Written by S. Bowyer

     The birth and growth of a puppy are considered the most important stages of their lives. Like children, their mental and physical development at this time will shape their future. Often we hear lists of attributes a breeder should have, and how to select a litter with the correct measures that nourish their education and physiological needs. 

     So how much does a puppy learn and develop in the first 8 weeks? For the dog lovers out there, I wanted to create this exploration into the developmental stages of puppies -- videos included.

     Featuring Happy and Caddie's newborn Siberian Husky puppies.





     Newborn puppies are very dependant on their mother. In this video are 3 day old puppies. Their mother has left to go to the bathroom, and we see how inanimate they are without her presence. If a mother dog was not available to them, they would remain this way and die, hungry and cold. They are unable to huddle together, as they do not yet understand they have siblings. To them, the world revolves around the teat.

     They are blind, deaf, toothless, unable to alter their body temperature and are yet to use their bowel or bladder. Their noises are simply instinct -- it's the only way they know to say "I'm lonely", "I'm hungry" or "I'm cold."

     They sleep 90% of the day and eat the rest of the time. Toileting is not natural yet, as they require the mother to lick their bottoms to stimulate the muscles to make them want to eliminate.










     During the first week, puppies are able to hold their weight on their forelegs as the the nervous system starts to develop. With their front legs, they are now able to crawl or move themselves over their siblings to get to the teat. They can now smell odours, such as their mother, and even know how to show preference to certain teats, despite being still unable to see. At this stage, they can also start to detect vibrations such as sound vibration.

     We will start to see movement towards eyes and ears opening at the very end of the week. Its said at this point, the psychological development is gaining and puppies realise what their species is at this stage. They know they are "dog," not an inanimate wriggling thing.










     At 2 weeks of age, internal systems are really starting to progress. A puppy's eyes and ears will be opening to their new world, and they soon realise they have siblings. They are able to stand by 15 days, and are able to start walking around by day 21. The walking will be incredibly wobbly at first. 

     Their speech patterns will have developed also. Instead of the instinctual grunts and mews, you can start to hear more pronounced sounds such as yelps, whines and barking. Their teeth will begin to emerge -- their baby teeth -- and they will also start trying to touch things with their paws. 

     Week two to four are the transitional period, where all their physical motor skills and senses are defined.










     The puppies have developed a great deal now, and continue to rapidly develop. They are now starting to spend time away from the mother, able to play with their littermates and learn more about their new world. The muscles in their legs have now developed enough they can comfortably hold a sitting position -- although, it might be with the aid of leaning against a litterpal.

     Their puppy teeth have started to grow in. At day 20 their canine teeth will appear and the premolars are but a day or two away. It's not uncommon at this age for a puppy to pinch a few tiny pieces of food that might be left around, such as in his mother's bowl. They are still suckling on the mother, but they will have interest in testing new flavours.

     Similarly with their mouth, their bottom end has started to advance too. They are able to pee and poo without assistance, toilet training possible with some persistence. Bladder and bowel control is now active. Additionally, they are now able to wag their tails.









     Four weeks brings the socialisation phase of a puppy's early development. Who they interact with will shape their future friendships. Human and other species socialisation is important at this point, so puppies become comfortable and feel a sense of safety around them. The exposures they encounter must also include background noises such as music, TV, or household noises as they are also in an environmental adaption phase. While the socialisation period continues until week 12, their comfort with environmental changes will be shorter. 

     They are able to walk around themselves confidently now, and will play with their siblings, by biting on each others' ears, tails and paws.  At this stage, you'll want to puppy-proof your home as there's going to be little exploration journeys any time they can get out of the box.

     They have started to wean from their mother, and will begin lapping formula from a bowl. It's suggested that puppies eat 4 times a day now, as their physiology is evolving so quickly. Mother's milk is now less supportive as it starts to dry up, and the goodness becomes less supportive to the growing pup.

     They'll also start to groom themselves. Even more interesting, this is the time a puppy's eye colour will change.




     Being in their socialisation phase, week five is the best time for human handling to occur more. It should be gentle, loving, and make them feel secure. Any mistreatment might affect their future reactions with humans. Similarly, no human handling or contact will leave them going into the next psychological phase with a fear of people possibly developing.

     While puppies can learn to control their bladders or even attempt toilet training earlier on, housetraining is going to be most effective at this age. They are able to move around comfortably and able to move location faster to relieve themselves in the right spot.

     This is the time they'll also be able to eat dry food, and will continue to eat up to four times a day.








     Puppies will now start to go through the "behaviour withdrawal" phase, which occurs week 6 onwards. Anything they are not familiar with will fear them. New sights, sounds, experiences need to be introduced with care, as the phase to become accustomed to environment is now over. At this phase, it's common for life-long fears to occur. An example would be a dog I know that suffered a fear in his puppyhood while he was asleep. Ever since that occurrence he shows fearful tendencies when he first wakes up, or is woken up suddenly. Crises at this age can determine a long-term behaviour pattern. Alternatively, too much change or overstimulation will overwhelm them.

     At this age, puppies are now bounding around, excited by ideas and play, however it's crucial they learn how to play gentle enough, and appropriately with their friends. They will now greet littermates with nose and tail sniffing. 







     Puppies gain immunity from diseases from the colostrum in the mother's milk, however as they get older, and the dam dries up, this immunity will fade. They will enter the "critical period" between week 5 to 12, where the colostrum stops working, but their own immunity is still developing. From seven weeks of age, it becomes a real issue because nutrition quality will help the creating of the puppy's internal self-defence systems. 

      Additionally, it's while puppies are developing their own immunity that vaccinations can begin. Their bodies are strong enough to cope, but they are not released from the mother (to another home) to be in contact with any infections they are yet to be immunised against. Many breeding circles state these injections are the most important of a puppy's life. While more primitive thoughts used to believe puppies had to have boosters for vaccinations every year of their life, later evidence has found that puppies given their early vaccinations may in fact, not need their boosters every year, as the body immunity has all it requires to fight off the infection. This subject is still open to debate, but does underline the benefit of early puppy vaccinating.

      Some puppies are often given to their new homes at this age, and while it's not harmful to home them at seven weeks, it's not suggested. They may go to their new environment not completely understanding bite inhibition or canine communication without more time with their litter. They still have more developmental periods to travel through in the next weeks or few.




      By eight weeks, puppies have very little contact with their mother's teat. They no longer bond to her so strongly. You'll often notice that the puppies will have mother trailing to supervise, rather than early ages when they would follow her in case they require a feeding. Her role in her baby's life is now as an onlooker, not a provider. This is the reason most puppies are suggested to stay with their mother for eight weeks, so they are naturally prepared to leave her, not torn from her incomplete in their social, psychological, and physical development.




      Happy and Caddie's puppies are now nine weeks. Here are some of the boys playing.

      The ninth week is a good age for puppies to be desexed once they reach two pounds of bodyweight. It's now the best time for them to leave their homes as they are properly weaned, psychologically stable having completed their stages of brain and social development, and protected from disease and health issues that are prevented from their vaccinations.


      Puppies continue to develop as they grow at a rapid pace. Ten weeks marks the beginning of the "Juvenile period," which lasts until puberty. They will be interested in chasing things, now very curious and possibly stubborn to avoid restrictions. At fourteen weeks they hit adolescence. It's said they are very much like teenagers now, wanting to challenge their owners for power, and seem unknowing of previous training or lessons they've learnt. Even with neutering, dogs can still test the patience of an inexperienced owner.

      Their permanent teeth will soon emerge, their molars appearing first at five months. Puppies will chew and teethe, much like a human child with teeth appearing. Around this age, males will reach sexual maturity.  Some delinquent behaviour will be linked to the hormone increase in their bodies, which can lead to pack control behaviours, running away to sniff out unspayed females, and marking toys and territories. 


     Dogs continue to learn and mature and finally become adults at the age of 36 months (3 years) in large breed dogs. Once adult, they will enjoy many activities they did as puppies, and new activities. 




Happy and Caddie's family indulge in sledding and agility training, which keeps the dogs fit, healthy, and as many owners find, less destructive inside the house. Out-of-home activities help boost a dog's social skills and social network, with new friends of both canine and human, tire them out that their expanse of energy is not channeled into destroying your home, and gives them something exciting to look forward to each time. Large dog breeds require exercise, and will appreciate the extra attention it takes to keep them out and about. 




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