The neonatal or newborn stage of your puppy's life encompasses the period from birth to 1 month old. During much of this period, your puppy is entirely dependent on his mother, whose temperament and maternal skills greatly influence the type of dog he will become. Puppies experience rapid physical, mental, psychological and social development during the first month. In the first few months of life, physiological, sensual and psychological growth may occur at different times for individual puppies.
Your puppy is born blind, deaf and toothless, but her senses of smell, touch and taste are present at birth. The first weeks are critical to her development, although her reflexes are slow and she cannot do much more than wriggle around and search for her mother. All your puppy's nutrition comes from nursing from birth to 2 weeks old. Puppies are completely dependent on their mothers, not only for food, but also for cleanliness and, according to Cesar's Ways Puppy Tips, "they cannot regulate their own body temperature, and they require special stimulation to remove waste products. They can, however, cry, and the suck reflex is already strong."
During the first 2 weeks, your puppy’s basic needs are food, sleep and warmth, while she depends on her mother for feeding and care. The majority of growth takes place while she sleeps, so uninterrupted sleep is critical. Doctors Foster and Smith say, "Puppies normally twitch and jerk while sleeping. This helps with the development of their nerves and muscles." Puppies open their eyes during week 2, but their new sense of sight is limited. Their eyes are also very sensitive, so protect them from bright lights. During this "toddler" stage, puppies become more alert. At the end of week 2, puppies are standing; some are almost ready to walk and others are taking tentative steps. With their new mobility, puppies begin to explore their surroundings. Your puppy now recognises and interacts with things in his environment, including his mother and littermates.
By week 3, puppies move around more and become adventurous. They are walking, though their gait is still wobbly. Their ears are open and baby teeth erupt by the end week 3. Feeding is still done by their mother, but if you place some wet food on your hand, a 3-week-old puppy will eat it. At this stage your puppy's body is better at regulating temperature, yet she still depends mostly on her mother for this, and extreme temperature changes can harm her delicate system. Your puppy's instinct to relieve herself "away from the den will kick in, and it should no longer require any external stimulation to urinate or move its bowels,” explains Cesar Milan in his Puppy Tips. Puppies begin to play with both toys and their siblings at 3 weeks old, when the social period in your puppy’s life really begins, and he ventures away from the "nest" to investigate nearby surroundings. At this time, people in your household may begin gently handling your puppy. These positive interactions will help him form trusting relationships with humans.
Puppies see and hear clearly by 4 weeks old, and they can walk well and run clumsily. During week 4, puppies can begin eating puppy food, but will still nurse for 2 more weeks. The mother starts teaching her puppies basic manners, and, according to the Peninsula SPCA, puppies learn to be submissive to her "leadership and what behaviours are acceptable. If necessary, she growls, snarls or snaps at them as a form of discipline." This is when she begins the weaning process by insisting her puppies give her an occasional break. Puppies interact with their siblings, chase, bite, bark and wag their tails. "They will play-fight with each other and learn how to inhibit their bites. If a puppy bites a littermate too hard, the littermate will yelp and stop playing," according to Doctors Foster and Smith's Pet Education website.
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