In this expert guide to puppy development stages you can check your puppy’s weight against our puppy growth chart, learn about important puppy milestones and discover how your puppy will change and develop week by week. This is a big guide! We’ve divided the information on puppy stages into three clear sections so that you can find what you need.
SECTION 1: PUPPY MILESTONES
At birth puppies are only capable of crawling with their front feet and suckling. Eyes and ears are closed and they have no teeth. So a lot has to happen before you can take your puppy home! There are some important milestones soon after collecting your puppy too!
- When do puppies open their eyes?
- At what age do puppies start to walk?
- How long do puppies grow?
- When do puppies start barking?
- When does the age does a puppy stop biting?
- When does the socialization window close?
Eyes Wide Open?
Your puppy’s eyes will open during the second week of life. Puppies’ eyes don’t just pop open suddenly. A tiny gap appears between the eyelids in the corner of the eye and the puppy will peep out through it. Over the course of a day or two the eye will open fully. Sometimes one eye opens faster than the other. And some puppies will open their eyes a day or so earlier than the others.
Time For Walking!
The third week is all about getting puppies up on their legs. And most puppies are standing and taking their first wobbly steps by the end of the third week of life.
Barking and Noises
Newborn puppies make tiny squeaking noises when they are cold, but for the most part are fairly quiet. Proper dog sounds begin to appear during the second to third week. Recognizable barking is usually established by eight weeks old, and almost all pups will be able to make cute little puppy woofs by ten to twelve weeks.
Puppies bite as part of their normal play, and also because biting helps relieve the discomfort of teething. With the right help, most puppies have learned not to bite hard enough to hurt you by about five months, and stopped biting altogether by six months. The word “help” is the key though, because “not biting” is something you need to actively teach your puppy not to do.
Puppy socialization is one of the most important of all puppy development stages. The process that all dogs need to go through in order to help them live comfortably in our human world.
It’s all about learning not to be scared of new experiences, and to welcome human beings as friends. All puppies need some help with this process and if they don’t get the help they need, by about three months old, puppies start to become nervous of unfamiliar people and events.
The window for socialization closes at around three months old and is the time when your puppy will most readily accept and adapt to new experiences. This is the stage where you need to take him everywhere and ensure he meets as much of the world as he possibly can. The teenage fear period is a time between 6-12 months when young dogs that were fully socialized as puppies may again become fearful and need their socialization programme refreshing once again
SECTION 2: PUPPY GROWTH
There are actually three aspects to puppy development that all need to come together in order for him to be truly an adult dog. Your puppy needs to reach all three aspects of maturity before he is a “grown up”. To confuse matters, these processes don’t happen at the same rate. And the point at which all three are complete varies from one dog breed to another.
- Physical maturity
- Sexual maturity
- Mental maturity
Different Growth Rates
People often write to me and say “I have a 3 month old (or 4 or 5 months) Cocker Spaniel (or Labrador, or Springer), how much should he weigh?” They often tell me how much food in grams or ounces he is getting, and ask me if this is enough.
As you have probably guessed, there isn’t an exact answer to a question of this nature. However, we can and do give you some rough guides in the charts and graphs you’ll find in this article. The most important thing, is to give you the tools to recognize when your own individual puppy is growing and thriving, and when things are not right.
Breeds and Sizes
The reason we can’t be more precise, is that dogs vary in their growth rates, as well as in the final size that they are likely to reach. We can’t predict exact weights at any of the main puppy development stages. There are not just differences between breeds, there are differences between individuals of each breed, and even between litter-mates.
Different dogs pass through puppy development stages at different rates. The most significant differences in growth rates and patterns though, is between dogs of different sizes. In the puppy growth chart you can see just how much more intense the growth rate of larger dogs is, and how much longer they carry on growing.
When Do Puppies Grow The Most?
The most rapid growth occurs within the first few weeks. From birth to 8 weeks old your puppy will grow faster than at any other point during his or her life.
Puppy growth spurts are short periods where they grow more rapidly for a while, than they did before. These may occur at any time during the first year or so.
In general, it’s a good thing to avoid overly rapid growth so don’t go overboard with extra feeding even if you think your puppy is growing faster at the moment. And do consult your vet if you think your puppy is putting on weight too quickly.
When Do They Stop Growing?
How old are dogs when they stop growing? It’s a common question. Physical maturity is reached at different ages, depending largely on the size of your dog. Little dogs stop growing much sooner than big dogs. So the answer to the question at what age do dogs stop growing, varies from dog to dog.
Puppy Growth Chart
The puppy growth chart below will give you an idea of what I mean. The squares that are left blank indicate that the dog has stopped growing by that point. At what age are dogs full grown? Check out the way that breed size has an influence.
Have you ever had a visitor look at your puppy’s giant paws and give you a knowing smile “He’s going to be a BIG dog” they say wisely. “You can tell by the size of his paws”. But is it really true? Is there any sure fire way of knowing how big a puppy will get – any signs that he is going to be a ‘monster’ of a dog!
Of course we need to take breed into account, but there are wide variations in size within a breed, and if you have a mix or a cross bred dog you may be hoping for a clue. Unfortunately there are no really reliable methods for how to tell how big a dog will get, apart from looking at where your puppy lies on general growth curve. Even paw size is not a great indicator.
Do big paws mean a big dog?
Many average size puppies go through a stage where their paws, or their ears seem too big for the rest of them. If your puppy is consistently large for his age, as each month passes, he may well turn out to be a larger than average adult. But that’s about as much as we can say. Breed size is not the only factor influencing growth. Gender has a role to play too.
Male Vs Female Development
Our graphs and charts show an average dog. Male dogs are usually a little heavier and larger than female dogs of the same age and breed. So females may be lighter than our chart suggests, and males may be heavier. These differences can be quite substantial in adult dogs from the larger breeds, but are less noticeable in smaller breeds and in very young puppies.
Piling on the pounds?
Remember also that some dogs will carry on growing for a little longer than the guidelines above. But if a dog is still piling on the pounds long past the point where other dogs of his size has stopped growing, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as “am I overfeeding my dog” and maybe get him a check up with your vet.
While gender may affect your dog’s final size, there is nothing you can do about it. There are quite a few factors though that can affect how fast your puppy will grow or long your puppy will grow for, which are at least partly within your control. They include:
- General health
If you can see ribs in a young puppy, feel the knobbles on his spin, or see his hips, he is too thin. If he is being fed a balance diet, you can increase his daily ration. Adding in an extra meal, rather than making his existing meals bigger, is always a good idea. If you are not sure what a balanced diet is, check out our feeding section. Very thin puppies should always see a vet, in case there is a physical problem.
Overweight puppies should have their daily ration reduced. Puppies that are getting fat need their food measured accurately, and a small amount deducted from the normal ration for a few days. Don’t forget your puppy is growing, so provided you don’t increase his rations until his weight is under control, he will soon slim down.
We’ve looked at some of the more obvious physical aspects of your puppy’s growth and development, but what is going on behind the scenes? Let’s take a look now at sexual maturity.
Most puppies reach sexual maturity before they are fully grown, especially with larger breeds. So it is quite possible for your puppy to breed while he or she is still very much a puppy. Obviously this is not a good thing.
A female puppy will come into season for the first time, any time in the second half of her first year. Somewhere between six and nine month is common, but it is not unusual for the first heat to appear after the first birthday.
What this means is that your female dog will be able to mate and have puppies at some point after she is six months old. Breeding at such a young age could harm your puppy so you need to make sure this cannot happen.
Many male dogs will also start showing an interest in females in the second half of that first year, and once they are interested, you can assume they can breed. And again, it is your responsibility to make sure this doesn’t happen. There are various ways to achieve birth control in dogs, and we’ll look at this in more detail in our section on neutering.
While a puppy may be sexually mature at 8 or 9 months old, and physically mature a few months later, he will still be a puppy for a while longer. This is because his brain needs to grow up too!
Puppyish behavior, including ‘silliness’ and ‘excitability’ can persist well into the second year, and many dogs are not fully mentally mature before they are two. So the second birthday is a major milestone in this respect, and the point at which you can consider your puppy to be a fully grown up dog.
Be careful not to confuse puppyish behavior with lack of training though. Even quite young puppies can be trained to behave nicely. Let’s have a closer look at puppy development now, on a week-by-week basis.
SECTION 3: PUPPY DEVELOPMENT BY WEEK
Looking at how puppies grow and change week by week is a fascinating way to understand puppy development stages. This is your window into the world of puppy growth and development.
Your puppy spends approximately 9 weeks developing inside his Mom. The mother dog has a womb or uterus, that divides into two long tubes, and the puppies grow in a row along each tube rather like peas in a pod. Just like human babies, the puppies are joined to their mother by a placenta which provides all the nourishment they need for those few weeks.
To begin with, the puppies have plenty of room to move but they grow fast and as the time for birth draws near they are packed in quite tightly. If all goes well, when birth day arrives, the mother dog will welcome each puppy into the world, wash them carefully, eat the placenta and encourage them to start suckling. And with a little help from their human friends, over the next 8 months the tiny pup will change into what looks pretty much like an adult dog.
Your puppy is born fully furred but with his eyes and ears closed so he cannot hear or see. His front feet are strong and he can pull himself towards his mother with them. He can cry if he is uncomfortable and his mother will respond to his cries by moving him towards her and licking him.
The one week old puppy
During the first week your puppy spends most of his time sleeping or suckling. If orphaned he’ll need feeding by hand every two hours! He cannot regulate his own body temperature and needs his mother for heat, or an artificial heat source. If he is going to be docked, this procedure will take place in the first two to three days. In the first week to ten days of his life your puppy grows rapidly and will double his birth weight.
2 week old puppies
Puppies grow in independence gradually. During this week, your puppy’s eyes will start to open. He probably can’t see very much yet. His forelegs are getting much stronger. He’ll continue to grow rapidly, adding 5-10% of his body weight.
The puppies’ mother is constantly attentive, only leaving her babies to eat or for toilet purposes. She licks the puppies bottoms to stimulate a bowel or bladder movement and eats the result. There is no cleaning up for the breeder to do yet. The breeder will begin to handle the puppies more though, and get them used to human contact. She will worm the puppies for the first time at the end of this week.
3 week old puppy
During this week a lot happens. Puppies begin to get their personalities. Your puppy can stand and sit up by the end of the week. Tails can be wagged, ears will be completely open and puppies start play growling and interacting with their littermates.
Your puppy can regulate his body temperature more effectively and will start to cut his first teeth in preparation for weaning. The front teeth, canines and incisors are cut first. Toward the end of the week he may have his first tiny taste of puppy food.
4 week old puppy
In the 4th of these puppy development stages, puppies become really active and strong on their legs, and play actively with one another. They also start to move away from the sleeping area to empty their bowels and bladder. They may try to climb out of the whelping box.
The puppies’ mother will start to spend more time relaxing away from the puppies. She will gradually stop cleaning up after the pups, that is now the breeder’s problem! If she lives indoors, she may rejoin the family for more of each day.
Your puppy will cut his back teeth and the breeder will get weaning underway this week and by the end of it, your puppy will be getting quite a bit of his nourishment from puppy food. She will also worm the puppies a second time. If the mother is allowed near the puppies after she has been fed, she may regurgitate her dinner for them. This is completely natural and normal.
5 week old puppy
Your puppy can now really run and play. He is a proper little dog. Rolling around with his brothers and sisters and playing with toys. Teething toys, puppy Kongs, balls and rope toys are big favorites with puppies. He can bark too and some puppies can be quite noisy at this age! He chases after his mother whenever she appears and suckles hungrily, but she is starting to get fed up with it, and may be reluctant to feed her brood for very long.
His mother is teaching him not to bite too hard. And his breeder is introducing him to lots of new experiences so that he won’t be afraid of them later. If he lives in outdoor kennels he should spend part of each day indoors with the family.
6 week old puppy
Puppies require different feeding frequencies at different puppy development stages. By the end of the sixth week, most are fully weaned, and eating five or six little meals of puppy food each day. Your puppy may still suckle from his mother, but he doesn’t need to. From now on, a small breed puppy may gain around 5 ounces a week in weight, whereas a large breed puppy puts on a massive 21/2lbs.
7 week old puppy
Some puppies go to their new homes towards the end of this week – many puppies show the beginnings of fearfulness at this point and will startle or jump at strange sounds an sights. Socialization must begin in earnest. Your puppy’s mother continues to teach him bite inhibition when she visits him to play.
8 week old puppy
This is normally the week when your puppy leaves his first home and joins his forever family. He is now two months old and ready for his new life. From now on, we’ll be looking at your puppy’s development month by month, from three to eight months
3 month old puppy
From eight to twelve weeks is a very important period for puppies. It is the time during which they become fearful of anything unfamiliar and need to be thoroughly socialized.
This is also the time during which most puppies get to grips with house-training, learning to wait before eliminating and start sleeping through the night without a potty break.
It is a busy time for new puppy owners. Your puppy will have his vaccinations during this month.
Biting can be a big problem during this stage and you need to be patient and consistent in order to teach the puppy not to hurt people when he plays.
Provided you use force free methods, this is a great time to get puppy training under way, and especially to teach a puppy recall, and to get your puppy used to working with food.
You’ll be feeding him four times a day, and/or using much of his food in training
Handle your puppy all over, every day. If he is a long coated breed he will need regular grooming and although he won’t have much coat yet, now is the time to begin.
4 month old puppy
Most puppies can drop down to three meals a day at twelve weeks old. This means slightly larger meals, so watch your puppy doesn’t get an upset tummy.
And at twelve weeks, if you take a small breed puppy’s weight in pounds, divide it by his age in weeks, and then multiply by the number of weeks in the year, you will have a rough idea what your puppy’s final weight as an adult will be.
So, for a 2.5lb puppy at twelve weeks the formula will be (2.5/12) X 52
Calculate the bit inside the brackets first. You can do the same calculation for medium pups at sixteen weeks and large breed pups at 20 weeks – just divide his weight by his age in weeks before you multiply by 52.
From twelve to sixteen weeks puppies start to lose that very young puppy ‘look’ and more closely resemble a miniature version of their adult selves. Medium to large pups will reach about half their adult height by the end of the month.
Puppies under four months don’t need formal walks, just lots of opportunity to play and run around in your garden or yard.
5 month old puppy
Your puppy will start losing his baby teeth from around four months of age. He’ll probably have a more adult coat by the end of this month.
He may still be chewing a lot and biting too. Use frozen Kongs to help him and give your furniture and fingers a break.
Puppies can go for short walks now. By the end of this month your puppy could have a twenty minute walk each day.
He may also enjoy fetching a ball and playing with other dogs, but take care to stop before he gets very tired.
And don’t walk brachycephalic puppies very far, or in warm weather.
This is the month during which some puppies start to become less dependent on their humans for security.
Keep your puppy close to you outdoors by changing direction frequently so that you puppy has to keep coming to find you. And engaging him in games.
Reward your puppy generously for ‘checking in’ with you on walks. The foundations of a great recall are often build or spoilt during this month.
If your puppy knows how to sit or lie down at home, start some simple proofing exercises with him in public places. And start teaching him to ‘stay’ for short periods of time
6 month old puppy
This is one of the most significant puppy development stages as it signals the end of your puppy’s babyhood and for some pups, the beginnings of sexual maturity.
A healthy puppy can usually manage on two meals a day from around six months. During this month a Retriever, Spaniel or GSD puppy will reach around two thirds of his adult weight.
A Great Dane and other large breeds will have reached about half their final weight and little dogs will have almost completed their growth.
Some female dogs will come on heat for the first time during this month, or the next, so keep an eye open now for swelling of her vulva and any discharge.
Your dog will become increasingly confident over the next few months so practice, practice and practice that recall! Make it a habit he cannot break. And be generous with your rewards.
7 month old puppy
By the end of this month, your puppy will have all 42 of his adult teeth and be looking quite grown up. Small breed pups may now be more or less mature.
Your puppy will enjoy half hour off lead walks now, and should be able to walk on a loose lead for short periods with plenty of encouragement and rewards.
Keep practicing that recall! Teach your dog to recall away from all kinds of interesting things such as ‘other people’, other dogs, frisbees, etc.
8 month old puppy
Unless you have had your puppy neutered he now has plenty of sex hormones zooming around his system. These help to slow his growth further and to build his confidence.
Make sure you practice good outdoor management on walks to maintain the good recall you have built and work hard on thoroughly proofing all his obedience skills.
9 month old puppy and beyond
Many female dogs will be neutered once they have completed their first season. Read our information on neutering before you take this important step, for dogs of either sex.
Once your dog is a year old he can participate in more strenuous activities and sports.
Now is the time to think about the kinds of activities you would like to do with him – go jogging together for example – and if necessary, to start to get him fit.