Your Puppy: 1 to 7 Weeks Old
Before You Got Your Puppy
Puppies need to stay with their mother and littermates until they are seven or eight weeks old. Puppies this young need their mother for early nurturing, and their littermates for learning both how to relate to other dogs and to hold back their biting.
For the first two weeks of life, a puppy's eyes and ears are closed. They can still hear and sense light, though, and they can find their mother by scent. At this age, puppies mostly sleep and nurse.
Puppies start to play by two weeks of age, and their puppy teeth start to come in by three weeks of age. For the first three weeks, most puppies prefer to be with their mom. But by four weeks old, they start to enjoy being with their littermates. At five weeks old, puppies are able to learn simple commands and they can tell people apart.
By seven or eight weeks of age, they're ready to go home with their new family.
Mental and Physical Development: Socialization with Puppies in the Litter Puppies absorb a lot of information about socialization between one and seven weeks of age. They learn about touch, behavioral boundaries and dominance from their mother and siblings, and they learn about social interactions with humans.
As early as one week of age, puppies start learning socialization rules from their mother. Puppies that nurse too hard or are too rough with their siblings are met with soft growls and nips from their mother. Their mother's constant grooming and nuzzling teaches puppies that touch is a social interaction. Siblings learn about rivalry and dominance while they are nursing and during playful wrestling matches.
At this young age, puppies learn to recognize human voices and touch. This period of socialization is especially important for a puppy's future social life with people.
Health and Veterinary Care
Nursing During the first weeks of life, puppies receive all of the nutrition they need from their mother's milk. The first milk that is produced after puppies are born is called colostrum, and it contains important antibodies that will help protect the puppies against diseases while their immune systems are still immature.
Milk is a nutritionally complete diet, and puppies will nurse exclusively for the first few weeks. They should be encouraged to nurse as frequently as possible -- every couple of hours during the first week and then three or four times a day thereafter. Most puppies will start eating solid or semisolid food at approximately three weeks, and by five weeks their diet should consist primarily of solid food and very little milk from their mother.
Weaning should be completed by six to seven weeks of age, as most mother's milk production has significantly declined by this time.
A Mother's Ability to Nurse and When to Wean Newborn puppies normally suckle immediately after birth and then every few hours after that. By the time puppies are 12 hours old, their stomachs can no longer absorb antibodies from their mother's colostrum.
Sometimes a mother is unable to nurse her puppies, whether it's because she doesn't have enough milk, has mastitis, or has died. Another nursing mother may be willing to adopt the puppies, or they may need to be fed with a bottle or tube. Dog milk is much higher in protein and fat and lower in lactose than goat or cow milk, so puppies will do the best on puppy-milk replacement formula.
If a puppy is sick or chilled, their body temperature may drop and they won't nurse. Chilled puppies can die from nursing, so they should never be fed until warmed. A chilled puppy may still feel warm to the touch, so the best way to determine if they are chilled is to touch their tongue to see if it is cold. The easiest way to warm a chilled puppy is to hold them under your shirt against your body.
Most puppies become interested in eating solid food by three weeks of age. Some mothers start their puppies off on regurgitated food, but most breeders prefer puppy food blended into gruel.
During their first attempts to eat real food, most puppies will walk through it, tumble into it and generally wear more than they eat. But within a few days, they will be splitting their intake between nursing and eating. Their mother will start weaning them soon, even though they'll still try to steal a sip when they can. It's typical for puppies to nurse until they're six or seven weeks of age.