Petkeen is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn More

When Can Puppies Live Without Their Mother?

Kathryn Copeland

How on earth are you expected to wait patiently for your brand-new puppy to get old enough before you can bring them home? That adorable ball of fluff needs to be cuddled! How old do puppies need to be before they can be taken from their mothers?

If you’re waiting to bring your puppy home or if you’re just wondering about this question, we can tell you that puppies should be 8 to 12 weeks old before leaving their mothers.

While waiting a few extra weeks might seem like an eternity, there are significant reasons for your puppy to be the right age. We take an in-depth look into these reasons and how vital a puppy’s time is with their siblings and mother.

However, sometimes a puppy is orphaned at a young age, so we also briefly go over what steps you can take to make things a little easier for a puppy without their mother.

divider-dog paw

The Importance of the First 8 Weeks for a Puppy

Puppies must be 8 to 12 weeks old before leaving their mothers and siblings.

There are many reasons that puppies should stay with their mothers until this time, which include socialization, breed/size, weaning, behavioral learning, and legal issues.

newborn puppy
Image Credit: JackieLou DL, Pixabay

Socialization

Puppies learn critical socialization skills from their mothers, siblings, and their breeders. Socialization occurs in puppies from about 6 weeks to 14 weeks of age. This time is of the utmost importance in the development of every puppy.

They take in and learn a great deal of information about the world. The behaviors and personalities that emerge during this time will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It’s at this age that they also form strong attachments with the people looking after them.

Therefore, puppies need to be exposed to as many new situations, people, different environments, and other animals as much and as safely as possible. Socialization will have a significant impact on the puppy’s bond with their families, self-confidence, and behavior.

Breed/Size

Typically, toy breed puppies tend to stay with the breeder for longer than average-sized and large puppies.

These dogs are already small as adults, and the puppies are quite fragile and tiny and usually need to stay with their mothers and breeders until they are a little older. They tend to develop a little slower emotionally and mentally too, so spending more time with their siblings and mothers is usually for the best.

japanese chin puppy lying on the rock
Image Credit: Ann Marie Kurtz, Shutterstock

Weaning

The average age when puppies are weaned from their mother’s milk is about 3 to 5 weeks. Puppies need to nurse from their mothers until the natural weaning process occurs, which is a stressful event for puppies.

They should not be sent to their new homes until they have been completely weaned and are eating solid food. The unfortunate side effect of removing a puppy that hasn’t been adequately weaned is an anxious and insecure adult dog.

Behavior

Puppies learn valuable lessons from their siblings as another aspect of socialization. When they are about 3 to 5 weeks old, they are not only learning about the world, but they are also learning about communication and play behaviors with other dogs.

Puppies also learn about controlling their biting and impulses via their mother and littermates. If puppies are taken away too young, they won’t have acquired the essential lessons of not biting too hard.

Legal

In the U.S., 28 of the 50 states have laws dictating what age puppies must be before being sold and leaving their mothers. Twenty-five of the 28 states require that puppies be a minimum of 8 weeks of age before being sold, while the other three require a minimum of 7 weeks in age.

There are variations among these laws with respect to punishment and who it affects, but for the most part, it’s any breeder, even someone selling a puppy through social media. Across the entire U.K., it’s illegal to sell a puppy under 8 weeks of age.

Beware of anyone attempting to sell you a puppy that is under 8 weeks of age, as this might not only be illegal, but it’s detrimental to the puppy’s wellbeing.

mother dog and puppy playing
Image Credit: shanblan4, Pixabay

divider-paw

What Happens If a Puppy Leaves Their Mother Too Late?

Toy breed puppies tend to stay longer with their mothers, whereas large breed puppies shouldn’t be kept for much longer than 9 to 10 weeks. If they are kept any longer, they can start to develop submissive or dominant behaviors that can lead to problems in the future.

Large breeds grow quickly, are quite strong, and can become extremely rambunctious. This can make taking care of your new puppy quite difficult because you’ll need to know how to deal with this large, overly excited animal. It’s easier to form a strong bond with a large puppy at 8 to 10 weeks of age rather than one at 12 weeks.

jack russell licking its puppy
Image Credit: Counselling, Pixabay

What Happens If a Puppy Leaves Their Mother Too Early?

Behavioral problems are among the key issues that can occur if a puppy leaves their mother and littermates too early.

You will also see problems with temperament when they mature, which might include:
  • Anxiety issues
  • Fear aggression (particularly with other dogs)
  • Being highly reactive
  • Resource guarding (food and toys)
  • Being difficult to train
  • Biting frequently and too hard
  • Lacking independence
  • Having problems with attachment (bonding too strongly or not strongly enough)
  • Lacking confidence

As you can see, this is probably one of the most critical times in a puppy’s life until they are ready to leave for their new home by 8 weeks of age.

When the Puppy Is Orphaned

If you end up with a puppy that has lost their mother and littermates, you can do a few things to help with the socialization aspect.

Many lessons, the puppy will learn on their own, but here are a few tips:
  • Wash the puppy after meals, as this can teach the puppy to clean themselves.
  • Play with the puppy frequently to help teach socialization.
  • Teach bite inhibition by mimicking the puppy’s littermates. If the puppy bites too hard, make a yelping sound and stop playing.
  • When your puppy reaches 6 to 8 weeks of age, enroll them in a puppy training class. This will also help with socialization by allowing the puppy to interact with the other puppies.

If you do your research, speak to your vet, and learn how to take care of your new and very young puppy, it’s quite likely that you can raise a well-adjusted dog.

Rotterman puppy
Image Credit: Gregory Culley, Shutterstock

divider-dog

Conclusion

For a puppy to be taken away from their mother before 8 weeks of age puts them at a disadvantage. Any breeder looking to sell you a puppy before they’re actually ready to leave their mother should not be trusted. The breeder is likely more interested in the money from the sale rather than the puppy’s welfare.

As much as you might want your new puppy as soon as possible, you can see that it’s best for both of you to be patient. Once you do bring your new puppy home, you’ll know that they were worth the wait.


Featured Image Credit: Steve Adcock, Pixabay

Kathryn Copeland

Kathryn was a librarian in a previous lifetime and is currently a writer about all things pets. When she was a child, she hoped to work in zoos or with wildlife in some way, thanks to her all-consuming love for animals. Unfortunately, she's not strong in the sciences, so she fills her days with researching and writing about all kinds of animals and spends time playing with her adorable but terribly naughty tabby cat, Bella. Kathryn is hoping to add to her family in the near future – maybe another cat and a dog.