Between three and six months old, your puppy is starting to find his place in the “pack” that is your family. It is important to provide leadership that establishes a healthy balance of power between you and your furry member of the family, while also making him feel loved and welcomed. This is an exciting time in your puppy’s life and marks the transition from puppyhood to adolescence.
Since dogs are evolutionarily pack animals, they will have a tendency to “rank,” or form a hierarchy in their perception of the household. This hierarchy will encompass other dogs as well as the humans in the household. If your puppy thinks he can, he may try to become the leader of your family pack and demonstrate unwanted behaviors or aggression. That’s why, during this period of growing confidence and independence in your puppy, it is necessary to enforce the desired household hierarchy.
Your puppy should continue to receive exposure to other dogs and people throughout this time, which will be influential in shaping his behavior. Practice obedience and any desired working commands with your puppy, and enroll him in puppy obedience classes if available. Your puppy needs a firm set of rules, but also plenty of love and attention to prepare him for the potential turbulence of adolescence.
At four months old, your puppy may alternate between feelings of bold invincibility and cowering anxiousness. Support your fragile puppy with gentle direction and continued positive reinforcement. While your puppy may test out his dominance in the pack, he is also learning and may be overly skittish when reprimanded. It is important to be firm but gentle with him when correcting unwanted behavior to show that you are the leader, but clearly demonstrate that he doesn’t need to be afraid of you.
Your puppy is now starting to act more like a dog, and look like one, too. He will soon be reaching his adult height and will be developing his adult coat. Small-breed puppy growth tends to slow around now, and they start to settle into their adult appetites. Larger breeds are still maturing and may continue to grow and maintain their puppy appetites until they are over a year old.
Around three months old, your puppy’s baby teeth fall out and his grown-up teeth begin to grow in. Your pup may be a little restless from the discomfort that comes with his new teeth growing in, so be sure to have plenty of chew toys available for him. To prevent your favorite shoes from becoming a favorite chew toy, you will need to communicate to your puppy what is OK to chew on and what is not. Having plenty of approved chew toys available will help with this process.
If you have a male puppy, he will be reaching sexual maturity between five and six months old. Females will experience their first heat a bit later, between 6 months and a year for small dogs and possibly as late as 18 months for large dogs. We recommend spaying or neutering your pooch at six months to prevent unwanted litters and any behavioral issues or unwanted attention from other dogs that may arise when your puppy reaches sexual maturity.
This is a period of physical as well as mental transformation for your puppy. Some people refer to this as “elementary school age” because of the social and physical growth that happens during this time. By the end of this stage, your puppy should find a healthy place in his “pack” and recognize you as the leader.