Most experts recommend that puppies should not be sold or purchased until they are eight weeks old.
However, it is not unusual to come across people that have brought their new Labrador puppy home at the tender age of six weeks.
Occasionally even younger.
Why puppies should be collected at eight weeks
There are some good reasons why you should not bring your new puppy home before he is 8 weeks old, but of course sometimes it just cannot be helped.
A breeder may get taken into hospital, or even die, for example, and the distraught relatives need to rehome the puppies early.
Excuses for selling young puppies
All too often unfortunately, breeders who let puppies go to their new homes at six weeks old, do this for selfish reasons.
If you are considering taking on a five or six week old Labrador puppy, for whatever reason, you need to know what you are getting yourself into.
Let’s have a look at what puppies learn in those last two weeks that they normally spend with Mum and siblings before going to their new homes at eight weeks old.
The process of learning bite inhibition is a long one. It begins whilst puppies are quite small and first learning to play with one another and with their mother.And it carries on until they are several months old.
By the time you bring a puppy home at eight weeks, however needle sharp you think his teeth are, he has already learned a lot of bite inhibition from his mum and siblings. Although you have to continue this process, some of the hard work has already been done.
At nine weeks, my own young pup could crush the bone in a chicken wing in seconds, yet never actually even drew blood when biting my fingers. Although it still hurt, her Mum had already taught her to ‘pull her punches’, yet she was actually capable of crushing the bones in my fingers.
If you take a puppy home at six weeks, you will have to do even more of ‘Mum’s’ job and teach the puppy not to cause actual bodily harm when she bites. This is not easy and has to be done in stages. You cannot just punish the dog for all biting or it will not learn the vital skill of bite inhibition. You can read more about bite inhibition here: Biting
Bite inhibition problems are more likely with puppies that have been removed from Mum too early, and can be very difficult to manage if you have small children.
A puppy in the nest is being jostled constantly. This is a normal part of growing up within a ‘litter’.
Labrador puppies that are removed from this jostling experience too young may dislike being touched or bumped in certain parts of their bodies. There is a potential for this to lead to behavioural problems, including aggression, later in life.
Resist the temptation
If a breeder asks you to take a puppy home at five to six weeks of age, be very suspicious.
Bear in mind that some disreputable breeders will make up excuses to get rid of puppies when they get to this age. Just as the puppies are becoming both time consuming, messy, and expensive to care for.
Short of a personal disaster, no reputable breeder will normally request or permit a puppy to leave her premises before seven weeks of age, eight weeks if you are an inexperienced owner.
Finding a playmate
The main issues around bringing puppies home too young need to be addressed by finding your puppy another puppy or puppies of a similar age and size to play with, on a regular basis. This will go some way towards helping to balance the disadvantages of being removed from the nest too young, or of being a singleton puppy.
If you have an older dog that will play sensibly with the puppy, and teach him some rules without being too rough, then that too will help.
You will also need to make a lot of effort to handle this puppy a great deal. Get her used to having her body touched all over, as often as you can.
Sadly, we often get questions from puppy owners outside of Europe and North America that have bought puppies at three and four weeks old. You can read more about these puppies in this article: Too Young to Leave Mum
Do think hard before bringing a young puppy home before he or she is eight weeks old.
You are naturally impatient to collect your new puppy, but six weeks is really too young. Resist the temptation if you can, remember that it is a bad idea to bring a puppy home before he is at least seven weeks old, both for your sake and his.
More information on puppies
Published in April 2014, the Happy Puppy covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.
The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.
The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.