Taking a puppy away from its mother in the transitional stage (2-4 weeks) can create a number of problems for later life. Any time before 8 weeks even, can cause problems – so that a puppy is pre-disposed to become fearful of other dogs. Ideally the whole litter should be kept together until at least 8 weeks.
Puppies removed from their mothers even at 6 weeks and certainly less, exhibit appetite and weight loss, increased distress, higher mortality rates and higher susceptibility to disease. Also, bite inhibition needs to be learnt from the siblings and the mother of the puppy and this can not happen if it is removed from the nest too early. Dogs will not learn that they can not play too rough when removed from mum and their siblings too soon and this is a serious issue that can arise from leaving the family group early.
Puppies can also become too clingy to their new humans and have serious issues of separation anxiety when removed from their mothers during the transitional period. Overall it is the fearfulness created by early separation that can create problems such as not eating and not sleeping properly. One write up I found suggested that toy pups should actually stay with their mothers until 14-16 weeks of age because they mature slowly and will learn better skills staying as a family until this age.
Having said this, we must also consider how taking a puppy away right in the middle of its “sensitive period for socialisation” can also cause issues and this is why it is essential that breeders start to understand the important role they have in bringing up the puppies. Breeders who understand the socialisation and critical periods can make the difference between a new owner having an amazing dog and one that is going to be difficult for them. It will also make the breeder much more successful and “desired” if they can send puppies into the world that make fabulous dogs.
The problem is that often puppies leave breeders for their new homes at around 8 weeks – and this is right in the middle of the sensitive period for socialisation. It is suggested that sudden change of environment at 8 weeks may be particularly stressful for puppies and of course, if the new owner is less “aware” and understanding of a puppy’s requirements or does not fully understand certain training implications, and how to go about things, they may meet a few more challenges with their new dog. Far better to get understanding out there so that fewer dogs end up being rejected. Breeders can really help with this process, not just educating the puppies but the new and potential owners too. Looking for a good and responsible breeder is important but finding breeders who scrutinise potential homes is also of utmost importance and to be encouraged.
Interestingly, the dogs I have experienced that were left with their mothers for 9 to 11 weeks were more balanced and easy going. The breeders were also those who made sure these puppies were exposed to various noises, objects, children and other new things also. It did not seem essential that these puppies needed to be with the “new owner” earlier, the more important thing seems to have been exposure to various humans and knowing humans are good to be with. The new owners were encouraged to visit often and bond/meet their puppies while they were still with their mothers and this also allowed for all the puppies to meet a variety of new people. Although the sample is very small, it is interesting to note and from the research that I did on the internet it appears that more and more people are suggesting, if it is possible, to leave a puppy with its mother and in the breeder’s environment until 12 weeks, it makes a big difference in developing a well balanced and non-aggressive dog.
More studies need to be done to see when is the best age for rehoming and at present it is not known what the optimum age is for building up a dog’s experience of the world. What is known is that giving a dog experience should start BEFORE 7 weeks and continue for several months after this. (Bradshaw)