The pitfalls of hand rearing a puppy.

Many times we as humans think that hand rearing a puppy will ensure that the puppy grows up to be the perfect dog because you can shape his behavior from a very young age. In other cases we are so anxious to get a puppy that we tend to bully a breeder into giving him to us at a very young age. Does it really matter at what age you get a puppy?

Unfortunately the answer to that is YES! Taking a puppy away from his mom and siblings might have an effect on him for the rest of this life and it can pretty much guarantee some or other behavioral problem. So why is this? What am I talking about? At what age should I get a puppy then?

The best age to get a puppy is between 8 and 12 weeks of age. Should you adopt a pup before that age, he will miss out on many life lessons that only his mother and siblings can teach him. Let us take a look at a few such lessons.

  1. Between three and six weeks of age, a puppy learns very important behavioral “lessons” from his mother and siblings. By engaging in play behaviors with his siblings, he learns how to communicate properly with other dogs. He learns about the meaning of different body postures as they play. He learns not to bite too hard down (bite inhibition) on his siblings as well. At this age the puppy will have very sharp teeth, and biting down hard will get an unwanted response from the puppy he is playing with. The puppy will respond with a YELP and play will stop immediately. By this, the puppy will learn that softer bites means play will continue, but any hard bite will end his fun and play will stop. This is a very important life lesson what will shape his future interactions with other dogs.
  2. The puppy will learn how to appropriately interact with other dogs. Should the pup step way out of line, the mother will teach him basic manners by growling, snarling or even snapping lightly at him. By doing this the puppy quickly learn about more acceptable behaviors. Should you deny this, the puppy will tend to become more challenging to train later in life.
  3. The puppy will most probably be nervous and might have the tendency to bark and even bite. They might become less tolerant or even show aggression towards other dogs later in life.
  4. A puppy who was taken away from his mother might have a hard time tolerating frustration. When the puppy feeds, his mom might stand up and walk away while the puppy is still attached. This struggle over his very highly values resource, in this case his mom’s nipples, teaches the puppy that he cannot always gets what he wants and also teaches him to self-sooth.

All the above and a few more can cause serious behavioral problems. The bottom line is, should you adopt a puppy at too young an age, he might not know how to properly communicate with other dogs or humans and might react to them with fear. This in turn might end up in the dog showing aggression towards other dogs and people. Such dog will now not know anything about bite inhibition or appropriate play. This might end up in the dog now biting hard down should he engage in play with another dog.

In cases where a pup is orphaned or where a mother is killing her pups you do not have a choice but to take them away, but in normal circumstances, for the puppy’s physical as well as psychological well-being, it is best to obtain a puppy after at least 8 weeks of age.

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Force free science based behavior modification and training

Eden K9 Abilties

George van Huyssteen (DipCABT)
Practitioner Member CAPBT International
Garden Route, South Africa


Petra du Toit (CPDT-KA)
SABCAP Companion Animal Behaviorist (AB/013)
SABCAP Dog Training Professional (DT/015)