Puppy Development Milestones

Newborn Shih TzuNewborn Shih Tzu

Just as in human development, puppy development milestones follows a very predictable sequence of steps, although there is no widespread agreement on the exact ages that these milestones occur.  Small dogs grow and develop quickly and often reach maturity before larger breeds. 

Puppy development follows a predicable path yet each puppy is unique and each breed is slightly different at the various stages of development.  The old rule of each year of a dog’s life is equivalent on seven years for human is not completely accurate. For most small dogs, including the Shih Tzu, the average life span is approximately 15 --16 years.  Small dogs mature early and females often have their first heat by the age of 6 or 7 months.  By the age of 12 or 13 months, they are often ready to be bred. 

Three day old Shih Tzu PuppiesThree Day Old Shih Tzu Litter

Many changes take place in the first year of a Shih Tzu Puppy's life. 

Puppies go from a relatively helpless neonate who cannot see or hear or eliminate by himself to a fully grown, agile, sexually mature adult all in less than 12 months. 

When do all of these changes take place?

There are seven recognized stages of puppy development:

Stage One:  0-3 Weeks

Stage Two: 3 to 7 Weeks

Stage Three: 7 to 12 Weeks

Stage Four: 12-17 weeks

Stage Five: 17 to 40 Weeks

Stage Six: 40 to 52 Weeks

Stage Seven: 1 year and older

We will first look at puppy development week by week.

Puppy Development:  One to Two Weeks:  Neonatal Stage

One Week old Puppy:  Smell and Touch are working, but ears and eyes have not opened.One Week old Mal-Shi
  • Touch, Taste, Smell Working, but hearing and sight is not working,
  • Recognizes pain
  • Sleeps and Eats most of the time
  • Cannot regulate their body temperature
  • Cannot eliminate on their own--needs mother to initiate urination and defecation


  • Dependent on mother for food and elimination
  • If canine mother is not available, human interactions must take over providing warmth, food and elimination
  • Dependent on breeder for warm environment
  • First worming at the end of this stage

Puppy Development Milestones:  2-3 Weeks:  Transitional Stage

Two week old Puppy:  Eyes have just openedTwo Weeks
  • Eyes and Ears open allowing the puppy to see and hear things in their environment
  • May be able to eat some solid food by end of this period
  • First major learning period occurs
  • First few steps


  • Still need for warmth
  • Beginning of social interactions with litter mates, mother, and humans

Puppy Development Milestones:  3-4 Weeks

First Meal at Three weeks oldThree Weeks Old
  • Puppies begin to understand that humans are different from dogs
  • First introduction to canine manners from mother dog
  • Some play fighting may occur among litter mates
  • Eats solid foods, but continues to nurse
  • Begins to eliminate on own
  • Becomes more stable on their four paws


  • Introduction to different sounds in the environment, loud noises
  • Introduction to different textures, allowed to walk on different flooring
  • Second worming at end of this period

Puppy Development Milestones:  4-5 Weeks

At 4 weeks, puppy is not holding tail up consistently, but is eating solid food and walkingFour Weeks Old
  • Teeth may begin to emerge
  • Very curious at this stage
  • Plays with Litter mates
  • Puppies take turns in dominant role
  • Weaning continues


  • Needs lots of new experiences
  • Puppies need some time away from litter mates and mother to prevent separation anxiety
  • Need more human socialization
  • Need a good high quality puppy food as puppies nurse less and less

Puppy Development Milestones: 5-7 Weeks:  Curiosity Stage

Six week old Mal-Shi PuppiesSix Week Old Puppy
  • Weaning begins
  • May get first set of shots
  • Very curious and may venture away from litter mates and mother for short period of time
  • Begins to understand boundaries and impulse control
  • Mother will spend more time away from puppies


  • Good time for first car ride, first bath
  • Not ready to leave litter mates and mother just yet
  • Socialization, human interactions, variety of experiences

Puppy Development Milestones:  8-11 Weeks

  • Good coordination, motor skills,
  • Most curious phase:  Will venture farther and farther away if something catches his interest
  • Period of first fear imprinting:  Any traumatic event can leave a lifelong impression


  • Need to safeguard the puppy from any traumatic event
  • Need to keep puppy safe from venturing too far.  
  • Second set of shots usually given during this period
  • Still not fully vaccinated, so best to weigh socialization needs with health risks
  • If puppy goes to new home at this time, training should begin immediately
  • Needs to hear his name often

Puppy Development Milestones:  10-16 Weeks

  • Puppies go to new home
  • Past the fear stage
  • No longer soiling in his bed, 
  • Puppy continues to cut teeth:  chews on everything


  • Good time for socialization, training to begin:  Expose puppy to everything, but be alert to not overdo it;  stress can be a factor at this age
  • Good time for potty training to begin
  • Provide lots of chew toys, opportunities to chew on bones
  • By end of period, puppy is ready for puppy classes

Puppy Development Milestones:  
6 Months to One Year

  • Period begins with beginning of adolescence and ends at sexual maturity
  • Very independent :  has a mind of his own and likely to show signs of stubbornness
  • Second fear stage around 6 months old and may last only a few days or a few weeks
  • Girl dogs will go into their first heat period;  male dogs get surge of testosterone making them difficult to control--may show up as difficult to manage or disobedient behavior
  • Loss of baby teeth and adult teeth come in


  • Continuing training and reinforcement of rules
  • Neutering or spaying
  • Can move on to adult food at end of this period

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