Did you know that the majority of states (28) actually have laws surrounding the answer to this question? Most states have landed at 8 weeks as the earliest appropriate age that a puppy can be sold. A few other states have settled on 6 or 7 weeks.
As you read on, we hope you will learn why 8 weeks has become the magical age for most breeders to send their pups home. It is not an arbitrary number, but rather, directly linked to where the pup is in his physical and social development.
And if you need tips on the best way to go about buying your puppy, we've got you covered.
Interested in adding a new puppy to your family?
Should you get a puppy under 6 weeks old?
If the puppy is under 6 weeks, it absolutely needs to still be with its mother. Puppies can start solid foods at around 4 weeks old, but continue to nurse and gradually wean at around 6 or 7 weeks of age. Puppies under 6 weeks of age are still reliant on their mother’s milk and the warmth of their siblings — they are still developing the ability to regulate their own body temperature.
Of course there are some unique cases where a puppy may have been orphaned and/or has special health concerns and does need full time human care at this young of an age. In general, however, puppies at under 6 weeks should still be with their mother and siblings. Any breeder releasing their puppies younger than 6 weeks would be a strong red flag.
Some breeders will let their puppies go to their new homes at around 6 weeks of age. A puppy at this age can physically survive without his mother. Typically, he has progressed enough to be eating exclusively solid food. However, keep in mind that sending a puppy home this young is actually illegal in many states! You may want to check your individual state’s laws if you are curious.
Just because a puppy can physically survive without his mom and siblings does not mean he will thrive without them. Even after their pups have stopped nursing, many mothers remain at least somewhat involved with their pups. They will often still choose to interact with them.
They often keep an eye on sibling interactions and will jump in to discipline an unruly pup! We have also seen mothers play with their pups and introduce them to new things — purposefully bringing new toys into the whelping box to give their puppies new experiences!
Puppies also learn so much from interactions with their siblings. While it looks like just a lot of romping around to the human eye, puppies are actually learning powerful social lessons — how to interpret dog body language, how to show submission and/or dominance, etc. Bite inhibition is one very critical lesson - siblings will yelp to show when a play-bite went too far. Mother dogs will often teach a particularly strong-willed pup to settle down if he is being too rough with his littermates.
The nonstop play and wrestling with siblings also helps develop physical coordination. All of these lessons are critical for a young pup and very tough for humans to duplicate. Nature agrees--one-puppy-litters are incredibly rare! A singleton pup is often a cause for concern for breeders. In fact breeders will often seek out other puppies/litters to “adopt” a singleton pup to ensure they do not miss out on this critical sibling socialization.
While a 6-week-old pup has likely learned some of these critical socialization lessons from his mom and siblings, he is still quite young and would benefit from more time with his canine family. Six-week-old puppies still sleep a lot of the day and when separated from siblings often show very clingy behavior. (We write about the difficulty of pups by their age here.)
They may enjoy some level of exploration, but overall show more inhibition and desire to stick with their littermates as opposed to a puppy who is 8 weeks or older.
What about getting a puppy at 8 weeks old?
How do we know that 8 weeks is such a magical age for puppies to go home? When observing a litter of pups, they tend to be very attached to each other and not venture too far from their whelping box until around this 8-week mark. Experts have agreed that puppies tend to go through a critical psychological developmental phase around this 8-week-mark, typically called a “fear period.”
This first fear period is typically around 8-11 weeks. 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.
There is an evolutionary correlation here. A young pup is generally busy playing with his siblings and exploring his den, trusting that his mother will look out for danger. (Read how long puppies miss their mom here.)
However, as the pup gains more independence and begins to venture further from his den, his fear also increases as he must start to learn what is safe and dangerous all on his own.
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.” They are predisposed to bond closely to a new pack (i.e. you!) at this age.
As compared to a 6-week-old puppy, an 8 week old puppy often shows a greater drive for exploration and independence. They have noticeably better bladder control and can stay awake for longer periods of time. They typically seem more focused and engaged with humans at this age — following them from room to room and readily responding to cues with less distraction than a 6 week old pup.
Is 10 weeks too old to take home a puppy?
10 weeks is also considered a developmentally appropriate age for a pup to go to his new home. Developmentally speaking, roughly any time during his 8-10 week window is considered the perfect time for a pup to join his new pack as he is still in this critical fear period that makes him very impressionable.
Smaller breed pups often develop slower than their larger breed counterparts so they may benefit from staying with their siblings a bit longer, making 10 weeks the ideal age to adopt a toy breed. Larger breed pups often do okay being adopted at around 10 weeks of age, but most breeders prefer to stick to the 8 week mark as the sooner the pup can start working on his socialization and training with his new family, the better, so that the new owners can make the most of this very impressionable age.
In fact, 9-12 weeks of age is often considered the “Golden Window” of puppy training when your puppy is actively working on social skills and is still in a very eager-to-please mindset as they are looking to other pack members (older dogs and confident humans) for guidance at this age.
In other words, an appropriately socialized 10-week-old pup should have no problem assimilating into a new home, but you will want to put the pedal to the metal as far as training and socializing him to many new situations. If you can start a bit earlier at 8 or 9 weeks, this is often ideal.
Your puppy should probably not be 12 weeks or older when you buy or adopt it
If you are looking for a pup who is 12 weeks of age or older, proceed with caution. While we have harped on the importance of a puppy learning from his mother and siblings, there is actually a point when being too closely bonded to his siblings can actually stunt his socialization and development.
Given appropriate interaction with their littermates and with humans, an 8 to 10 week old pup should be set up well to navigate his first “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.
Puppies adopted at 12 weeks of age or older often need an extra emphasis placed on socialization and training. Not all 12 week old puppies are created equal. If the 12+ week old pup has been kept with all of his siblings with limited human interaction, then he may very well struggle to adapt to a life with humans. If potty training and other basic training has not been started, the puppy will likely be slower to house train.
If, however, the breeder or owner of the 12 week old pup has been very careful to socialize him during his most impressionable age, then he may actually be a few steps ahead of an 8 to 10 week old dog. If a breeder has a puppy beyond 8 to 10 weeks, he should begin formal training so as not to miss this golden window.
So if you are considering bringing home a 12+ week old pup, just make sure to ask lots of questions of your potential breeder. Why is the puppy being rehomed at an older age than is typical? What exactly has his environment been like from 8-12+ weeks? Has he been started on any training or socialization outside of the breeder’s home?
The ease with which an older pup assimilates into his new home very much depends on the answers to these questions.
In conclusion, puppies are wonderfully adaptable creatures who can often overcome lots of challenges and acclimate to a new environment at virtually any age. However, when it comes to ease of training and how quickly your puppy bonds to you, the 8-10 week window is the ideal time to bring home your new buddy.
Did we mention that puppies also happen to be the most adorable at this age, too? While you will have lots of training ahead of you, getting your puppy at 8 to 10 weeks of age, often ensures you will have a best friend for many years to come!
Jenna and the JLDD Team