Your Puppy: What to Expect at 8 to 12 Weeks

Puppy playing fetch

Two waggly ears, four furry paws, one cute little tail — yep, she’s definitely a puppy. Whether you choose a wiry Weimaraner or a perky Poodle, you’re about to witness playful abandon as you experience the world through a puppy’s enthusiastic eyes.

Physical and Mental Development

Welcome to kindergarten! From 8 to 12 weeks of age, your puppy is in the “I’m afraid of everything” stage. This period is characterized by rapid learning but also by fearfulness. Your puppy may appear terrified of things that she used to take in stride. This is a good time to avoid loud voices and traumatic events.

For the next several weeks your puppy’s brain will continue to develop rapidly. You want to create a calm environment and minimize her stress. So don’t yell at her, even if she mistakes your Prada pumps for a chew toy.

She should already have learned about where to go potty, but be prepared to offer plenty of pit stops for your precious pooch. Even though she has much better control than when she was younger, plan to offer several potty breaks a day. If possible, try to keep a regular schedule for toilet breaks, so your puppy learns when she will get to go — before breakfast, after breakfast, midday, right before bed, etc. If you are lucky, your puppy may be able to make it through the night during this stage.

For puppies, catnaps have gone to the dogs, because young dogs need 18 to 20 hours of sleep per day to rest their developing brains.

Behavior Changes

Your puppy already knows how to do all of the important stuff: eat, drink, poop, sleep and, of course, play. This time is definitely defined by play. To keep her and your house safe, practice a little puppy proofing. You will want to get in the habit of keeping windows and doors closed to prevent escapes. Hide or remove power cords that your curious pup may mistake for chew toys. And properly store common toxins, including antifreeze, insecticides, household cleaners, prescription drugs, fertilizer and rat poison.

This is no time for your puppy to be without supervision. You must be prepared to watch her whenever she is out of a “safe area” such as a crate or playpen.

If your little one acts out, a gentle correction is the best approach. Punishment is ineffective and endangers your bond with your puppy. Keep your puppy on a short leash and try gently tugging her away when she jumps on Aunt Ruth or nibbles on a leg of the dining room table. If she gets mouthy — nibbling on you or others — she may be trying to send you a message: She’s hungry, thirsty, bored, or needs a potty break.

At 8 weeks you can already tell a lot about your puppy’s personality if you know what to look for. For example, by watching puppies interact with their littermates and people, you’ll probably be able to identify the bossy bullies, the timid tigers and the eager beavers.

It's best to wait to adopt a puppy until they're over 8 weeks old. Puppies younger than that still have a lot to learn from their mothers. Think of those first weeks as puppy boot camp that includes critical socialization skills, including lessons on respect, bite inhibition, and elimination routines.

Health and Nutrition

Dogs come in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes, weighing as little as two pounds or more than 100 pounds. Depending on their breed, they will have different diet, exercise and grooming needs. For example, some dogs shed constantly or need daily brushing and trimming to stay healthy and comfortable. Some require more exercise and lots of space to be happy. You should carefully research breeds before choosing the one that best fits your lifestyle.

When you adopt your furry friend, she may have already received her first series of vaccinations. Be sure to ask to get documentation of all of her veterinary care. Your veterinarian should be the first stop with your new pet. The doctor will examine your new puppy to assess her health, offer recommendations about her diet, grooming and care, and update her vaccinations.

Depending on your veterinarian’s recommendations, your pet may receive a series of vaccinations over the next few months. Your individual pet's immunization schedule will depend on your location and lifestyle, as determined by your veterinarian.

Regular mealtimes are just what the doctor ordered for these little bundles with high metabolisms. So serve it up three to four times a day for little ones 10 weeks and younger. As she grows older, you can gradually change to just a morning and evening meal if your schedule dictates, but it's also perfectly fine to continue offering three to four small meals daily, even for an adult dog. Just measure portions to reduce the likelihood of overfeeding. Remember to choose a high-quality commercial puppy food formulated for your puppy’s size and age. Your veterinarian is a great source of information about which diets are best for a growing puppy.

Training Tips

It is important to start offering your whirling dynamo a few lessons that will make her life with you easier. For example, you may start leash training and work on basic commands, like sit and stay. You’ll also want to handle your pooch as often as possible. Be sure to handle your puppy’s feet, nails, mouth and ears. Your loving touch teaches her important lessons — that you’re her friend and her master — and it prepares her for the important handling your veterinarian needs to do when she examines your puppy. This interaction will also make her easier to groom — which can be critical if you’ve chosen a breed with a beauty parlor coat that requires daily brushing.

Now is a good time to teach your puppy her name. To help her learn her name more quickly, use food rewards. This way she will associate positive feelings when you call for her.

And while your puppy isn’t ready for public yet, it is a fine time to invite company over. Socializing with other people and pets (healthy and up-to-date on vaccines, of course) will help make her a friendlier, better mannered companion.

All too soon, your cuddly little puppy will blossom into a canine perpetual motion machine. So enjoy these first few weeks with your new friend and practice patience. She has a lot to learn, and you’re just the person to teach her the loving lessons to prepare her for life with you.

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