You Wouldn’t Set a Puppy Up for Failure, Would You?

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Unethical Breeding Practices

My favorite expression is, “You don’t know what you don’t know till you know it.”  So with that statement in mind, I hope the myriad of people posting 5 and 6 week old puppies for sale online through local Facebook yard sales pages are, at best, misinformed and believe they’re doing their best to find that pup a good home. Unfortunately, what these people are really doing is setting the puppy up for failure and a life filled with potential problem behavior issues. Unfortunately, these individuals are uninformed about ethical and reputable breeding practices.

A Six-Week Old Puppy Is NOT Ready to Leave the Litter

Just because the pups are eating solid food, doesn’t mean they’re ready to leave the litter.  From years of professional dog training experience, the number one issue with puppies who leave litters at 5 or 6 weeks is that they have very inappropriate use of their mouths.

Yes, all puppies nip and bite; however, puppies that leave their litters too early have little to no bite inhibition, which means they bite often and they bite hard.

Though they’re merely exploring the world with their mouth, just as a puppy that leaves the litter at 8 weeks will do, they haven’t learned how to bite softly. This hard biting (what we call a “hard mouth”) takes a great deal of commitment, time, attention, management and training on the part of the puppy’s owner to modify.

While we enjoy helping clients modify the hard biting behavior, guess what? It can be prevented!

The second most problematic issue I see with pups that leave their litters too early is dog-dog reactivity or dog-dog aggression.

It’s in the first few weeks (2 ½ to 8 weeks) that the puppy is able to learn appropriate dog to dog social development from the mom and littermates.  In other words, they learn how to speak Dog.

How to Prevent  Dog Behavior Problems

In pursuit of additional knowledge about dog training and behavior, I delve into scientific research studies to further my knowledge.  I urge you to also do so.

In 2011, there was a research study done in Italy and reported in the Veterinary Record, the official journal of the British Veterinary Association.  The results of the study give us even more evidence puppies shouldn’t be separated from their mother and their littermates too early.  While the sample size was a bit small, it’s worth taking note of the results and the conclusion.

The study involved 140 puppies, half of which were taken from their litters at 30 and 40 days (4 to 6 weeks), the other half were taken at 60 days (8 weeks).

The results of the study report that pups who were separated early from their litters were SIGNIFICANTLY likely to develop behavior problems as adults compared to puppies who stayed with their litters for at least 8 weeks.

The study goes on to report that the early separated pups were much more likely to exhibit avoidance and fearful behaviors:

  • 15 times more likely to be fearful on walks
  • 7 times more likely to have attention-seeking behaviors and reactivity to noise
  • 6 times more likely to bark excessively

Set Your Puppy Up For Success

So, Caveat Emptor or Let the Buyer/Adopter Beware!  If you want to set a puppy up for success so that they have the best chance possible to turn into a confident, well-adjusted dog, do not take a puppy away from their litter and bring it into your home until at least 8 weeks of age.  You now have the knowledge. Please use it.


Our own girl, Willow, came into our home at 9 weeks of age and in addition to all the early experience she had with her littermates, we began  early socialization and training right away and have continued with each to this day.  It’s all about setting a pup up for success!

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer), a PMCT2, a dog*tec Professional Dog Walking Academy Instructor, Faculty for the Victoria Stilwell Dog Trainer Academy and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina.  She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S.


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