When you get a puppy, you set yourself up for a fulfilling but challenging experience. Puppies, like people, require a lot of attention, hard work and patience to allow them to mature into healthy, happy adult dogs.
Naturally, the challenge of seeing through those initial months can be a tough one, especially if it’s your first puppy. Many new owners end up asking themselves, “When do puppies get easier?” Between the constant energy, whining, medical attention, and more, rearing a pup will take up a lot of work and focus.
But we’re here to say that if you’re a new puppy parent it gets better, and more often than not, it’s well worth the effort. When your dog is a well-adjusted healthy friend for life, you’ll barely remember those difficult initial months.
So, when exactly do puppies get easier? It doesn’t all happen at once. Here’s the basic rundown of what to expect and when.
A Difficult Age
Puppies are generally adopted from about 8-10 weeks of age. From that point, the first four to five months of age represent the period during which your pup learns the most about you and you about them.
During these formative weeks, the foundations of discipline and socialization are instilled. But remember that your puppy is also still growing, and lots of changes are going on in the little body of your fur baby.
The pup also seems to have a problem with focus, and some breeds will leave a wake of destruction not unlike the days of Genghis Khan. Some of this will come into play to make your life busier than usual. It may also test your patience in the early days.
But it is vitally important to remember that dogs are not humans. As much as we love them, we sometimes make the mistake of assigning human traits and expectations to them. This compounds our frustrations. Dogs are dogs. Understanding them in that way informs much of our own experience with them.
Look Ahead to the Rewards
This is a good time to look ahead to the rewards that lie in wait for you and your dog. Whether they’re a working dog or a toy breed that prefers to lounge about on your couch, the good news is your relationship will likely be unique and fulfilling in a way only you will truly appreciate.
Some people tend to compare training a puppy to raising a child. In some superficial ways, this might be valid. There definitely is a phase during which they rely very much on you for care and learning. However, it’s not always useful to think of our dogs as humans. There are some key differences.
A puppy will mature a lot faster than a human child. Usually, within a year or so, your dog will be a reasonably mature dog with a good understanding of how you like to run your home.
There was likely a reason you wanted a dog. At this time, those reasons will manifest, and you’ll be enjoying the best life with your young friend. So, try to focus on the future and take the challenge of the new puppy with motivation borne from that image.
The Puppy Blues
This early period of a dog’s development causes some stress for us as dog parents. Sometimes this is amusingly referred to as ‘The Puppy Blues.’ It’s not uncommon for owners to express varying degrees of regret in deciding to get a puppy. The blues usually attacks first time owners in the early weeks of owning their dog, who can be identified by the red eyes of a tired person lacking essential sleep and having low energy levels.
They will typically complain about having to clean up poop around the house, getting up in the middle of the night to soothe a whining puppy, or having to throw away yet another perfectly good garment or shoe that suffered the wrath of a canine frenzy.
Fortunately, the Puppy Blues isn’t a permanent condition and can be somewhat alleviated with focused training and patience, not to mention an understanding of what’s going on.
Here are some of the common challenges puppy owners face:
Potty or house training ranks as one of the aspects of puppy rearing that we look forward to the least. We mentally prepare ourselves for accidents occurring all around the home, at least for a while. Nobody likes to clean up poop, much less from around your living room, bedroom, or kitchen. But these things will happen and will only rectify with time and training.
A dog that learns to indicate when it needs the bathroom is nothing less than a pleasure. They can be taught to hold on, sit by the door and even “tell” you when they need to go. As a general guide, house training should be successful between 12 and 16 weeks. It may help to start with some puppy pee pads.
If the pup is still having difficulty after six months, there may be other issues at play that may need a vet consultation. Don’t stress about it too much, though. Some breeds just take longer, even up to a year, sometimes.
Teething is a tough time for pups as they feel all the irritation and pain of the process without really understanding how to cope with it. You are likely to feel it, too, as the whining and angsty behavior keep you from your sleep. As human parents, we also feel a deep sense of empathy sometimes, taking on the pup’s suffering as our own.
Dogs go through two stages of teething. The first puppy stage occurs after three weeks with little needle teeth, and the stage is completed about ten weeks in. Later, at about five or six months, adult teeth will grow.
During both stages, the gums will be irritated and painful as the teeth grow through. Doggie will chew on anything they can get their jaws on at these stages. It’s a good idea to invest in some durable but soft chew toys at this stage.
Some owners also recommend a piece of cold carrot. Cold helps to relieve the odd sensation of raw gums. Be careful not to use anything too hard. It could break the teeth or cause other damage. Between potty training and teething, the key physiological challenges are addressed.
These are usually the unavoidable but necessary first steps in getting through the difficult phase of a new pup. It’s not over, but in some ways, at least, the toughest hills have been negotiated. Now let’s talk about longer-term considerations.
Some dogs have strong personalities. Whether or not they can tell whether they’re being naughty or misbehaving is a matter of debate—probably. But dogs do seem to understand what kinds of behavior are undesirable.
Again, training and conditioning come into play here. The key to a human element of this relationship is to be consistent. That also applies to all members of the family as well as the official pet parent. Pets are quick to figure out who lets them get away with what. The best way to build consistent behavior patterns is to be consistent with the application of rules for your dog. Consistency is critical for the development of good manners in your pup.
Biting is a natural behavior for puppies. At around four months, the biting may get worse. This is when permanent teeth start to develop, and the teething process can be itchy and painful. Dogs also learn their environment largely through their mouths — tasting and testing, licking and biting.
More than likely, biting will be a large part of your puppy’s interaction with you. There are certain things you’ll want to remember when this happens.
- If your puppy is biting, try to avoid making a game of it. When unwanted bites occur, make a sharp yelling sound, stop interacting, and walk away. This plays into positive reinforcement, and the puppy will learn that biting stops the fun. Yes, timeouts work for dogs, too.
- Avoid pulling away if your pup has grabbed you with its teeth. You could injure yourself or your pup. It is sometimes better to push into the bite, as this will make the pup let go.
The Trauma of a New Environment
It’s worth taking into account the fact that the young puppy has just been separated from its mother, their littermates, and a more familiar environment. As a result, they will feel alone, scared, and probably emotionally fragile.
This may result in the aforementioned whining, which can be annoying for you. At night, during the sleep hours, pups will wake up and remember that, usually, it has their littermates or mum to warm and comfort them.
While you can move their puppy bed closer to you or try to spend time with them to comfort them, there will be at least a few weeks of scared puppy syndrome to get through. In addition, whining is a way for the pup to express discomfort, pain, boredom, or even hunger. In some ways, you will need to observe and figure it out. In most cases, a bit of attention can be the right thing to remedy the situation.
The Learning Experience
Puppies aren’t born with all the knowledge needed to survive. Chances are they’ll try to eat something they shouldn’t at some point. You will have to keep a sharp eye out at first for what they take an interest in around the home.
You can take steps to try to puppy-proof your home, though chances are you won’t be 100% successful in making it totally safe. Small objects are a potential danger. Even some plants are poisonous to pets, and your pup has no way of knowing that. As they get older, though, their instincts and experience kick in to make life a lot easier.
What Age is a Good Age?
So, the logical question to ask is: at what age will my dog be past its difficult stage? What is an old puppy? We can consider most dogs reasonably mature at around 18 months. Bear in mind that smaller dogs mature faster than larger dogs. Also, each dog is different.
Some breeds seem to keep their puppy-like personality well into adulthood. That does not mean that they cannot be trained and socialized. Most dogs learn their key social behavior by four months. Nobody likes to be around an unsocialized dog. Worst case scenario that could be dangerous for all involved.
Training classes can take place from an early age. Most recommend from 8-12 weeks onward. From 12 weeks, it is a good time to meet other dogs and get used to them (once they have had all their vaccines), and even other pets in your home will benefit from a dog that understands its family context.
A Note on Spaying and Neutering
Hormones play a role in personality. In young dogs, they often manifest before the dog is fully mature, leading to behavior that can be unpredictable and somewhat out-of-character for the dog under normal circumstances.
It’s not uncommon for a dog to start spontaneously acting upon sexual impulses, disappear from the home, or become aggressive. Spaying and neutering seem to have some impact on behavior. In some cases, it results in a calmer animal. It also has some health benefits, like reducing the risk of some kinds of cancer.
A caution is that spaying or neutering too early can have adverse effects. The most important thing is to take a vet’s advice on when the right time is for your pet.
Final Thoughts on When Do Puppies Get Easier
If you’re a first-timer, it may be useful to stay in contact with an experienced dog owner, just to reassure you during the challenging moments. For the most part, pups grow without too much serious incident, though that doesn’t always mean easy times for you. However, good luck may be yours!
Know from the outset that adopting a pet is a commitment. Know also that if you are prepared to face a few challenges—whether anticipated or unexpected—you will be rewarded with a friend for many years.
The joy that a dog companion can bring to your life pales in comparison to just a few months of rearing. Finally, a suggestion. Perhaps it is worth reframing the question “When will my puppy get easier?” to something more optimistic. “Soon, my puppy will be an adult, and I will miss these one-of-kind growing pains moments.” With this in mind, enjoy every day like it’s a gift, and the “difficult” phase will be over before you know it and good behavior will be the norm.