Welcoming a new puppy into your life is an exciting time! Whether this is your very first puppy adventure or you’re a lifelong dog owner, there’s a critical period of adjustment to come for both of you during the first year of your pup’s life. It’s this formative time that’s crucial if the future years you spend together are to be fulfilling and stress-free for both parties. The first year is also typically the hardest for new dog owners. The first year is the best time to start obedience training and teach your dog tricks, too. Dogs are like teenagers. They like to be very busy. They want to be adults, but aren’t sure how. They might try adult things when they are too young to handle them. In this article, we walk you through what you can expect in your puppy’s first year, month by month.
- 1 0-8 Weeks
- 2 8-16 Weeks
- 3 16-52 Weeks
- 4 Wrap Up
0-8 WeeksFrom the moment of your puppy’s birth, his strongest influence comes from his mother and siblings. Your puppy is born with the senses of taste and touch, but his eyes won’t open until he is between two to four weeks old. Also at this time, your pup’s senses of hearing and smell will develop, and his first baby teeth will appear. Throughout this period, all you need to do is watch Mom provide all the care her puppies need. However, if you are looking after an orphan puppy, you’ll need to keep him warm and well-fed so that he gains weight and grows properly. Under these circumstances, you should ask a vet for advice on what to feed your newborn puppy and how often.
8-16 WeeksPuppies are generally ready to be bought home from about eight weeks old. By this time, your pup will have developed a few social skills, improved his physical coordination, and developed a baby bite.
1. First Vet VisitNow’s the perfect time to introduce your puppy to the vet for his first health check and to begin a vaccination program. You should also have your puppy microchipped so that he can be reunited with you if he’s ever lost or stolen. Also, your vet will discuss a de-worming and anti-flea treatment program with you.
2. House TrainingYour puppy doesn’t know that it’s not acceptable to relieve himself all over your carpets! So, one of your first challenges is to housetrain him. Teaching puppies to go outside to relieve themselves is actually pretty easy and quick. To begin with, take your puppy out into your yard every few hours, immediately after he’s been fed, first thing in the morning, and before you settle him down in his crate for the night. Once you’ve established a routine, bathroom visits won’t be a problem, and your pup will begin asking to go out whenever he needs to. Always praise your puppy when he goes to the toilet, and invest in some puppy training pads to catch any accidents when he’s left alone. Like their distant wolf ancestors, modern domesticated dogs still have an inherent pack mentality. Within the pack, there is a hierarchy, which helps to keep things harmonious. Each pack member knows his place and is therefore relaxed and content. As far as your puppy is concerned, you and your family are his pack, and it’s up to you to show him that you are the Alpha male or female of the tribe! Your puppy will quickly realize that you are the provider of food, shelter, and company. You decide when your pup must go into his crate, and you show him what he can chew and what he can’t. All these lessons combine to make it clear to your new housemate where he stands in the pack pecking order. It’s to be expected that your puppy will try to challenge your position as pack leader as he grows older and larger and becomes sexually mature. All you need to do to keep him in his place is to reinforce your Alpha status through patient training, and order will return pretty quickly.
3. SocializationSo far, your puppy has only interacted with his littermates. Learning to socialize with other dogs and people is crucial for your puppy during these early weeks. Begin introducing your puppy to new sights, sounds, and people during this time, but don’t let him meet other dogs until he has had his vaccinations and booster shots. Some diseases can still be carried and transmitted by a dog that has been vaccinated, so do keep your puppy away from other canines until your vet tells you that it’s safe to introduce your pup to other dogs.
4. SensitizationA vital part of your puppy’s early training is learning to be handled and touched, especially around sensitive areas such as his paws, mouth, and ears. You should also teach your puppy to be comfortable being lifted and gently restrained. Learning to accept being handled will make visits to the groomer and vet much easier for all concerned, and your dog will be more cooperative for ear cleaning, tooth brushing, and nail trims.
5. Crate TrainingPuppy crates are excellent tools for keeping puppies contained when you’re out of the room and can help to prevent behaviors such as chewing inappropriate items. Also, if your puppy learns to see his crate as a safe, secure space, he will be less likely to suffer separation anxiety when you go out and leave him behind. Puppies do need a lot of supervision and love human company, but your pup also needs to learn to spend time alone. Crate training can help with this, and from day one, give your puppy short periods alone in his crate so that he learns to be settled and happy when you’re not around.
6. Learning His Name & RecallBefore your puppy can learn commands, he must know that you’re talking to him! So, from day one, use your puppy’s name to get his attention and come to you when you call him. Once your puppy has learned his name, you must teach him to come to you when you call him. Aside from the frustration of not being able to catch your dog at the park if he won’t come to call, obedience to come to you could be a lifesaver in a dangerous situation.
7. Basic Commands like “Sit”One of the first “tricks” your pup must learn is to sit. Learning to sit when he’s told to will help to keep your pup calm during situations that might be stressful or exciting. And if your puppy learns to sit when meeting new people, he won’t begin to jump up! Make all your training fun! Remember that, like a human toddler, your puppy has a brief attention span, so keep lessons short and reward your pup with cuddles and treats when he gets it right!
8. Leash TrainingAnother important early lesson is learning to walk on a loose leash. Your puppy must learn that pulling on his leash won’t result in moving forwards. That way, you’ll have a dog who walks quietly alongside you. Before leash training begins, you’ll need to buy a harness, collar, and leash for your puppy. Always attach the leash to the harness, not the collar. Collars can cause serious injury or even death, so never leave your puppy unattended while he’s wearing his collar or buy one with a breakaway safety fastening.
9. SharingDogs have an inherent tendency to guard their favorite items such as toys, chew toys and food. Teach your dog that when you take things away from him, he’ll receive a better reward in return such as a tasty treat.
10. Puppy ClassesPuppy classes are crucial if your pup is to learn to play nicely with other dogs. Here, your puppy will learn to understand the body language of other dogs and how to play with them. Many vet practices run puppy socialization classes where the babies can play together and generally cause chaos! At this stage, it’s also a good idea to arrange play dates for your pup with other friendly canines. However, it’s worth noting that most dog parks won’t allow puppies under six months to play there for safety reasons.
11. TeethingAll puppies chew when they’re teething. To avoid damage to your home, you’ll need to teach your puppy what he can chew and what he must leave alone such as your antique furniture! Give your puppy plenty of safe chew toys around your house and in his puppy crate. Teething makes your puppy’s gums sore and inflamed. Try putting your pup’s chew toys in your freezer so that they’re cool and soothing on his painful gums.
12. Nipping & BitingPuppies explore everything with their mouths, and that can lead to biting. Tiny baby teeth are as sharp as needles, so it’s essential that your pup learns not to bite people. Your puppy will learn not to bite at puppy classes when an older dog puts him in his place, but he needs to learn that you’re not fair game for his teeth! If your puppy tries to bite you, tell him, “No!” and calmly swop your hand for a chew toy instead.
13. GroomingYour puppy will need to learn that being groomed and bathed is enjoyable, and means treats before, during, and afterward. That will make brushing, and bathing your dog when necessary, less of a wrestling match!
16-52 WeeksAs you can see, the first 16 weeks of your puppy’s new life with you and your family is going to be pretty busy! Now it’s time to progress to the next stage of his training.
1. TravelingNow that your puppy is a little older, you can take him out for trips in your car. The safest way to travel your pup is for him to be in his crate. Alternatively, buy a safety harness that you can attach to the seatbelt in the back seat of your vehicle. Always put your dog behind the passenger seat. That way, if you have to brake suddenly, your pup won’t shoot through the gap between the two front seats, should his harness fail. Most dogs adapt well to car travel. However, some pups do get car sick at first. Your vet will give you some antiemetic tablets for your dog if necessary.
2. Advanced CommandsYour puppy now needs a comfy bed in a specific area of your home such as in your kitchen. A designated space that he can call his will help him to relax and is also useful for discouraging habits such as rushing to the door when visitors arrive and from begging at the dinner table. Teaching basic commands like “down,” and “stay” as well as “leave it” will help your dog become all around more well behaved. Teaching your puppy to stay ensures that your dog will remain where he is until you release him from the command. That’s extremely important for safety and also teaches your pup impulse control. You have already taught your puppy to drop an object, but now you need to take the training a step further by teaching him not to pick things up in the first place. The importance of the “leave it” command cannot be overstressed. Just imagine a situation where your dog is tempted to chase a squirrel out onto a busy street, and you can see just how important obedience to the “stay” and “leave it” commands is.
3. Spay or NeuterOnce they reach the age of around six to nine months, male and female puppies can become sexually active. Now’s the time to consider having your puppy spayed or neutered. There are numerous good reasons for having your puppy de-sexed:
- Female dogs can get pregnant during their first heat.
- Female dogs in heat may make a mess of your carpets and their bedding.
- Un-spayed female dogs sometimes suffer from false pregnancy. False pregnancy causes stress and physical symptoms, including producing milk and exhibiting broody behavior.
- Un-spayed female dogs are prone to a condition called pyometra or infection of the womb, which can be fatal if left untreated.
- Entire male dogs can become prone to escaping from your yard in search of female dogs in heat.
- Some entire male dogs exhibit aggressive behaviors towards other dogs, strangers, and their owners.
- Some male dogs may exhibit excessively dominant behavior over you, your family, and other pets in your household.
- Most off-leash dog parks do not permit female dogs in heat or un-neutered male dogs to enter the park.