Puppies are always cute, no matter what age they are. However, they do grow up quickly and stop looking like chunky puppies within weeks. Many people want to prolong their enjoyment of this stage as long as possible, bringing their puppies home as soon as possible.
We don’t think that there is the best age to get a puppy. Your dog is going to grow up with you and your family for over a decade, in which they’re not going to look like a puppy for very long. The puppy stage is so short that it shouldn’t really matter to the owner, as a dog should only be brought into a family if they’re in it for the long haul.
With that being said, there is an argument for bringing the dog home as soon as possible for socialization and training purposes. However, on the other hand, many older dogs are rehomed into households and don’t suffer from any issues regarding these topics.
Today we’ll be looking at whether it’s best to bring your puppy home at eight or twelve weeks. Both of these ages are good times to bring a puppy home, so don’t think that a twelve-week-old puppy is too old for your home.
Between eight and twelve weeks old is the best time to bring your new puppy home as they have been weaned successfully from their mothers, are independent enough to leave, and can begin their training. They’ll also be able to socialize with other humans and pets well.
The importance of age in puppies – every week counts
We didn’t know this prior to our research, but the age of puppies can be very important when it comes to them adjusting to a new environment. Many states have a legal requirement that dogs cannot be given to new owners before they’re eight weeks old. You might have thought that this was due to something unimportant, but it is actually extremely necessary.
This legal requirement has been backed by over 50 years of research on dog behavior, so we’ll trust the experts on this one.
The difference between eight and twelve weeks is one month – that’s it! The fact that some people think that a two-month-old puppy is an ideal age but three months is too old is beyond us.
Fox & Stelzner (1967) was one of the earliest studies to support waiting until the puppy was three months old before bringing it home. The study consisted of 17 dogs, eight purebred Beagles, and nine mixed breeds, split into three groups to determine whether the effects of incremented socialization would be substantial or not.
Group one was weaned from their mothers at just three days old. Group two was weaned at three and a half weeks, and group three at eight weeks. Once all of the puppies were twelve weeks old they took a number of behavioral tests.
The puppies who were taken from their mothers earliest showed significant signs of social development deficits, while the puppies weaned at eight weeks showed none. It can be concluded that a puppy needs at least eight weeks of care from its mother, as well as playtime with the rest of its litter, to be able to grow into a social dog.
What happens in the early weeks of a puppy’s life?
Within the first two weeks
A puppy is incredibly dependent on its mother for the first 14 days of its life. They are both blind and deaf with almost no motor skills learned thanks to the brain’s immaturity. A puppy this young will have the same brain activity when they’re awake and asleep, showing how much they need their mothers to help them survive.
The mother will provide nourishment through their milk, warmth, and will even help them go to the bathroom through anogenital licking stimulation. If a puppy is separated from its mother at this time, its risk for death and disease is much higher. Not to mention the stress and trauma put on both the mother and the puppy.
If these puppies do make it to adulthood; however, they will often have behavioral issues such as excessive barking, uncontrollable fear, and adverse reactions to noise.
By three weeks old
Between weeks two and three, the puppy’s eyes and ears will begin to open and they can become more alert. They’ll also begin to walk and explore more around them. The mother can now leave the puppies for short periods of time as they will play with one another until she gets back.
Some of the puppies might begin to yelp and cry when the mother leaves, but they will begin to get more independent as time goes on.
The third week is when the puppies can begin to be socialized with their littermates, other pets other than their mother, and even humans. For the best results, puppies should be introduced to people of all ages, races, and genders.
Between five and seven weeks
During this age, the mother will begin weaning her puppies from her by walking away, growling at them, showing her teeth, or biting them. The bites will be gentle enough not to hurt them, but strong enough for the puppies to get the message.
This process of weaning introduces the puppies to discipline, social behavior, and dominant and submissive relationships.
You might think that once the puppy has been weaned successfully, you can take them away from their litter. However, this is still slightly too early as the puppy needs to learn how to play, run, and bite other dogs in their litter.
Think of this as their practice to become an adult dog. They are copying what their mother does to them on other dogs their own size. Allowing them to do this will give the puppies the best chance of growing up without social deficits.
Eight to twelve weeks
Puppies who have been with their mother and litter for at least eight weeks will experience less anxiety and fear by the time they grow into an adult dog. Without this play enrichment and crucial learning experiences, Puppies will be more likely to growl, bite, snap, or even attack other dogs.
Some puppies require specific changes to this socialization learning. For example, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels should be socialized later in their lives than other breeds such as German Shepherds or Yorkshire Terriers.
Without the crucial enrichment that these puppies get between eight and twelve weeks, they could begin to show signs of aggression with other dogs as they get older. There are plenty of benefits that come with waiting until this age landmark and many drawbacks from preventing a puppy from experiencing it.
Socializing with humans – when is best?
A study showed that out of 34 Cocker spaniel and Beagle puppies, dogs that were socialized with humans before three weeks of age were much more likely to fail a set of behavioral tests. These tests were carried out at 15 weeks.
On the other hand, puppies that were socialized between the ages of seven and nine weeks were much better behaved at the follow-up. Puppies socialized with too soon were also more fearful and aggressive than the puppies socialized with later.
So, it’s always best to choose a puppy that has been socialized with later on in life than too early. The early weeks are vital for the puppy to learn from and be protected by its mother to avoid issues as they get older.
Pet store problems
A study from 2016 compared aggressive behaviors that puppies displayed in accordance to whether the owners got them from a pet store or official breeders. 173 companion dog owners were subjects of the trial, giving it an excellent data pool.
The study found that puppies bought from pet stores showed much higher levels of aggression directed to their owners. These findings were supported by another study in 2018 (Cannas, Simona et al) in which their study found that out of 335 dogs, each that was bought from a pet store showed signs of anxiety.
Official breeders nurture their puppies to be healthy and sociable as they grow up. Many of these breeders know and understand the importance of training and socialization, which is why they keep their puppies with their mothers and litters until they are old enough to wean.
Pet store owners; however, do not always do this as they want to get the puppies sold as soon as possible. This means displaying the smallest, and therefore youngest, puppies that they can to make a sale.
While official breeders are often far better than pet stores, you can come across both responsible and irresponsible breeders. The latter will be no better than pet store owners, so you have to do your research beforehand to ensure that your puppy is coming from a good first home.
Are the effects of early separation reversible?
Dogs who have grown up away from their mothers and litters will be more likely to show signs of aggression, fear, anxiety, and other behavioral issues. These dogs will commonly be abandoned by their owners due to the fact that they feel like they cannot take care of their dogs.
As you might imagine, this second abandonment will only impact the dog in a negative way. Luckily, there are owners out there who will take in dogs with behavioral issues and train them to be better around humans.
Some dog rescue organizations will also train this behavior out of dogs so that they can be rehomed to new owners. Even owners themselves can help their dogs to grow from a poor start in life.
However, it’s not an easy feat and could have certainly been avoided if the dog had only been allowed to stay with their mothers for a few extra weeks. Unfortunately, humans who separate puppies too early won’t want to deal with the consequences of their actions and rehome their dogs before even attempting to help them.
Caring for a twelve-week old puppy
So, we can all agree that waiting until eight to twelve weeks is best for both you and your puppy. We might even suggest holding off until the twelve-week mark to ensure that your dog has been completely weaned from its mother and has got the best experiences possible from its littermates.
But how do you care for your new puppy?
Your puppy should be taken to a vet as soon as possible for a check-up. The vet will also let you know how many vaccinations your puppy needs to protect them from diseases.
A puppy should not be walked outside until they have received all of their vaccinations.
Taking your dog to puppy classes can be a great way for them to socialize and learn basic behavior from a professional. Make sure that you research beforehand to ensure that you’re taking your dog to the best school around.
Toilet training and crate training are two very important aspects of caring for your dog. The former will prevent any accidents happening around the home, which is annoying for you and embarrassing for your dog.
Crate training ensures that your dog has a safe and comfortable space while you’re away or sleeping. This establishes boundaries and shows that you are the dominant one in your relationship.
Toys and Playtime
Make sure that you keep an eye on your puppy’s favorite toys and food so that you can use them for rewards at a later date. Using food and toys that your dog actually likes will make them more likely to learn good behavior than if you were to use treats that they didn’t enjoy.
Young puppies need lots of playtimes to stimulate their minds, so surround them with lots of toys and make sure that you play with them to help form your bond.
The best age to bring a puppy home is eight to twelve weeks. Any earlier will remove them from their mothers prematurely and increase the chances of behavioral issues in the long run.
Twelve-week-old puppies are not too old to be brought home and can actually have the best start in life.