What age is best?
© Copyright Jenny Hawthorn 2002
This article is assuming a caring, responsible breeder.
For many years people (breeders) sent pups to new homes at 5 to 6 weeks old. The reasoning appeared to be that the pup could bond to the people better at this age.
However pups were losing their ability to bond with and interact with other dogs. Along the way the idea of 49 days (7 weeks) arose as being a great age to five more time in the litter to learn dog communication but still go to a new home young enough to bond.
We have a critical development window with pups. Between the age of 3 weeks and 12 weeks (some people say 14 weeks) they need to be people socialised (and for those breeding cats this window is 2 – 7 weeks). Maybe this is part of why the idea of younger homing happened. People felt they needed this critical time to bond. However by looking at adult dogs in rescue and being rehomed for other reasons we know that this is not correct Most of these adult dogs bond with their new owners every bit as strongly as the 6, 7 or 8 week old pup.
Up to 5 weeks old very little will be feared by the pup. Fear period sets in from 5 – 10 weeks (varies in length and level between individual pups) and again this is CRITICAL to a pups development. All new experiences should be positive at this time.
One very important thing they need at this time is lots of interaction with people. A pup that learns to like and trust people during the 3 – 12 weeks age will later bond easily to new people. A dog that is not well socialised with people during this age will always have trouble forming a bond with them later. Therefore it does not really matter if the pup is older before going to it’s new home – 12 weeks or even 20 weeks or adult would be fine as long as the breeder raised the pup correctly. (One small point is that if pups are kept beyond 3 months it is vitally important that they have quality one on one time with the humans and are not left to bond primarily to the other dogs ..especially Dam and any other siblings left).
During this socialisation period and in the relative care and safety of the breeder, Dam and siblings, pups should be introduced to a wide range of people – big people, tall people, short people, small people, people of a range of colours and ethnic backgrounds, people in hats and glasses, young people and old people, people in coats, people in dresses, every imaginable person the breeder can find to come and play gently with the pups!
During this time pups need to also be socialised to environment. A bit like when our children are at school, the days lesson is not always the main lesson. The main lesson is that the pup is learning to accept new situations .. and is learning to learn.
So the pup needs (again in it’s secure environment of breeder, Dam and siblings) to get experience of the environment. They need noise (music, radio, TV, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, vehicles, people talking and even shouting at times). They need tactile stimulation – a range of different surfaces building up from whatever is in the whelping box (including a wide range of toys) and on the floor in the whelping room (carpet in my case) to as many more types as possible. Surfaces include carpet, lino, tiles, wood, concrete, rubber, dirt, grass (long and short), weeds and other plants. They also need the physical contact with non surface things – pots, chairs, toys, plants, sticks, hard objects, soft objects, furry objects, objects that make noises, things they can climb over, under and through, things that roll, safe things to put in mouths, things they can interact with with another pup etc.
They need time alone with the breeder and other time with their litter mates. Age 6 – 8 weeks (and preferably up to at least 10 weeks) is absolutely critical to be with the litter still. The play, rough housing and other interaction between siblings and between pups and Dam is the solid basis for the pup learning how to communicate properly with other dogs. Many cases of dog aggression or excessive dog submission can be traced back to a pup going to it’s new home at 6 weeks old. Breeders are sending their pups out into the world before they have learnt to ‘talk dog’ and yet it is so easy for them to take the bit of extra time and care to ensure a properly developed pup.
During these weeks (after 6 weeks old) the breeder can be working on basic house training and crate training. Things are so much easier when it has been a normal routine in the litter. New homes and new ideas all thrown at the pup at once in the middle of a fear period of life are simply setting pup, new owner and new home up for failure!
So what age is best? In my opinion 10 weeks and upwards although I do admit to letting pups go at 8 weeks.
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