What to Expect in the First Year of Your Puppy’s Life
Everyone loves puppies — they're adorable and entertaining. However, before buying or rescuing one, there are several factors you'll need to take into consideration. Is the timing good for you emotionally and financially? Do you have enough indoor and outdoor space for a dog to play in? Do you have enough time each day to monitor and interact with the dog?
Puppies need a lot of attention and supervision — you'll need to stick to a consistent schedule to help your pet adjust to their new environment. Puppies are also a lot of work. Do you have the patience to deal with their high energy, potty mishaps and mischievous behavior?
If you believe you're ready to bring home a forever furry friend, here is everything you need to know about raising a puppy in that first year.
Picking the Right Breed
Determine what breed of dog is the best match for your lifestyle. Large or small? Mellow or energetic? Do you want an independent one, a watchdog, a lap dog or a velcro pup that needs a lot of attention? Does the dog shed much, and is it easy to train?
Once you determine what type of puppy you want, purchase it from a reliable breeder. If you're adopting one from a shelter, know the animal's background before bringing it home.
Puppy-Proof Your Home
Puppies are inquisitive animals and will explore every inch of their new home. Your pet needs to have the freedom to roam as long it is in a safe environment. This means you'll need to puppy-proof your home just as you would with a toddler.
Conceal or put away electrical cords and wires to prevent chewing. Keep entrances to balconies and pools closed, lock lower cabinets (especially if there are medicines inside), and keep your trash cans out of the dog's reach. Remove plants that may be poisonous and any other hazardous items that a puppy may want to chew.
Before bringing home your new fur baby, you'll need to stock up on certain essential supplies to raise a puppy.
These supplies include a leash, an adjustable collar or harness, an ID tag, metal or ceramic feeding bowls, puppy food, a comfortable dog bed that they can grow into, a large crate, age-appropriate puppy toys, grooming tools ( brush, comb, puppy-safe shampoo, conditioner, etc.) and puppy pee pads (if you don't have easy access to an outdoor space).
When you purchase a dog crate, make sure it has plenty of space for your pet to stand up, turn around and lie down, plus extra room for growth. Crates vary in size, from 19 inches in length up to 48 inches and beyond. Selecting one depends on the length and height your dog will be. Avoid larger crates for small dogs — too much space to roam may cause accidents within the enclosure.
Crates are perfect tools for housetraining and keeping your animal safe, especially if you need to go out for an hour or two. Put toys and treats and a soft bed inside so your pup knows the crate is their special place.
Use Baby Gates as Boundaries
It's always a good idea to have one or two baby gates on hand to limit the places in the house that your puppy can explore. For instance, you can put a safe puppy gate across the doorway if you want to keep them out of the bedroom and bathroom.
Gates help your pet learn where the designated secure areas are in the house for them to play (and these areas should be puppy-proofed). Once the dog is older and has been thoroughly trained, you can remove the gates to give them more space.
Monitor Early Behavior
It's vital to spend quite a bit of time watching your puppy in the early weeks of bringing them home. They need time to get acquainted with you and adjust to their new environment.
Study their behavior — are they mellow, mischievous, clingy or stubborn? Once you learn their temperament, you can give them more time outside of the crate.
Puppies burn a ton of energy during the day and need rest in between playing — usually 18 to 20 hours of sleep for healthy growth. It's essential to teach your pet how to nap independently rather than depending on you to help them fall asleep. Whenever your pup seems tired during the day, encourage them to sleep in their crate.
Establish a bedtime schedule and be consistent. You'll have fewer nighttime interruptions if you limit the food and water you give them before bed. Of course, walk them outdoors once more before putting them in the crate. The sleeping area should also remain quiet and dimly lit.
Nevertheless, you should expect a few nighttime interruptions in the early stages of training as your puppy learns to adjust to your schedule. They may whine and bark a bit at first, but one trick that is proven to be successful in getting a puppy to sleep is to set your cellphone on the soft sound of a ticking clock near their crate. The sound mimics the heartbeat of the littermates so they won't feel so alone.
Just as some parents co-sleep with their newborns, plenty of dog owners encourage their puppies to sleep in the family bed. There are many pros and cons to this practice, but what really matters is how it affects your pup.
The drawbacks of co-sleeping include the quality of sleep you and your pet are getting since the sleep cycle is interrupted when one of you moves around on the bed in the middle of the night. Allergies may also be aggravated if you're sharing a bed with your dog. Furthermore, if your puppy is still in the potty training stage, they might wake you to go out or even have an accident in the bed. Co-sleeping may also create a deeper dependence on you from the animal and cause them separation anxiety whenever you are apart. Some say that sleeping separately has proven to encourage confidence and independence in a dog, preventing them from displaying negative behaviors, such as barking, nipping or ignoring commands.
Other dog owners feel the opposite is true — that co-sleeping reduces anxiety, offers added security and strengthens the bond between humans. If you have a well-adjusted, well-behaved pup, the benefits of co-sleeping far outweigh the drawbacks and will most likely enhance your relationship with Fido.
Puppies have small bladders and need to pee frequently — at least every two hours. The rule of thumb is that a young pup can hold their bladder for up to one hour for every month of age. Patience is the key here as well as learning to recognize your puppy's cues when they need to go outside to do their business.
Give them plenty of opportunities to go out, especially after eating, drinking, playing or a long nap. Walk them on a leash and take them to the same spot each time at the beginning of their training so that they know what's expected. Once they go to the bathroom, reward them with praise or a small treat. Pee pads in the house are another option when your pup is still young, but it's best to train them early to relieve themselves outside.
Ask your veterinarian what food is best for your new pet. You will need to buy a brand made explicitly for puppies so that they get the proper nutrients for development in their first year of life.
As long as your dog likes the brand and has no digestive issues or allergic reactions, keep your fur baby on the same food for at least 10 to 12 months. Larger breeds can stay on the same food for 24 months to ensure they're getting the proper nutrients for their size. After that, your vet will tell you how much to feed your puppy and when it is safe to switch to adult dog food.
Handling Your Puppy
Once you bring your puppy home, positively interact with them. If there are other family members in the household, each person should take turns holding the pup for a few minutes, one at a time. Introduce your dog to visitors in small increments, two to three times per week until they are 14 weeks old and comfortable around other people invited into your home.
Hold your pet several times a day for short snuggle sessions, but never restrain the animal for a long time or against its will. This will make them anxious, fearful and distrustful. Puppies are super wriggly, active animals, so handle them gently with patience and lots of love to get them comfortable around other humans.
Introduce your puppy to new people and situations in a controlled, positive environment and in stages so that they do not feel overwhelmed or anxious at the start. Dogs are especially cautious around 6 to 8 weeks of age, so it's best to let them get to know their owners first.
Then, give them plenty of time and space to adjust — remember, your home is filled with new sites, sounds, smells and surfaces that the animal has not yet experienced. Keep the noise level down a notch until your pet has grown accustomed to the rhythm of their family. Also, reward them with praise whenever they exhibit good behavior in new situations.
Obedience training should start around 8 to 10 weeks of age, beginning with name recognition and simple commands such as "sit," "stay" and "down." Puppies have very short attention spans (five to 10 minutes for young pups and 10 to 15 minutes for older puppies), so the training should be done in one-minute increments, two to three times per day.
Young pups require gentle but firm guidance since they are known for testing boundaries until they understand what is expected from them. Teach your dog early in the training process that you are the "pack leader" so that they will know their rank order in the family. By 10 to 12 weeks, your puppy should be potty and crate trained in addition to developing good socialization skills. They should also be acquainted with a harness and leash.
If you prefer formal obedience classes for your puppy, check with your vet — however, most recommend that your pet receives their first round of vaccines before being exposed to other canines.
After a pup has been weaned at five to six weeks, their immune system is more vulnerable to diseases, so many vets recommend your pet's first vaccine at six to eight weeks.
Avoid letting your puppy socialize with other animals until they get their first shot. The second booster is usually received at 12 to 16 weeks, followed by a rabies shot before reaching one year.
Aside from keeping up with your pet's vaccines, you'll also want to place your furry friend on preventative medication for fleas, ticks and heartworm. After a complete examination, your vet will determine the best prescription and dosage amount that best suits your dog.
Medications come in various forms — pills, chewables, and liquids. You'll have to experiment to see which form of medicine is easiest to administer — some animals gobble up their meds when mixed with foods. In contrast, others prefer drops on the tongue.
Puppies are born without teeth and do not usually have any until after three to four weeks when their baby teeth come in. By 12 weeks, these teeth fall out, and the permanent teeth start coming in (the average teething period begins at 13 to 16 weeks).
Your pup will start chewing on everything to soothe the pain in their gums, so be sure to have plenty of puppy-approved chew toys on hand. Do not allow your dog to chew on you or any of your items — this promotes bad habits that will be harder to break as the dog gets older.
Nip the Nipping Impulse
A puppy's favorite source of entertainment is its owner, and they will often use your feet or hands as their personal chew toys. Discourage unacceptable biting behavior by reacting to the nips as if you are injured. Say "Oww!" and then stop playing with them for a minute so that they understand their nipping is painful.
Never yell at or hit a puppy to discipline them for biting. Instead, use positive reinforcement — when the puppy learns to play nicely without nipping, praise them for good behavior. Also, teach young children to play gently with the puppy — no pulling on the animal's ears or tail, as that will encourage instinctive biting. Fortunately, a puppy usually outgrows the teething and biting stage around 7 to 8 months old.
The best toys for your pup are made of hard rubber or hard nylon. A hard rubber ball and nylon bone are perfectly safe toys to keep your pet entertained. Thick ropes are also fun, but check them frequently to ensure the fibers do not come loose, which could pose a choking hazard.
Puppies are always hungry, so a treat-dispensing toy is another good option to keep your fur baby occupied. Toys considered dangerous for dogs have small parts that could break off, long ribbons or strings, batteries and soft toys filled with foam stuffing. Never give your puppy cooked real bones either — fragments can break off and become lodged in the animal's throat.
Teach Them Manners
Part of your dog's obedience training is learning good manners. Teach them that certain behaviors are unacceptable, such as jumping on people, biting, darting out the door or excessive barking. Luckily, dogs are intelligent animals with the ability to learn simple commands almost immediately with impulse control training and patience.
One of the first words they should understand is "no," followed by other basic commands that include "sit," "stay," "heel," "down," "fetch," "come" and "drop it." You must establish good communication early in the relationship and earn your dog's respect for your role as the family leader. This is done by redirecting their impulses and using positive reinforcement for good behavior. Repeat the training exercises frequently throughout the day until your puppy understands their expected conduct.
Puppies are often like toddlers when it comes to separation anxiety. They follow you from room to room and whine if you close the door on them. Some are more prone to stress than others and will howl or bark for long periods when their owners leave home. They will act out by destroying property, going to the bathroom in the house or digging at doors and windows.
The best way to teach your pup how to deal with alone time is to start in small increments. Leave the house for very short periods, lengthening your away time a little more each day. Also, give your dog a special treat as you leave so that they associate your departure with something good. Leave either a television or radio on low to create calming, white noise. In severe cases of canine anxiety, consult with your vet about safe medications and natural supplements to soothe an anxious animal.
When exercising your new puppy, don't overdo it even though they are highly energetic. No long-distance walking or running until your dog is fully grown. Their developing bones and muscles cannot take the strain.
Fetch and gentle games of tug-of-war are a great alternative until your puppy is ready for more vigorous activity.
By the time a puppy is 6 months of age, its sexual behavior will become more apparent. This is a good time to get your pet neutered or spayed to prevent unwanted litters of puppies.
Neutering helps reduce aggressive behavior, indoor urinating and ensures a healthier and possibly longer life for your pet. Consult with your vet for the best course of action for your fur baby.
It's essential to get your puppy microchipped to protect them in case they get lost or stolen. Many vets recommended microchipping at 8 weeks of age. The procedure is simple — a chip the size of a grain of rice is inserted with a small needle between the shoulder blades.
The electronic chip transmits an identification number to a scanner, displaying the number on the scanner's screen. There are no side effects to your pet, and it is only in rare cases that the chip migrates from where it was initially implanted.
Aside from microchipping, it's also necessary to have an identification tag with your name, address, phone number and your pet's name attached to their collar.
You will also need a rabies vaccination tag and possibly a county or city license tag (where applicable).
Physical Growth at a Glance
As newborns, puppies are blind, deaf and have no teeth. By two weeks (known as the neonatal period), they have developed their sense of smell and touch. Their eyes open during the transitional period (two to four weeks), and their puppy teeth start coming in. They also become more independent at this age — able to walk and play with their siblings. The socialization period lasts between four to 12 weeks when they recognize others, create bonds and are weaned from their mothers.
Beyond that age, there will be growth spurts, but not all breeds go through them the same way. It's not as noticeable in smaller dogs as in bigger breeds that grow pretty quickly. The telltale signs for all breeds are changes in the teeth and coat, as dogs shed their downy puppy fur. Although all puppies are considered adults by 12 months of age, many still continue to grow in height and weight while their bones are growing, which can take up to 24 months.
Behavioral Changes During Adolescence
The most challenging time with your puppy will be between six and 18 months. Your dog transitions from the equivalent of a toddler's "terrible twos" phase into the tween/teenager phase.
Your pet will be rambunctious, super energetic, have a shorter attention span and full of raging hormones. This awkward phase can last up to three years but is entirely manageable if you remain patient and approach this time with a sense of humor.
Puppy playdates are an essential aspect of developing socialization skills for dogs, just as they are for young children. Playing with other canines helps your dog learn canine manners while interacting with other dogs, plus burns off excess energy, which improves your pet's ability to focus during obedience training.
Regular playtime with other dogs is also beneficial to your pup's health — precisely muscle strength, increased joint flexibility and help with weight management. In addition, playdates reduce boredom, which is one of the root causes of destructive behavior around the house. If your dog exhibits aggressive behavior or fear around other animals, work with a trainer or a canine therapist to teach your fur baby socialization skills.
How do you know if your puppy is sick? Check their poops frequently, and watch for behavior that deviates from the norm. Lethargy, loss of appetite, a change in the skin or fur, and rapid weight loss are all indications that your pup isn't feeling well. Five dangerous illnesses to watch for in puppies are Parvo (a highly contagious virus), Distemper (which starts as an upper respiratory disease that can develop into pneumonia and, in severe cases, encephalopathy), Kennel Cough (a bacterial infection or canine parainfluenza), Adenovirus (which causes canine hepatitis) and Leptospirosis (a bacterial disease that can affect the kidneys and liver).
Specific vaccines are designed to combat these illnesses that should be administered starting at age 6 weeks and up. If your puppy has vomiting and diarrhea, it's usually caused by intestinal parasites. Keep your pet hydrated and see a vet within 24 hours if the symptoms persist.
Teaching Your Puppy Small Tricks
Young puppies have short attention spans, but this improves with age. By eight weeks, your pup should start learning basic commands in their obedience training, which can be followed with trick training. T
he easiest tricks to teach a puppy are speaking, rolling over, high five and shaking hands. Practice daily with your pup and reward them with little treats and plenty of praise for trying their best.
Take Lots of Photos and Videos
Puppies grow up so fast.
Naturally, you'll want to remember this special time with your pet, so take tons of photos and videos to document all the stages in your furry friend's life.