Why Don't Our Puppies Leave at 8 Weeks?
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Why Don't Our Puppies Leave at 8 Weeks?
Years ago, I remember that it wasn't uncommon for breeders to let puppies leave the nest at 6 weeks of age. This of course seems abominable to us now. As time passes and new research comes to light, we adjust our approach. Pets have become, in recent years, more than just farm helpers, guard dogs, and occasional companions to be kept outdoors and fed table scraps until needed. They are a huge part of our families, in a way that they just weren't for many people around the world. This has led to more breeders, more research, and dogs now have jobs that are very skilled, from assistance animals that can perform a huge variety of tasks, to search and rescue dogs that detect bombs, earthquake survivors and much, much more. Time and effort has gone in to research that improves the lives of our animals, from breeding practices to feeding, rearing and training. We now know that 6 weeks of age is much, much too early in the life of a puppy to be taken away from the nest. But what of 8 weeks? In many countries, it is commonly accepted that 8 weeks is also, much too early. But why? As breeders this became of huge interest to us.
Our experience, research, and studying has time and again proven that a puppy who is rehomed at 8 weeks, does not settle as quickly, or as well, as a puppy who is rehomed at between 10 and 12 weeks. You may think that 2 weeks makes no difference in the life of the puppy, but at this stage, 2 weeks is a huge amount of time to your tiny puppy.
The following information may help you to understand why.
Firstly, from observing our Dams, we have come to realise that for the first 7-8 weeks of a puppies life (often longer depending on the bitch) Ridgeback bitches in particular can be very sensitive to sudden changes and like things to be done in a gradual and careful manner. Weaning puppies too quickly, or too early, can cause an unneccesarily traumatic psychological experience for both the puppies and the bitch, as well as physiological issues such as mastitis in the bitch, and gastric issues in the puppies. We have found in ALL cases that it is best to be led by the bitch and puppies as much as possible. Of course, if factors such as illness or a lack in maternal instinct have caused an issue, this has to be re-evaluated. When taking this process slowly, we have had great success. We often find that the gradual drying up of the bitch helps her to go back to her pre-pregnancy shape much better than if she is transitioned more quickly, wherein she often has to carry heavier milk ducts filled with milk which stretches the undercarriage to a greater degree, and makes it harder for it to go back. Generally the puppies begin the weaning process at around 3-4 weeks and very slowly transition from the bitches milk to their solid feed, allowing the bitch to feed when she feels it's needed, and very gradually dropping her feeds, by gradually limiting the amount of time the puppies suckle. Almost all of our bitches have wanted to feed their pups, even if only for 30 seconds, sometimes even just once a day, after they are completely weaned onto solid feed, sometimes right up to 8 weeks of age. This process takes time, and is dependent on both the bitch and the puppies. To have them leave at 8 weeks puts unnecessary stress on the bitch, the puppies, and the breeder who may have to force this process to make sure the puppy is ready to be collected at 8 weeks.
Another very compelling reason not to let a puppy leave at 8 weeks, is the Fear Phase.
During the puppies first couple of months, they go through periods where they have no fear at all (birth to 2-3 weeks of age) because they simply don't need it. They are blind, deaf, rely completely on their parent for protection, sustenance and survival, and cannot protect themselves, so a fear phase is useless to them, as they are unable to use it to protect themselves. The critical socialisation period, during which a puppy can be more readily affected, either positively or negatively, by the stimulus and environment they are exposed to, starts at around 3 weeks of age, when they begin to see better, hear more, and are more mobile. This delicate stage in their developent runs to approximately 12 weeks. During this time the puppy is forming the neural networks that will shape many of their rections to future events. These can be extremely formative, and very difficult to change. This is why it is called a critical socialisation period.
We want to raise puppies who will learn emotional stability, to cope with fear, stress, and frustration in a socially acceptable way, which will show in the way they interact with other dogs, and also, vitally, their human family. To do this we use The Puppy Culture method of raising our puppies. We work tirelessly and carefully to habituate them to everything that we can possibly conceive that they will encounter in their new homes, in a controlled manner. We keep a diary of each pup, their personal progress, and the stimuli that they come to accept, and get to know each individual puppy, as their little personalities shine through right from the start. Because we know our puppies very well, we know when they are entering a fear phase, are unwell or suffering unnecessary stress, and we are able to use that information to allow the puppy to reset during these periods, in the safety and comfort of the home which they have already accepted is a safe space for them. Here is the crunch. Puppies go through two very distinct fear phases during their first year. One at 8 weeks, and another at 6 months. Why would we undo all the hard work that we have put into the first 8 weeks, the sleepless nights, socialisation, countless hours of observation and tailored care, as well as thousands of pounds spent, by letting a puppy who is just starting to experience it's first fear phase, go to a completely new environment where it will exhibit fear responses that very likely will not be understood by the new owners, and in an unfamiliar environment which will make it even more fearful? It seems pointless, when we can carefully help them to navigate through this short period, with the experience we have gained not just as breeders, but of the puppy personally during his or her time with us. We can then assess what is typical behaviour for that puppy and work to reassure and coax them through this phase. The puppies that we have done this with, have been much easier for their owners to work with when they hit the second fear phase, at around 6 months old . They have been more adept problem solvers, displayed more confidence, more acceptance of change and more able to deal with stress and frustration. We are not saying your puppy will be perfect. The very nature of puppies, (especially Ridgeback puppies!) makes this an impossibility! What we are saying, is that your puppy will be a more well rounded and accepting puppy than they would have been otherwise, best version of themselves that they can be. With a caring, knowledgable, experienced breeder who takes the time and effort to correctly and calmly socialise their puppies in a controlled and safe environment, your puppy is much better off being left until 10-12 weeks of age. You as a new owner will then have a much easier job of continuing the socialisation and developing a bond with your puppy, while he or she is not struggling to adjust to both a fear phase, and a change in environment. A good breeder will spend time toilet training the puppy, training them to mand (offer acceptable behaviour in exchange for attention and reward) combat resource guarding (possessiveness over toys, treats, food) develop the puppies social skills, confidence, and problem solving skills by introducing them to small problems, crates, novel items, lead walking, small obstacles, and many other experiences. The 8-10 week mark in this programme of development is the time when as breeders, we can make a lot of progress in these areas, which will be of enormous benefit to you, the owner, when you begin to help your puppy adjust to life in your home. Training during this period is dependant on how each puppy reacts to different stimuli during their fear phase, but it is always done with extreme caution and knowledge of that puppies previous capabilities.
The third reason is this – teamwork. The Pack. We aren't the only ones raising your puppy. Their mother, (and in many cases other well adjusted adults in the pack) are having a huge impact on how your puppy will behave in terms of his or her ability to communicate acceptably, and gain confidence. During the first 8 weeks before weaning, the puppies mother focuses mainly on feeding, cleaning, and protecting her brood. From 8 weeks of age however, her behaviour very much begins to shift towards education and rewarding desired behaviours with play, and discouraging antisocial behaviours in a way that only a mother can. Other adult dogs in our pack are excellent 'correctors' and offer play when the puppies are being good, and remove it when those puppies are pushing the boundaries past what is deemed acceptable. Watching them over the years as we have, has cemented that this is a huge bonus to the puppies as they get older. Just those extra two weeks gives your puppy a huge advantage in terms of his or her education. It is so important to us as breeders that we are willing to sacrifice the extra time, resources, and money to give them the very best start in life. Of course, by 12 weeks puppies need to be starting to make their own way in their new homes, so that they can develop their own little personalities away from the pack, and stand on their own four little paws, so to speak. Trust us when we say that, for us, it would be much easier to let them go earlier. It would cost less, take up less time, be less work, and we could catch up on jobs we will have invariably neglected during the last 8 weeks, but we know that the long term benefits both for the puppies and their new owners, far outweighs any inconvenience to us. We want to put our puppies first, and give them the best chance of being happy, well-adjusted adults. The rest is up to you, of course, but we will be there every step of the way to help and guide you.