Too Young to Leave Mom

Tiny Cali immediately tried to take over big sister Jana’s bed

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.



4 thoughts on “Too Young to Leave Mom

  1. I have a long list of what a “reputable breeder” will and will NOT do … maybe a future post. Essentially. I would be describing Cali’s breeder. I wish that people did their homework and only supported ethical, caring breeders. We’re pretty far from that ideal, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good column. I hope that you share it with the Frenchs.

    On Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 10:04 AM, The Thinking Dog wrote:

    > Pam Hogle posted: ” 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 the” >


  3. Before I got Brèagha, I was looking at rescues and breeders alike. Some breeders looked promising, but when I asked them how old the puppies would be when they allowed them to go to their new homes, they said 6 weeks. My response was always to say “okay, thanks,” to them and ” scratch that” to myself, and promptly cease communication with the person. Immediate turn off to me when people are selling puppies under 8 weeks. No way would I even want a 6 week old puppy anyway, are you kidding me? 8 week olds are hard enough to deal with at first. 😉


  4. Based on our experiences with Ray, a shelter can potentially offer an “after-sales” service that cannot be matched by many breeders. We constantly picked their trainers brains for ideas, they even had a trainer visit our home to observe Ray in our environment … and they still make a fuss of him when they see him. He loves to visit the shelter when he can!
    Reputable breeders will also show ongoing care for their dogs, but it can come with a high cost when compared to a shelter dog.
    As for the Kajiji ads and the backyard breeders? They are simply trying to make a few dollars on the side. It is better to not support those businesses. It may look like a “good deal”, but you have no idea what you are getting into and, once the payment has been made, you will invariably be on your own. Stop supporting them and they will slowly go out of business.


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