Problems That Can Arise From Weaning Puppies Too Early

There is quite a range of differing opinions on precisely how old any given puppy should be before they are removed from their dam and littermates to go out into the world on their own with their new owners. While all new puppy buyers of course want to get their pup home as soon as possible and enjoy the very adorable young puppy stage, waiting just a couple of extra weeks to take your pup home comes with a wide range of benefits for the pup itself, which can help to set them up for the entire rest of their lives.

The Kennel Club advises breeders that puppies should not be removed from the litter until they are at least twelve weeks old, and in some cases, a week or two older. However, puppies are commonly weaned anywhere between eight and twelve weeks old, which in some cases, means that they may miss out on some of the important things that they can only get from staying with their dam and litter.

In this article, we will look at some of the main problems that can arise from weaning a puppy too early, and separating them from their dam and littermates before the age of twelve weeks. Read on to learn more.

Proper weaning comes naturally

Proper weaning (moving a puppy on from nursing to eating solid foods only) is something that happens naturally and gradually over time, and should not be forced or pushed. Puppies do not simply go from nursing one day to eating solid foods the next! While a pup is nursing from their dam, they are also getting a whole range of essential, puppy-specific nutrients along with their milk, as well as benefitting from the dam’s acquired immunity and protection against certain conditions and risks. Allowing your pup to gain the full benefit of these things is important, to ensure natural growth and development and that your pup will not become sickly.

Puppies are generally weaned completely or almost completely by the age of eight weeks, although many pups will still nurse after this time if the opportunity is there for them. No pup should be removed from their dam until they have spent at least five to seven days eating solid foods alone, and not nursing.

Socialisation starts in the litter

Your puppy’s first teachers and friends in the big wide world will be their dam and their littermates, and the time spent within the litter is inherently valuable for the pup in terms of their development.

Between three and five weeks of age, your puppy will really begin to learn from their interaction with the other pups in the litter, and develop the basic beginnings of their understanding of normal play and interaction with other dogs. The dam is integral to this process too, and will serve as a supervisor and guardian to your pup, putting them in their place when needed and encouraging them to learn.

While with their litter, your pup will learn vital skills including bite inhibition, respect for adult dogs, and how to communicate with other dogs properly. Removing a pup from the litter before they have got to grips with these basics can make it much more difficult to socialise your dog with others down the line.

Behavioural norms may be affected

Puppies removed from their dam and litter too young are apt to develop a range of behavioural problems later on, such as attention seeking behaviour, defensive aggression over food, poor housetraining, and destructiveness. Puppies weaned before they are ready are also likely to become more reactive to noises and changes to their environment, and may become fearful or shy when faced with new situations.

Safeguarding dog welfare

As well as ensuring that your own puppy gets the best possible start to life, weaning at the appropriate age and no sooner also goes some way towards supporting the welfare of dogs in general. Once the norm for puppy weaning became twelve weeks and not younger, buyers have become more adept at identifying responsible breeders from less scrupulous operations who churn out puppies as a business, and aim to wean and sell them on as early as possible.

There is no canine-positive reason for weaning a puppy too early to send them to a new home; early weaning is only ever of benefit to the breeder, and sometimes, in the perception of the new owner who makes the error of thinking that the younger their pup, the better the pup will adapt to the change and be more amenable to training.

In order to become a Kennel Club accredited breeder, breeders must keep their pups until they are at least twelve weeks old before parting them from the litter. As a puppy buyer, it is important to know why the twelve week rule benefits dogs, and to make a conscious decision to wait until twelve weeks before taking your puppy home.


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