Pup Health 101: What You Need to Know About Puppies During the first 12 weeks

October 27, 2022by petpal0

Having a new puppy and watching them grow is one of the most exciting things in the world. Seeing them evolve from small, sleepy furballs with closed eyes to playful and curious young dogs can be interesting and magical.

If you have a new puppy or are expecting to see a litter from your pregnant dog soon, congratulations! You may be wondering how quickly they’ll grow and what their development will be like from their first day to when they’re relatively independent.

Your puppy (or puppies) will experience rapid changes in their first 12 weeks, so it’s always best to know what to expect and how to meet their needs as they grow. With this, let’s dive into the details of puppy development and the changes you’ll see along the way!

Birth to Two Weeks: The Neonatal Period
Litter of cute doggos
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From birth to three weeks, puppies can’t do much, but it’s fun to see them grow! They’ll develop a lot during this period, but they require extra care.

Puppies at Their Most Vulnerable

As you might have expected, newborn puppies are vulnerable and completely dependent on their mothers. They’re born with closed eyes and ears, so they rely on their senses of smell, taste, and touch to move around and feed on their mommy’s milk. They can’t walk yet, but they can crawl and wiggle around!

Newborn puppies spend around 90% of their time asleep, as they’ll spend most of their energy feeding and growing. Their weight will generally double during the first ten days. If any puppy isn’t growing as fast as the others or is showing subtle signs of illness, it’s best to call a vet right away.

Although newborn puppies are already covered with soft fur, they still can’t regulate their body temperatures and rely on their moms for warmth. It’s crucial for them to stay warm because they can’t digest milk properly if they’re cold. So, they should stay close to their mothers most of the time. You may also want to keep a soft cloth or blanket on the floor of their nesting box to help keep them toasty and cozy.

For their first two weeks, newborn puppies also must be physically stimulated to urinate and defecate. Their mothers do this with their tongues, but if you have an orphaned pup, you can use a warm, damp cotton ball to rub the area between its hind legs.

Puppies are vulnerable to parasitic worms, so it’s best to start deworming treatments at two weeks and continue them at 4, 6, 8, and 12 weeks. Afterward, deworming should be done every three months.

Awakening the Senses

During their second week after birth, around days 10–16, your puppies’ eyes and ears should begin to open. However, their vision isn’t that great yet—their eyes will take some time to develop fully. They’ll also make their first attempts to walk, bark, and wag their little tails; how cute!

Because they’re now starting to interact with their environment, you can begin handling them gently. At three weeks, they’re ready to explore and learn to socialize with their littermates and humans.

Three to Eight Weeks: The Socialization Period
Doggos curious about treats
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This period is critical to your puppy’s social development. As they begin to probe around with their newly developed senses, they start to form their personalities and learn a lot about the world.

Socializing and Learning the Ropes

Your puppies will become more curious at three to four weeks of age, and they’ll be able to urinate and defecate on their own. Their little brains will learn new things at this age, and it’s high time for them to socialize.

Socializing your puppies with humans and other pups is crucial for raising a well-rounded dog. That’s why it’s vital for them to stay with their mom and littermates for several more weeks. You can handle your pups gently and introduce them to other family members, as this will help them get used to your touch and smell. However, they must remain with their mother most of the time. 

Being around their mother and siblings during this period will help them learn critical skills like communication, knowing when to stop biting, and how to behave around others. If you separate them too soon from their mom and littermates, they’re more likely to bite or bark and will generally be more anxious as they grow.

Teething and Weaning

Puppies’ “milk teeth” begin to show around their third week. Around 3 ½ to 4 ½ weeks, they can start weaning (suckling less from the mom) and eating soft, solid food. Weaning is important because their sharp little teeth can start to hurt the mother.

You can introduce solid food to your puppies by mashing puppy kibble in milk. The mixture should be primarily liquid at first; then, you can gradually increase the solids as they grow bigger and more capable of digesting solid food. 

Puppies’ milk teeth are generally fully erupted at around six weeks. Most of them should be fully weaned at this stage.

To the Vet, To the Vet

At around six to eight weeks, you must take your puppy to the vet, where it can get its first vaccines. Doing so can help protect them against numerous viruses, such as the fatal parvovirus and adenovirus.

Reaching Independence

By the puppies’ seventh to ninth weeks, they’re more independent. You can introduce them to even more people and household objects. However, it’s still best to be careful and never put your pups in situations that can scare or harm them.

You can also start crate training your puppy at this age. You may want to get them used to being alone for short periods and avoid separation anxiety. However, it’s best to puppy-proof your house because they’ll bite and chew a lot now!

At around eight weeks, most puppies can transfer to their forever homes.

Nine to Twelve Weeks: The Fearful Period
Cute dog in field
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Although puppies are more independent by this stage, their fear responses are heightened now. They’ll be afraid of things they normally didn’t have problems with. 

Bringing Paw-sitive Experiences and Discipline

Because puppies during this period are more sensitive to stimuli, it’s best to bring positive experiences to them. Encourage independence by letting them play and roam around on their own (while supervising them), but keep them close and out of dangerous situations. 

Negative experiences leave a profound impact on your pup’s impressionable mind, even more so than positive ones. Because of this, you may want to keep them as comfortable as possible as they learn more about the world.

Although they’re more independent now, they still need a lot of attention and socialization. It’s best not to leave them for many hours at a time—if you’re going to work, you can hire a dog sitter to keep them company.

You can also start potty training and teaching simple discipline at this time. While you’re focusing on bringing positive experiences to your puppy, take care not to encourage bad behaviors, such as biting your hand. Redirect their attention to toys instead.

The Takeaway

Puppies grow more quickly than one can imagine. Giving them the care they need during their first weeks of life is vital to raising them into loyal, friendly, well-rounded dogs. Keep this guide in mind as you welcome your new best friend into this world!

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