16 weeks



Physical development


Your puppy’s senses and motor skills are well developed now.  He still needs to sleep a lot, but he’s full of energy when he’s awake.  His bladder and bowel control are continuing to improve.


His adult teeth are still coming in.  While this is happening, sometimes puppy teeth don’t fall out as they should.  Have your vet check your pup’s mouth on the next visit.



Behavior – changes and challenges


Your pup is very inquisitive and interested in exploring the world around him.  Right now his brain is geared toward soaking in everything it can.  This coincides with a crucial phase in his development:  He is in what is called the “Critical Socialization Period”.  Through 4 months of age is the single most important period influencing how your dog will behave as an adult.  Now is when the foundation is laid for the rest of his life in terms of his attitude towards you, other humans, and other dogs.


It is extremely important for your pup to have good experiences now, being introduced to all kinds of people and things he’ll encounter during his life.


Luckily with his immune system finally matured, it’s now safe to take him to a wide variety of public places.  It’s also important for him to play with other dogs as much as possible.  Play with other dogs ensures that your pup will be dog-friendly as an adult and teaches him basic, important rules of intercanine behavior.


It’s not a substitute for your own efforts to socialize your puppy regularly, but a great help to enroll in a local puppy class.  These fun, informal gathering exposes your puppy to a variety of people and other dogs each week.



Keep in mind…


This is the crucial time to lay the foundation for a lifelong loving, positive relationship with your dog.  Take the time to have fun with your puppy.



Health and nutrition reminder


Talk to your vet about starting your pup on a heartworm preventative.  You can also begin to reduce the number of daily feeding to three times a day.



Training tips for this stage


Housebreaking can begin in earnest.  Take your puppy out frequently and praise him lavishly every time he eliminates outside.  Don’t get lazy and let your puppy roam the house unsupervised.  “Accidents” are not a puppy’s fault; they’re an indication that you’re not keeping tabs on him.  The goal is to get him to go outside before an accident occurs.  If you catch him in the act, calmly hustle him outside, then praise him if he finishes there.  If an accident occurs when you’re not looking, don’t punish him.  He won’t understand and it will damage your relationship.  Frequent outings, persistence and watchfulness and lots of praise are the keys to quicker housetraining.


Although your puppy is rambunctious and easily distracted right now, don’t get tough in training him.  He’s still sensitive emotionally and psychologically.  Fears can occur easily and inhibit learning.


To nurture the bond with your pup, try hand feeding him.  Feed kibble to him bit by bit.  Play a game (call his name, back away, then give him a treat when he comes to you).


You can also begin basic grooming.  Praise him while you gently brush him, handle his mouth and paws and trim nails.





4 to 6 months



Physical development


This is a period of major growth for your puppy, and his high-spirited bursts of activity likely feature much clumsiness.  Combine all this with a still relatively short attention span and you have one rambunctious canine on your hands!



Behavior – changes and challenges


At around 4 months, your puppy will go through an “avoidance period” similar to the fear period he experienced at 7 -9 weeks.  During this phase he will probably be hesitant about doing new things and suspicious of new situations and places.


If he tends to be on the shy side, now is a time to ease up and be sure to keep things fun.  Never push him or punish him for his anxiety.


If his usually demeanor is especially bold, this might be a time when he simply backs off a little and looks to you for support; in that case, it can be an opportunity where he’s especially receptive to training and you can encourage his responsiveness to you.



Keep in mind…


You pup is especially prone to anxiety at this age.  Calmly explorer new situations with him, but don’t push him or punish him if he’s reluctant.



Health and nutrition


Continue feeding your pup three times a day until he is about 6 months old.  Have your vet explain to you how to recognize a healthy weight for your pup.


Ask your vet about flea-and-tick control programs.  Flea infestation in your home can be hard to eradicate, and ticks can carry disease.


Inspect your puppy’s ears regularly to check that they are clean and free of odor or discharge.


Discuss spaying/neutering with your vet (as agreed in the contract you’ve signed with us).  It makes no sense to breed your dog unless he has been determined to be of exceptional quality, and you are willing to put in the time and effort to gain the extensive knowledge that is required in making responsible breeding decisions.



Training tips for this stage


Continue socialization to a wide variety of people, other animals, places, sounds, and sights. 


Housetraining may deteriorate over time, especially if you start taking it for granted.  Remember the times when your pup is especially likely to have to “go”--  after eating, drinking, or playing and upon awakening.


Keep working on teaching him basic manners – to walk agreeable on a leash, come to you when called, and sit or lie down on command.  Always keep it fun by using lots of treats and praise.  Sessions should still be short – no more than 15 minutes, but you can have numerous sessions throughout the day.


Remember that habits your puppy learns now will persist when he’s much bigger.  You might not mind him jumping on you now as a puppy, but as an adult this behavior may be less desirable.


Remember that pups cannot take pressure or harsh treatment.  Gentle repetition in short sessions is the key.




6 to 9 months



Physical development


This is another period of major growth where your pup would probably be experiencing an increase in hormones in his body.  Your raucous adolescent is feeling vigorous and active and getting enough exercise at this stage is especially important.


(Foot note:  if you choose to spay/neuter your pet during this phase,  behaviors resulting from hormonal changes would be lessened.)



Behavior – changes and challenges


With all those surging hormones, your pup may suddenly seem to ignore you more or challenge your leadership.  There may be early expression of dominant behavior.  Be firm about the rules you’ve established.


This intensity of activity may include a new burst of interest in chewing, so keep providing a variety of safe chew toys at all times.



Keep in mind…


Raising your dog through this energetic “teenage” stage can be a challenge – but keep giving him loving attention and the guidance he needs and you’ll both come through gracefully!




Health and nutrition


Although you can reduce the number of feedings to twice a day, keep feeding a quality puppy food during this phase of growth.


Remember to keep on a schedule with parasite/heartworm preventative.


Consider scheduling spay/neuter procedures with your vet if you haven’t done so already.  Remember, heat cycles can occur as early as 6 months for females.



Training tips for this stage


During your puppy’s adolescence it’s important to keep training basic command.  Going to obedience classes will help, but remember that helping him keep up his good manners at home is up to you.  One key to remember:  Your pup will be much easier to live with during this period if he gets enough exercise.


To help reinforce good manners and prevent your teenager from getting into mischief, keep your pup with you as much as possible when you’re home.  You might try having him on a leash with you while you’re in the house and teach him to lie down beside you.  It may take him a while to settle down, but with patience, he will.  You can also keep him near you for short periods in a comfortable crate or pen.





9 to 12 months



Physical development


Although your canine friend will still seem a puppy at heart in some ways, this breed will attain adult size by 9 - 12 months.


Most males will begin to lift their leg to urinate by 12 months.  If they have not been neutered yet, males will experience a lifetime-high peak of hormones.  Some may also go through a temporary period of mounting.


Females, too, will experience hormonal changes and their first heat period can occur as early as 6 months of age.



Behavior – changes and challenges


Stresses in your pup’s routine can cause set-backs or relapses in housetraining and other manners.  Go back to reinforcing the basics if necessary and keep up the praise and positive attitude.


For some dogs, signs of separation anxiety can develop or intensify during this time.  To help nip this problem in the bud, avoid making a big deal of your comings and goings.  If your dog seems stressed when you’re about to leave him, try helping him adjust with numerous “practice departures” where you pretend to go away but calmly return within a few minutes.



Keep in mind…


Some dogs at this age may occasionally show defiance by challenging your leadership.  It is a natural part of their development.  If this happens, be calm and firm and insist on good manners.



Health and nutrition reminders


Keep feeding your pup twice a day, and keep feeding puppy formula until he is at least 1 year old.


Remember your vet’s tips on how to tell that your canine isn’t becoming overweight.  If your pup’s getting a little too porky, cut back on his portion size a little bit.



Training tips for this stage


Keep using praise and periodic treats to reinforce commands and good manners.  Continue all types of socialization.  You and your canine companion are on the way to becoming buddies for life!

AKC Puppy Handbook  2016

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