When welcoming a new puppy into your life, you may think you are starting with a "blank slate," but this is not the case.

There is a lot that should happen during the first weeks of life to give you the best chances of raising a valued member of your family.

From birth to 12 days of age - the neonatal period - a puppy can't hear or see. It can't eliminate waste by itself or regulate its body temperature. It is dependent upon its mother for food, warmth and survival. Daily human handling is thought to better prepare the puppy for stresses later in life.

The transitional period, beginning about the 13th day of life, is when the puppy's senses rapidly mature. Both the eyes and ears open, and the puppy learns how to walk. Humans should gently expose the puppy to all types of stimuli during this two-week period (objects, sounds, varied surfaces, etc.) to enhance development. The puppy must remain with its mother and littermates in a stable environment.

About 1 month of age, the puppy enters the first socialization period, which lasts until the 12th week of life. Social behavior and patterns are developing, largely through interaction with littermates and the mother. This is a critical time in the puppy's temperament and behavior development and greatly affects how it will behave as an adult dog. It begins to investigate its surroundings, and gradually shifts its interaction away from its mother and toward its littermates. The puppy learns through play not to bite too hard, chasing, barking and body posturing including submissive postures.

This is also a time when the puppy startles easily and fearful responses become much more pronounced. Exposure to different environments, objects, sound and surfaces should continue; in time, the puppy will learn to discriminate between truly dangerous situations and those that are of no concern.

No puppy should leave its litter until the 49th day of life. Generally, the best time to bring a new puppy home is from 7 to 9 weeks.

If your new puppy was raised in a calm environment, with littermates and daily human handling and exposure, the job of house-training and raising the puppy should be a fairly easy task. Continued exposure to everyday scenarios is imperative to ensure you raise a well-adjusted, temperamentally sound adult dog.