There is a lot of controversy surrounding the early adoption of puppies. I’ve seen puppies adopted as early as 3 or 4 weeks of age by some pet owners. Is this wrong? Is it safe?
Some of the reasons given by pet lovers for seeking out these young dogs is that they want to adopt their puppy as early as possible both to get to know their puppy and to ensure the puppy will bond to them. The typically accepted time frame for adoption is no younger than 8 weeks of age, but less reputable breeders offer and promote early adoption – mostly so the puppy is out of their house and less work for them.
Is early adoption a good or bad idea? When is the ideal time to adopt a puppy? To answer this question, I turned to Dr. Karen Overall for guidance. Her new book, The Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, provides example after example of research investigating how early adoption can negatively impact a puppy’s ability to learn and function.
The Case Against Early Adoption
It is well-established among breeders and canine enthusiasts, who frequently interact with a large number of dogs, that puppies will exhibit a number of negative behaviors when taken from their dams and littermates before 8 weeks of age. The effect is sufficient for many breeders to refuse the relocation of puppies to their new home until they reach 8, 10, or even 12 weeks of age. This sentiment is echoed by veterinarians and researchers as well in an increasing number of studies. One such study found a correlation between the development of social anxiety and separation from the litter prior to 60 days of age (Sargisson, 2014). Dr. Overall sites what is perhaps the most impactful study thus far on the subject in her book:
Adult dogs, who have been separated from their dam and litter from 30 to 40 days, experienced a greater incidence of excessive barking, fearfulness on walks, reactivity to noises, toy possessiveness, food passiveness, attention-seeking behavior and destructive behavior then dogs who had been kept with their litters through 8 weeks (Pierantoni et al, 2011). This is some of the strongest evidence that dogs should neither be separated from their litters and the influence of the dam nor adopted into a new home before 8 weeks of age.
In addition to the above, it is actually illegal for breeders to sell puppies before 8 weeks of age in several states.
States That Prohibit Selling a Puppy Before 8 Weeks of Age*
- New York
- Virginia (illegal under 7 weeks old)
- Wisconsin (illegal under 7 weeks old)
States Without Puppy Age Laws
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia