Q. What do I need to know about my pup’s first year?
A. We usually acquire our puppies between 7 and 9 weeks of age. Already the puppy has changed and learned a lot.
During the first two weeks of life, the puppy is totally dependent on Mom for food, warmth, stimulating digestion, and keeping clean. Mom also stimulates the puppies to pee and poop. Puppies can smell and feel at birth. The next two to four weeks the puppy’s eyes and ears begin to open and develop. They also begin to walk, wag their tails, and bark. At three weeks, puppies become more mobile, and their socialization skills start to develop. This is a crucial time in their social development. They learn to play with their littermates, and their mom teaches them what is and isn’t allowed.
Puppy teeth start coming in at three weeks and are usually totally in by eight weeks. With the teeth coming in, the puppies start weaning off mother’s milk and on to real food. This starts at about 4 weeks and is completed in about three weeks. At three to four weeks, pups start to develop control of their urination and bowel movements. If set up correctly, these pups learn to leave their sleeping area and go to their potty area to eliminate.
After 4 weeks, things start getting messy. Mom isn’t cleaning up after the pups and feeding them that often. Instead, the breeder’s work has just skyrocketed; the breeder is doing the cleaning up after the pups when they eat and potty. The breeder is creating a safe stimulating environment for these pups too.
A word of caution. There are people who sell or give away puppies at 5 weeks. Do not get one of these puppies. These pups miss out on the social skills they would learn from their littermates and mother.
From four to twelve weeks, puppies are ready to be socialized. This means they start meeting gentle people with quiet interactions. They have new experiences such as different sounds, places around the house, and safe places outside. Once your puppy is home, socialization means experiencing the house under supervision. Visitors can come in small groups as quiet gatherings. Keep these puppy parties short.
Potty training takes time. The puppy is still growing and developing his muscles and nerves to control his pee and poo. You have to be helpful here and take him out after he eats, drinks, wakes up, and has played. It is helpful to put together a schedule. If possible, take him to his potty area outside on leash every two hours or so.
The breeder will send the puppy home with food he is used to eating. Continue with that food through the adjustment period of a few weeks, then slowly change the puppy over to the food you want to feed. Consult your veterinarian on what to feed. Research has shown that fat puppies develop joint problems when they are older. Keep this in mind when you are feeding your pup. The puppy shouldn’t be skinny or fat.
Once the puppy is home, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. You want to take a poop sample with you to check for intestinal worms. The puppy can get worms from mom before he is born. Your veterinarian will discuss a vaccine schedule for your puppy and other preventative medications.
The other important step is to sign your pup up for puppy kindergarten. This starts at eight weeks and goes on until sixteen weeks. You may want to enroll in this as soon as you know you are getting a puppy. The good ones fill fast. The trainer will be an excellent source of information to help you navigate through puppyhood into adolescence.
Next month we’ll discuss adolescence..
Judith K. Herman, DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center