There is a considerable amount of variation in terms of what people think of as an acceptable age for puppies to leave their dam and littermates, and while understandably puppy buyers like to get their new puppy home as soon as possible, it is vitally important that the puppies are not removed from the dam too soon. Puppies do an awful lot of learning during their first few weeks of life, developing the skills, behaviours and personality traits that will remain with them throughout the rest of their lives, and which can only be learned from the mother dog and their siblings.
Read on to learn more about the important stages of learning that puppies go through while still with their dam, plus advice on how old a puppy should be before they are removed from the dam and littermates.
When the puppies are very small, the dam will spend a lot of one-to-one time with each puppy, grooming them, feeding them and taking care of them. Touch is the first sensation that new puppies will experience, as the dam will lick them frequently, both to groom them, and to begin encouraging their eyes to open. This physical contact with the dam is a vital part of the bonding process, not just between the dam and the litter, but in terms of teaching the puppies about the power of touch and how this leads to security and feeling safe. The puppies will also live in close quarters with each other, and rely on each other for comfort and warmth, beginning the process of socialisation and positive relationships with other dogs.
As soon as the puppies are able to crawl about and particularly when they first open their eyes and are introduced to a whole new sensual experience, they will realise that they are not the only dog in the world, and that the attention of their dam is split between them and their other littermates! This is when the puppies begin to learn about dealing with each other, the very first dogs that they will meet out of the thousands that they will come into contact with throughout the course of their lives.
They will learn about competition for resources and attention, contact with other dogs and what is and is not ok, how to enjoy the company of other dogs, and the first stages of getting along with others.
As the puppies reach a few weeks old, they will burst into life as all of their senses are finally active, and they will begin to move around much more, investigate the world around them, get used to people, and start to interact more with their littermates- in between periods of deep sleep! At this point, they will begin to learn about the position of the dominant dog (the dam) and respecting her commands, as well as what is and is not appropriate behaviour with the other littermates.
The dam will begin to put the puppies in their place when they get carried away, telling them off and moving them about if they are getting in the way or straying too far from the dam’s side. The puppies will also spend a lot of time rolling around with each other and beginning to use their mouths to communicate, learning to bark ad starting to nip and chew at things. The reactions that this elicits from the dam and other littermates will form the foundations of their understanding of acceptable behaviour, such as when another puppy yelps in response to a nip, and what it feels like to be nipped themselves!
There are two common points on the timeline when puppies are commonly removed from their dam- eight weeks and twelve weeks respectively. Most professional breeders of pedigree dogs will not allow their pups to go to their new homes until they are twelve weeks old, although some breeders see eight weeks as a fair time to allow the puppies to leave, and taking home a puppy at eight weeks old is not uncommon.
While puppies are usually fully weaned at the age of seven weeks old, and are able to eat solid foods and no longer need to nurse from the dam, there is a lot of merit in allowing the puppies to stay with the dam until they are twelve weeks old. The additional four weeks between weeks eight and twelve are very formative for the young puppy, and their socialisation, learned behaviours and personalities really come on in leaps and bounds during this time, which will help to provide the puppy with a firm foundation for the rest of their lives.
Added to this, the additional four weeks that this allows means that the puppies will be able to have the first of their two-stage vaccinations, which is important in terms of setting them up to be able to face the outside world and resist contracting transmissible diseases and illnesses before they leave their first home.
While it is technically acceptable to remove a puppy from the dam once they are eight weeks old, it is infinitely preferable to wait that additional month and keep them with the dam and littermates until they are twelve weeks old.