When can a puppy leave its mother?

I was recently asked to cover a topic that seems to be fervently debated; the age at which a puppy can leave its mother.

From what I can tell, there are three schools of thought on the issue.

1) A puppy can leave its mother at six weeks.

2) A puppy can leave its mother at eight weeks.

3) A puppy can leave its mother at twelve weeks.

In order to decide which one of these is the best time to bring a dog home, we should probably know something about a puppy’s development.

Here is an abbreviated timeline of puppy development:

Neonatal Period: Birth to Two Weeks

At this point, puppies have their eyes and ears closed. They stay close to their littermates and mother.

Transitional Period: Two Weeks to Four Weeks

Eyes and ears open up, marking the further development of sight and hearing. Puppies are testing their ability to walk, wag their tail and bark.

Socialization Period: Three Weeks to Twelve Weeks

Puppies are influenced heavily by their mother and fellow littermates. Puppies start venturing out into their environment and learn of fellow companions; both human and canine.

At three to six weeks, a puppy is learning discipline from the mother and shows submission to her leadership. By interacting in play with littermates, a puppy obtains an understanding of pack hierarchy.

At seven to nine weeks a puppy has fully developed senses.

At eight to ten weeks, puppies become better at controlling their bladder and bowel. At this time, puppies are ready for house training (although some say that house training needs to wait until after twelve weeks).

At eight to eleven weeks, puppies can experience the fear imprint stage of development where they are extremely sensitive to upsetting events. During this stage, puppies can develop a fear of certain objects that affects them for their entire life.

So, when can you take your puppy home?

Well, people who say a puppy can leave its mother at or before six weeks are few and far between. At six weeks, and even eight weeks, puppies are still learning from their littermates and mother. If a breeder tells you that your puppy can come home at six weeks or even earlier, this might be an indicator that your breeder isn’t very professional since your puppy will be missing out on very important time with it’s mother.

People who want to wait until a puppy is twelve weeks old to take him/her home are going to get a puppy that has the capability to hold its bladder, has had quality time with littermates and mother, has gotten passed the fear imprint stage, and is ready to be house broken.

From my deduction, I have come to the conclusion that taking a puppy home somewhere between eight to twelve weeks –but no earlier than eight weeks– should be fine. Obviously, you should always consult your breeder and get their opinion but, as I mentioned, if your breeder tells you to take the puppy home around six weeks, be skeptical.

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