Younger is Not Better!
Why it is critical for puppies to stay with their moms and littermates until they are at least 8 weeks of age!
First of all, let’s make this incredibly clear… AHEM…
In Pennsylvania (and many other states) it is “unlawful” to buy or sell (trade/barter/transfer ownership) any dog under 8 weeks of age.
In Pennsylvania, the only exception to this rule is if a puppy has been orphaned and someone gives the puppy to a registered rescue group OR if that rescue group rehomes the puppy with the approval of a veterinarian. PA does not specify repercussions but it is an illegal transfer of ownership.
Itty bitty little puppies are adorable–I agree, and like I’ve said before, I love puppies, but the idea that getting the youngest possible puppy will improve your chances of being able to raise the puppy “right” and have a “blank slate” is not at all true. You can absolutely be setting yourself and your puppy up to fail big time. Weeks 4 to 8 have been shown to be a critical time of puppy development and when puppies are removed from their littermates and mom during this time, they miss out on essential development. On a side note, this is also a huge reason why it’s incredibly important to get your puppy from a reputable breeder, rescue, or shelter who will ensure proper socialization during these early, but very influential, weeks.
I cannot even count the number of puppies I’ve worked with who were brought home too early. Some of them were purchased from such unscrupulous sources that the sellers changed (scratched out or whited out) the actual date of birth on the paperwork so that it looked as though the pups were actually 8 weeks old, but it was clear, looking at their development, that they were closer to 5 or 6 weeks old. Unscrupulous breeders, uneducated backyard breeders, commercial kennels, and pet stores are really the biggest ones to blame for puppies going to homes way too early (and the frustration with these irresponsible sources of puppies has been a frequent topic on our blog lately).
Let’s do some myth busting about young puppies…
Once a puppy is weaned, they no longer need their mom and can leave safely
If a puppy is weaned at the appropriate age (starting at around 4 or 5 weeks and not being completely weaned until around 7 weeks), it’s not wrong that a pup can leave it’s mom shortly after being weaned (which puts them at about 8 weeks old). However, I have seen some puppies being called “fully weaned” way earlier than they should be and based on some of the behaviors observed in the puppy, they were probably not fully weaned. Mom is more than just a milk factory, mom is a teacher, and puppies need to be with mom for more than just eating. Even though a puppy can eat solids and does eat solids, breast milk from mom provides critical immunity, brain development, and gut health benefits that kibble/raw/canned just doesn’t. Even if pups are mostly eating solids, they will still get milk snacks from mom periodically. This slow weaning is also highly beneficial to the mom to help her milk stores to dry up slowly.
Getting your puppy younger ensures that you will be getting them before they learn bad behaviors from other dogs
Well… no. Not at all. Assuming a non-neglectful and non-abusive situation, puppies absolutely need to stay with their mom and littermates to learn appropriate social skills. During weeks 4-8 puppies actually start playing together and become adventurers. During these weeks puppies learn how rough is too rough when playing, they learn to respond appropriately to another dog communicating “stop,” they learn how to speak “dog,” they learn what behaviors work (play bows) and what doesn’t work (biting and shaking) to get a sibling/mom to play, they learn how to respect being told no or stop, and they learn that indiscriminately biting hard is unacceptable. Basically, they learn bite inhibition, how to respect others, and how to deal appropriately with frustrations–all of these are critical skills for them to know before going into their new homes.
Getting your puppy younger ensures that you will be getting them before they develop bad potty habits
Actually, many ethical and responsible breeders/rescues start to house train their puppies from a fairly early age using litter boxes or potty areas within the puppy’s play area. Even some very very young puppies will leave the puppy pile to go potty on the other side of the whelping box. So many breeders will get them started with the idea of going to a specific spot using potty pads, litter boxes, or faux grass areas. Even if a responsible breeder/shelter/rescue doesn’t pad train their puppies, they help instill the preference for having a clean area by keeping their area clean and providing opportunities to go outside to potty once old enough. By the time Oswin came to me at 9 weeks old, she was 100% reliable at using a potty patch (we used real sod) if I had to leave her for longer than her bladder could hold it–because of the work her breeder did, she did not have a single accident in this scenario.
Getting a very young puppy allows you to raise them the way you want and socialize them how you want
Well… yes, I suppose at the base, this is accurate. But there are two big issues with this line of thought…
1. A responsible breeder/rescue will have pups in a home with a caretaker who is doing good socialization work with them for those crucial 4 weeks of development from 4-8wks old. A colleague currently raising a rescue litter of pups has spent hours and hours socializing these pups to people, healthy and friendly dogs, loud noises, strange textures under their toes, remote controlled cars, being pulled in wagons or carried in baskets, and so much more. She has pretty much put a halt to much of her business and personal life to give these puppies the best possible start–this is something most owners could not do and these pups are getting far more extensive socialization with her than in almost any other home.
2. The loss of socialization experience from littermate and mom (as previously mentioned) is so detrimental that all benefits of socializing to your lifestyle specifically could be negated with a dog with minimal bite inhibition and who doesn’t “speak dog” fluently.
So what are some of the problems you can encounter with getting puppies too young
*Poor Bite Inhibition–your puppy may not know what it means to have a soft mouth. Whenever they use their mouths it’s hard and forceful, never gentle or mindful.
*Inability to read ‘cut off’ signals–where a normal puppy would learn to stop when a sibling yelps, freezes, or walks away, a puppy who misses out on that critical socialization lesson, may not listen to appropriate attempts to tell him to quit. So a human who gets bitten too hard and immediately walks away is doing the right thing, but her puppy doesn’t read that cut off signal and has a hard time learning the cause and effect relationship because he missed out on that lesson when his brain was primed to learn it and with teachers who are FAR better than we are.
*Easily overstimulated/hard to come back down–puppies learn how to regulate play and interactions with siblings and mom during the first 8 weeks of life. Puppies learn that getting too amped up/crazy does not result in more fun/play with their siblings or mom. They also learn how to settle themselves if they do get amped up and their playmate quits playing, they have to learn how to come back down to get what they want (play) again. These things are things I often see in my clients who are dealing with reactivity issues.
*Nervousness–in general and specifically with regards to other dogs that can lead to reactivity or aggression. Puppies removed from mom and sibling miss out on learning to speak dog fluently as a first language. During those first 8 weeks they are learning all sorts about doggie communication. When they don’t understand normal dog language, they can misinterpret the language of other dogs and in turn over react to situations and get themselves into trouble. They don’t know what is normal or what is play–normal play can look teethy and growly and a dog who doesn’t understand that it’s play could become defensive very fast. I also frequently see dogs who are not confident in the world because after they were taken from mom too early, they didn’t get the intensive socialization they needed to the world.
*Oral obsessions–(+this is strictly anecdotal and not all dogs with oral obsessions were taken from mom too early) I see a lot of dogs who were taken from mom too early fixate on suckling blankets, beds, or pillows. Consistently putting things in their mouths, being very ‘into’ chewing things in general, or obsessively licking things (people, themselves, inanimate object) are other things I often see. Most of these issues are more annoying than concerning, but for dogs who are obsessively licking themselves it can be dangerous–they can cause painful sores or lick granulomas that can become infected and require medical attention in order to be treated (and continued licking will prevent healing).
Although it might seem reasonable or rational that getting a younger puppy is better, it is absolutely not better.
For more information on your state’s law regarding the sale of puppies, visit this page that has an overview of the rules and links to actual documents.