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Puppy Development Stages & Behaviour Into Adulthood

We all want the absolute best for our puppy. We aim for good health, a happy demeanour and a positive attitude (especially when getting together with other dog friends). However, helping your pup become a well-adjusted adult dog is easier when you understand the different puppy development stages they will experience as they age.

Happy and healthy puppies should be supported at each phase in their development, with specific needs met along the way. This information also makes it easier for a dog owner to tailor the appropriate training to ensure your new family member is appropriately integrated into the world, accounting for the various behaviour changes they'll experience.

We've compiled a timeline of puppy growth stages to help you better understand your puppy’s development stages as they grow into a healthy and happy adult dog.
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Development stage 0–7 Weeks

In most cases, you won't be able to take your puppy home until they are around eight to ten weeks old, but it is still good to understand the developmental tasks before this. Interactions with your pup's mother and siblings are crucial as they can teach important lessons like:
  • Bite inhibition
  • Submissive behaviours
  • Attention seeking and receptive behaviours
While your pup can learn all of these lessons later in life, it certainly is a case of the sooner, the better! It is also important to note that the stages we discuss here may vary. Your puppy is a unique little creature who will develop at their own pace!

The stages during this early period are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Neonatal (0 – 2 weeks)

    Your pup will only have taste and touch at this point, being completely reliant on the mother. Puppies in the neonatal phase only have limited movement which is a slow crawl at most.

  • Stage 2: Transitional (2 – 4 weeks)

    Hearing and smell will follow as the puppy teeth come through. Your new best friend's eyes will begin to open, and their unique personality starts to develop, including wagging tails and the cutest bark attempt you've ever heard! They will begin to interact with their littermates with eyes completely open by five weeks. Puppies will also begin to walk and will start weaning from the mother during this phase. Solid food should be slowly introduced into their diet around the three-week mark.

  • Stage 3: Socialisation Period (7–8 Weeks)

    Not only is this when pups can go to their new home, but it's also the age when they form bonds with people. They are mentally developed enough to handle changes and begin training.
The socialisation period is one of the most important stages of a puppy’s development. During this period, the aim is to introduce your puppy to many things, including other dogs, people, and surroundings. It’s important that this be done in a controlled environment as puppies are easily overwhelmed.

Teaching your puppy to use a crate is important and should start from as early as eight weeks old, essentially as soon as your puppy is through the front door. Crate training a puppy has many benefits, including helping your puppy to control their bladder and use appropriate signals to let you know when they need to go to the toilet.

Your puppy’s curiosity is at an all-time high during the first 7-8 eight weeks of their life which means making time for your puppy’s training each day is extremely important. Be sure to always remain patient and consistent with your puppy for the best results!  
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The fear period 8–16 Weeks

While it doesn't sound good, the fear period refers to when your impressionable little puppy forms object associations that create imprints that can be hard to shake. This does, however, work both ways, which is why lots of positive experiences, be it with people or other animals, is the goal!

During this time, unpleasant experiences can be made into positive ones with your reaction. For example, a scared puppy will look to you to understand a situation better; if you react by laughing or praising, the puppy will assume that things are not as bad as they first seemed.

Puppy training classes are vital for you and your dog during this time. Training should always be fun, and be sure to avoid punishment no matter what happens. Getting your puppy out into the world to be exposed to experience as many new things, people and animals as possible is the best way to train and learn. Ensure you can control the situation and always keep your pup on a lead for safety.

Important tip: Avoid socialising with other animals until your puppy has been vaccinated, and wait about a week after the second vaccination before making new friends.

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Pre-adolescent period 4–6 Months

Around this time, your puppy will be a little more independent, confident and curious. Training is still very important, especially in how to deal with distractions. It's a great idea to take your puppy everywhere you can, which cements your bond and helps them get used to various situations. It is important to desex your dog by six months as well!

Common behaviours puppy’s display during the pre-adolescent period includes:
  • Testing and learning boundaries
  • Clearer responses to instructions
  • Teething and chewing
Your pup will be getting bigger, and their energy will be significant. However, exercise should not be overdone, and it is important to be aware that the fear phase still applies during this time.

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Sexual maturity 6–12 Months

Your young dog’ will require a lot of companionship and stimulation during this time as boredom will be reached very easily. In addition, unaltered dogs reach their sexual maturity around this time, which is most likened to the teenage years of a human.

Common behaviours puppies display between the ages of 6-12 months includes:
  • Descent of the testicles (males)
  • Scent marking
  • An in roaming and ignoring instructions
  • The first heat cycle in females

Off-leash walking should be approached with caution during this time as your puppy is very vibrant, active and excited. Ensure their areas for exercise and play are safe with plenty of toys that they can chew. Socialisation and training are very important in public areas during this period so take plenty of trips to the dog park where you can tick both boxes!

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Emotional Maturity 12–18 Months

A puppy’s emotional maturity often develops quicker in small breed dogs than larger dogs.

Common behaviours puppies display between the ages of 12-18 months includes:
  • Raising the leg to pee
  • More distinct mood changes
  • A slight dip in energy
When a puppy reaches the age of 12-18 months old, signs of dominant behaviour can sometimes transpire during this time. This is likely due to the fact that this is often when a puppy will learn to assert itself within their pack. If you’re experiencing this kind of behaviour and are unsure of what to do, then we suggest consulting a professional trainer or behavioural specialist to lend a helping hand.

Important note: In cases of dominant behaviours, punishment is not recommended. Always try to keep a respectful and fun relationship, as your dog will still take cues from your reactions.

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The Biting/Teething Puppy Phase

One of the most important elements of puppy training is bite inhibition training and the sooner you start, the better. The best method for bite inhibition training is known as redirection - a simple method, which simply put is the process of giving your puppy a toy in place of you (or your beloved belongings) and getting them excited about it. Not only will this save your skin, but it will also give your puppy the opportunity to better moderate their bite strength during playtime with other animals and people.

Chew toys are your best friend during this process and should be kept in easy to access places around the house to bring out at a moment's notice. Other methods you can use to deter your puppy from biting include:
  1. A loud “OUCH” when your puppy bites too hard
  2. Play stops, and you immediately leave the room for a couple of minutes
  3. Return and resume play until the next bite
  4. If this is still too hard, repeat the process

Be prepared to repeat this multiple times before your pup learns the right amount of play ferocity. Excessive mouthing is a sign of an over-tired pup, so encourage some peaceful nap time! Give your puppy a head start on an active future today Along with training and the other elements we've discussed above, understanding the puppy life cycle is important so you can give careful consideration to their diet.

At Eukanuba™, we believe a lifetime of activity and athletic ability for puppies and adult dogs begins with a sharp mind and a strong body. Our diets help build a foundation for performance by using clinically proven levels of DHA that help form smarter, more trainable puppies. So give your new best friend the energy and nutrients they need with a quality diet today.