From bouncing baby pup to the elderly matriarch, your dog will express different needs–and tender a range of rewards–at each stage of her life. Puppies are demanding and energetic, adolescents unpredictable. Adult dogs are eager and self-assured, and by the time they’re seniors, they will have slowed to a comfortably lazy pace.

As with human relationships, ups and downs are guaranteed throughout your years together, but knowing what to expect will keep you one step ahead of the pack. During your dog’s life, she will:

Upset you–or, at the very least, frustrate you. Housetraining is no picnic, nor is cleaning up vomit or finding your slippers chewed beyond recognition. Even if your puppy never misbehaves (ha!), her never-ending need for you will sometimes feel overwhelming.

Surprise you. Your Australian Shepherd loves agility training. Your Doberman can bark her name. Or your Cocker Spaniel actually draws a smile from the grumpy neighbor across the street. Sometimes, you’ll just be astonished by your adolescent dog’s endless desire to please you.

Bring you incredible joy. She doesn’t care whether you made your sales goals or how good you look for your high school reunion. Your dog is thrilled simply to be around you–and she’ll demonstrate those feelings on a regular basis.
And probably grief. No matter how long she lives, saying goodbye to a treasured friend is difficult. If it weren’t, the relationship wouldn’t be worth it.

How long each stage lasts

On average, smaller dogs mature faster and live longer than larger breeds; bigger dogs mature later and generally know shorter spans of adulthood and senior citizenship. That said, every dog develops and ages at its own rate. The following is a rough breakdown of the stages of canine life:

  • Puppyhood ends between six and 18 months of age.
  • Adolescence starts between six and 18 months of age.
  • Adulthood starts between 12 months and three years of age.
  • The senior years begin between six and 10 years of age.
Keep in mind

Dogs are as individual as people; there’s no hard-and-fast rule for what they’ll do and when she’ll do it. If you treat your dog with the love and respect she deserves, what you can count on in return is devotion, adoration, and a mistake or two along the way as the two of you learn to communicate across the human-canine divide.

Bottom line:

Dog’s age at different speeds, with large dogs, generally maturing more slowly than small dogs. But timing aside, they all go through the same stages: energetic puppyhood, unpredictable adolescence, the relatively smooth ride of adulthood, and the slower, lazier senior years.