The early stages of development when puppies are still with their mother and littermates is when puppies not only grow and develop physically but also learn to be independent and to interact with others. Separating a pup too early can result in physical and behavioral problems for the puppy. At a minimum, puppies should stay with their mother for at least six weeks; however, it is usually recommended to wait eight to 12 weeks before separating the puppy.
Early development and weaning
During the first two weeks of life, puppies rely on their mother for everything. They nurse frequently, and the mother must clean the pups and lick them to stimulate elimination. At this age, puppies have limited ability to move, and their senses of hearing, sight, and smell are not yet working. By the time a puppy is four weeks old, these senses are active, and the puppy is walking, exploring, and wagging his tail.
Around three to four weeks of age, puppies will have grown teeth and can begin eating solid food. The mother will likely encourage pups to stop nursing, as the pup's sharp teeth are painful. Start the process by offering a dish of milk replacement so the puppies can learn to drink from a bowl. Then move on to canned puppy food. You can add milk replacement to the soft food to make it even easier for puppies to consume.
Slowly decrease the amount of moisture added to the canned food and introduce dry puppy food to their diet. When puppies are fully weaned, usually by six weeks of age, they can be taken from their mother. However, many experts recommend giving the puppies a few extra weeks before separating them so that they can continue their social development.
While puppies are being weaned around four weeks of age, they are also learning to interact with their siblings. They play, bark, and vocalize and learn to control biting. Their mother is a strong influence during these weeks. If the mother dog is aggressive or fearful, this will affect how the puppies interact with humans and other dogs.
At five to six weeks of age, you can begin house training puppies, and they can spend more time away from their mother and littermates. Responsible breeders will also socialize puppies with humans and introduce them to common sounds and activities in the household, such as running a vacuum cleaner and ringing a doorbell.
At eight weeks of age, the earliest age that experts recommend separating puppies from their mother, puppies enter a fearful stage of development. While puppies may be fearful of new experiences, with patience and positive reinforcement, puppies can adapt to their new environment and bond with their new owner.
Separating puppies too early
Taking a puppy away from her mother too soon can have serious consequences. Early separation while the puppy should still be nursing causes symptoms such as weight loss, loss of appetite, poor immune system, and higher risk of illness.
Puppies also suffer emotional trauma and may have behavioral problems if they are separated from their mother and siblings too soon. Biting is a common concern, as puppies learn bite control while playing with littermates. Other common problems include separation anxiety, incontinence, destructive behavior, aggression, and fearfulness.