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Most people prefer to own a dog from a puppy, so that they can train it themselves. A puppy will settle more rapidly into unfamiliar surroundings than older individuals, and is unlikely to display the behavioural problems that can be encountered in adult dogs. Even so, it is important to realize that some disruption and damage in the home is likely to follow its acquisition. Carpets, for example, may be soiled or chewed, and puppies may bark or yelp a great deal when first left on their own.

This calls for tolerance on the part of owners. Sensible training and adequate attention to the puppy's needs should reduce such problems to a minimum. Dogs are creatures of routine, and will soon learn to respond as required.

The Breeding Period

Domestic bitches (female dogs) usually have two periods of “heat” each year, whereas wild bitches come into season only once during this time. Both wild and domestic dogs have a gestation period of about two months before the litter is bom. The offspring, known as pups or cubs, are helpless at birth, and are suckled and cleaned by their mother until they start to be weaned on to solid food at about four to six weeks old.

Healthy Pups

Young dogs tend to play vigorously and then sleep for long periods. This is not a sign of ill-health. Similarly, in a new home, a pup will be less active than an adult dog. Key health indicators to look for are a good appetite, and firm motions with no trace I of blood. The skin is normally loose, but watch for a pot-bellied appearance, which could indicate worms. Deworming is a vital process for the pup's continued good health. Your vet will be able to advise you on essential vaccinations.

The Developing Pup

The coat of a pup may be less profuse than its mother’s, but the distribution of markings is unlikely to change as the pup matures.

By the time it is six months old, the pup should be house-trained. It should also be walking readily on a leash and can soon be allowed to exercise freely. Choose a quiet spot away from roads, and away from distractions such as other dogs or farm animals. If the dog runs off, do not chase it, because it is likely to see this as a game. Instead, stand still and call it back. It should return after its enthusiasm for its new-found freedom wears off.

Relative Sizes

All young puppies, no matter what their breed, are of a relatively similar size at birth. Only later do the larger breeds, like the Shar pei start to grow at a faster rate than the smaller breeds, like the Cocker Spaniel. Avoid exercising young dogs too strenuously, especially the larger breeds, because this puts stresses on their frame. It is better just to give them daily walks, with the opportunity to run free if they wish.

Towards Adulthood

Changes become apparent as pups grow older. In certain breeds, such as the German Shepherd Dog, the ears will start to become erect. In a few cases this does not happen, but generally the ears should have started to lift by the time the puppy is approaching six months old.

In breeds in which pups are noticeably paler at birth than the adult dogs, coat coloration is also likely to have darkened by six months. Other characteristics, such as eye colour, may also be more adult-like by this age.

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