When will he stop chewing my slippers?
What age should training begin?
How do I know when to change his diet?
How much exercise should he be getting now he’s older…
… the life of a doggie parent is full of questions. Because, just like raising a little human, dogs go through a range of life stages, each one with its own set of needs.
So knowing each stage – roughly how long it’ll last and any unique requirements – will help you manage it like a pro and ensure your fur baby lives his best life.
And here are a few guidelines…
There are four key stages in your dog’s life.
The breed of your dog will play a big factor in determining the length of time for each stage. But in general, smaller dogs tend to mature faster and live longer than larger breeds.
Large breeds tend to mature later but experience a shorter adulthood and senior age period.
For a more tangible idea, here are a few ballpark figures:
• Puppyhood: birth to between 6-18 months
• Adolescent: starts from 6-18 months old
• Adulthood: starts from 12 months to 3 years old
• Senior age: starts from 6 years to 10 years old
And each life stage requires its own set of care needs.
PUPPYHOOD (or as it’s referred to in my house – the ‘waaaaaaay too cute’ stage!)
Ideally a puppy will stay with his mum for the first 8 weeks of his life. It can vary, but this age tends to coincide with when they can move from milk to solids.
From this 8 week marker, owners should focus on socialisation, regular feeding, house training, and getting vaccinations in order.
In these early days, once weaned, a puppy will need to be fed regularly with a high calorie/fat intake to help them grow up strong and healthy.
The diet you choose should be well researched, considered, and discussed with a canine nutritionist or vet beforehand, as they are many to choose from, all with their pros and cons.
When it comes to feeding times, initially you can feed him 4 times per day, reducing this to 3 times per day once he hits the 3 month mark, and down to twice a day at the 6 month marker.
Introduce house training as soon as your puppy is weaned to bring some structure to his world, and to help minimise destruction of your possessions and indoor accidents!
It’s important to keep your pup indoors for the first 4-6 months as he’ll still be vulnerable to dog diseases. So ‘exercise’ will need to remain home-based initially,
Speak with your vet for professional guidance on when he can start venturing outside.
Pups have surprisingly sharp teeth and they’ll want to chew on everything. And it’s good for them to chew at this age, as they need to strengthen their teeth.
Understandably, however, you’ll want to minimise damage to your belongings, so consider chew toys – they can be a fab distraction from your slippers!
Gum disease can start as early as 4 years old in some dogs. So it’s worth starting a dental hygiene habit whilst he’s young for it to become a natural part of his regular grooming, and not something to be afraid of or that’s a struggle for you both if started later in life.
I can’t stress how important canine enrichment is. Not only does it stimulate their brain, it helps their body and mind stay healthy into senior age, which can help reduce the potential of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) developing – the doggie equivalent of human Alzheimer’s.
There are literally hundreds of enrichment ideas you could try including puzzle mats, food dispensing toys, sensory games… all the way up to garden assault courses.
And they don’t have to be pricey. Yes there are plenty you could buy in a pet store, but equally, homemade ones are just as effective if you have the time to put into their creation. Just remember their purpose – to provide mental and physical stimulation.
ADOLESCENCE (a.k.a the exploration and defiant stage!)
You’ll know when your pooch hits this part of his life cycle. He’ll become much more inquisitive, wanting to explore everything, whilst having exceptional selective hearing. Not sure what I mean? Oh you will… try calling him out of a stream or bush when you’re ready to head home, not a chance. But when you’re prepping dinner, he’s there like a shot!
During this time he’ll start growing into his full size body but probably be a bit gangly as he gets used to his longer limbs. He’ll also lose his soft cottony coat, and become sexually mature.
Energy flourishes at this stage of his life. So plenty of exercise, training and enrichment time will benefit you both.
Adolescent dogs still need bone-growing nutrients like calcium and phosphorous, as well as omega 3 fatty acids for brain development. But because their growth rate will have slowed from puppyhood, they’ll need fewer calories. Just remember to adjust recommendations to match your dog and his energy levels. For example, if your dog isn’t particularly active, he’ll need less food than one who’s constantly on the go.
Your adolescent dog will have plenty of energy to burn, so be sure to exercise him regularly. But, be careful where and how he exercises.
His joints and bones will still be developing, so overdoing exercise or allowing them to run and jump on super hard surfaces like concrete could cause long-term damage.
Walking is good. Stop/start impact games like fetch not so much.
Socialisation and obedience training should start at this age, but be prepared for repetition! Your adolescent dog will have a very short attention span and, as mentioned earlier, selective hearing. So keep your sessions short and fun.
The train/reward strategy is a proven one, so use it to ease frustrations on both sides.
Your adolescent won’t have grown out of his chewing phase, but hopefully he’ll know by now what’s chewable and what’s off-limits.
Continue stimulating your dog with enrichment activities.
ADULTHOOD (when he’s settled into himself and family life)
Now fully grown and comfortable in his body, an adult dog will tend to be a lot calmer. He’ll still get excited over certain things, but be a little more selective in his exuberant displays.
Owners also often say that it’s only really when their dog hits adulthood that they feel that lovely strong bond has fully formed between them.
Feeding should be twice a day and reflect his breed and activity levels.
Be sure that he’s getting the right combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. And if he’s slowed down a little, it’s important to adjust his diet accordingly. Too much food will make him overweight which can have terrible health side-effects, not to mention a poorer quality of life.
Plenty of walks and outdoor activity is important for any adult dog to live a long and healthy life. Don’t neglect it.
You don’t need to continue training at adulthood, but it can a fun activity for him to do as it’ll stimulate him mentally and physically.
Agility training or further obedience style classes are highly beneficial and another way for you to spending quality time together, strengthening your bond.
Enrichment activities become even more important now to help reduce the potential of CDD developing.
I’ve said it before and I’m sure to say it again, games are massively beneficial for dogs. Ones where they have to use their brain help nourish a dog fully, which in turn ensures better sleep and cell rejuvenation to stay healthy for as long as possible.
SENIOR AGE (the winding down years)
Your senior pooch will have slowed down, his muzzle will probably have turned a bit grey, and he’ll be less interested in games like fetch, although he’ll have the odd burst of energy that’ll remind you of the pup he once was.
Health issues may start arising, particularly with his sight and hearing. But he remains a loving, loyal companion who’ll love sitting by your feet, or snuggling into you on the sofa any time you’re in relaxation mode.
Your senior pooch doesn’t need the same calorie intake as when he was younger. So think less fat and carbs, but more fibre to help with digestion.
He should certainly continue getting out for daily walks at this age, but just be more selective on the type of walk (terrain and length) as well as the weather – older dogs aren’t as good at handling extreme temperatures so overheating can be a problem.
Extra consideration should be given to comfort.
Items like an orthopaedic dog bed would help support his joints and limbs better, and a dog ramp for getting in and out of the car or up and down steps/stairs.
You may think you should wind down the enrichment activities now and let him ‘retire’, but in fact it remains beneficial for him to continue these stimulating games as it can help minimise illness potential, both mental and physical.
And there you have it. The life stages of your dog and many of the key considerations through each one.
Taking good care of your pup, adolescent, adult and senior dog is the responsibility of you, their dog parent. Do it right and I promise you’ll be rewarded with a joyous life full of doggy affection.