We adopt puppies during one of the most important times in a dog’s entire lifetime. This time is the imprinting stage. Most puppies go to their new homes between eight to twelve weeks of age. This is a point of rapid change and brain development. The puppy has just left its mother and littermates and is very impressionable. This is the ideal period to start training as this is where a puppy starts learning good behavior and bad behavior and learns how to be a dog. The experiences of a dog in this imprint period remain with a puppy throughout its entire life so good behaviors picked up and rewarded will remain and any bad tendencies will also be picked up from their environment and experiences at this time. There is a lot a puppy is going through during this stage of their development and the needs of a pup and the normal puppy developmental milestones deserve to be discussed.
An 8- to a 12-week-old puppy is still just leaving their infancy so will be a wee pup, even if a large breed. Puppies at this stage of life still need to sleep a lot. Expect then to sleep about 18 to 20 hours a day. This sleep will allow their quickly growing brains and body to develop properly. Puppies at this stage also experience “the zoomies” where they will frolic and play and run around and apparently go from 0 to 60 mph out of nowhere and then zonk out and have a nap attack immediately after a wild energy spree. Puppies this age are also clumsy and physically weak. Young puppies need to be carefully and constantly supervised and crated or kept in a puppy-safe room when they must be left alone.
Until a puppy reaches 12 weeks of age, it is hard for most puppies to control their bladders or bowels. A puppy this age will have accidents and cannot usually make it through the night without having to pee. The first few weeks of housetraining will be difficult, and accidents must be treated with compassion because the puppy cannot control their urination or bowels yet. House training should start when you bring them home but be compassionate and patient and realize the puppy under 12 weeks cannot be expected to be perfect. To train a puppy well, start with training a puppy to always go outside for a walk after each meal, drink, or after naptime. Use puppy training pee pads and take them to a designated “potty spot” to minimize messes. Once a puppy reaches 12 weeks, they will have more control over their bodies, and its functions and house training can start seriously.
You should still start training the day a puppy comes home. Start with the absolute basics. Teaching your puppy its name and reward it when it comes when called. Of course, a new puppy will be overwhelmed by being in a new environment than the one it knew for its first two months of existence so be patient and let is adjust to your house and it’s permitted areas first. Allow the puppy to accept and tolerate a collar before you try to put it on the leash. Let the puppy learn to get used to the leash by dragging it around behind him in the house while constantly supervised for safety. Once your puppy is comfortable with the collar and leash, it’s time to start going on walks. Puppies can learn fast at this period but can also get overwhelmed and not all puppies learn at the same rate. You can even try to start with basic commands during this period of puppy development such as sit, stay, and down. Just be upbeat and calm and realize they are still just past babies until they are 12 weeks old.
Your puppy at this stage still has their baby teeth and they may fall out in this period. A puppy normally doesn’t start teething until they reach 12 weeks and the next stage of their development. The signs of teething can start around 10 weeks in some puppies. A teething puppy will be as miserable as a teething human. A teething puppy will drool more than before, paw at his mouth to try to deal with any discomfort, chew and gnaw on anything and everything to help those new adult teeth break through the gums and can leave bloody residue on the gnawed toys or items. You may even find a milk tooth or two.
The age of 8 to 12 weeks is when socialization is essential. A puppy at this age is timid and anxious and this stage is called the “fear stage” as a result. Proper socialization gives puppies confidence and security to handle situations. Handling your puppy allows it to become used to being petted, held, and touched in new ways and encourage the puppy to experience a new environment, sounds, and sights. Try to keep introductions to new stimuli positive and provide praise and comfort to the dog as it explores the vet, the groomer, and makes new human friends and experiences bath time and nail trims for the first time. Allow your puppy to be afraid and use generous positive reinforcements. Reward your pup whenever they handle a new situation or explores and never force a puppy to be cuddled or handled when they are afraid. You set the example for your puppy so if you are chill and reassuring, the puppy will learn from you. Act natural, even if the vet is not a daily occurrence.
At eight weeks, there’s the first veterinarian visit and it’s a big one. This is when a puppy gets its first core vaccines, dewormed, and their first physical examination. Depending on when and where you have gotten your puppy, it may have had its first vaccines, been dewormed, and had its first vet exam. However, your puppy needs to see its chosen veterinarian. This visit will make sure your puppy is in good health and should be within a few days of homecoming. If you have ant records provided by the breeder or adoption center, make sure these are given to your vet so your puppy can be properly vaccinated and start meeting new puppies and dog friends once all their core vaccines are done. A puppy should have their full series of core vaccines by or at 18 weeks of age. Until that vaccination schedule is completed, a puppy is vulnerable to illnesses. Never allow your under-vaccinated puppy to play with strange animals or wander in public areas where other dogs may have left bacteria or vital illnesses behind. Your dog’s social life needs to be restricted to only healthy puppies and adult dogs that have been vaccinated and are dewormed. Unless you know the other dog is healthy and vaccinated, you could place your puppy at risk. Your puppy must have socialization and be around other dogs so arranging playdates for your young puppy with trustworthy pet parents you know well can ensure they get socialization and it’s with a healthy and safe furry friend.
Puppies begin weaning off mother’s milk at 3 to 6 weeks of age and are normally weaned between 6 to 8 weeks. By the time you bring your puppy home to join your family, it will have been eating puppy chow for a couple of weeks. You should request what food they were eating as any dietary changes can cause a puppy’s delicate tummy digestive distress and upset. Whenever possible, use the same food they started on and allow your dog to acclimate to their new home before making any dietary changes. The same policy for food changes for adult dogs starts in puppyhood. Always change food gradually and over a week or longer to allow the pet to avoid gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, and refusal to eat.
Puppies are growing rapidly and require a high-quality puppy food labeled for growth. Puppies this age need 3 meals a day evenly space to prevent blood sugar fluctuations, especially in toy breeds. Puppies need quality food and routine meals. Follow the recommendations on the food packaging and provide weight appropriate servings for your dog’s weight. Check your puppies’ weight a couple times a week and if they are not gaining weight or are constantly hungry, increase the portion of food. Serve smaller portions if there are frequent leftovers in their bowl. Your vet is also an expert on dog nutrition and can help you address any nutrition or food questions. Your puppy can and should have a variety in their treats, especially if you’re being a great dog parent and using them as behavioral rewards and training as long as those treats in total are 10 percent or less of your puppy’s daily caloric intake.