Puppies grow at an astronomical pace - one blink and your little furry bundle has turned into a larger, even furrier, grown-up dog. But when is a puppy an adult? It depends on the dog.
Life as a puppy sets the tone for the rest of their lives. Their experiences during puppyhood determine much of each dog’s personality, temperament, and behavior.
In the first two years, a dog is still a puppy. These two years break down into the six stages of puppy development. Each phase brings different experiences that define the puppy’s growth.
As much as you focus on having fun and loving your new pup, you should also be building a training regimen to create good behaviors.
The best way to grow your sweet, squishy newborn puppies into well-trained, well-adjusted dogs is to familiarize yourself with these puppy development stages and learn the best methods to influence their behavior positively.
We’ll walk you through what puppy behaviors to expect and what to do to help your pup through the six stages of puppy development.
How long is the puppy stage?
Typically, dogs are considered puppies up until 24 months or two years of age.
Smaller dogs have a shorter puppy timeline, usually maturing in 10 - 12 months, while larger dog breeds may not reach their full-size and emotional maturity until 24 months of age.
What are the stages of a puppy?
There are six clearly-defined dog developmental stages. The puppy timeline starts right from birth and follows through to full adulthood.
We’ve laid out what to expect from your little bundle of joy in each of the puppy developmental stages and how to best help them get through each step as smoothly as possible.
Stage #1: Newborn
0 days old
A puppy’s time line begins at birth. A newborn pup is born with both their ears and eyes sealed shut, so they’re quite literally blind and deaf.
They rely on their mother to provide all care and protection in this vulnerable position.
What you should do in Stage 1:
Since you can’t take your pup home for several weeks still, you don’t need to worry about caring for your dog yet. Now is a great time to make sure you have your home prepared for your new puppy.
Puppy-proof your home and take a puppy checklist to your favorite pet store to ensure your pup will be safe and have everything they need from you.
Stage #2: Neonatal
0 to 2 weeks old
Neonatal puppies cannot see or hear yet, so their mother will be caring for them completely. They can move in a slow crawl but are unable to stand or walk. When a puppy is born, their brain is not fully developed, and this stage is a vital time for brain development.
Stage #3: Transitional
2 to 4 weeks old
The puppy’s eyes and ears will open in the third week. They begin to notice their siblings and surroundings as their eyesight and hearing improves. Now, they begin to walk, bark, and start that sweetly endearing tail-wagging.
Puppies also start weaning off of their mother’s milk and introducing solid food into their diet.
Stage #4: Socialization
3 to 12 weeks old
Social skills are built and solidified in this stage. Interacting and playing with their littermates and mother helps them to learn acceptable behavior. They’ll also begin to learn about group structure and social hierarchy.
Learning helpful housetraining skills begins as early as five weeks old. Take them outside for elimination lessons, and praise any business done outside with words and a treat.
When your puppy reaches 6-weeks old, get the breeder to train the dog. Have them use your chosen name and introduce the puppy to a collar and leash.
At the 8-week mark, you can take your puppy home!
Your sweet pup will struggle with the sudden loss of his biological family but will quickly adjust to his new life with you.
What you should do in stage 4
Get your puppy home and begin training asap. Any breeder worth their salt will have started the basics, but now is the time to teach your pup to eliminate outside, sit, heel, and stay.
Expose your pup to different people and a variety of different experiences, like doorbells, different environments, kids, babies, crates, and cars. The more exposure you can do now, the more open and confident your dog will be as they grow.
For small pups, think about investing in a bed ramp for dogs. You can train them to use the ramp to get their little bodies on and off the bed, couch, and car seats independently.
Don’t bring your pup around other cats or dogs just yet - you’ll want to wait until they’re fully vaccinated to reduce risks.
Stage #5: Ranking
3 to 6 months old
Stage 5 is the ranking phase because a puppy starts to test their social rankings here, often pushing boundaries and challenging their owners and other household members.
They might go through a phase where they’re fearful, but this should pass in a month or so.
What you should do in stage 5
Double down on training here. This stage is where good behaviors (or bad ones) solidify. Enroll your puppy in a training school, and work daily at home, building new skills.
Stage #6: Adolescence
6 to 24 months old
Your dog will be growing larger by the moment at this stage, especially the large-breed varieties. At 24 months, they will be a full-fledged adult dog.
What you should do in stage 6
Spay or neuter your pup by six months of age if you’re taking that route. Otherwise, there will be some pretty out of control hormonal surges during this phase as your pup sexually matures.
Continue training and socialization during this phase as your puppy transitions to an adult before your eyes.
Final word: how to get through each puppy stage
Each stage of puppy development brings its own fun experiences, as well as difficult challenges.
By following the guide above, you can quickly identify and choose the most critical areas of focus and build a puppy training plan around them.
Your dog will look to you for important cues on how to deal with this brand new world before them. By educating yourself, you will be a confident and loving owner who teaches them exactly what they need to know.
We hope you enjoy the beauty in all of the phases of your new pup’s life!