Puppies are irresistible, especially when they are very young. Who can resist sweet puppy kisses from a cute little ball of fur?
While your heart might yearn for a baby puppy, your head should prevail when it comes to adding a young dog to your family. The puppy’s age should be a factor in your decision.
Puppy Growth Stages
Just like with human children, puppies go through a number of developmental stages as they grow. While some breeds mature more slowly in a physical sense, it’s safe to generalize when it comes to a puppy’s mental development, regardless of breed.
Here’s a general overview of a puppy’s growth phases:
Birth to 7 weeks
The first 7 weeks of life are crucial for a puppy. This is when he learns to get along with other dogs, with the help of his mother and littermates. During this stage, puppies learn to inhibit their bite — important if he’s going to get along with dogs and people in the future. The pup’s mother and siblings will let him know in no uncertain terms that a hard bite is not OK. He will learn to play, to share and to be handled by humans.
8 to 16 weeks
The next phase of the puppy’s life is the time when he learns to bond with people. Most puppies join a human family during this stage, and learn how to interact with people, as well as the rules of the house. Puppies are very trainable at this age. They are also very impressionable, especially during the 8 to 10 week period, when they go through a fear stage. A bad experience during this stage can affect a puppy for the rest of his life.
17 weeks to 8 months
During this stage, puppies learn to assert themselves. They begin to show independence and may not listen well. It’s vital to teach obedience commands to your puppy during this period so that he will see you as the leader and grow up to be a well-behaved dog. Puppies also have a strong need to chew during this stage: They need access to safe chew toys so they don’t do damage inside the house.
9 to 16 months
Puppies may look like adults at this stage, but they are still considered puppies. They need consistent training and plenty of positive socialization to learn to feel comfortable in the world.
When To Buy Or Adopt A Puppy
When thinking about the best age to bring home a puppy, consider your circumstances as well as the puppy’s developmental stage. While most pups go to new homes at around 8 weeks of age, a puppy is adoptable at any age over 7 weeks, as long as he’s healthy.
“A puppy should not be weaned until 5 to 7 weeks, depending on size,” says Beckie Williams, DVM, a veterinarian at Yorba Regional Animal Hospital in Anaheim, California, and a breeder of Pembroke Welsh Corgis. “A puppy should not go to a new home until it has been dewormed twice: once at 4 weeks and once at 7 weeks. The pup should also have had one vaccine, and be on solid food and be eating well.”
Puppy Socialization And Personality Development
According to Williams, pups develop a lot of their personality during the 4 to 7 week period, so when considering a pup for purchase or adoption, think about how that pup has been raised.
“The puppies I breed gain a lot of socialization during the 7 to 12 week time frame,” she says. “They have interactions with adult dogs, interactive toys and toys that make them think, and human attention. They get started on learning to go potty outside, get combed and their nails done, even their first bath. They get encouraged to play well with others and share.”
Bringing A Puppy Home
For families who are inexperienced at raising a puppy, or are gone most of the day, the 10 to 12 week age is the best time for a puppy to go to a new home, according to Williams.
“If someone is home all day, the puppy may be able to go home with them sooner,” she says.
On the other hand, puppies from a rescue situation may need to go to a permanent home as soon as possible, depending on the circumstances.
“Rescue pups that are not in the best situation or are orphaned may not be in a place where they can get experienced human and animal interaction, so adopting sooner rather than later is probably better for them,” Williams says.
Young Puppy Or Older Puppy?
Although bringing a pup home between the ages of 10 to 12 weeks is ideal, older puppies should not be discounted. Depending on how the dog was raised, you may have to deal with some behavioral issues, such as lack of housebreaking or no obedience training. On the other hand, you may find that you’ve skipped the chewing stage, and have a dog who is more mature, with a longer attention span. You may even end up with an older pup who has already been well trained and socialized.
Bringing home a puppy is a commitment, whether that dog has just left his mother or is growing close to adulthood. No matter what age, every puppy needs socialization and consistent training to help grow up to the best dog he can be.