Although most puppies are weaned enough that they can get by without Mother’s milk at 6 weeks, it is much better to wait until at least 8 weeks (some breeders say 12 weeks) before leaving for their new homes. Mother dog teaches her puppies the meaning of no, and that is the start of learning self control for the puppy. Allowing puppy to learn that “No means no” is a very valuable life lesson. You may say “the mother is already tired of them at 5 weeks, and the puppies are completely weaned”. Part of what you are seeing is the mother dog’s work of teaching the puppies dog etiquette and dog language. Her puppies are learning to be submissive and are starting to understand that there are boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. It may even look like mother is a bit aggressive or harsh with her puppies, but that is how it is puppy must learn that “No means no”. Puppies also learn by watching other dogs and if Mom is a well-behaved dog, you will be doing the new owners of your pups a favor to let the puppies learn from Mom as long as they can. A dog’s ability to control the force of his biting is called “bite inhibition.” It’s a critically important skill that every puppy needs to learn, the earlier the better. At first, they don’t know their own strength nor how sharp their little teeth really are. Puppies learn to control the force of their biting from the reactions of their mother and littermates during play and especially play-fighting. If you find yourself with a puppy who, for whatever reason, tends to bite frequently and harder than he/she should with those needle sharp puppy teeth, you need to start convincing him that self-restraint is a desirable quality. You can’t start this lesson too early when it comes to putting canine teeth on human skin and clothes.
Puppies initially learn bite inhibition while still with their mom and littermates, through negative punishment: the pup’s behavior makes a good thing go away. If a pup bites too hard while nursing, the milk bar is likely to get up and leave or mother may give a not so nice warning/reminder with her teeth. Pups learn to use their teeth softly, if at all, if they want the good stuff to keep coming. As pups begin to play with each other, negative punishment also plays a role in bite inhibition. If you bite your playmate too hard, he’ll likely quit the game and leave or bite back. For these reasons, orphan and singleton pups (as well as those who are removed from their litters too early) are more likely to have a “hard bite” (lack of bite inhibition) than pups who have appropriate interactions for at least eight to sixteen weeks with their mother and siblings. These dogs miss out on important opportunities to learn the consequences of biting too hard (something that mother dog and siblings are best at teaching); they also fail to develop “tolerance for frustration,” since they don’t have to compete with littermates for resources. They may also use their bite to control the world around them. Your dog may never bite you in anger or out of frustration, but if he doesn’t have good bite inhibition you’re still likely to feel a hard bite when he takes treats from your fingers and removes skin as well as the tasty tidbit.
Possible problems associated with leaving Mother too soon (list is not complete).
- At greater risk for having separation anxiety.
- Have biting issues later in life, because they did not learn bite inhibition from their Mother or siblings. Mother’s and siblings are the best teachers for this!
- Dog aggressive because they did not learn dog manners from Mother and siblings.
- Don’t understand the concept of no
- Lack self control
- Lack of patience
- Lack of tolerance for frustration
- Suffer from low self-esteem
- Use their bite to control their world around them (A bully)
- Become insecure adult dogs
- End up in a shelter or getting put down due to undesirable behavior
Remember dogs are very social creatures and while they do adjust to a new “pack” the separation from the litter can be quite traumatic. Sending a piece of an old towel or blanket from the old home to the new home can be helpful. Waiting till they are older and more confident is also helpful.
Benefits of waiting until 8 weeks to go to new home (list not complete)
- Will learn how to be submissive
- Learn how to behave with other dogs
- Some cases mother dogs have started house-training
- Better understanding that no means no
- Better self control
- Adjust to new environment sooner
- Easier to house train
- Have better understanding of boundaries
- Less crying in the new home at night
If you are getting a puppy more than 16 weeks old be sure to ask the breeder how the puppy has been socialized. Between the ages of 7 and 16 weeks, puppies begin to form attitudes and opinions that will last a lifetime. It is during this period that most puppies can develop up to 90 percent of their attitudes toward people, other animals, their environment, and objects in their environment. Puppies are highly impressionable and the early weeks and months of a puppy’s life are critical times. An experience, whether positive or negative, can leave a lasting impression on a puppy. Proper socialization during this short window of opportunity will guide your puppy’s development while he/she gains an understanding of appropriate behavior and interaction with people, objects, and other animals.