Many behavioural problems occur as a result of removing a puppy from its littermates too early. Numerous studies have been done on this that show such resulting problems as increased aggression, separation distress, over- reactivity, increased anxiety and more.
So how soon is too soon? Is there a time considered too late?
From 3 to 5 weeks of age, the puppy learns critical lessons by interacting with its siblings. It’s the most crucial time for social interaction and learning. During this time, puppies learn lessons such as canine body language, appropriate play and pack behaviour. This may also be an important time for learning bite inhibition, or a soft mouth (learning how to bite without breaking skin). This is why puppies shouldn’t be removed from their litter before 6 weeks of age. Additionally, when a single puppy is born, or is the only surviving puppy in the litter, it should be placed with a foster litter the same age if possible so that it can learn these lessons and develop properly.
Scientifically, the ideal age to remove a pup from the litter and introduce it to a new family is 7 to 8 weeks of age. At 7 weeks many changes occur that suggest that it is the ideal time for a new home. And yes, the timing is that specific. At this time, the mother is growing increasingly irritated at her pups. She nurses them less and offers them less chance to suckle. The puppies are still interested in suckling but their teeth are now very sharp. Its no wonder that at this stage punishment from the mother increases to a new peak! The mother’s job both nutritionally and mentally speaking is done, making 7 to 8 weeks a very appropriate time for weaning and finding new homes for the puppies.
Between 6 to 12 weeks is also the time that puppies form strong human bonds. As the owner, you want to be there for that. At around 7 to 8 weeks the puppy is also at its most willing to approach strangers and novel things confidently. This is the ideal time to socialise. Puppies also have a fear period coming on gradually and this intersects with the confidence period at around 7 weeks. So this makes this time optimal for socialising. However, keep in mind that it is not the only time for socialising and socialisation can still be successful at other times later in life.
Hopefully the breeder is reputable and spends time socialising her puppies as the human socialisation period is already well underway by 8 weeks of age. The new owners need to carry one socialising responsibly as soon as they bring their puppy home.
If the breeder hasn’t been adequately socialising the puppy then there is no time to waste. This period ends some time after week 12 and you have a lot of things to socialise the puppy to. This means that bringing home the puppy as say,10 to 12 weeks, doesn’t leave you much time, and you would hope the breeder has done some very good work already. The longer you wait to bring the puppy home, the more valuable time you are missing out on to socialise. Its not called the CRITICAL period of socialisation for nothing!
In conclusion, 7 to 8 weeks is the ideal time to bring home your puppy. But definitely no earlier than 6 weeks.
For more information, see The Handbook of Applied Dog Behaviour and Training Volume One Chapter Two by Steven Lindsay, which this article is based on.Share