I am frequently asked “I am about to bring home my first Husky puppy. What do I need to know?” Actually there is something that you need to know even before your puppy leaves the breeder’s facility. What you need to know that your puppy should never leave its mother and litter mates before they are at least 8 weeks of age.
It frustrates me to read a behaviour related question, to then find out that the dog was allowed to be removed from the mother and siblings before the age of 8 or 9 weeks old. Releasing a puppy too early has no benefits for the puppy and can cause a host of sometimes irreversible emotional and behaviour problems in dogs. This practice will only serve to harm your dog and make your job as the owner of this dog unnecessarily difficult.
The only benefit for releasing a puppy before the age of 8 or 9 weeks will be for the breeder of this dog in the form of reduced costs associated with keeping the puppy for additional two or three weeks.
Why Do Breeders Do This If It Is Not Good For The Puppy?
Unless it is a true emergency (death of the mother or extreme illness of the puppy), any breeder that releases a puppy too early is doing so from either extreme ignorance, irresponsibility, or greed. Sadly, I am noticing a growing trend among people taking ownership of their puppy at the age of only 5 or 6 weeks of age because the breeder insists on it, the owners don’t know enough not to do this, or sometimes it is the new owners themselves who refuse to wait for the full 8 or 9 weeks before taking possession of their puppy.
Uninformed and unscrupulous breeders adhere to this practice so they won’t have to put effort into dealing with the now more mobile puppies and so they can save on food costs related to these growing puppies. They do this without ever giving a second thought about what is in the best interest of the puppy and how their decision will go on to impact you, the owner of this puppy.
Impatient or uniformed owners do this due to not taking the time to become knowledgeable about this issue. This is true for all dogs, not just snow dogs.
Please, don’t wait for the breeder do to what is best for your puppy. Arm yourself ahead of time with information regarding this issue. Ask your breeder what his policy is on this issue before you enter into a binding contract with them and then make sure the release date appears in writing in the contract. If a breeder won’t agree to keeping a puppy until he is 8 or 9 weeks of age, then walk away.
Additionally, if the mother of the puppies is no longer on site to interact with the puppies after the puppies are weaned, walk away. The reason for this will be further explained later in this article.
No matter how much of a “great deal” you think that you are getting with this puppy, no matter how badly you want this dog, getting a dog that begins his life potentially predisposed to psychological, behavioural, and emotional issues are quickly going to turn your dream dog into an ongoing nightmare that you will be forced to re-live daily.
Emotionally Immature Puppies Are A Lot Like Three Year Old Children
Nearly every time I am asked for behavioural help for a puppy who is showing difficulty adapting to his new environment, the most prevalent reason for the dog’s difficulty, even when the new owners are doing everything correctly, is that the puppy was removed from the mother and his litter mates too early.
To help you to understand the gravity of this situation, relate it as if we were speaking about a 3 year old child. Removing a puppy too soon from their family unit is the doggy equivalent of taking a 3 year old child and sending him off to boarding school and expecting him to be able to cope emotionally and socially with the experience.
Sure, the now somewhat autonomous 3 year old child can now walk unaided, he can talk well enough to make his needs known, he can feed himself if you give him food, and he may even be able to tell you that he needs to go to the toilet but is this young child emotionally equipped to be on his own and away from the protection, support, and emotional nurturing of his mother and family unit all day long? The answer is no. And while a puppy is not a human child, a 5 or 6 week old puppy is not ready to leave the emotional support of his extended dog family either.
Emotional And Psychological Abandonment Has A Cost
Very young children who are denied the emotional support and guidance of the family unit go on to have all kinds of emotional and adaptational issues.
These children tend to be timid, fearful, less outgoing, have more than the usual number of fears and phobias, have fear relate sleep disorders, are irritable, anxious, are unable to self soothe, become easily frustrated and have trouble coping with normal frustrations, display inappropriate and unreasonable out bursts of angry behaviour, and are more likely to display dissociative and attachment disorders.
They also seem to have an above average likelihood of displaying, and struggling with, socially unacceptable behaviours when it comes to their peer interactions. Puppies that are removed too early from their litters eerily mimic these very same behavioural and emotional issues displayed by these young children.
While we should avoid trying to humanize dogs, the truth remains, that the basic primal social and emotional needs of the pack oriented canid are not that different from the basic primal physical and emotional requirements of human beings.
A Hierarchy Of Needs
As Abraham Maslow pointed out in his theory of the Hierarchy of Needs, complex living organisms have an inherent basic hierarchy of needs (physical and emotional) that must be met if the being is to physically survive and then go on to thrive. The most basic physical primal needs are physiological (air, food, water etc.) and then there is a need for physical safety (shelter from the elements and someone to physically administer care to those unable to care for themselves.)
The more advanced higher needs for Love and Belonging, while not so much of a primal physical need, are emotional needs. Animals (human included) that live in societal communities, in order to feel emotionally secure, must have these two emotional needs also met or it causes the being to be insecure, emotionally unbalanced, and unstable.
Just as a young child needs the comfort and security of being with, and belonging to his family unit, so does a very young puppy need the security of being with, and belonging to, his extended family unit.
The Rules Of Society
Learning the rules as they pertain to our societies, constitutes part of our evolutionary transformation as we move from childhood, to adolescence, and then to adulthood. The rules for knowing how to orient ourselves in our social circles is taught by the other members of society. No human or puppy comes into the world knowing the rules that apply to his social group. These rules are mutable and reflect the unique circumstances of each particular group. The rules must be taught to the group members.
In humans, the first 5 or 6 years of life is spent not only physically looking after a child, but teaching the rules of being human and how to live (and survive) in the human society. The next 10 years of a human life is spent developing a social skills, social associations, and further understanding the complex social rules of human society. These are the necessary skills to learn to be able to transition to a well balanced and well functioning adult.
This human development is similar to the developmental stages in dogs, except in dogs, this process is accomplished in weeks, not months and years. Therefore, a week of development in a puppy’s life is the equivalent of several years of social and physical development in a human’s life.
Still think that releasing a puppy one to three weeks early is no big deal? Clearly, for the development and functioning of the puppy these few weeks are a huge deal.
The Five Stages And Transitions For Dog Development
Behavioural scientists and researchers for the most part agree that the five standard stages of dog development are as follows:
- The Neonatal Stage (birth – 2 weeks) – The puppies eat, sleep, pee and poop. There is no other social interaction at this stage.
- The Transitional Stage (2-3 weeks) – The puppies move from just eating and sleeping to become more aware of their surroundings as their eyes and ears open.
- The Socialisation Stage (3-13 weeks) – The puppies move from just eating and physical survival to interacting with the members of their society and learning the social rules of their society. *Overlap – The Critical Period (6-13 weeks) This is not a separate stage of development but a component of the Socialization Stage. But this period of development is so crucial to the development of social skills and to the dog’s understanding of key socialization elements that it merits its own mention. It is within this developmental stage that a dog’s potential as a companion animal is either fostered and nurtured or impeded and even destroyed. It is also within this stage that at least 50% (nurture vs. nature) of the dog’s eventual temperament is developed.
- Adolescence (13 weeks – 6 months) – The puppies are now autonomous but are still learning about the social complexities of their society. At this stage varying amounts of latitude are given for socially immature dogs displaying inappropriate social behaviours. Behaviour is corrected by the members of the society.
- Adulthood (begins at approximately 6 to 8 months old) – These are fully autonomous dogs that are required to know the rules of the society and operate within the parameters of these rules. Dogs that challenge the rules or don’t conform to the rules may be physically forced out of the group.
It is important to understand that transition from one stage to the next is gradual and not abrupt. The progressions are smooth and there is considerable overlapping of behaviours from stage to stage.
Crucial Puppy Social Development In Weeks 6 Through 8
During these two weeks, mother dogs with good instincts interact with their pups very differently than before. The puppies are no long nursing as they are now eating solid food. Mom’s job at this point has changed from physically nurturing the puppies to giving the puppies their first lessons in submission, compliance, social order, and social ranking.
Puppies that once climbed all over Mom, nibbled and chewed on her, and hung and swung from her ear by their teeth, are now physically shown that this behaviour is less tolerated. For the very first time in their lives the puppies have behavioural expectations placed onto them by a dog that out ranks them socially.
Mom As Disciplinarian And As Boss
At this stage, very attentive Moms can be seen flipping puppies over onto their backs and asking them to submit to her. The puppy is asked to submit and just lie there in submission for no other reason than, “Mom said so and Mom is the Boss.” This is the very first situation where puppies learn to deal with being asked to comply and submit. Up until now puppies did pretty much whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to it.
Social Ranking As Established By Natural Temperament
It is also during these two weeks that the puppies’ natural temperament really begins to emerge.
Some puppies are more naturally confident and pushy. These are the puppies shoving other more timid dogs away from the food and taking the lion’s share for themselves. These dogs are found sleeping in the best and most choice sleeping spots. These dogs are the ones that will come up and physically wrestle a toy away from a less dominant puppy.
Some puppies are less confident, less pushy, and soon learn that other more dominant puppies will socially outrank them and at times, dominate them. These dogs have to learn how to deal with the frustration of being challenged by a more dominant force.
These kinds of social hierarchy interactions with litter mates are crucial building blocks for a dog to be able to understand the complexities of social hierarchy, rank, and order. Without these experiential social opportunities to learn appropriate social behaviour, a dog enters adolescence and adulthood devoid of necessary and crucial social skills training.
And sadly, dogs that have been removed from their family unit before they are 8 weeks old, these socially immature dogs go on to be the dogs that are involved in most of the social skirmishes at the dog park, at doggy day care, and in one-on-one chance dog encounters. These poor dogs don’t stand a chance in social situations because they are clueless about what appropriate and polite social dog behaviour should look like. They never had a chance to see it modeled by their mother or their siblings and they never had a chance to practice modelling these behaviours themselves.
These dogs know nothing about calming signals. They don’t know how to read calming signals given by other others so these dogs are constantly under reacting or over reacting to other dogs. They also cannot give calming signals so other dogs find them their behaviour and reactions both baffling and irritating.
As you can easily see, most of the social rules are taught and reinforced by mother dogs on weeks 6 through 8, so the consequences of removing puppies from their litter mates and mothers too early are both far reaching and impactful.
And since companion dogs will be constantly required to submit, comply, and interact with humans and other dogs for the rest of their natural lives, intentionally or inadvertently (through ignorance) creating a puppy that is likely to be socially and emotionally crippled just does not make sense nor does it benefit anyone.
Common Dog Behaviours And Problems Attributed To Early Removal
Here is a short list of common problems (physical, emotional, and social) exhibited by puppies and then later by mature dogs, who have been removed from their family units before the age of 8 weeks.
These puppies seem to have an inability to self soothe
They are anxious and never seem to be content. They whine, cry, and bark a lot. Many times they seem inconsolable even when given human attention. These puppies are the dogs that will continue to cry through the night long after the normal adaptation period has passed.
These dogs are quite likely to develop severe separation anxiety or minimally, they will hate being left alone. It is because they are unable to self soothe and because they become easily frustrated that they often resort to physical destruction of their environment as an outlet for their anxiety and frustration. These dogs are also at an increased risk of becoming self mutilators.
Housebreaking these puppies is challenging
As their bladders and bowels are still immature, trying to insist on regulating them is often frustrating and unsuccessful for both humans and dog. Once they get in the habit of eliminating in the house, it becomes much harder to get through the message of only pee and poop outside.
Owners place newspapers and pee pads down to help contain the mess but are only helping to teach and reinforce the message that elimination in doors is permissible. Remember, dogs, cannot generalize. Rules for them fall into one of two categories: ALWAYS or NEVER. If they are allowed to pee and poop sometimes, they interpret that to mean ALWAYS. Bringing your puppy home after they are 8 weeks old makes effective housebreaking not only easier, it makes it possible.
These puppies will often exhibit a myriad of psychological issues
They lack the confidence to handle new situations, people, and often are not able to have proper social interactions with other dogs because of crippling fears and phobias. Even when you take these dogs to obedience classes and give them socialization opportunities, these are the dogs that will become fear aggressive and be at an increased chance of becoming a fear biter. Often through constant management, these issues can be lessened but rarely are the issues completely eliminated.
These dogs often default to fear biting
They do not necessarily see this behaviour as being an offensive attack. In their minds they are defensively attacking other dogs. Their fear is so great that they preemptively launch an attack of one bite and then they retreat, hoping to drive off the other dog (or person). They melt down and are easily overwhelmed by anything new in their environment. These dogs are uncomfortable and just want to be left alone.
Because these dogs have gaps in their understanding of being able to read and model appropriate dog body language, they often are the cause of dog fights. They lack the knowledge behind giving and receiving the normal calming signals used by other more scholarly dogs. Interestingly, Mother dogs who did not get the benefit of being taught about calming signals by their mothers will not be able to pass this knowledge on to their own puppies creating yet another generation of dogs who have poor communications skills.
Not knowing what to expect from other the dogs causes these dogs to be constantly on guard and tense. Then other dogs react to the tense or fearful energy and body language displayed by these dogs. The owners of these unfortunate socially inept dogs are often at their wits end trying to teach their dogs how to become well socialized and how to be less stressed or terrified in social settings. Very often no amount of socialization training helps to make these dogs fully at ease in dog on dog encounters.
How You Can Prevent This From Happening To You
- Education and correct information is always crucial to preventing a disaster from becoming your fate. Arm yourself with as much information as you can from a variety of up to date sources of information. Sadly, your Vet may not be the best source of information when it comes to issues of understanding the social learning and needs of dogs.
- Do not allow yourself to become complacent and naively expect that all breeders will act in the best interest of you or your puppy. Sadly, there are breeders out there who are very low on ethics and whose bigger concern is the profit to be gained by selling their dogs to you.
- Minimally, there are some breeders out there who lack the experience and information to be good knowledgeable breeders. Ignorance really is a weak excuse for producing a poor genetic product. If they are responsible for creating a living creature then they should also take the personal responsibility to make sure that they are up to date on current and accurate information regarding the practice of creating healthy and well-adjusted puppies. Breeding dogs needs to about more than that just tossing two dogs together so they can pro-create and then selling puppies as a product of procreation.
- By taking the responsibility to arm yourself with information you can recognize sound breeding practices and know what questions to ask thereby increasing your chances of being able to spot a bad breeder. Not all breeders are bad. There are ethical well informed dog breeders out there too. You just have to know enough information to be able to spot the difference.
- And finally, don’t buy puppies, sight unseen, from breeders that advertise over the internet or from newspaper or magazine ads. From behind the anonymity of a computer screen or telephone people can represent themselves in any way that they want. The only way to be sure that a breeder has good breeding practices is to be able to see the facility and the dogs for yourself.
With an appointment, you should be able to a visit a good quality breeder’s facility. If a breeder makes constant excuses as to why you cannot visit them, walk away from the deal. If you insist on doing business with a person like this, you, and your poorly bred puppy will surely be paying the price for this choice for a long time to come.
When visiting a breeder’s facility the puppies should be on the premises, ideally living in the house with the people. The parent dogs should be there too, but especially the mother of the pups. If the mother is no longer with the pups after they have been weaned, you are at in increased risk of ending up with a puppy who is missing crucial social development. If a facility has many breeding dogs with litters on the ground, walk away. If a breeding facility has many different breeds of dogs, all with litters on the ground, walk away. If dogs are kept in dirty and overcrowded conditions, walk away.
These situations all have the tell-tale signs of it being puppy mill. Puppies that come from this kind of breeding situation will be not only be poor genetic examples of the breed but they will arrive sick and infested with parasites from living in dirty and unhealthy conditions. If you buy from a dog from a breeder after seeing these conditions you had better be prepared to spend a lot more money on Vet bills because trying to bring these dogs back to a state of good healthy, if at all possible, is a costly affair. Save yourself the anguish and the money. Just don’t buy puppies from questionable sources.
It is my most fond wish that we educate all Snow Dog owners and all potential Snow Dog owners so that no person finds themselves in the awful position of becoming the unwitting owner of one of these unfortunate dogs. Please, do your homework first before agreeing to purchase a dog from a breeder. Know what constitutes good breeding practices. And know not to accept ownership of a puppy before it at least 8 weeks old.
As always we welcome your questions and comment regarding this issue. Please share your stories with us because when we share our wisdom we may well be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping All Snow Dogs …. one owner at a time.