Last week, I fumed about puppy mill “rescue”; this week, I’ll take on unethical breeders.
In the months I have been in Montana, I have been lucky enough to meet and play with many puppies. I’ve noticed a distressing pattern, though. Several of these puppies — all different breeds or mixes — were really tiny. Upon asking how old they were, I have heard, over and over, that the proud new owners got their puppies at six weeks of age. Six weeks!
That’s too young. Some states even have laws prohibiting the sale of puppies under a minimum age, usually seven or eight weeks. Not Montana, sadly.
Puppies are generally weaned by five or six weeks; their sharp little teeth are coming in, and Mom wants nothing to do with them. They’re also getting to be rambunctious; they move around well and their eyes and ears are fully open. Both the canine mom and the human family may be ready for the puppies to move on to their permanent homes. But that doesn’t mean that the puppies are ready to leave the litter.
Weeks six, seven, and eight are important weeks in their social development. They play and wrestle with their littermates. Those new, sharp teeth are tested out on siblings’ ears and limbs. Puppies learn that biting too hard elicits a sharp yelp and a temporary shunning. Puppies who persist in biting their siblings find themselves left out of puppy games.
Singleton puppies and those taken from their litters too soon do not learn these important lessons. They may never develop the appropriate interdog social skills that they need to be “easy” dogs — dogs who can go to parks and people’s houses and be walked without the humans having to fear encountering another dog.
Another consequence is that the puppies don’t learn bite inhibition from their siblings. Who is around for them to try out those new needle-like teeth on? The human family, of course. Many of these besotted new puppy owners sport dozens of scabs and scrapes on their arms and legs. Ouch. They’ll need to put a lot of painful effort into teaching the puppy not to mouth or nip.
If there’s an older dog in the home, that dog might be able to teach the pup some manners, but he’s not likely to be as effective as a whole litter of biting siblings. For one thing, the puppy won’t experience being bitten and gnawed on, as she would in her litter. For another, adult dogs tend to give young puppies a lot of license before disciplining them. The puppy could develop some bad habits before the older dog (or human) loses patience. The rough-and-tumble of a litter is the best place to get that initial bite inhibition training.
I know many people who will only get a dog from a breeder because they believe that all shelter dogs have “issues.” My response to them is that any dog can have issues, and that many breeders cause those issues, either through poor breeding or poor handling in the pups’ early life. Breeders who send home puppies at six weeks are at the top of that list.
A law shouldn’t be necessary to keep puppies with their mom until at least seven, but preferably eight to nine weeks of age. A responsible, caring, knowledgeable breeder would do that — would insist on it. Sure, there might be cases where a lone puppy or a few puppies wind up in a shelter; in those cases, taking them home might be better than leaving them in a crowded, noisy environment. But when you’re getting a puppy from a breeder or family? Steer clear of the person who presses you to pick up your puppy too early. There are likely other ways in which that person is not acting in the puppies’ best interests.
In case you are wondering, Cali came home at eight and a half weeks. My friends and I picked her up, along with her sister Dora, and flew home with them. Our biggest worry leading up to that date was whether our pudgy little furballs would still fit into their travel kennels when we got to the home of their wonderful, wonderful breeders.