Puppies can leave their mother when they are fully weaned, but you should wait until they are psychologically and physically ready before making this separation. Your puppy should not leave their mother before 8 weeks of age. Each week before this point that they spend with the mother and littermates will help to teach them skills and behaviors that will be beneficial for a lifetime. Vital traits like bite inhibition and gentle play need to be cemented by their canine pack before they come to intergrate with their new human family.
- Legal limits on puppy sales
- Can puppies leave their mother at five or six weeks?
- Reasons not to rehome pups early
- Can puppies leave mother at seven weeks?
- Reasons for rehoming early
At 5 weeks old your puppy still far too immature, physically and psychologically, to leave their mother. Your six week old puppy is weaned, but they still have many doggy lessons to learn from both their mother and their littermates. Bringing home a seven week old puppy won’t do much harm, but it will be best for your pup’s future not to skip a grade in school.
Like so many aspects of puppy health and welfare, much hinges on whether or not you have found a good, responsible breeder. If you’ve done your research and picked your breeder carefully, none of these issues are likely to affect you.
Kennel Club Recommendations For New Puppies
The Kennel Club (UK) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) both recommend that puppies are over 8 weeks old before being rehomed. Some people believe that pups can be rehomed as soon as they’re weaned at 6 weeks. But those additional two weeks allow the breeder to complete the weaning process and make sure that the puppy is properly settled on solid food.
From 6 – 8 weeks pups also still need to learn some important life lessons from their moms and littermates.
When Can Your Puppy Legally Leave Their Mother?
There are legal requirements governing the sale of puppies in some 25 states in the USA. Most of these laws stipulate that puppies should be over 8 weeks old when they go to their permanent homes. In the UK, law related to puppy breeding, and the age at which they may be sold, was passed in 2018. “But, BUT”, you cry “my six week old puppy is already weaned!” That may well be true, in so far as your puppy no longer drinks his mother’s milk.
So what is the purpose of this legislation and why is 8 weeks so important? Why do kennel clubs recommend puppies are not re-homed before 8 weeks? These recommendations are based on a lot of solid research that’s been done over the years on dogs’ physical and psychological development. This will become clear to you as we have a look at the answers to the questions “Can puppies leave mother at 5 weeks?” or “Can puppies leave mother at 6 weeks, or at 7 weeks?”
Can Puppies Leave Their Mother At Five Weeks?
Puppies just start finding their feet and moving around at around four weeks. The mother starts spending less time with them to help them become more independent. When they’re around 4 weeks old pups start transitioning to solid food but they’re also still drinking from their mother for another week or two. Their digestive systems are still immature and they need time to adjust to the solid food. And be protected from stress. With younger puppies, three or four weeks old, the situation is even more serious – and your puppy may die.
We get many sad letters here from people that have bought puppies this young and whose puppies are very sick. An interesting point is that if you see the mother treating these older pups roughly while they’re suckling – grabbing them by their neck, snapping, growling of even standing up and dumping one – it is not just to wean them!
By five weeks puppies have a whole lot of teeth which can be nippy when they suckle and much of the mother’s apparent bullying is to teach them to suck properly with their lips. This is where the lessons not to bite hard start. If they don’t learn quickly they’ll go hungry. They’ll also tend to bite hard and hurt people when they’re rehomed at this young age.
So why can’t you take your pup home once they’re fully weaned at 6 weeks? There are two issues here that need separating.
Can Puppies Leave Their Mother At Six Weeks?
In some parts of the world it’s common for puppies to be rehomed at six weeks or even earlier. Six weeks is a popular age for many people to want to bring home their Lab puppy. And breeders who sell very young puppies will often explain, quite truthfully, that their six week old puppy is already weaned. But in much of Europe, Australia and North America, most pedigree puppies are not sold until they are around 8 or even 9 weeks old.
A few breeders may want puppies to be even older than this. Physically puppies can and do leave their mothers this young, and even younger, though not all such very young puppies will survive.
Are they even weaned yet?
If your breeder tells you your puppy is already weaned at six weeks old, they are almost certainly telling the truth. Most breeders begin getting puppies used to solid food from around 3 to 4 weeks of age, and many puppies are indeed completely weaned off their mother’s milk at six weeks.
The six week old pup still has a very immature digestion and is vulnerable to stomach upsets. It certainly isn’t a good time to uproot a puppy and add the additional stress of leaving the comfort and familiarity of his home.
More reasons not to rehome pups at 6 weeks
But there are other, very important, reasons to leave puppies with their mother for a couple more weeks. And with their brothers and sisters. Most of these have to do with their social and psychological development. This is when the mother teaches her pups most of their doggy manners. From 6 – 8 weeks puppies also really start playing with their littermates – and boisterously. They nip, bump and even roll each other over while they play.
All puppies bite. This is a normal part of puppy play. But puppies have to learn how hard they can bite in fun, without actually harming anyone. And one of the most important ways that puppies learn not to bite is from their littermates. Much of this ‘no bite’ training takes place during the two weeks before the puppy reaches 8 weeks of age. This is when puppy play gets rougher and tougher and the puppies teach one another not to bite too hard.
AND WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
During this time puppies also develop a sense of themselves and their bodies as separate from others. They also learn to accept and not become scared or aggressive when they’re physically touched and bumped.
Furthermore, much like 2-3 year old human toddlers, pups from 6-8 weeks start testing the limits of their own independence. And from their mother and littermates they quickly learn what they can and can’t do a social environment.
All of these are important lessons for the rest of the puppy’s life. You’ve probably heard that behavior problems are more common in puppies separated too early from their litter and this explains why.
Behavior problems in puppies separated from their mothers too early
A study published in 2011 compared reported behavioral problems in dogs rehomed at 4-5 weeks, with those who went to their new homes at 8 weeks. The dogs who were separated from their litters early showed far more of the following behavior problems
- excessive barking
- fearfulness on walks
- reactivity to noises
- toy possessiveness
- food possessiveness
You can learn more about the problems that can arise with puppies that are sold at five or six weeks old in the article “6 week old Puppy – Your Questions Answered”
Can puppies leave their mother at 7 weeks?
Must you really wait a full 8 weeks? I understand that waiting can be tough. Is it really worth an extra seven days in the grand scheme of things? The truthful answer to the question “Can a puppy leave mother at 7 weeks?” is that the right age to bring home a Labrador puppy is 8 weeks.
With very small breeds, some breeders will want to keep the puppies for another three to four weeks after that. And it’s worth bearing in mind that waiting until puppies are 8 weeks old is a legal requirement for breeders in much of the world, including the UK and 24 states in the USA.
The 8 week rehoming guideline has yet another useful purpose. It helps you to identify responsible dog breeders. Puppies are hard work. Especially from 6 to 8 weeks of age when they’re messy, noisy, and growing fast.
It takes commitment to keep puppies during this period when many puppy buyers are desperate to collect their baby and take them home. This commitment is a good sign that you’ve chosen a responsible and caring breeder. Their attitude will affect all aspects of your puppy’s early life in a positive way.
Rehoming Puppies Early
Of course sometimes there are exceptional reasons that mean a puppy needs to be brought home early. For example, a death in the breeder’s family may result in a litter being re-homed early. But let’s be honest, situations like this are extremely rare. All too often, breeders who let puppies go to their new homes at six weeks old, do so for selfish reasons.
Incidentally, a common excuse given by breeders who are just churning out puppies for profit, and want to get rid of the puppies as quickly as possible, is that ‘the mother dog has died’. This is rarely true, and in any case it isn’t relevant.
Please be patient and refuse if you’ve been offered a very young puppy for sale. Also think very hard about whether or not this is the right breeder, and the right litter for you. Even if the mother has genuinely sadly passed away, your puppy still needs to be kept with his littermates.
If you’ve brought a puppy home that is less than seven weeks old, please have the courage to take your puppy back to the breeder. If everyone did this, breeders would stop abusing dogs in this way, because they wouldn’t be able to sell them. Without legislation to protect these dogs, in many regions, the answer lies entirely in the hands of the buyer.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website