When Should Puppies Go to their New Home?

I’ve taught kindergarten puppy classes for more than 20 years.

During that time, thousands of puppy owners have talked to me about their puppies, sharing the wonderful aspects of their new friend. Sometimes, though, I hear about troubled, maladjusted, unhappy, frightened, and even angry puppies. Babies shouldn’t be this way.

Unfortunately, in talking with other dog trainers, behavioral consultants and behaviorists, we all agree we’re seeing a trend of puppies leaving mom and littermates far too young. A puppy who leaves his mother and littermates at five to six weeks of age, or worse yet, even younger, is going to suffer for that throughout his life.

Eight Weeks is Typical

The traditional age for puppies to leave their mom and littermates and go to their new home has been eight weeks of age. At eight weeks of age most puppies are able to eat well, no longer need to nurse or eat supplemental formula, are mobile, and are aware of their world. They are well socialized to the people in their household and hopefully have also met other animals in the home. They have been exposed to a variety of sights, sounds, and smells and while they pay attention to these things, they are not afraid. At eight weeks of age these puppies are ready to leave their mother and siblings and go to their new home.

Nine to Ten Weeks is Great

Since some puppies tend to go through a fear period at eight weeks of age (an awareness of the world around them that can cause anxiety), many breeders and new owners would prefer to wait one or two more weeks. I brought home Hero, and before him Bones, at nine and a half weeks of age, because I felt that the puppies at that age were a bit more mature and ready for their new lives. One to two weeks can make a big difference.

Other dog trainers and behaviorists agree: nine to 10 weeks of age is absolutely fine. In fact at this age, the puppy is past the eight week fear period, if he had one, and he’s a bit more confident now. Developmentally, he’s ready to learn, explore and figure out what his new life is going to be.

puppy age home

©istockphoto/Bigandt_Photography

11 to 12 Weeks is Fine for Some Breeds

Some breeders prefer to keep their puppies a bit longer than 10 weeks. Those who breed toy breeds especially, including Chihuahuas, Papillons, and other tiny dogs, will keep the puppies until they are 11 to 12 weeks of age. These tiny puppies can be quite fragile physically and may be slower to mature mentally and emotionally as babies. A few more weeks with their mother and littermates, as well as the people they know in their family, is often best for them.

Larger puppies, however, shouldn’t wait this long to go to their new homes. Nine to ten weeks of age is fine but any older could be problematic. Not only do large breed puppies grow rapidly, they are also stronger and rowdy, potentially making it more difficult for new owners to bond with this excited, big puppy who is jumping, pawing and otherwise making life difficult. Also, a 10-week-old large-breed puppy is still a dependent baby; by 12 weeks he’s changing. It’s much easier for new owners to bond with an eight—to 10-week-old puppy.

Younger is Not Better

Puppies should not leave their mom and littermates before eight weeks of age. The mother dog has so much to teach the new puppy; lessons that will affect him all his life, and his littermates teach important lessons as well. If the mother dog has passed away, the littermates need to remain together.

Puppies who leave their canine family too early will show immediate behavior problems. They will be fearful of many things and show a lack of confidence. They can also be slow to bond to people or will go the other direction, attaching so strongly to their new owners that they will panic when left alone. The ability to soothe himself, to relax when left alone, is missing with most of these puppies.

Biting is common. The mother dog teaches the puppy to control his biting as do the puppy’s littermates. When puppies go to their new home, some biting is to be expected, as all puppies experiment. But when deprived of these early lessons, the puppy will bite more and harder, and teaching him that biting is not allowed is more difficult.

House training problems are also more common. First of all, when new owners bring home a puppy, no matter what the puppy’s age, they begin house training lessons. However, a three-, four-, or even six-week-old puppy is not yet ready for these lessons. His bowel and bladder control is not yet mature and he will relieve himself when he needs to go, no matter whether he’s in the house or outside.

These puppies won’t know how to act with other puppies or dogs, and because they act differently, other dogs will react badly to these puppies. Since their mother didn’t have the chance to teach the puppy how to be a dog, he will always be socially inept.

puppy age home

©istockphoto/blanscape

Too Young is Illegal

In 26 states, the age at which puppies may be separated from the mother dog or sold is defined by law. Of those, 22 say that puppies must be eight weeks old before they can be sold. Three states—Wisconsin, Virginia, and Maine—require that puppies must be seven weeks old.

Some states focus on the age that a puppy can be separated from his mother. Illinois, for example, requires that a puppy be at least eight weeks old before he can be taken from his mother.

The laws vary as to who these laws apply to, with some focusing on dog breeders, kennels, and other commercial facilities. Other laws apply to anyone selling puppies, including those on Craigslist.

Before buying any puppy, the more you know the better. If an unscrupulous person produces puppies and knows that he can sell them early at six to seven weeks (or earlier) and avoid paying for food, veterinary care, or other costs, then that cycle will continue. But if more people say no, then perhaps that cycle of human behavior can be changed.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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