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Did I buy My puppy too young?

 
 

QUESTION:

I just read your website and boy, am I in trouble.  We just acquired a puppy who is 6 weeks old.  Had I known about the 8-10 week rule, I wouldn't have gotten her.  She's a boxer who is very lonely.  We've had her for 2 days and I've been up all night, both nights.
 
Should I find out if the breeder will take her back?  What can I do to ensure everyone's survival over the next few weeks?
 

ANSWER:

 

As a professional dog trainer, I am often perplexed about the dogs that folks bring to us.  This unique subset of dogs mostly arrive around 8 to 12 months, sometimes up to three years old.  The dog has become a complete nuisance and acts out in situations where he should normally submit to his human's expectations.  The "reasonably priced" six week old is now going to cost them over $1,000 to rehabilitate socially and psychologically.  Some of the dogs' issues are due to poor management and lack of early training on the owner's part, some (perhaps most) is due to the breeder's lack of early socialization, and some is due to the complete mismatch between the human's lifestyle and the breed's general need for leadership, training and management.
 
As much as you probably already love your puppy, for the reasons above, I would recommend you contact the breeder.  Ask her if she understands the importance of early socialization.  Ask her what she did, on a daily basis, to provide for exceptional early development.  Ask her when she fully weaned the puppies.  My puppies are still nursing at 6 weeks.  They do not require the nutrition nearly as much as the nurturing from their mother, as they are also eating solid foods.  However, six week old puppies still have basic needs that only their mother can provide.  The mother weans the pups with corrections (she snaps at the puppies when she has had "enough"), and they learn how to accept a correction from her, which can carry over to how well they can accept a correction from a human.  Between week six and week seven, my puppies see their mother all night long, but I allow her to remain away from them all day long.  So, they get the comfort of mama at night, and develop their social skills with their siblings during the daytime.  When puppies play, they play roughly with each other at times.  This, too, is CRITICAL for developing "bite inhibition". 

However, with every puppy that I raise, I must also teach them not to bite on humans.  This begins around 5 weeks, but is really put into place at 6 weeks.  Between seven and eight weeks, the puppies no longer require their mother - albeit, she can visit now and again.  But, they DO need more time to develop social skills with each other, and I introduce them to other dogs that are not their mother.  I choose these adults wisely based on how I know they will react to a puppy. I want the puppy to learn not to jump up with great enthusiasm at ANY dog you meet.  So, I pick dogs that will correct that sort of behavior but are also fairly patient and gentle with their corrections.  Their grandmother is often a good choice.   From six weeks onwards, I also allow human visitors to play with the puppies so that they learn about other people.   This is ALL very conscious on my part and I consider it my job as a good breeder. 

It is my opinion that a puppy which leaves at 6 weeks will miss out on both very critical time with siblings as well as time with humans - especially ones that will correct the pup for nipping behavior.  A puppy should NEVER EVER be allowed to put its teeth on human flesh.   But, six week old puppies will actually still want to suckle from a larger, warm body.  So, people tolerate that and the puppy never learns to keep its teeth off people.  I'm not really sure how many "backyard" type breeders understand how important it is to actually teach the puppies about interacting with people from such an early age.  Based on my experience as a professional dog trainer, I would speculate most do not know how critical it is for the dog's long term potential as a quality companion.

 
It's a State law in Illinois that no puppy can be sold before eight weeks old (in fact, in IL the law is that the pup cannot be taken from its mother until that time).  Of course, enforcement is pretty challenging with anyone except licensed puppy brokers / puppy millers (who are the true target of the law).  However, the average layperson doesn't know this law and when they breed Fluffy to Joey so that the kids can "see the miracle of birth", and they are not highly educated on how to raise a puppy, the buyer suffers.  The suffering can be LIFE LONG.  That is the biggest issue, here.  Some dogs cannot ever fully recover from a lack of early socialization.  Through great training and rehabilitation, we can help them over come most of their anti-social issues, but there will always be something missing from those dogs.
 
I would recommend that you return your puppy, if the breeder allows it.  Frankly, a breeder that won't take back a puppy that she bred (at any time in the dog's life), isn't what I consider a great breeder.    A dog is a 12-18 year commitment.  I sometimes think that people put more research into choosing their next new appliance (like a refrigerator) than they do selecting the right BREED, first, then the right breeder, second.  The right breeder should actually help you determine whether the breed is right for you.  The right breeder should screen you.   I haven't calculated the numbers, but I would suspect that for every application that I receive for one of our Border Collie puppies, I turn down 40%.  Sometimes it is because the prospective buyer seems to have a complete lack of understanding of the breed and the commitment to it.  Sometimes, it is due to management that I find unacceptable (if they say they will tie the dog out, I won't sell them a puppy because I think it is the worst type of management a dog can experience and usually causes serious psychological issues).  Sometimes, I have to help a young family realize that taking on the responsibility of new puppy ON TOP OF their 18 month old toddler, 3 year old and 6 year old children is TOO much to handle, even if I think they would make great dog owners one day.  A breeder who doesn't take the chance of success into consideration when placing a puppy is doing her puppy a disservice.  It's not about the people - the people will survive, it's about the puppy for me.  I truly doubt a person who sold you a six week old puppy was concerned about the puppy's long term mental and physical well being.  If she has ever raised a litter of puppies to 8 or 10 weeks old, and if she observed them daily, she would know that it's not good for the puppies to leave early.  It's fairly obvious how much they develop in those couple of weeks.
 
I don't know if that is the answer you wanted to hear, but, I know dogs really well.  That's what I do for a living - I deal with dogs, all types of dogs, and I have actually become good at determining when a dog's anti-social behavior as a young adult is often due to the age it left the whelping box.  I can spot them.  And, when I am working with a dog that is presenting the odd, stereotypical behaviors, I ask.  When a puppy shows a complete lack of ability to handle a certain training scenario, I ask, "when did you get this puppy?".  They answer, "six weeks".  I reply, "yeah, that's what I thought".  It's unfortunately all to common.
 
It's better to spend the money up front to purchase a puppy from a great breeder (and they are hard to find), than to deal with a life of wondering whether she could have been a better dog if she had been able to develop properly.  However, just because a puppy has a high price tag, doesn't mean that the breeder has raised the puppies properly.  So, you really need to ask the important questions.

 

 
  UPDATE Sept 2013:  
     
  Since posting this article, I have been amazed at how many people still feel compelled to write to me to confirm that the 4, 5 or 6 week old puppy that they are wanting to acquire is really too young.  This topic is only second to my article on Housebreaking with regards to how many people contact me trying to confirm the contents or the article.  
     
  Here the the most recent email which finally pushed me to updating this page:  
     
 

QUESTION:

Hi I just read an excellent reply on your website concerning taking a puppy to young from its litter. If you have a moment I wonder if you could advise me, I am considering adopting a rescue puppy that I saw last week, she has  a lab/ spaniel mum, father unknown. She and her sister were handed in to the rescue centre at 3 weeks, without their mother, the centre does seem very dog centred and the puppies will be kept until vaccination and cannot be handled by public before then.

I have 4 children from 3 to 10. do you think it is likely that these puppies will be adversely affected by being seperated so young from their mother.

If you have time Id appreciate your advice if not no problem at all.

 

 
  My REPLY:

 

 
 

Yes, I think the puppies will be adversely affected in a very significant way by their lack of early socialization and their lack of having a canine mother’s influence during weaning (when they learn about taking a correction from a higher ranking one, and surviving it). 

Why don’t you acquire a very well-bred puppy from a highly competent breeder who prides herself in proper planning, superior care of the dogs she selectively breeds and exceptional puppy rearing?  Don’t you think you and your children are worth that?  Wouldn’t you rather reward such a person with your business than to sustain the person who abandoned baby puppies at the centre and does not have to deal with the ramifications of his/her actions – which means s/he will probably repeat the cycle again?  Who would you rather support?  Which “dog economy” do you want to thrive in your community?

You may want to read this article:   I assume  you are not living in the USA, since you used the British spelling for centre, but I suspect dog rescue groups may be functioning similarly in other parts of the world as the way that I describe in this post.

 

 
     
     

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