Puppies need to stay with their original families (at least the rest of the litter) for at least the first two months (or 8 weeks) of their lives, according to some recent scientific research.
Certain canine behavioral components (i.e., aggression, anxiety, and noise phobia) are largely influenced by genetics. However, animal experts agree that this is only part of a much larger picture. A combination of environment, genetics, and life experience most significantly influences a dog’s behavioral development.
All puppies go through a “sensitive stage,” during which the influences of their environment and their experiences are particularly critical. At this time in their development, they need to be socialized with other dogs and humans, but this needs to be done in a safe and controlled environment. They also need adequate environmental stimulation, complete with the presence of toys, training tools, and nourishment.
This sensitive stage lasts from around 3 weeks of age to about 14 weeks of age, depending on the breed and/or the individual dog. The experiences the puppy has (or doesn’t have) during this time can make or break him in terms of behavior, character, and temperament. This is why it so critical for puppies to remain with their families of origin for at least the first 8 weeks of their lives, so they can get proper dog-to-dog interaction.
The results from a recent Italian study back this idea up. These researchers followed 140 dogs who had been separated from their litters at two different ages. One group was removed from their litters at between 30 and 40 days (4 to 6 weeks), while the other group was allowed to stay with their mothers for 60 days (over 8 weeks). The results unequivocally indicated that the puppies who had been taken from their litters at a young age were much more likely to exhibit behavior problems (destructiveness, excessive barking, owner aggression, pica, stranger aversion/aggressiveness, etc.) as adult dogs (up to 7 years of age) than were the puppies who remained with their littermates longer.
According to this Italian study, the sensitive period is a crucial time for the proper behavior molding time for puppies. Separation from the litter that is too early sets the puppy up for all sorts of problems, including behavioral issues that will last well into adulthood. If the puppy is taken straight to a pet store environment after he is removed from the litter, the behavioral problems will likely be even worse.
Pet ownership includes many responsibilities, including the safety and overall wellbeing of the pet. Part of this wellbeing relies on how the puppy is handled from the very earliest age. A puppy learns about his world through his socialization with his brothers and sisters and his mother. He gains a sense of strength and security from his mother that cannot be obtained anywhere else.
The mother’s presence reassures the puppy and prevents him from experiencing early anxiety and fear which very well may translate to adult fearful and avoidant behaviors. The mother provides much-needed guidance to her pups during the sensitive period that helps them understand how to best navigate their world. Without her near, the puppies exhibit great amounts of distress, and this usually results in behavioral traits that potential owners find undesirable. For the best possible home environment for both the pet and the potential pet owner, it is best to wait until the puppy is ready before removing him from his litter, and this should never be done before the puppy is eight weeks old.
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Until next time,
About the Author: Wayne Booth is owner of in Nashville, TN. Wayne has been teaching people how to become Professional Dog Trainers since 1990 and he is the Training Director of Canine Behavior Specialists Network.