On social media and other platforms there is often discussion of what is the right age to separate your new puppy from their litter and take it home; answers range from anywhere between 5 – 12 weeks. It seems though, that the 7th week is very popular and as a Dog Trainer usually this raises my eyebrows and the sirens go off.
Pet professionals encounter more and more young dogs (age 1 or under) and puppies (as young as 3 - 4 months old) displaying severe behaviour issues that range from uncontrollable strong nipping, to dog reactivity and human aggression. Often times it can be traced back to experiences they had as a puppy, as well as the age they were separated from their litter mates.
Puppies that are separated from their litter at 7 weeks or younger are more likely to be prone to these behavioural issues. We would like to offer an explanation as to why, so you can prevent a disaster that could hinder you and your dog’s life together.
Let’s start with how puppies develop from the day they are born to the age of 3 months:
- Day 1 – 12: Their main purpose is getting food and staying warm.
(Same as humans: be comfy, eat, sleep and do your business)
- Day 13 – 20: They Open their eyes (still can’t see but react to light), & starting to crawl.
Around 20 days teeth have started to erupt and the puppies are starting to hear noises.
- Week 3 -7: The Awareness and Socialization Period: Your puppy is starting to see, hear and
practice species specific behaviours (facial expression, body posture, barking, etc.).
The little creature is transforming into a real dog. This is a very critical time where puppies
are corrected by their mum for improper behaviours.
- Week 7 – 12: At this stage the learning is permanent. An important time where puppies soak up
information like sponges. Whether it is good or bad, it sticks. This is that critical time where
behaviour problems often develop due to lack of clear boundaries, rules, and manners
particularly in puppies that are separated premature from their litter.
- Week 8 -11: First Fear Impact Period. Any traumatic or painful experience within this time will
have an extreme and lasting impact on the puppy’s personality.
As you can see, between weeks 3 – 12 there are critical times in the puppy’s development. A lot of socialization takes place between the puppies such as learning bite inhibition, appropriate play, understanding body language and respecting boundaries between dogs. If they miss out on those important experiences where simple dog to dog communication takes place (something that is irreplaceable by us) they will likely face challenges in the future they weren’t prepared for, which can be overwhelming and can cause behaviour problems.
You might hear from inexperienced “breeders” or “producers” that the puppies are ready to go because they mum doesn’t want them anymore, she is growling and snapping and separating herself from them. Those behaviours displayed by the puppies’ mother is a natural way of weaning the puppies off and preparing them for life. The growling and snapping is often communication to tell them they are biting too hard and that they have to learn to control their jaws (bite inhibition).
Any reputable breeder will not let their puppies go before the age of 8 weeks and most good breeders prefer to keep the puppies to the age of 9 – 12 weeks old to ensure the puppies have successfully mastered their first fear period and are prepared for their new home.
So how can you prevent a disaster in the first place? Do your research, look for the right puppy for you and don’t fall for cuteness alone.
Here are a few tips for your research:
- Do your homework, find the breed that fits your life style.
- Decide if adoption/rescue or buying from a breeder is right for you.
- If you decide to purchase, look for a breeder that:
- Appreciates the many questions you may have
- Provides a complete pedigree for their dogs
- Gives you info about the breeds personality and challenges you might face
- Matches you with the right puppy (not just the one you find cute)
- Keeps the puppy to at least 8 weeks of age (ideally they keep them to anywhere
between 9 – 12 weeks)
- Do not buy from a breeder (even if registered) that:
- Doesn’t let you visit the puppy before you buy
- Does not let you see their place / facility where the puppies grow up or their other dogs
- Wants to deliver the puppy to a neutral place for pick up (such as a gas station)
- Find a dog trainer that you feel comfortable working with and start training as soon as you
acquired your puppy
If you follow these steps when researching your future family member, there is a good chance that you find an honest, passionate breeder that is looking out for the best interest of their puppies, not their bank account. You are more likely to end up with a puppy that is actually ready for their new exciting life. Most breeders will also support you even after you have acquired your puppy, and will assist you if you need help or have questions.
So in short, what is the best age to take your puppy home?
At the very earliest 8 weeks. Ideally when looking at their stages of development, try to be patient and wait until 9 to 12 weeks. You will hopefully have many happy years ahead of you with your dog, so set them up for success at their most crucial time.
I am more than happy to assist you in this matter as I love all the committed, responsible dog owner’s that want the best for their new family member even before they arrive.
About the author:
Simone Krebser - CPDT: Owner and head dog trainer of K9 Possible Dog Training serving the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia from Osoyoos to Penticton and Kelowna with result based dog training. Certified dog trainer, certified pet first aid instructor, member of the IACP, dog crazy and chocolate/cheese addict. “My life revolves around dog’s day in and out and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is my goal to help enhance the lives of as many dogs (and their owners) as possible. Your dog is my priority and I’m as committed to your dog as you are. But I can only help those who sincerely want to help their dogs and not only themselves.”