Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
Why Are Puppies Removed Too Early?
As a dog trainer, I often encounter dog owners desperate for some help. Often, some puppy owners claim their puppies bite too hard or that their dogs are asocial and suffer from inter-dog aggression. A common cause that I find is that these puppies were removed too early from their litter. There are many reasons for this premature separation, but a common one is dealing with a backyard breeder.
Such breeders generally are eager to make profits and the earlier they send the puppy home, the better. A reputable breeder, on the other hand, knows for a fact, that for the puppy's physical and psychological well-being, it is imperative for the puppy to stay with its mother and litter mates until the puppy is at least 7-8 weeks old. Of course, this is not always the case. There are instances, where there is no other choice than taking the puppy to a new home early—simply because it is orphaned.
Regardless of the causes, the repercussions of removing puppies too early may prove to be deleterious. Let's look at these problems more closely.
Why Puppies Should Stay With Mother and Litter Mates Until 8 Weeks
Puppies learn a variety of fundamental life lessons as they grow up along with their mother and litter-mates. Between the age of three and six weeks, puppies learn important behavioral patterns specific to dogs. For instance, through play they learn about different body postures and follow the lines of canine communication. Between five to seven weeks, puppies also learn how to inhibit their bite when playing, a very important life lesson which will affect the puppy's future behavior.
Puppies learn bite inhibition through play. When a puppy bites too hard, the other puppy will likely make an acute yelp, followed by withdrawal from play. The biting puppy therefore learns that in order for play to continue, he must watch how much pressure he uses to bite. Failure to learn appropriate bite inhibition, will therefore result in a puppy who does not measure its bite. This means that it will likely hurt another dog even if playing, and most of all, will definitely hurt a human's sensitive skin if the owner does not take measures to teach the puppy bite inhibition.
Puppies also learn from the age of five weeks how to be submissive. The mother dog teaches the puppy basic manners and she may discipline unacceptable behaviors by growling, snarling or snapping lightly. The puppies after a few corrections learn more acceptable behaviors, and afterwards, all it takes is the mother to give a mere glare to get a point across. When puppies fail to learn discipline from their mother, they tend to become very difficult to train.
What Happens If a Puppy Is Separated From the Litter Too Early?
According to Sue St Gelais, puppies removed from the litter too early are prone to be nervous with a tendency to bark and bite. They are also less likely to accept discipline and may also be aggressive to other dogs. In her own words, ''Generally speaking, a puppy take away from its mother and litter mates before seven weeks of age, may not realize its full potential as a dog and a companion. To maximize the mental and psychological development of puppies, they must remain in the nest with their mother and litter mates until seven weeks of age."
Singleton puppies and puppies removed too early may also have a hard time tolerating frustration. Because they never had to struggle over resources such as mom's nipples, they aren't much used to not getting what they want and can't self-soothe.
How to Train a Puppy That's Been Taken Away From His Mother Too Soon
Not all is lost however. Dog owners may invest in some remedial work to overcome the problems common with puppies who have lacked discipline from their mom. Of course, dog owners are not asked to growl, snarl or snap at their puppies. Humans know better and can resort to more intelligent strategies for assuming the leadership role.
A good place to start is to have a dog trainer evaluate the puppy and determine if it can be a good candidate for puppy classes. Puppy classes can be beneficial in many ways. The puppy may learn that playing rough is unacceptable and, therefore may learn some basic canine etiquette practices. It is important to work on this now, that the puppy is small and not 80 pounds later, when the dog may turn out being a liability.
Fundamental is for the owner to assume a strong leadership role. A good leader controls resources. Therefore, a puppy should learn the ''nothing in life is free'' training program. The puppy needs to learn to earn most of its privileges by being asked to sit before being fed, pet and thereafter. Nothing is granted or given for free.
Ongoing training is fundamental to strengthen the bond between dog and owner and to continue demonstrating leadership. When leadership is implemented when it lacked before, the puppy may object to it at first, but eventually, the puppy learns to respect the dog owner's role of authority.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: Are a puppy's lungs developed at 6 weeks?
Answer: Lung development in puppies is expected to have finished in the last days of pregnancy. More precisely, the saccular phase of lung development starts around day 57 up to 60 days which is the time in which surfactant production is believed to also occur. Dogs are in general pregnant for 63 days.
Bob on June 03, 2020:
What are some ways to help a mature dog with the same type of problems?
Jennifer Garcia on March 04, 2018:
While I understand the importance of not removing puppies from their mother until a certain age I'm also concerned because my mother is biting the puppies in one instance she made one of them bleed in the gums and I think has caused some puffy bumps on their head. I'm concerned if I should be removing them from her.
Rising Caren from New York on November 30, 2011:
So the mother can discipline the child? Whoever would have thought?
You'd think these breeders would want these puppies to be gentler and wait for them to be ready.
lejonkung on November 30, 2011:
Naaw they are so cute, i want one! :)