Many people think when it comes to getting a new puppy, younger is better. That’s not true, as I explained to this reader.
Q: How old should puppies be when they go to their new homes? The breeder we’re talking to is offering to let us take our new puppy when she’s 6 weeks old. Will that ensure a better bonding experience?
A: Run fast and far away from that breeder! While the age at which it’s best for pups to go to their new homes varies by breed or type of dog, no puppy should leave mom and littermates before 8 weeks of age.
It might seem as if getting a very young puppy would improve your ability to bond with her, but research shows that young pups still have a lot to learn about proper dog behavior from interactions with their mother and littermates. They learn about behavioral expectations from an older dog — mom — and appropriate social skills — don’t bite too hard! — from littermates. They also learn other perceptual and motor skills.
Puppies taken home at 8 weeks or older have fewer behavior problems later in life, according to a study by Italian researchers published in the journal Veterinary Record. They looked at dogs who went to new homes between 5 and 6 weeks of age and between 8 and 9 weeks of age. Puppies who were older at the time they left the litter were less likely to be destructive, bark excessively, show fearfulness on walks, react fearfully to sounds, or be possessive of food, toys or other objects.
Responsible breeders send puppies to new homes when they are 8 to 12 weeks old. Puppies in that age range are more mature and more likely to sleep through the night. That makes them easier to housetrain.
Breeders of toy dogs, especially, prefer to keep pups until they are 12 to 16 weeks old to ensure that they are sturdy and confident enough for their new home.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.