When Is a Puppy Not a Puppy?

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When does your dog reach maturity? This is a question with no definitive answer. To give an exact age that covers all dogs is impossible as this will very much vary from dog to dog and breed to breed (and you know how some breeds can be unusual). To reach a conclusion, a review of the developmental stages of your puppy’s life from birth to Social maturity need to be considered.

The early dog growth stages are finite periods where exposure to novel experiences, different environments and social interaction play a major part, with the later stages varying in length dependent on breed size and individual dog.

This article is based on scientific research over many years and some of the periods covered are defined in different ways and different time periods, dependent on author.

Dog's developmental stages by age

Prenatal - In utero

Neonatal (Newborn) - Birth to 12 days

Transitional - 12 days to 3 weeks

Socialization - 3 weeks to < 16 weeks

Juvenile - 12 weeks to sexual maturity

Adolescent - Sexual to social maturity (teenage stage)

Adult - Social maturity to 7 years

Senior - 7+ years


During the period in the womb, fetal development is affected by several factors. These are related to the mother’s experiences whilst pregnant. Nutrition of the mother plays a big factor as does her emotional state. Heightened stress and fearful experiences can create emotionally unstable puppies.

Hormones have a part to play too. Testosterone is responsible for masculinizing the male brain at this time. For female puppy, the position in the womb and where they are in relation to male puppies will increase their exposure to testosterone, causing them to take on some male-like tendencies such as leg lifting in adulthood.

Neonatal (Newborn) - birth to 12 days

During this dog maturity period after birth, puppies are blind and deaf with early stimuli coming from temperature, pressure, taste & smell. They are completely reliant on their mothers during this time including stimulating urination and defecation. External influences can affect future behavior and positive stimulation has proven to be effective and an important part their adult emotional reactivity and problem solving.

Transitional - 12 days to 3 weeks

Puppies start to become more active, their eyes (10-14 days) and ears (14-18 days) open and they can start to walk as early as 12 days old. They start to urinate and defecate independently. This is a critical dog maturity period; what they learn from their mother and siblings will stay with them for life. This is the period to begin exposure to novel objects and other stimuli.

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