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Stages of a Dog’s Life

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Dog stages of life are similar in many ways to that of a person. They have their baby or puppy stage, their adolescent or teenage phase, then they grow into adults and are considered seniors later in life.

Of course, when it comes to our canine companions, their stages of life move along much faster than ours, so when are puppies considered adults? Do dogs reach a more grown-up phase like people? When is the most critical time for a dog to socialize and learn new things? These questions, and many more, are just the first steps in understanding how your dog grows and develops throughout the various stages of their life.

Stages of Development in Dogs

A dog has many stages of development, apart from their physical growth. As canines learn more about the world and the people they live with, you will be able to see changes in their behavior, too.

Dog Emotional Development

Around a puppy’s two-to-three-month stage, they will begin exploring more of the world, experiencing new socialization opportunities at every turn. At this point, a puppy will most likely be seeing and hearing these things for the first time. It’s imperative that you help make these interactions as positive as possible, showing your dog that they can trust new people and new things, and be relaxed in new environments. Even at a young age, if a puppy were to have a scary experience with a cat, for example, they may carry that fear or anxiety with them for many years.

Besides being able to read your pup’s body language, which can indicate emotions such as happiness when you arrive home or anxiety when they reach the veterinarian’s office, you’ll no doubt notice some shifts in their behavior and how they react to stimuli as they age.

As your dog approaches being one year old, chances are their puppy behaviors will begin to disappear, though some dogs will continue to display their puppyish ways for a while. You may notice changes such as less nipping or play biting as they learn how to use their mouth in a more appropriate way. You might also see an increase in your pup’s attention span and ability to focus—these should improve as your puppy becomes an adult.

Dog Personality Development

Even being just a few months old, you will already be able to see the appearance of a pup’s unique personality. If you observe a litter of puppies, chances are you’ll notice some that appear more outgoing and may run up to any person approaching. Other pups, who may be more reserved or anxious, will most likely keep their distance from others or approach with more caution.

It’s not uncommon for puppies to experience a fearful stage in the first year or so of their lives. As they are out exploring more of the world and meeting new people and dogs, don’t force them to interact with something if they are fearful. Instead, give them more space and positive reinforcement to help them work through their fears.

During your pup’s six-month to one-year stage, they may begin pushing the boundaries and rules of the household and discover more of who they are and where they fit in the hierarchy of the home—just like any other teenager. You’ll likely have a solid understanding of your dog’s personality during this time. Are they goofy and outgoing? Laid back? A couch potato?

Dog Cognitive Development

Dogs are constantly learning, even from a young age. Within the first two months of their life, puppies will learn invaluable lessons from their mother and littermates, such as acceptable play behavior and knowing that someone else is in charge. Plus, spending so much time with other dogs at a young age can be a fantastic socializing opportunity. These are just a few reasons why it’s imperative that puppies are not taken away from their mothers and littermates too early.

You can begin housetraining and teaching basic manners and commands to your dog as early as 8 weeks of age. As their attention span improves each month, you can start teaching your pup more complex commands but continue rewarding them for a job well done during this critical learning period.

Reaching the one-year mark for your dog’s age means they are now an adult. Though this can mean less nipping, fewer zoomie episodes, and a better attention span, that’s not to say that your dog’s energy level will decrease significantly. Depending on the breed and individual dog, your canine friend could display puppy behaviors or simply higher energy levels for years to come, even though they’re technically out of the puppy stage.

Dog Developmental Milestones

With babies, there are many milestones to look forward to in life—significant signs of growth that show they’re maturing, learning, and progressing right on track. The same is true for our canine companions.

In the first couple weeks of your dog’s life, a puppy will gain their senses of taste and touch. Approaching one month of age, a puppy’s other senses, such as hearing and smell, will develop as well. You’ll also notice your pup opening their eyes more, and some teeth can begin poking through. Around this time, most puppies will start standing, walking, wagging their tail, and even testing their vocals.

Anywhere from one to three months, you’ll notice your puppy gain more control over their mobility and stability, though the teetering stage is undeniably adorable. At this point, many dog parents will begin working on housetraining since most puppies will be able to understand basic training. It is within this window that socialization is imperative. Puppies need plenty of opportunities to socialize with their littermates and other healthy social dogs, as well as experience different environments, sights, sounds, and people.

From three to six months, your puppy will enter their Velociraptor stage—also known as teething. At this age, you’ll also notice how quickly they are growing. Just from one week to the next, it will seem as though your pup has grown a few inches and gained a few pounds. Like any proud pet parent, capturing this phase through photos can be a fun way to remember the puppy stage.

Around the sixth month mark, you will also notice that your pup is growing into their fuzzy coat, oversized ears, and paws, and they are becoming more of an adolescent. Perhaps more noticeable in larger breeds, some dogs may give off a “gangly” appearance during their teen years. By the time your dog reaches 12-18 months of age, they will be considered an adult and should be fully grown, though some larger breeds may keep growing until they’ve reached two years.

brown dog relaxing on sofa while a little boy smiles behind him

Dog Development by Age

As your dog matures and ages, they will continue to have various physical and behavioral needs. Though it is best to consult your veterinarian ahead of making any significant changes to your dog’s lifestyle, it can still be invaluable to understand your pup’s needs through each stage of their life.

Caring for Young Dogs

One of the first things you will want to do when bringing a puppy home is set up an appointment with a veterinarian. The veterinarian will want a thorough exam and check to ensure that your puppy is at their appropriate weight and in good health. Puppies are also required to receive multiple vaccinations. Upon adopting a young puppy, you may need to take a few trips to the veterinarian within the first few months to administer necessary vaccinations.

In your home, it’s vital to have all of the necessary puppy supplies, such as:

  • Age-appropriate food
  • Treats
  • Food and water bowls
  • Various toys and chews of different sizes, shapes, and textures
  • Leash and collar with tags, possibly a harness for walking
  • Poop bags
  • Brushes, combs, nail clippers
  • Crate
  • Puppy pads
  • Puppy playpen or baby gate
  • Puppy-sized bed or one to grow into

It’s worth considering puppy-proofing your home, at least for the first year. You should put away easily chewed things like shoes or cords. Any candy or trinkets on low tables or fragile items on bottom shelves should all be stored in higher cabinets. Toxic materials such as medicine or various cleaning products should be securely stored in an area your dog cannot access. Be sure to move toxic plants out of reach. Plus, don’t forget to put lids on any trashcans that a curious puppy nose could otherwise easily reach.

When it comes to food and toys for your puppy, be sure to ask your veterinarian for recommendations and check the manufacturer’s guidelines for suggested ages. Knowing your puppy’s weight can also be incredibly helpful when shopping for them. Items such as collars and harnesses are often divided into different sizes by weight.

As a new puppy parent, you will also need to introduce your four-legged pal to their new grooming regimen. Show them how fun it can be to get their teeth or coat brushed and that there’s nothing to fear about a nail trimming by giving them tasty treats while you groom. As your puppy is going to be experiencing most of these items for the first time, it’s important to make sure these experiences aren’t scary or stressful.

Although some pups can be apprehensive about new experiences, these socialization opportunities are crucial to helping a dog form a well-rounded personality and temperament. Continue to give your young dog opportunities to meet new people and explore different places.

Keep in mind, as a new dog parent, there’s an incredibly helpful tool you can keep in your back pocket—patience. Puppies are silly, energetic, unfocused, adorable companions that are just learning about the world for the first time. Go slow on your walks so their little legs can keep up and they have time to stop and sniff. Keep training sessions short and sweet so it’s engaging for them and you don’t become frustrated if they lose focus. Take a deep breath when they have an accident in the house and continue to work on their housetraining. By investing time and effort into your puppy, they can grow up to be more than just a well-behaved canine—they can also become your best friend.

Caring for Adult Dogs

Around the time your dog is a year old, they will be considered an adult, though still a young-hearted one. No doubt, by this point, your little puppy will have grown quite a bit, and you may find that it is time to upgrade some items. Collars, leashes, harnesses, crates, bowls, and beds may all need to be replaced with larger versions. It is also worthwhile to do an inventory of their toys. As your dog has gotten bigger, some of their small puppy toys may be too small and could become a choking hazard. In this case, it’s best to throw those toys away (or donate them!) and replace them with adult-sized ones.

You will also need to change your dog’s food to an adult formula, and your veterinarian will be a great resource to help ensure your pet stays happy and healthy. Check-in with your vet to obtain proper recommendations for feeding as your dog grows, including the proper amount and frequency. It’s also important to keep an eye on your dog’s weight. If they continue to grow and their activity levels increase, you may also need to increase their meal size.

One of the many exciting elements of your pup now being fully grown is that you can increase their exercise to longer and more challenging activities. Since puppies are still growing, their activity levels need to be limited, as this could cause joint or bone issues. Once your dog is fully grown, you can condition them for longer runs, walks, hikes, or even a swimming or skiing trip.

Similar to puppies, adult dogs will still require a regular grooming routine. Their ears should be checked regularly and cleaned as needed to help avoid infections, and their teeth can be brushed multiple times per week. Your dog’s nails will most likely need to be trimmed about every month, and how frequently your dog needs to be bathed and brushed will largely depend on their breed’s coat type—brushing could become a daily activity for those with longer coats.

Other experiences that should carry over from a puppy to an adult dog are their training sessions and socialization opportunities. You could have the best-trained, well-mannered six-month-old puppy, but if you stop all training for an entire year, your dog could regress or forget what they’ve learned. Continue to keep training a key part of your dog’s lifestyle to set them up for success.

Caring for Senior Dogs

Over the years, you may notice more gray on your dog’s face and that they are moving much slower than they used to. When a dog is considered a senior may vary by a few years, depending upon their size. On average, smaller dogs live longer. They may be considered seniors closer to the age of 12. Large breeds, whose lifespan is typically shorter, may be categorized as senior when they reach the age of 8.

As your dog enters their golden years, you may find that it’s necessary to change their diet and meal size once again, but talk with your veterinarian first. They may also recommend placing your dog on additional supplements to help keep their nail, coat, or joint health the best it can be.

If you live in a multi-story home, your dog may appreciate an extra bed or water bowl on the other floors so they don’t have to travel up and down the stairs as much. Increasing traction around the house can also help. With smaller dogs, you might have to lift them onto the bed or couch instead of having them jump, and with larger breeds, you may need to assist with their backend when they are trying to get on furniture or in your car. You can also provide a ramp or small staircase to aid in your dog’s mobility as they age.

Even if your dog is moving slower than they once did, it’s still essential that you provide them with some exercise and enrichment every day. If you are unsure what level of activity is safe for your senior dog, seek a consult from your veterinarian. Try to be mindful of how strenuous your activities are and know that your dog may need to stop for a break more frequently. Gentle exercise and enrichment can additionally benefit your dog’s mental health, which is incredibly important in their older age. By continuing to provide your senior dog with an exciting and healthy lifestyle, you may even see that puppy personality peek back through from time to time.

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The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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