There are few things more adorable than puppies. They’re soft, cuddly little bundles of energy playing happily one minute and then tucked into the deepest of sleep the next. But puppyhood is short lived, and while it presents its challenges along with fun and frivolity, the many years that follow can be the rich reward of raising a loyal, loving, well-behaved pet. Knowing what to expect as your dog matures and ages will help you understand her behaviors and needs. Your pet will progress through a few different stages as she grows older. How you meet the demands of those changes will effect the well being of your dog as well as your happiness as their caregiver.
Different breeds of dogs mature and age at varying rates, but regardless of their breed, changes in behavior as they pass through puppyhood into adolescence and adulthood can be consistently expected. Broadly, you will probably experience shifts in behavior during each of the following life changes:
- Reproductive maturity occurs at about 6 months.
- Adolescence begins at about 6 months and can last to the age of 18 months.
- Adulthood can begin as early as 12 months and lasts to 10 years or older.
- Golden Years may begin as early as 9 years and can continue to about 15 years.
Easing both you and your pup successfully through the inevitable changes that will occur depends largely on the foundation that is laid from the first day she arrives in your home. Training, socialization, and relationship building should begin immediately. You should have the necessary equipment and supplies ready and waiting for your new companion, including specially formulated puppy food (it is best to continue using the same food she ate at her previous home and gradually switch to the food you have chosen), food and water bowls, a few toys and a crate. Plan on spending tons of time with your puppy during these crucial months. Socialization is critical to the development of a confident, obedient, good-natured dog. Expose her to a wide variety of sights and sounds within the home. Each family member should handle, play with, and begin the process of training her often throughout the day. Invite and encourage guests to interact with your playful little pal as well. Exposure to many different people and situations will give her confidence and, with your guidance, she will learn acceptable behaviors.
Even though he’s rambunctious at this young stage, he can be properly trained. Providing a crate will make house training infinitely easier for both you and your pet. It will also give him a quiet place of his own, which he instinctively needs, as well as a safe place to stay when no one can keep an eye on him. When he is very small, divide the crate so that it’s not too roomy. Eventually the crate should be big enough for him to move around in, but small enough that it’s cozy.
What Happened To My Adorable Puppy?
Depending on the breed of your dog, reproductive maturity will occur at about six months of age. Having them spayed or neutered as soon as your vet recommends it is safe will dramatically reduce many of the undesirable behaviors that accompany this change. But “fixing” your dog will not keep it from experiencing adolescence. When your pet becomes a “teenager”, manifested behaviors are not unlike their human pimpley-faced counterparts. They seem to have forgotten the rules and appear bent on testing the limits of your patience. Your darling, obedient puppy may become destructive, loud and hyperactive. It may seem to have lost some of its earlier confidence, acting skittery and fearful of things that didn’t frighten it before. Understanding that adolescence is a natural progression for dogs will help you cope, but it is essential that you continue to be vigilant with continued socialization and training. It may be tempting to excuse bad behavior because your pup is going through a phase. The consequence of such an attitude will most likely be an adult dog with some very bad habits. Take a pro-active approach to your puppy’s teenagerhood. Provide plenty of opportunities for active play and exercise, at least twice a day. Require calm, obedient behavior and reward compliance with appropriate treats. An outside kennel for short periods of time during the day, will also give your pet “down time” while still being safely outside. Your firm training and patience will ensure that your puppy’s adolescence is, in fact, just a phase.
Adulthood is recognized when your dog has reached his full size and weight. He has also reached a certain maturity. If he has been well trained and properly socialized, he is more calm, confident, and naturally obedient. He is a loyal companion to every member of the family and you can now enjoy the fruits of your labors. Your job now is to keep him safe and healthy. Continue active play and walks to help him maintain proper weight and for ongoing socialization. Quality food formulated for the needs of adults is now best. And if you haven’t begun an oral health routine, now is the time to start taking care of your pet’s teeth.
The Golden Years
As your dog ages, you will begin to notice subtle changes in her behavior. She may sleep more than she used to and is less enthusiastic about going out to play or walk. She appears stiff in the morning and no longer flops anywhere for a rest, but seeks out a soft, quiet spot.
Food may no longer hold its former appeal. And among other things, her skin and coat may become dry. This phase of your dog’s life will come as less of a surprise. In fact, it will begin so gradually you may wonder, “When did she get old?” There is plenty you can do to help your pal age gracefully. Periodically check in with your vet to be sure she is in good general health. As she slows down, she may also put on extra weight. Maintain a healthy weight by making sure she gets daily exercise and the right food for her age and weight. Be generally aware that her needs are changing and find ways to accommodate them without disturbing the usual pace of your home. Your dogs golden years can be sweet and rewarding. Chances are, you have been through a lot together. Give her the patience and care she deserves and she will likely return the favor.