Updated: Jun 30
As excited as you are to bring your new family member home, it can feel heartbreaking to know you are taking him away from the only “pack” he has ever known. Puppies bond closely to their littermates and mothers, but their developmental stage at around 8-10 weeks old also predisposes them to be ready to bond with you, too!
For that reason, you should not worry about puppies missing their mothers for long.
Do Puppies Have the Ability to Miss Their Mom Long Term?
Many puppy owners theorize that their puppy cries so much in their crate for the first few days because they are yearning for their mothers and siblings. Your puppy does not have the same emotional capabilities as a human and does not have the ability to ponder the past and the future the way people do.
Instead, dogs live in the moment and are often simply reacting to their present stimuli. When your pup cries in his crate, he is not longingly imagining his mother’s fluffy face in his mind and wishing he could go back in time to be with his family again. Instead, he is likely very present-minded, objecting to the cold, quietness of the crate.
Your puppy is used to sleeping in a cozy pile of his warm siblings and feeling their movements and heartbeats. The solitary nature of the crate feels different and uncomfortable to him, but the answer is not to keep him with his littermates forever. In fact, staying with his litter for too long can actually stunt his socialization and development.
Let’s back up and consider the earlier weeks in a puppy’s development so we can better understand where your puppy is at developmentally at 8 weeks of age. The first couple weeks of a puppy’s life are just a frenzy of nursing and sleeping and more nursing. They are born with their eyes and ears sealed, so their interaction with the outside world is limited. Their main focus is on nourishment and gaining weight at this age.
At around 2 weeks of age, puppies gain the ability to see and hear. This huge leap in sensual development sets the stage for the critical socialization period that starts around 4 weeks of age.
By 4 weeks of age, the puppies have become much more coordinated and can walk, wag their tails, bite, and play! Making sure a young puppy is exposed to lots of positive human interaction during this time is critical for his social development, but he also learns many things by interacting with his mother and siblings.
Puppies learn appropriate play behavior with their siblings. Mothers will often teach unruly puppies how to submit, and siblings will yelp to show when a play-bite went too far. The nonstop play and wrestling with siblings also help develop physical coordination.
All of these lessons are critical for a young pup and very tough for humans to duplicate. For this reason, it really is important that your puppy stays with their litter for at least 8 weeks.
By 8 Weeks Puppies Will Need Their Mom Less
As your puppy approaches 8 weeks, he is slowly becoming less and less reliant on mom. Most mother dogs wean on their own by the time the puppies are around 8 weeks old. As their teeth emerge, puppies naturally transition to solid food — most puppies are ready to begin solids at around 4 weeks of age.
By the time they are about 6 weeks of age, the majority of their caloric intake is from solid food. Even as mom weans, she is still involved with the puppies and often participates in play time with them. We have seen moms introduce their puppies to new toys, correct puppies who are playing too roughly, and many other important socialization interactions.
As the pups continue to get older, their mother often becomes less involved. 8 weeks tends to be the time that most breeders and trainers agree upon as when the puppies are ready for more exploration and are developmentally ready to break away from their littermates. Most mother dogs have become mostly disinterested in their puppies by this age, too.
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Also coinciding with this critical 8-week mark, is your puppy’s first “fear period.” This is simply a phase where your pup is more sensitive to new experiences and may react to the world with more fear and cautiousness than he was previously.
This short-lived increase in fear in the domesticated dog lines up with the time that most wolf pups and other wild canines are breaking out of their dens and really exploring the world for the first time.
It’s Not Good for Puppies to Be so Bonded to Their Mom They Become Dependent
While it may seem counterintuitive to disrupt your pup’s perfect little home (in his whelping box surrounded by his littermates) right at the start of developmental leap associated with fear and anxiety, there is actually no better time when it comes to bonding and setting the basis for future training. It is at this age we notice that our pups are both tentative and fearful, but also have an increased drive for exploration and are willing to venture further away from the “nest.”
Given appropriate interaction with their littermates and with humans, an eight-week-old pup should be set up well to navigate the ensuing “fear period.” While he may initially be overwhelmed in a new environment away from his mother and siblings, he is also socially geared to bond with humans at this age.
If he does not “venture from the nest,” during this phase, then he may actually become too bonded to his siblings and miss this critical window to bond with humans, resulting in a fearful or shy dog. If a dog is too bonded with his siblings, he does not have the same drive to bond to a human and look to his human family as his true pack.
As a result, it is critical to separate pups from their siblings during this impressionable period so that they can bond appropriately to humans and become a happy, healthy pet.
Even two puppies who go home together can often present quite a training challenge for owners. The puppies often develop “littermate syndrome,” a term used to describe the behavioral difficulties that often present themselves when two puppies from the same litter grow up together.
The puppies often fail to bond to their humans as strongly as they otherwise would and instead rely on each other for social interaction. This makes them more difficult to train as they are less likely to need the affection and approval of their human. Oftentimes, the puppies become severely anxious if ever separated, and in other cases they begin to bicker or fight as they become adults.
Adjusting to a new environment is a challenge for a puppy, especially when he is at the sensitive, impressionable age of 8-10 weeks old. But it is this very challenge that he needs to help him bond most strongly to his human family. Dogs are incredibly social, relational animals with a strong pack mentality. It also helps to have a good daily schedule for your pup.
So, while they do bond strongly to their littermates and mother, they are also predisposed to bond extremely quickly to any human or dog that they see as a stable pack leader or playmate.
In fact, after the end of his first 24 hours home, puppies are often already showing signs of recognizing their new humans- already able to tell them apart from strangers. Many dog experts theorize that even within his first 24 hours home with you, your puppy is not thinking about his mother and siblings at all.
Your Puppy Will Ultimately Bond with Those Who Love Them
Let’s return to the sad puppy who is crying in his crate his first night away from his siblings. We can almost guarantee that if you take the puppy out of his crate and snuggle him close to you, that he will sleep peacefully again. Your puppy is not necessarily longing for his mom and siblings, but simply wanting to be close to his new pack member, you!
For various reasons, we do not recommend giving in to your puppy’s whining in the crate as he will likely need to learn how to be separated from you at some point when you have to leave him at home alone. Offering a stuffed animal or some white noise can often help mimic some of the same feelings of being near his littermates.
As time goes on, your puppy will grow accustomed to his crate. And even more importantly, he will continue to bond closely to you. There is a learning curve as your puppy adapts to a completely different environment away from his mother and siblings, but this separation is necessary to achieve his true purpose in life: being your ultimate companion.
Jenna and the JLDD Team - Doodle Breeders Located in South Carolina