When you get your adorable puppy home, it can be quite daunting. Puppies do not come with a label of care instructions. If they did, it would be too confusing anyway, with contradicting advice, and irrelevant information for your particular puppy. Each puppy will have individual needs, depending on the breed and the genes from both parents, as well as its own personality. The way the mother, its siblings and the breeder treated it during the important first few weeks also affects your puppy’s health and well being.
We, as owners, also have different lifestyles and personalities. We expect different behavior from our puppies and dogs and give different care. We all have different values, expectations and house rules, but a young puppy is very easily influenced, which will affect it for life. It is therefore important to try to give the correct information and treatment during these early times. However, it is also important to relish and enjoy these fun, bonding times as they happen so quickly and soon your lovely adorable puppy will become a loyal, loving adult, then finally a faithful old dog.
Owning a dog is so rewarding and fun, but it can also turn into a disastrous nightmare if a few simple actions are not followed. I have detailed some development information as well as some ideas to help you and your puppy have a healthy, fun and rewarding relationship. There can never be a set instruction or rules to follow, but if you follow the relevant ideas for you and your pup, hopefully you will achieve the optimum health and wellbeing. Even if you have not had your dog from a puppy, and are not sure of your dog’s early experiences, it can help to understand the general development from a helpless puppy to a mature dog. This can give you an insight into your dog’s behavior and what you might be able to do to alter any unwanted behavior, with patience and consistency.
A puppy’s bones and joints are soft, until sometimes as old as two as in the case of a Great Dane. If they get too much exercise, such as jumping obstacles, too long walks and even climbing stairs and jumping onto furniture too soon, can lead to deformities, where the bones harden incorrectly. This could predispose your dog to arthritis, lameness or even hip or elbow dysplasia, very painful conditions. The long bones of a dog, which are in the legs, continue to grow and develop until the dog is full size. The growth is rapid until six months old, often called the gangly period, and continues in spurts, until fully grown. At each end of the bones, between the shaft and the epiphysis, is a soft cartilage area, the growth plate, which is continually changed to hardened bone, until growth is completed. Bones need the correct amount of physical stress to create strength, but not too much to create deformed bones, which can lead to lameness in the future. The cartilage surrounding the bone as well as the ligaments and tendons, which support the joints are not very strong, any excessive pounding or stretching can cause damage. The muscles are made up of deep muscles, closest to the body, which are for stability and support, and superficial muscles, for mobility. If the superficial muscles are used too much as in too long walks, the superficial muscles do not develop sufficiently and the joint A well developed neural pathway within the muscles, tendons and ligaments are also important to the puppy’s future health and wellbeing. It is also important to stimulate your puppy’s spatial awareness to help them become aware of where they are in relation to their environment.
TIME WITH MUM, SIBLINGS AND BREEDER
The 1st 3 weeks- Newborn
The first 3 weeks, your puppy is developing rapidly. A good breeder will hopefully give your puppy the best start in life. A puppy is born blind, deaf and toothless and relies on its mother for food and comfort. The eyes will open between 1 and 2 weeks, the ears follow at between 2 and 3 weeks. During the first week, a puppy will sleep 90% of the time, during which the body will grow and mature, the remaining 10% will be spent eating. They only manage to crawl around and whimper if they are hungry or cold.
3-7 weeks- Puppy Toddlers
The puppy still develops and grows rapidly. At 3 weeks a puppy will develop its sense of smell. Its first milk teeth will appear at this time and therefore it will be weaned from its mother, giving time away from her.
The mother will teach her puppies basic behavior, such as where to toilet, and it will learn from its siblings how to socialize and play and even its place in the pack. By 3 weeks a puppy would have learnt to bark, wag its tail, bare it’s teeth and growl as well as walk and chase around. If the puppy is removed from its mother too soon, it tends to be nervous, more prone to barking and biting, often aggressive with other dogs, and more difficult to train.
It is important for the breeder to help aclimitise the puppies to everyday noises and objects such as vacuum cleaner, washing machine, telephone and door bell, even perhaps experience a car journey. It will also learn to socialise with people and prepare to leave the security of Its first home. A puppy needs to see a variety of people, old, young, men and women. This way it will learn that there are all kinds of people and they are not to be feared. Hopefully you would have had a few visits during this time, so your puppy recognizes your smell and will be comfortable with its new home. The puppy also needs to experience different textures, surfaces, gradients to develop their ‘spatial awareness’ and ‘core stability’.
TIME WITH YOU BEGINS
7-12 weeks. Socialisation Period
This is usually when you start your journey with your new puppy. It can be a very daunting time for both you and your pup. It is the first time the puppy has been away from its mother and siblings. You now have sole responsibility of a wonderful puppy who relies on you for feeding, comfort and care as well as discipline.
Your new puppy will use its basic dog instincts to explore, now it’s motor skills are improving. However, your puppy will still need plenty of sleep and rest times between spurts of energy, as these are the times it will grow, physically and mentally.
Unfortunately a sensitive period in your puppy’s development, called the ‘fear period’ also coincides with this change. Anything that happens now will affect the puppy’s confidence and behavior throughout its life and will be difficult to alter. A puppy will begin to learn its name and be more reliable with house training, although it’s attention span will be short. It is important to give a good balance of stimulation and rest to produce a happy, well developed dog.
This is the time you have to train your puppy to behave how you expect it to, so that it fits into your house rules. We all have different expectations here, there is no right or wrong set of rules. Whether you allow your puppy to have free run of your home, including sofas and beds, or have a designated area, is individual choice. But remember what you allow now, while it is a cute little puppy, might not be so acceptable when it becomes a big, heavy adult dog. Things that your puppy learns now, are learnt permanently, good or bad habits, so be careful what your puppy learns!! It is also important to keep developing the puppy’s core stability and spatial awareness. Encourage your puppy to step over any obstacle like a step, not just leap at it. Using a broom handle on the floor, encourage your puppy to step over it, without touching it or launching or jumping it. Playing gently with other puppies or dogs of similar size and strength will also help with developing appropriate proprioception. Too much exercise involving rough and tumble with you or an adult dog could be detrimental as the puppy’s body has not fully developed, however, playing with another puppy or sibling is better, as they tend to naturally be aware of their limitations. When lead walking, try not to encourage your puppy to keep looking up at you, as this can affect vertebrae alignment in the neck, back and hips, possibly leading to problems later in life. Although, most training classes encourage you to walk your dog on your left, this can lead to an inbalance in neck and back when it does look to you for advice, guidance and security, so it is advisable to change to the right sometimes to balance this out. Also remember a puppy continually pulling on the lead is not only bad for your back, neck and shoulders, but also your puppy’s as well as their leg muscles and joints.
The length of the Lead Walk should only be about 5 minutes, twice a day. Together with any play in the house and garden, this should be sufficient and help protect your puppy from future problems due to over exercise.
12-16 weeks (3-4 months)- Seniority Classification Period
The permanent teeth are now emerging. If suitable toys are not available, your puppy might end up chewing furniture or door frames. It relieves the pain to have something hard to gnaw.
The puppy might begin to challenge your authority. It will gain confidence quickly, so you need to keep a balance between encouraging your puppy to be a confident well balanced dog, but not too dominant.
It is important at this time to continue your training, but make it fun.
Encourage your puppy to walk slowly and steadily up and down a non slippery slope, allowing the head and neck to be in a relaxed natural position. If you do play tug with your puppy, try to just match its strength, as too much could lead to misalignment of the teeth, as well as vertebrae, if the neck and head are forced into a position higher than the back level. You can also get your puppy to retrieve articles or balls that you have placed a short distance away, getting them to chase a moving object could again be detrimental to bone and muscle development. Ensure your puppy has plenty of rest in between exercise times, as this is the time of physical and mental growth still.
Lead Walks can now be increased to 10 minutes, twice a day.
4-8 months- Flight Instinct Period
In terms of physical puppy development, your puppy will look like a teenager, long limbs, slender, maybe a bit awkward and ungainly. Its appetite might also fluctuate as it goes through growth spurts. The teeth continue to come through, keep the toys available to help.
Your puppy will also act like a teenager, recalls might become unreliable and it might try to venture off on its own.
Be careful not to damage the teeth by pulling anything out of their mouths, this could lead to permanent damage to their important teeth, instead train it to drop, whilst initially substituting what is in the mouth with a treat or reward. Eventually your puppy should learn to drop things on command, without receiving any reward apart from your praise. It is still important to encourage rest times in between any exercise, to allow for these important growth spurts. To help encourage spatial awareness and balance, encourage your puppy to sit on a tree stump or step, with its front legs on the ground. Also walking along a non slippery, rigid log or plank, will encourage even more balance, as will just stepping over it.
Lead walks can increase by 5 minutes every month, from 10 minutes to 30 minutes twice a day.
8 months-1 year- Second Fear Imprint Period/ Adolescent Period
A male puppy’s testosterone level between eight to ten months may be up to five to seven times higher than an adult dog’s. It then gradually falls to a normal adult level by about 18 months of age. A male puppy begins to cock his leg and urine mark territory.
A male puppy would have reached 3/4 it’s adult size and a female puppy would have reached adult size, but will continue to fill out. A female puppy may go into heat (oestrus) as early as five to six months, but usually about eight to nine months.
Another fear period starts, similar to the previous one, but less intense. Your previously confident puppy, might suddenly become scared of situations or objects. With the testosterone, a male puppy might become unruly and even aggressive, whilst a female during her heat, might become moody.and insecure.
Although your puppy might look like an adult now, it is important to continue to protect the muscles, bones and joints as they are still not fully matured and strong.
The walks can be increased by 5 minutes every month from 30 minutes to 1 hour, once or twice a day.
1-2 years- Young Adult
A dog will be physically mature at this age. Small dogs mature much earlier and larger ones take more time.
Your puppy’s social maturity also can depend on their experience with other animals. Your dog might become assertive and even turf or possession protective.
Socialization and training continues throughout your pet’s lifetime, because there are always new things to learn—or old lessons to revisit and practice. After all, the joy of your puppy’s first year or two predicts a lifetime of love to come.
Lead walks can be increased to whatever fits around your lifestyle, but should be regular daily fun activities for both of you. This should continue until your dog begins to age and struggle to keep up with long walks. They should then be tailored to suit your dog’s needs, but be regular still.