Once you’ve picked out a puppy, the hardest part of your dog search is over. But when should that puppy join your family? If it’s already weaned and separated from littermates, the answer is “as soon as possible.” But if the pup is still with its dam and siblings, the question is a little more tricky. Some breeders or rescues send puppies home as early as six weeks, but this is actually illegal in several states. In Colorado, where I live, the sale of a puppy under the age of eight weeks is prohibited by law. Other breeders and rescues prefer to wait until a puppy is nine or ten weeks old to allow it to join its permanent family. I personally recommend bringing a puppy home at nine weeks of age.
The Role of Mom and Siblings in Puppy Development
In many cases, dogs weaned too early snap at owners and other dogs, chew furniture, and are difficult to train and housebreak. This is because a dog’s mother and siblings play important roles in the puppy’s behavioral development. An inhibited bite is learned from wrestling with siblings and discovering that biting too hard means the sibling will bite back or end the play session. Humans have a much more difficult time teaching this lesson to a young puppy. Toilet behavior is learned in part by watching the mother and siblings, smelling the places where they toilet, and mimicking them. Again, a difficult lesson for a human to convey if it was never taught by a dog.
The Role of Human Socialization in Puppy Development
Studies have shown, over and over, that dogs must be socialized with humans before the age of 16 weeks in order to be good pets. Dogs that are not exposed to human beings before that age become feral or near-feral. This critical socialization period should be used wisely to maximize its positive impact on the puppy’s disposition as an adult dog. If a pup is kept with siblings or its mother for too long during this critical time in its life, some puppies can become so bonded with other dogs that they don’t socialize well with humans and become fearful or distant adults.
The Sweet Spot
In my opinion, nine weeks is the “sweet spot” at which a puppy can be removed from its mother and litter without failing to learn bite inhibition, but before the point at which it may become unfriendly to humans or become so wedded to its role in the litter hierarchy as to create problems down the road. Giving puppies an extra week with their litter after the 8-week minimum adds just enough time to pick up polite play manners and good housebreaking habits, without wasting too much of the critical socialization period.