I recommend to breeders that the best age to home puppies is at least eight weeks and four days old. Here’s four reasons why:
So they learn how to socialize with other dogs
The first reason that I believe 8 weeks and 4 days is the best age to home puppies is that those that don’t stay with their litter mates until they’re at least eight weeks old, don’t learn how to be a dog!
So they may end up having social issues with other dogs for the rest of their life.
I had this problem with my very first Schnauzer when I first started as a breeder. I didn’t know that it was wrong to pick up a puppy that was only five weeks old. Obviously the breeder who sold it to me didn’t know either.
My puppy ended up growing into a bitch who didn’t like my male, didn’t want to mate with him and didn’t have normal social behavior with other dogs. [It was a real pain in the butt, to tell you the truth].
We must let our puppies learn from each other how to socialize appropriately with other dogs and with their mum as well. With their mum they learn how to be submissive and how to respond appropriately to aggression in other dogs, and that can help them avoid a lot of issues later on?
So they learn to soften their bite
The second thing is that puppies that are taken away from their litter mates too young, also fail to learn a very important lesson, which is called “bite inhibition”. Puppies learn this through normal play. If their litter mate is showing signs of pain by crying and turning their back on them this says, “I don’t want to play with you anymore. You’re too rough.” This way puppies come to realize when they have been too rough. Play teaches them to soften the strength of their bite and just make it a playful bite instead of a real bite.
Puppies that don’t learn the difference between a playful bite and a real bite grow into dogs that don’t learn the difference between a warning bite and a severe bite. Such dogs have a much higher chance of causing a severe injury to another dog or to a human, for example a child. If they’re threatened or feel scared in any way and bite out of fear or aggression when they get older, that’s a real problem. Dog bite claims are one of the biggest things that insurance companies have to deal with regarding dogs. We certainly don’t want any kids getting hurt by our dogs, so make sure to keep them with their litter mates until they’re at least eight weeks old.
To avoid establishing fearful personality traits
Another very important reason that 8 weeks and 4 days is the best age to home puppies is that they have a peak fear imprinting period when they are just past eight weeks old. When we let them go they are plunged into a strange environment with these strange people and ripped away from their litter and their mom and the humans that they know.
That is quite a threatening experience for a puppy. So if we let them go at eight weeks, those puppies can actually get a really impactful fear experience at the very time in their life when it’s potentially going to have a big impact on them for the rest of their life.
If we keep our puppies till at least eight weeks and four days old, then we can bypass that fear imprinting period and make sure that our puppies are in a safe and comfortable environment when they’re going through that period.
To prevent later development of separation anxiety
There was a study done on dogs, which found that those that stayed with their litter until eight weeks plus four days old have a statistically significant lower chance of developing separation anxiety later on in life.
As responsible breeders we want our puppies to go into their new lives with their owners and have the least possible chance of developing separation anxiety as adult dogs, so that is the other reason why we make sure we keep our puppies till they’re at least eight weeks and four days old.
Should we just keep our puppies longer then?
Due to these same reasons some breeders believe the best age to home puppies is around 10 or even 12 weeks old. However, we also have to ensure that our puppies get the opportunity to be thoroughly socialized into the new owner’s environment before they are 14 weeks of age. After that time the puppy socialization period ends, and the window of opportunity closes forever.
So it is a balancing act.
Unless the breeder takes it upon themselves to get their puppies’ socialization schedule going they should in my opinion coach the new owners to do a good job of this at their end. I have kept puppies destined for overseas buyers till 12 weeks old so they would be old enough to fly under the airlines rules. But I also took those puppies out into the world so they wouldn’t miss out on precious socialization activity. In practice that meant taking them weekly to formal puppy classes, as well as visits to shops, exposure to traffic, and organizing interactions with children and other strangers.