Susan’s dog accidentally fell pregnant and gave birth to an adorable litter of pups. Considering that shelters are full to the brim without the necessary resources to care for the staggering numbers of animals that come in daily, Susan should never have allowed this to happen and she really needs to sterilise her dog. But this is not what this article is about.

Common mistake

Susan cannot keep a litter of puppies and she feels that taking them to a shelter would be cruel. So, she decides to look for homes herself. Once again Susan is being very irresponsible and directly contributing to the dire situation dogs face in our society. She has no idea where those puppies will end up (dogfighting is very real), she is certainly not going to make sure that they get sterilised and she is not going to make sure that the pups get responsible owners who realise that a dog is a lifetime commitment. Seriously Susan, you need to clean up your act! Anyhow, let’s continue. One of Susan’s colleagues saw a picture of the puppies, and the following conversation takes place:

Colleague: “I’ll take one! They are sooo cute, when can I get my new baby? I want my puppy as soon as possible!”

Susan:  “They are six weeks old and eating fine, you can pop over tonight!”

Hold on. Stop right there. This brings us to a very common mistake in dog ownership: removing puppies from their mom and littermates too soon – six weeks being a popular age. Not only does this interrupt the development of the puppy which is a huge disservice to the dog, but it can lead to behaviour problems in the future.

5 reasons why mom is best

1.    Six-week-old pups are simply not emotionally ready to cope with the world out there. It is a bit like sending a three-year-old child off to fend for himself.
2.    A week or two may not seem like much to us, but remember, dogs have shorter lifespans than us. In terms of their development, a lot can happen in a week.
3.    Removing a puppy before six weeks result in the pup not getting the nutrition it needs from the mom.
4.    As pups learn social skills from mom and littermates, removing them too early deprives them of this, leading to a puppy who lacks self-confidence, resulting in fear and anxiety. As the majority of aggressive behaviour stems from fear, there is a very real risk.
5.    Resolving behaviour problems that result from pups being removed too soon isn’t easy and you will require professional help.

Give your puppy time

My heart breaks a little every time someone tells me that their puppy is six weeks old. A pup should never be removed from mom and littermates before eight weeks of age. The period between five and seven weeks is very important for a pup, as this is the time when he learns to relate to himself and his littermates. Important social skills, such as bite inhibition, are learned during this period. Depending on the dog’s personality and circumstances, early removal from the mother can also result in fearfulness, separation anxiety and excessive mouthing/nipping.

The crux of the matter is that we are acting selfishly when doing this! It’s time we start to think about the dog – and give them the best possible start to life, by starting right from the beginning. And, should there be Susans in your life, never stop educating.

Published in Animaltalk, December 2018