When does a puppy become a dog? Easing the transition without stress

It is one of life’s unfair questions, but one that has a lot riding on it. As much as we love the idea of our lovable, roly-poly pups waddling around on their pudgy feet and getting up to all sorts of clumsy antics, puppyhood cannot be prolonged. A puppy’s transition into adulthood isn’t always apparent, but knowing the difference helps you to take care of them age-appropriately. From nutritional needs to training, each developmental stage demands different requirements. So, when does a puppy become a dog? And why do you need to care?

A puppy becomes an adult dog between one and two years of age depending on the specific breed, with smaller breeds taking less time than bigger breeds. A small breed puppy takes only 9 months to become an adult dog, and a large and giant breed pup can take a year to two years to fully mature.

Why is it important to identify when a puppy becomes an adult dog?

Just as much as early childhood development sets the foundation for a healthy young adult and a driving license marks the switch to independent adolescence, pets too have their growth timeline, except they won't pester you for a car on their milestone birthday.

Food portion sizes

Puppies need to eat more protein, certain amino acids, fat, and minerals than adult dogs. Some dog food manufacturers even include omega-3 fatty acids shown to promote healthy brain and eye development in young animals. Puppy food labelled for growth is also high in calories. Growing up needs lots of energy. When puppies reach adult size, they should switch from this nutrient-rich diet to regular dog food.

Puppies aged 6-12 weeks need around 4 feedings a day, 3-6 months 3 feedings, and after 6 months, 2 feedings a day. Portion sizes, however, depend on the metabolism, body type, and nutritional requirements of each dog. Puppies should be fed 5-6% of their growing body weight.

As they reach full maturity, they need fewer calories to stay healthy. Your vet can help them transition to adult dog food with recommendations based on age, size, breed, and lifestyle. Adult dogs should be fed 2-3% of their body weight. This means a 5kg dog requires 100-150g of food per day, while a 40kg dog needs 800-1200g of food. The odd treat and tidbit should never exceed more than 10% of the daily diet. If yours is a working dog on the farm or a sled dog, they need extra fat, protein, and vitamins such as B12 and E to help release the energy from food. Vitamin E helps muscles recover more effectively after strenuous exercise. However, if they do not get much exercise, it is always a good idea to keep the portion sizes minimum.

As puppies get older, they are sometimes spayed or neutered. It affects their diet, as well. Their calorie requirements will decrease and consulting your vet on the new dietary needs after the procedure is helpful in keeping your dog healthy.

Smaller breeds have a faster metabolism, and larger breeds have a slower metabolism. Food for smaller breeds has additional protein, fats, and carbohydrates to give them the extra energy they need. Although large breeds have a slower metabolism, they have large appetites. Their food comes in more satisfying kibbles that encourage chewing for longer. These contain lower fat levels and more concentrated proteins.

A sudden change of diet can cause digestive issues. Introduce the new diet gradually by mixing the new food with the usual. Slowly increase the percentage every day over a week.

At what age should you switch to adult dog food?

Technically reaching the adult age does not mean your puppy is ready for adult food. It all depends on their individual needs and breed. Always consult your vet before switching from puppy food to dog food.

Small breeds – They grow the fastest, and you can make the switch when they are between 9-12 months old.

Medium breeds – At 12-18 months of age, they are physically mature for adult maintenance food.

Large breeds – You can make the switch when they turn 18-24 months.

Giant breeds – They take approximately 24 months to become fully-grown dogs, which is when they are ready for adult food.

Some dogs mature more quickly than others or take longer. Therefore, the switch to regular dog food can happen a few months early or late. As puppies grow, their metabolism slows down. Calorie-dense puppy food starts to fill them up quicker, and you will notice more food left in the bowl and skipped meals. It marks an end to the puppy nutrition stage.

Vaccine schedules

Vaccinations are crucial for a puppy and more frequent than for adult dogs. Puppies are normally vaccinated with a primary course of vaccines when they are 8-10 weeks old, or sometimes, as early as 4-6 weeks, with the second dose given 2-4 weeks later. It is followed by a booster vaccination at 6 or 12 months. An adult dog needs a follow-up injection every year. Each vaccination usually protects your dog against anything up to seven illnesses.

A set of blood tests called titre testing checks the immunity of your dog against the diseases they are vaccinated for. If you are concerned about too frequent vaccines or trying to minimise vaccination due to a previous allergic reaction, these might help reduce vaccine boosters as per immunity. If titre test results indicate that they still have some remaining protection from previous booster vaccines, some dog owners may decide to leave out vaccines for the year. Titre testing isn’t a permanent alternative to yearly vaccines because your dog’s immunity will run out eventually.

Administering medication and vitamins

Preventive healthcare such as flea and tick control, heartworm prevention, and nutritional supplements per requirement are necessary when your puppy grows up. Spaying and neutering should be done when they reach their sexual maturity. Carrying out these procedures too early can affect their long-term health and well-being.

Determining learning capacity and suitable levels of training

Puppies are born-ready to interact and communicate with humans. However, this canine cognition and social smarts need stimuli to improve and become beneficial to dogs and owners. Age-appropriate socialisation plays a large role in the development of well-adjusted dogs. It also builds a positive life-long relationship with the owner.

At 6-12 months of age, young dogs develop needs for stimulation, companionship, and activity. They also begin to display testing behaviour, which requires safe opportunities for vigorous play, exercise, and occupying teeth with appropriate toys. Adolescence begins at 6 months and produces hormones that bring about behavioural changes. It’s a bit like dealing with a teenager. Training and socialisation ensure a smooth transition to full maturity without behavioural disorders.

When they are 12-18 months old, dominance and assertion tendencies develop. And allowing them to mature without aggression and non-harmful control is important. When a puppy becomes a grown dog, daily exercises with longer walks and positive training sessions ensure your pooch stays healthy and socialised.

Entering into programmes such as service dogs and emotional support animals

If you have a physical disability, you can choose to train your pet dog as a service dog. A qualified trainer or a member of ADUK can carry out the training. Emotional support dogs do not need any training, but they need to be calmer and friendly with higher cognitive ability. A dog should have passed their puppy stage to receive training as a service dog and to become an emotional support dog.

How to determine a dog’s age

It was a long-held belief that a year in a dog’s life is equivalent to 7 of human years. However, it is not scientific. Different breeds of dogs age differently. Smaller breeds tend to live much longer than larger breeds. Chemical changes in canine DNA show that dogs age faster during their first five years and much more slowly later on. A new study suggests that a sensible way to measure the biological age of a dog is through epigenetic clocks, which are changes to the packaging of the DNA that accumulate over time in all mammals. That formula to calculate your dog's age according to new research is 16 x ln (dog’s chronological age) + 31.

The easiest way to understand it is the first dog year counts for 31 human years. Thereafter, every time the dog’s chronological age doubles, the number of equivalent human years increases by 11. Previously, it has been suggested that each of the dog’s first two years correspond to 12 human years, while all subsequent years count for four human equivalents.

Different maturity type

Physical maturity

Small dog breeds achieve full physical maturity when they are 12 months old, and medium-sized dogs reach their maximum physical growth when they are 15 months. Large dog breed types fully mature by 18 months. While this is usually the case, some may take longer. Some reach physical maturity before they become adult dogs.

A helpful indication of still progressing physical growth is when you run your hands down a dog’s rib cage, and you can still feel the ‘knobs’ of the ribs. Physical maturity is reaching their adult height.

When your puppy is 6-8 months old, they should have all their permanent teeth developed. Did you know that dogs have 42 teeth?

Emotional maturity

At 12-18 months, your dog also reaches emotional maturity, with smaller breeds reaching it sooner and larger dogs later. It determines the personality and temperament your dog will have throughout their life. It is when puppy-like behaviour stops and they start to display adult-like behaviour. Emotional maturity can be further enhanced by nurturing their feelings with love, care, stimulation, and socialisation. Signs of healthy physical maturity include:

  • Listening and responding to commands and training cues
  • Listening and responding to social cues from other dogs
  • Settling down more readily
  • A calmer demeanour
  • Less distractible

Sexual maturity

When puppies are 6-12 months old, they reach sexual maturity. Timing depends on their size and breed. It is when their growth plates close. It is a time when significant hormonal changes alter behaviour. Vets recommend spaying and neutering at this stage. Female dogs go into estrus twice a year once they reach sexual maturity. Roaming and marking are signs of this stage. It is important to pay attention, be a responsible dog-owner and give them anti-fertility treatment if you don’t want a litter.

What to expect when your puppy becomes an adult dog

  • Puppies are balls of energy, always excited, playful, and scampering around. But, as they come to the grown-up stage, they calm down and have less energy.
  • Dogs are much easier to train than puppies who get distracted. They get better at listening and obeying.
  • They need fewer feedings a day (only twice) and less calorie-dense food.
  • Their exercise requirements increase. Longer walks and running keep them healthy.
  • When a puppy reaches sexual maturity, you might want to spay or neuter them. It makes them less aggressive and safe from unwanted pregnancies.

The transition from puppyhood to doghood should be stress-free for your pooch. While puppy adolescence or puberty isn’t always easy on the owner, being considerate and providing them with necessary love and care helps your puppy turn into a well-adjusted social creature and friendly hound. Daily exercise is a big part of their general wellbeing. To ensure your dog doesn’t have to curl up in their basket disappointed, use GoWalkies. Find a responsible dog walker in your area to provide them with a relaxed and fun walk complete with tracking and real-time updates.