Your Puppy's First Year - What to Expect
The first year of your puppy's life will bring incredible changes to him physically, intellectually, and socially. The greatest changes occur in the first seven weeks, when he goes from a helpless newborn with to a puppy full of play. He's totally dependent on his dam at first, with eyes and ears sealed, but by two weeks of age he can see, hear, and stumble around. By 3 weeks, his teeth are emerging, he's sampling soft foods, and he can eliminate by himself. If he can, he’ll totter away from his sleeping spot to relieve himself, but he's still too young to learn housetraining concepts.
By 4 weeks of age, he's playing vigorously with his littermates. Playing with them teaches him to relate to other dogs, and may be important for learning to inhibit his bites. Once people begin to feed him, he begins to attend more to them. By 7 weeks of age he can learn simple commands and games, including how to sit, walk on leash, and play fetch.
Bonding with his canine family has reached its highest point at 7 weeks of age. It will gradually decline until he’s 10 weeks old, after which he will prefer his human family. Starting at around 7 or 8 weeks, puppies begin to gradually become more fearful of novel situations, until by 12 weeks, they are more distrustful than trustful. That means you need to expose your puppy to as many situations as he’ll encounter later in life as you can.
Potty training should start around 7 weeks of age. After 9 weeks of age, puppies seem to prefer whatever substrate they learned to use for elimination between 7 and 9 weeks of age. Make sure that during this crucial time he’s using whatever you want him to use for the rest of his life.
He should get his first vaccinations at around 8 weeks of age, with subsequent ones every three weeks thereafter until 12 to 16 weeks of age. Your veterinarian will advise you about the best schedule for your puppy.
By 12 weeks of age his tendency to be cautious of new things has overwhelmed his tendency to be curious about them, and that tendency will increase for the next few months. Keep introducing him to new people and things, but don't overwhelm him.
At no other time in your puppy’s life is he more amenable to training than as a young puppy, but by about 4 months of age the ease with which puppies learn starts to decline. Be sure you’ve introduced him to the concept of learning before then.
Around 4 to 5 months the puppy's baby teeth start to be replaced by adult teeth. His small front teeth will fall out and be replaced by permanent teeth first, followed by his canine teeth and finally his rear teeth. Sometimes a baby canine tooth doesn't fall out and the new one comes in beside it. Consult your veterinarian if they both stay there for more than a few days or a week. The best time to neuter or spay your dog is at about five to six months of age, giving the dog time to mature but avoiding the chance of doing it after sexual maturity.
With his new adult teeth, his chewing becomes more effective and his play rougher. Handing him a toy often distracts him from chewing on you, but if not, do what his littermate would do when he plays too rough: say “ouch” and refuse to play until he calms down. Give him lots of chew toys, and try some more sophisticated toys. Various puzzle and interactive toys require him to work to get treats or toys out of them. Such toys are great for occupying his mind when you can’t be with him.
Between 7 and 12 months of age he'll reach his adult size, although larger dogs will continue to grow a little taller and mostly, fill out, after that. All 42 adult teeth should be in by 7 months. Any baby teeth remaining should be examined by a veterinarian.
For intact males, by six months both testicles should be permanently in place. If one or both testicles still haven’t descended, it’s time to talk to your veterinarian about what to do. At this age, the chance of them coming down is remote. It’s not that they’re not there; they’re retained within his body, where the higher temperature renders them both incapable of creating viable sperm and more likely to become cancerous later in life. For this reason he’ll probably need surgery to remove them. If not neutered or spayed, your puppy is becoming sexually mature. Males may be able to sire puppies by nine months of age. Females usually have their first estrus (heat, or season) between 6 and 10 months of age.
Although he's been getting more sure of himself, at around 8 to 9 months some puppies undergo a second fearful stage, when little negative experiences make a big impact on him. So continue to get him out and about, but with a watchful eye.
During this first year, your puppy has come from a baby to an adult. You should have provided him with proper vaccinations, medical care, socialization, training, and play. This first year is a lot of work, but it sets the stage for the even better years to come!