Puppy Stages: 8 - 12 Weeks

At eight weeks of age, most puppies (but not all small breeds,) are ready to leave their litter and head to another home. For puppies and new owners alike, the month that follows is a critical learning window and plays a major role in the later development of the dog. This article covers the physical and mental changes taking place in your puppy between the ages of eight and twelve weeks old. It also covers safety, what illnesses and conditions to look for, and the training that should begin at this stage of development.

Pictured: Stinkin' Cute
Pictured: Stinkin' Cute

Physical Changes

At this age, puppies are essentially toddlers. They can make their way around, albeit clumsily, and are capable of eating solid food on their own. They may not have much control over their bladders or bowels for some time, meaning frequent trips outside are essential lest involuntary accidents occur. At a minimum, pups in this stage of development should be taken out every two hours; this includes at night!

Puppies at two or three months old tend to be at their very cutest. The features are still very soft and immature, designed to tug on any mammal's heartstrings. Enjoy it while you can!

Mental Changes

An eight week old puppy is starting to think like a mature dog. They have an active interest in humans and will begin looking to you for guidance on how to behave. Being away from the litter and on their own for the first time, most puppies are insatiably curious. Anything within reach will be thoroughly investigated and probably chewed at least a little bit. Mouthing at this age is very common and the puppy's most effective tool for learning about the world around him. You will begin to see basic personality traits emerge at this time, although things can change drastically in the next few months.

Your pup is, at this point, like a dry sponge. It's up to you to saturate him with all the things he will need later! Introduce him to people and vaccinated, friendly dogs. Take him for car rides and show him noisy objects like vacuum cleaners. Basically, if you think your dog will run into something as an adult, try to get him used to it at this age. Eight to twelve weeks is the crucial socialization period. Whatever your dog sees and learns now will be with him for life, so make it good!

Keeping Your Puppy Safe

Puppies are hardy little beasts, but still vulnerable to the outside world. During this time your pup's natural immunity from the mother is wearing off and should be taken over soon by multiple rounds of vaccinations. The in-between period, however, can be dangerous. The big troublemaker is Parvo, a virus left behind in dog feces that can linger for months. Infected puppies will need to be hospitalized for days, if not weeks, and death is common. To save yourself thousands of dollars and many more tears, do not let your new friend walk where un-vaccinated dogs may have been. This means no parks, and even walking down the street can be iffy. About a week after the final vaccinations (generally 17 weeks old,) your pup will be able to go anywhere with much less risk. Until then, however, play it safe.

Also take into consideration puppy mischief. If your pup can reach it, make sure it's safe to ingest. No foam, chemicals, or small items should be anywhere near ground level. Puppies can and do eat the craziest things out of sheer ignorance, so puppy-proof your house before the new family member comes home.

What to Look For

Keep an eye on your puppy for any of the following health concerns:

  • Persistent Diarrhea: Most pups have upset bellies at some point. It's normal and only a major concern if the diarrhea is extremely watery, discolored (yellow or green,) or lasts more than a day. Keep your puppy hydrated and make sure his bowels harden up after a day or two. If not, take him to the vet!
  • Vomiting: Like diarrhea, it happens to every dog. And, like diarrhea, if it persists more than a day or is extreme, the pup needs to see a vet quickly.
  • Refusal to Eat or Drink: If your puppy has gone off his food or water, don't delay and head to the vet.

Those are the major things to watch for, but if your puppy is, at any time, acting in a way that concerns you, don't hesitate to call your vet and ask for advice. It's better to ask a stupid question than to lose your puppy, right?

Leash Training
Leash Training

What to Work On

Training should begin in earnest at eight weeks. Puppies can learn basic commands like sit and stay, as well as housebreaking. Get your pup accustomed to a leash and collar and begin walking with them. I recommend crate training begin from night one; letting a pup sleep on the bed even once will make it all the harder. Socializing, as mentioned above, is very important. Hold 'puppy parties' at your home to provide a safe environment to introduce the new pup to friends and family.

You will never have an opportunity like this period to teach your dog, so devote at least an hour a day to training. Don't do this in one long session, but stagger it throughout the day in short, five or ten minute bursts. Puppies are easily distracted and tire out quickly, so don't overwhelm them!

The first month with your new dog can be a honeymoon period or a hellish nightmare. Just like positive reinforcement and kindness can produce a confident, well-mannered dog, negativity and anger will produce a fearful one. Remember, your puppy is not trying to make you angry when she destroys your best pair of shoes. Puppies do not have a sense of revenge, and they will not associate punishment with an act they are not immediately doing. Be calm, be patient, and reward good behavior. Soon, you will have a fully-grown dog on your hands and miss these days, so savor them and build as many fond memories as you can!

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