Recently, I was involved in an online raw feeding discussion group where someone was acquiring a pair of new puppies. Their question regarded nutrition, but quickly spiraled into something different.
The person asking the question mentioned that the puppies were to be picked up when they were just 6 weeks of age. Now, in the case of a litter of pups abandoned by their mother, or where the mother is lost or unable to care for them, sure, we can support and care for the puppies artificially. But no responsible breeder would allow puppies to be separated from their mom at 6 weeks. This is usually done by puppy mills or backyard “breeders” that are looking for quick cash and don’t care about the pups, and want to be done with taking care of them as soon as possible. They may paint it like it is a benefit for you, that it will give you more opportunity to bond with the puppy, but that is not the case at all.
8 weeks is considered the absolute minimum a puppy should remain with its mother and littermates. Most responsible breeders will keep them longer than that, up to 12 weeks. So when the fact that these puppies were being sent home by a “breeder” at that young age, the group quickly explained the reasons that this was not a good idea.
The main reason for keeping the litter together is that while puppies have developed their vision and hearing, they are still too young to respond to a name, have not been potty trained, and lack valuable social skills they develop with their littermates. This last item is key. I often get comments from customers that the puppy they have has a tendency to bite, and bite hard, sometimes even hurting the pet parent. Generally, it turns out that these were puppies that for whatever reason were separated from their litter before 8 weeks.
At 6 weeks, the pups have yet to get a full set of teeth, or their full jaw strength. They haven’t learned what it is to bite, or be bitten. But as those chompers come in, they quickly learn that they don’t want to bite or be bitten at the full force they use at 6 weeks. At 9 weeks, most have learned a different bite, a “play bite” as it were. You can train a pup not to bite, but it requires a lot of work, work that is done naturally just by leaving the pups together a little longer.
The second issue that was non nutritionally related was something I hadn’t been exposed to before, something known as “littermate syndrome”. Basically, the theory is that littermates raised together will tend to bond to each other at the expense of creating relationships with pet parents or other animals. This hyper-attachement can make training the pups much harder than raising just one, and can cause them stress when separated for even short periods.
If you are aware of the potential issue from the start, you can take steps to prevent the problem, by kenneling them separately, and training them apart, allowing them to create an independence. Unfortunately, if you are not aware of the concern, you can end up with dogs that have severe anxiety issues and are difficult to handle, through no fault of your own. Trying to get these dogs to function normally without their sibling can be a long, arduous task.
A dog can be a 15 year or more commitment. A little extra work before bringing a pet into the family can result in an even more rewarding life together.