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first days with a puppy

The essentials

  • Puppy stages of development are often marked by milestones — Puppyhood is a delightful time full of cuddles and growth but requires extra patience and commitment. 
  • Expect a lot of growth at first — Puppies grow rapidly during the first 30 days of development, gaining physical and psychological capabilities.
  • Socialization during the first few months is important. — Puppies develop basic behaviors and learn social cues and commands during the first six months of life, setting the foundation for a well-mannered companion.

So, you’ve decided to get a puppy. While welcoming a new furry friend into your family may seem daunting, it should also be exciting. With the right advice, pet parents should be eager to take on all the challenges and milestones puppyhood has to offer.  

Our helpful guide covers all the steps, milestones, advice, and information you need to prepare you and your home for a furry new addition.

Puppy stages of life

Puppies develop rapidly during their first year and experience various changes. Here are some of the most significant stages they pass through:

Puppy developmental stages chart

Stage name Age Description
Newborn 0-3 weeks At this stage, they will spend most of their time sleeping and nursing from their mother.
Early socialization 3-12 weeks This is one of the most critical stages for puppies when they learn how to interact with people and other animals. This period is when owners should introduce puppies to social experiences.
Juvenile 12-24 weeks During this period, puppies will become more independent as they explore their environment, play with other dogs, and learn basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, come, etc.
Adolescent 6-18 months During this stage, puppies will reach sexual maturity, which can cause changes in behavior, such as increased energy levels or aggression toward other dogs and people. Training during this period is essential to ensure proper socialization skills are developed.
Adult 18 months+ At this stage, puppies have almost reached full size, and their behavior should be relatively consistent, but training and socialization should continue throughout adulthood.

Preparing for your puppy

Puppies typically stay with their mother until they reach 8 weeks, a crucial time in their development. During this time, puppies learn important lessons from their mother, such as interacting with other animals, the beginnings of potty training, and an understanding of proper social behavior. Through learning these lessons from their mother, puppies develop the skills necessary for living in a loving home. 

After leaving the litter, puppies are ready to explore and discover the world around them. During this growth period, your puppy must have plenty of opportunities to safely explore its environment and be exposed to various stimuli to help them build confidence and trust in humans.

Choose a trusted veterinarian

New puppy parents will want to find a reputable veterinarian, ideally close to the home. Spend time researching and asking in online neighborhood groups for vet recommendations. And always read the reviews for any hospital recommended — but take the occasional bad reviews with a grain of salt, and read all the hospital comments too. Also, have one or two emergency vets on your radar for overnight emergencies. Puppies often get into trouble when your vet is closed for the night!

Puppy-proof your home

First, you need to get your home in “puppy shape” to set your pup up for success. There are moments when your pup will feel extremely difficult to manage, and you’ll wonder when they’ll mature. Take a deep breath and remember they will grow up happy and healthy with the right support system. 

  • Go into puppy mode — Scan your house on all fours. Remember, your puppy explores the world with their mouth. Every corner of your home will be licked and explored, so watch the products you’re using. Puppies love to chew on everything, so move shoes to the closet and keep electrical cords (or anything really!) off the floor. 
  • Switch to secure garbage cans with lids — It doesn’t matter if you have a 4-foot-tall and a Chihuahua. Puppies don’t need the extra temptation, they always seem to find a way. This means every bathroom trash can, too.
  • Establish the puppy zone — This is as much for safety as for behavior training. Get a dog gate or X-pen to keep your puppy confined in a small area. Your puppy shouldn’t be allowed to roam free until housetraining is complete. It may be six months or more before your pup can roam, but they should still be under your supervision. Crate training is another excellent idea, but while you’re training, you need a secure area for your pup!

Your pre-puppy checklist

This list will cover you for the first few weeks and up to a month if you buy in bulk.  Other essential items include: 

  • A heartbeat toy like the Snuggle Puppy soothes anxious puppies with a warming pad and heartbeat.
  • Puppy blankets and/or dog beds  
  • Crate with a divider that can move as they grow
  • A leash and a harness or collar
  • Puppy food
  • Food and water bowls
  • Stain & odor remover for accidents 
  • Dog gates or playpens
  • Toys like chew toys, puzzle toys, teething toys, plush toys, or ball toys
  • Grooming tools including a brush, nail clippers, and bathing materials

Consider getting pet insurance

Pet insurance can be exceptionally helpful for providing financial protection for pet owners in case their pet requires expensive medical care. If you choose to purchase a policy, puppies should be insured immediately to avoid future conditions not being covered.

If you anticipate bringing a puppy home, you can call the provider and ensure they have a policy the day they are brought home. Pet insurance can help cover veterinary visits, surgeries, prescription medications, and emergency care costs. Many policies also cover routine wellness exams, vaccinations, and other preventive treatments.

Surviving the first night

Puppies typically go to their new homes between the 8-10 week range. During this time, puppies reach a certain level of development and build a bond with their littermates and humans.

 By 8-10 weeks, many puppies have developed basic obedience skills such as coming when called and socializing well with both people and other animals in the home. This is also the ideal age for housebreaking as they become more aware of their environment.

Introduce new pets

Introducing new dogs to each other can take much longer than 30 days — especially if one of your dogs is older. Try rewarding your other dogs when they’re near the puppy if things remain tense. This practice will help create a positive association with that annoying new fluffball. The best introduction is done on neutral ground so choose a place like your dog’s favorite park or a nearby school. 

If you have smaller pets in the home, like cats or bunnies, it’s important to supervise all interactions until your puppy understands these are not toys or things to chase!

Potty training in the first 24 hours

Here’s where our guide to housetraining your puppy comes into play. There are three different methods we recommend. If one isn’t working, try another. Accidents will happen. The best thing that you can do is to remain patient, consistent and reward your dog immediately with positivity (and a snack) when they poop where they’re supposed to go.

The first 30 days with your puppy

The first month of puppyhood is exciting, but try not to overwhelm your pup. These first 30 days should be about introductions, firsts, and a smooth transition for your puppy as they adjust to their new home and family.

Schedule your first vet visit

If you haven’t already scheduled your first vet visit, now is the perfect time. Puppy vaccinations typically start at 6-8 weeks old and it’s best to get your puppy established at a clinic right away. 

Prepare for your puppy’s first vet visit by creating a list of questions for your vet, such as: 

  • Vaccinations. What vaccinations does my pet need, and when should they be administered? 
  • Parasites. What steps can I take to prevent parasites in my pet?
  • Diet. Are there any dietary changes I should make to ensure optimal health for my pet?
  • Puppy teething. How can I manage puppy teething and biting?
  • Dental disease. How can I best brush my pup’s teeth?

Build your support team with pet professionals

Having a team of pet professionals to care for a puppy is important to ensure the pup’s physical and mental health. A trainer and vet behaviorist can provide behavioral guidance that puppies need as they grow, helping them become well-adjusted adult pets. It takes a village! 

  • Groomer.  Now is a great time to start scoping out groomers to get a sense of price, quality, and personality. 
  • Trainer. A trainer can help your puppy understand basic commands and proper behaviors while teaching them to trust humans. 
  • Behaviorist. A boarded veterinary behaviorist is a specialist who will help assess the pup’s needs if there are signifcant behaviorial issues.
  • Pet sitter or a local boarding facility. A pet sitter provides reliable companionship and care for the puppy in their new home.

Establish house rules

House rules are important for your puppy just as they are for human children. Set up a routine for them to follow and gain confidence around the house. Start establishing verbal cues to regular activities (using the potty, calling them by their name, praise, etc.)

This is also where boundaries can be set up. Will your pup be allowed on the furniture? Are they allowed in certain rooms? These are all things to consider when creating your house rules.

How to help your puppy acclimate

  • Crate training. Crate training is one of the most important things you can teach your puppy. There are so many benefits from helping dogs relax, house training, and if there is an emergency!
  • X-pens. X-pens provide a safe and secure space for puppies to explore and play.
  • Tethering. Tethering your pup to you can help strengthen the bond between pet and owner. It provides endless training opportunities.
  • Limited freedom. A puppy needs limited freedom in the first 30 days to help them adjust to their new home and environment. This includes providing a safe, secure space where the pup can explore without getting overwhelmed, exhausted, or scared.

The importance of puppy socialization

Many guides recommend socializing your puppy early on. It is important to socialize puppies even before they have had all their vaccinations, as recent research has shown that positive socialization experiences between 8-16 weeks of age can help prevent fearfulness and aggression in dogs later in life. 

Unvaccinated puppies should not be taken to dog parks and other highly populated areas, but a few safe play dates or puppy socials with a trainer are essential at this stage. You can also bring people over or schedule play sessions with other vaccinated dogs so that your puppy can get comfortable around others before tackling the outside world. 

Fear periods are an unfortunate but normal part of puppy development, typically between 8-10 weeks old. During this period, puppies become more cautious and fearful of their environment. 

According to behaviorists, owners should take extra care during this time, so puppies learn that the world is not scary. This can be done by slowly introducing new experiences with plenty of positive reinforcement.

The first six months with a puppy

In the first six months of a puppy’s life, they are undergoing a rapid period of growth and development. During this time, puppies learn to play, interact with other animals and people, and develop social skills. 

As they near the end of their first six months, most puppies have started to emerge from puppyhood and become more independent. They can now recognize basic commands and have begun to explore their environment more confidently. 

This stage is important for ensuring that puppies become well-adjusted, healthy dogs capable of forming strong relationships with their owners and other animals. This is the stage when puppies develop essential life skills!

Puppy adolescence

During this stage, puppies will reach sexual maturity, which can cause changes in behavior, such as increased energy levels or aggression toward other dogs and people. Training during this period is crucial to develop proper socialization skills

According to trainers, this period typically starts around six months of age and can last up to 18 months. During this time, puppies often display increased energy, more frequent exploration, boredom-driven behaviors such as barking or chewing, and occasional aggression toward other pets or people. They may seem to forget all their important puppy training sessions!

Move onto advanced dog training

Advanced dog training can be a powerful tool for addressing some behavioral issues associated with puppy adolescence and maturity. During this period of growth, dogs are more likely to exhibit a wide variety of behaviors than at any other point in their lives. 

Advanced dog training techniques can help channel these behaviors into something more manageable and less disruptive for both the dog and its owners. Through positive reinforcement, an experienced fear-free certified trainer (i.e. one who has a certification from the CPPDT) can teach a young pup how to appropriately respond to commands and situations that may otherwise prove too overwhelming or chaotic.

Curb the unwanted behaviors

Unfortunately, this is the life stage when many dogs are surrendered to shelters or rescues by overwhelmed owners. However, pup parents should know that these behaviors can be addressed and overcome with the right support and patience. Some common unwanted pup behaviors that start to pop up include: 

  • Inappropriate chewing 
  • Running around excessively and exhibiting exuberant energy
  • Starting sexual behavior if not spayed or neutered
  • Territorial behavior
  • Starting to pee and poop indoors
  • Displaying aggressive behavior towards people or other dogs

Keep up with socialization

Socialization is especially important during the first six months, as this period sets the foundation for the rest of a pup’s life. During this time, puppies learn to interact with family members, strangers, other animals, and their environment. 

If puppies miss out on appropriate socialization during these early months, they may suffer from anxiety or fear-related issues down the road. This could manifest itself in behaviors such as barking, growling at people or other animals, running away when approached by strangers, and general nervousness or skittishness.

Advanced dog training can help to prevent these issues by teaching proper socialization skills and providing a safe space for puppies to explore new experiences. Through positive reinforcement, appropriate social cues can be taught while helping puppies become comfortable with different situations. Puppy school or socials are a fantastic way to socialize your dog.

Life skills teach your pup how to act

During the first six months of a pup’s life, they need to learn and develop various life skills, such as:

  • Socialization with people and other animals
  • Basic obedience commands including sit, stay, and come 
  • Potty training 
  • How to stay alone for more extended periods  
  • Appropriate behaviors during play

These life skills will help your teen pup to allow to be handled, have self-control and calm behavior, display good manners, as well as make good choices.

Best time to spay and neuter

From a medical standpoint, neutering dogs is recommended for health reasons. The age at which it is most appropriate to neuter varies by breed size and can range from 6 months to 18 months, or later in some cases. For smaller breeds, such as Chihuahuas and Pomeranians, the ideal time to have them neutered is between 6 and 9 months; however, waiting until 12 months is acceptable. 

For larger breeds, such as labrador retrievers and German shepherds, a more appropriate window for neutering would be between 9-18 months of age. Ultimately, the decision on when to neuter should be made in consultation with a veterinarian who can best assess the dog’s needs based on health history and breed characteristics.

A year old and beyond

When your pup hits a year old, the adventure is just beginning! Bringing home a puppy is exciting but also confusing, and there are ways to ensure all your hard work helps your relationship flourish. Training is still crucial as your pup may decide that selective listening is sometimes part of the agenda on a walk or hike.

When is your dog an adult?

To determine when small and large dogs have reached adulthood, it is essential to look at the average age of maturity for each breed. Smaller breeds tend to reach maturity faster than larger breeds, with an average age of around one year. Larger breeds may take up to two years or more to fully mature. 

Generally speaking, a dog is considered an adult once it has finished growing and reached its full size. Additional signs that may indicate your dog has reached adulthood include changes in behavior, increased focus and independence, less playfulness, and improved obedience.

Puppy socials keep your pup active

Taking your pup to puppy socials is a great way to keep them active and engaged. Puppy socials typically involve puppies meeting, playing, and interacting with other pups in a supervised environment with a trainer. (In other words, not at your local dog park or dog bar.)

Puppy socials help promote appropriate play behavior, provide crucial mental stimulation, and help puppies bond with other dogs of all breeds and sizes. These socials also allow puppies to become accustomed to new people, sights, smells, noises, and environments – all important for their future development. 

Attending puppy socials can also reduce the chances of behavioral issues such as aggression and fearfulness later in life. Continue these as long as you can, while maintaining a safe environment.

Keep up with routine care

Even though a pup’s first year is complete, it is important to remember that routine care is still essential for developing dogs. During this period of growth, pups need regular vet visits to assess overall health and development fully. 

Routine preventive care will help spot potential health issues or risks early on, allowing for the best treatment options. Follow the vaccination schedule, and don’t miss important milestones!

Additionally, proper nutrition and exercise routines should continue during this time to ensure the pup is growing and developing optimally. While the first year may be done, forming healthy habits will help keep your pup happy and healthy for years. Choosing the right nutrition plan is essential for growing puppies, and your vet can help you determine what’s best.

Practice good hygiene

Staying on top of grooming needs to be a priority. Establish a home grooming routine and practice trimming nails with treats. Some breeds require a bit more help! Your vet can help you determine an ideal grooming routine. They will also recommend the best flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives, many of which are given monthly. 

Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to puppies. Avoid big changes and slowly transition your new buddy to a good hygiene routine. 

A puppy is an exciting and rewarding addition to any household, providing companionship, loyalty, and unconditional love. With the proper care and training, your puppy can become a beloved family member for many years. By following the tips in this guide, you can ensure your puppy has the best start possible.

It’s amazing to watch a puppy’s life evolve, but puppyhood is not for everyone. 

Every development phase has challenges and behavior changes throughout your pup’s life. The transitional stage, or the teenage phase, is the most difficult. This stage of puppy development is when pet parents grow frustrated. But once you work past the roadblocks, you’ll have a well-adjusted adult dog to love for the rest of their lives!

Frequently asked questions

What is the hardest puppy stage?

The hardest puppy stage is usually the adolescent stage. From about six months to 18 months, puppies can become unpredictable and test their boundaries. This is when they need the most supervision and training to ensure that they develop good habits and behaviors.

Where should a puppy spend the first night?

A puppy should spend the night in a safe, comfortable place such as a crate or bed. It should be located in a quiet area of the house away from loud noises and distractions. The area should also be free of hazardous materials that could harm the puppy. Many owners place their pup’s bed next to their own bed. 

What should you not do with a new puppy?

There are several no-nos owners should be aware of when it comes to new puppies. These include not leaving the puppy alone for extended periods of time, not ignoring signs of distress, and not using punishing or negative reinforcement to train your pup.

How do you calm an overstimulated puppy?

To calm an overstimulated pup, it is important to be patient and understanding. Start by giving your pup some time and space to relax. Take them for a walk or play a quiet game, such as fetch or tug-of-war. Give your pup plenty of snuggles and praises during this time to help them destress.