The size of your dog will determine how quickly it ages and for how long it will live. For example, larger dog breeds live shorter lives and are considered to be ‘seniors’ by the time they are about five whereas medium-sized dog breeds do not reach that milestone until they are about seven. Small dog breeds reach seniority around the age of 10. Being aware of your dog’s life cycle and the key stages will allow you to appreciate and cherish each stage and help you understand their behaviour and what to expect in the next stage.
Dogs go through four stages of the life cycle: puppy, adolescent, adulthood and senior and, besides changes in their behaviour, their dietary needs also change as our dog travels from one stage to another. Knowing what to do and what to expect at each stage of development can go a long way towards helping your best friend live a long and happy life.
Puppy Stage (lasts until dogs are between six and eighteen months old)
The puppy stage begins with birth; they are born deaf, blind, cannot regulate their body temperature and are completely dependent on mom for food and care. To help puppies grow up happy and healthy it is important to be aware of their needs at each stage in their development. Around 2-3 weeks puppies start to see and hear and are able to walk, bark and wag their tails. With these senses developed, they now start to learn about their surroundings. This is the prime time to learn how to interact with their litter mates as well as their mother and humans. A pup’s first eight weeks should be spent with their mother and siblings before beginning life with their new owner. Good dog breeders will start the socialisation process whilst keeping them safe from infectious diseases and will ensure the puppies have their first inoculations. As a new owner you should continue socialising them and, most importantly, house train your dog during this stage and ensure they receive the vaccinations and care your vet recommends.
Adolescent Stage (between the ages of 6 and 18 months)
The adolescent stage marks the change from being a puppy to becoming an adult. During this time, there are dramatic hormonal changes and a reorganisation of the brain. If not spayed or neutered your adolescent dog may show signs of moody ‘teenage’ behaviour, just like humans. These hormonal changes can make adolescent dogs appear less obedient; you might notice your dog being reluctant to pay attention and more likely to exhibit undesirable behaviour. Sadly this kind of change is often interpreted by owners as the dog being stubborn or trying to assert their dominance rather than understanding that their dog is finding it difficult to control their impulses.
Training using gentle and consistent methods is highly recommended for adolescent dogs and can help to stop behavioural problems. Rather than focusing on how to control an adolescent dog, pet owners need to think about how to satisfy an adolescent dog’s physical and behavioural needs. An example would be if they are jumping, barking or scratching when you are trying to have your meal minimise their frustration by feeding them before you eat.
Adulthood (begins at about 18 months for smaller breeds and up to 3 years for larger breeds)
Dogs are officially "adults" once they have finished growing. They look and behave like a grown dog. A young adult dog has different dietary, vaccination, behavioural and dental care needs than a puppy or senior dog. They become easier to manage but they still want to run, play, and explore! It is a great time to find activities that you and your dog can enjoy together such as running together or hill walking.
The Senior Stage (roughly between the ages of 7 and 10)
Dogs cycle through their life quickly and they fill our lives with so much joy so it is important to cherish each stage. In their golden years the list of potential health problems increases and regular exercise, both mental and physical, can help stave off many issues, at least for a little while. More sleep is needed and joint or dental problems are common. It is vital to have regular vet visits and provide supplements to support your pooch’s needs. In general senior dogs are calm, gentle, and easy to be around.
The time we have with our beloved dog is never long enough! In which life cycle stage is your dog at home and what stage have you enjoyed the most? Let us know in the comments below!