From bouncing baby pup to elderly matriarch, your dog will express different needs — and tender a range of rewards — at each stage of her life. Puppies are demanding and energetic, adolescents unpredictable. Adult dogs are eager and self-assured, and by the time they’re seniors, they will have slowed to a comfortably lazy pace.
On average, smaller dogs mature faster and live longer than larger breeds; bigger dogs mature later and generally know shorter spans of adulthood and senior citizenship. That said, every dog develops and ages at her own rate.
The first weeks
Beginning in the third week, a puppy’s senses begin to awaken. His eyes and auditory canals open so he can communicate with his brothers and sisters for the first time.
At around the 21st day he’ll make his first attempts at walking and barking. Within the safety of his family circle, he’ll have his first experiences and get to know the complex social behavior of his species.
By the fourth week, the senses of the puppy are fully developed so that he is able to carefully observe his environment. He will examine and sniff everything. At this stage of life, his ability to learn is as great as it will ever be. So this is the stage where you should spend a lot of time with your puppy to help him grow up to be a sociable dog. However, an intense relationship with his brothers and sisters is just as important. He can begin to eat solid food from the fourth week on.
Between 8 and 12 weeks, the puppy is in the socialization stage, and can move to a “human pack”. The best time for the separation from mother and brothers and sisters is at 10 weeks of age.
The first months
If you adopt a puppy at about the 10th week, take him to the vet immediately. He/she will check his health status and will advise you on the right timing for vaccinations and worming.
Your puppy now needs a lot of loving attention to be able to cope with the new environment and the loss of his brothers and sisters. You should praise him often and say his name at the same time. Also, you should set his boundaries with a stern “no” and begin with house training.
The puppy’s development until the 16th week is called the “phase of hierarchy” by dog researchers. Now your dog will need a “leader of the pack”. This is also true for his diet. It is your decision what and when your dog is fed and what he is not to eat. So make sure your puppy’s special requirements for nutrients are met in this phase of quick growth. Give him a variety of experiences such as riding in a car, riding in a bus or on an elevator, visits to restaurants, gatherings of people, and contact with children, other dogs, and other animals. This way he’ll be an agreeable, strong-minded companion as an adult dog.
The phase of puberty is usually rather short and will last from between one month and six weeks. It starts around the sixth month, and can manifest itself in many different ways: often your dog will behave badly and won’t want to learn anything new. Sometimes he may forget what he has learned so far, or at least pretend to. In this phase, you should be persistent and keep on with his education program.
The puppy stage will give way to adolescence sometime between the ages of 6 and 18 months. Smaller breed dogs will go into the adolescent stage earlier than larger breed dogs. This is the stage of the life cycle when hormones start to kick in and, if not spayed/neutered, your dog may begin to act like a moody teenager. Your dog will lose his puppy fur and grow to his adult size, though he may be awkward with his body and appear gawky until he gets accustomed to his new size. At the beginning of this stage of the life cycle have your dog altered and consider obedience training.
Between the ages of 1 and 3 years, your dog enters the adult stage of life. As with adolescence, smaller breeds reach this stage in less time than larger breeds. During this phase of the life cycle, your dog will still enjoy plenty of exercise and playtime, but he likely won’t be so demanding of your attention and will not burst with the same amounts of energy that kept you busy during earlier stages. He is likely completely house-trained by now. Consider obedience training or advanced training. Your adult dog will continue to thrive from the mental and physical exercise of learning.
The senior dog
Different breeds of dog are considered senior at different ages. It may also depend on the individual dog. The process of aging will begin slowly and nearly imperceptibly. Your dog will become less active, his metabolism will slow down, and he might put on weight. At this time, it’s important to change his diet and give him smaller portions two to three times daily. This will relieve his digestive system and ensure an even intake of nutrients. Your dog might need a special diet, which you can get from your veterinarian.
In general, the first signs of old age will appear between the eighth and tenth year. The head and muzzle might become grey, and he may experience a deterioration of sight and hearing. His sense of smell is normally not affected too much by aging.
Your senior dog will still love to play – even if his fitness level has declined somewhat. And if he has some little house training “accidents,” he’ll be quite embarrassed. So it’s best not to scold him.
The Twilight Years
He’s now your couch companion, content to just while away the hours in restful contemplation or short and sedate walks. Your best friend is an elderly dog now, and it’s also time to start considering the inevitabe.