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Considering Developmental Benefits of Bringing Home an Older Puppy!

Guest Blog: By Ledonna Scalf, AKC Certified Evaluator with the Well Trained Puppy

It’s a joyful time when your heart is looking forward to welcoming a new 4-legged family member. And, it’s time to interview breeders and ultimately narrow down your options to the one puppy, perfect for you.

As a stable adult, you’ve successfully checked off a lengthy list of adult accomplishments and responsibilities— and yet— for some crazy reason, your heart still melts at the thought of holding a new puppy. Don’t be embarrassed about admitting that. There are very few things in this world that can compare to the unconditional love and kisses offered by our pet companions! It’s a joyful time. Relish the excitement.

It IS a big choice though. As you surf through pages and pages of adorable puppy pictures on the internet, it’s important to remember that you are choosing a long-term addition to your family. The selection is far more than choosing a “pretty faceâ€. There are many facets that must be taken into consideration.

As an AKC-certified evaluator and professional dog trainer, I have put together this short blog to help prospective pet owners walk through some of the most important considerations. There are no “right†and “wrong†answers, but there is a “goodâ€, “betterâ€, and “best†option for YOU and your family. And for your pet. My job is to help you find what works best for YOU.

After choosing the breed which has the size, appearance, and general temperament you believe is ideal for you, the next question to ask yourself is: What stage of puppy development is best suited to your personal lifestyle?

That is the topic of today’s blog post.

For most of us, when we think about puppies, the first thought to enter our mind is a cuddly, bouncing ball of fluff, somewhere in the 6-8 week old range. And oh, are they not the absolute most adorable creatures at that sweet age? But as a professional in the dog world, I want to caution you against bringing your puppy home any earlier than 8 weeks. In most cases, 10-14 weeks is ideal.

In my professional opinion, puppies who have been allowed to spend a minimum of 8-10 weeks with their mom and litter mates consistently demonstrate the most confident, well-adjusted temperaments. Reputable breeders who are heavily invested in the emotional well-being of their litters agree.

I know it’s tempting, but *please* be leery of breeders who encourage you to take a puppy earlier than this. They are generally “puppy mill†breeders, motivated by profit instead of what is best for the puppy. If they didn’t consider the puppy’s emotional needs, and allow adequate time for that mother/pup bonding process to fully form, chances are they didn’t invest the time or energy into cognitive-stimulating training protocols either.

Before bringing home a very young (8-10 week old) puppy, you need to honestly evaluate your lifestyle and determine whether or not you have the time, energy, and skill sets to adequately s the ideal nursery environment a young puppy needs to develop into the confident, well-adjusted adult dog you expect s/he to become.

Are you prepared to potty train a young puppy? This is quite possibly the biggest inconvenience of bringing home a new puppy. The puppy will need to be observed closely and taken outside each and every time s/he starts to circle or sniff. It takes loving, patience, and consistency to house-train a puppy. You must be honest with yourself when considering whether or not you have the time to dedicate to this task. An older puppy has usually already mastered potty training, or at the very least, made huge strides towards being more predictable in the potty schedule with the physical development to “hold it†longer than a very young puppy.

Aside from the obvious health advantages of adopting a puppy who is old enough already to be fully vaccinated, there are other advantages to choosing an older puppy that is often overlooked as well— particularly if your breeder has opted to invest in training. The “sweet spot†for continuing education of your pup is 8-24 weeks. During this short window of time, the foundation is built for a lifetime of behavior patterns. It is during this season of a puppy’s development that I find short (15-minute) daily training sessions eagerly received and quickly mastered.

A 10-16 week old puppy that has been worked with regularly should be well on his way to mastering the basic commands of manding, “sitâ€, “restâ€, “comeâ€, and “placeâ€. S/He should be comfortable on a leash and both friendly and confident on social outings. Additionally, s/he should be well on his way to being potty trained.

Consider asking your breeder if they offer an extended education program like my personal “Well Trained Puppy†protocol. Just a few short weeks in a program such as this will ensure a smooth, more pleasant transition for both you and your new family addition.

After bringing your puppy home, I highly recommend enrolling your pup in an AKC-certified program. The AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy and CGC Canine Good Citizen programs are excellent continuing education training protocols for your consideration.

Isn’t it true that a puppy can be weaned at 6 weeks of age and still be healthy? Yes… and no. If that sounds as, ‘clear as mud to you.†Please allow me to elaborate. Biologically, a puppy born to a healthy mom can be weaned and moved over to dry kibble by 6 weeks old and still grow into a physically healthy adult dog. But there is more to it than that. You see, nursing is about more than nutrition. It is also a comforting, bonding activity for both pups and their moms.

We’ve all seen a puppy or kitten whose mom weaned him too early. They attempt to “nurse†pillows and blankets. They are oftentimes insecure, easily frightened, poorly connected creatures who don’t interact well with other animals or humans. This is tragic— and totally avoidable. The solution is allowing that mother/pup bond to last a MINIMUM of 8 weeks.

Most reputable breeders begin offering solid foods at 5-6 weeks of age, while allowing the pup to continue nursing until they are at least 8 weeks. For some litters, the transition takes 8-10 weeks. This is perfectly normal and far better for the future emotional stability of the pup.

Puppy Development between 6-16 weeks:

Puppies learn to play while in their mother’s care. They bite, romp, jump on each other and pull each other’s ears and tails, much the way human siblings interact with one another. At times, they might get a little rough— That’s where a great mom steps in and gently corrects them. She signals them that a nip was too rough. This is critical information that doesn’t get passed along any other way than mom to pup.

These interactions are invaluable for a young puppy. When they are removed from their mom and sibling group too early, they miss out on these basic social skills— which frequently negatively impact their behavior with other dogs later in life.

As a trainer, I know first-hand how difficult breaking such bad habits can be. And sadly, most of those behaviors could have been avoided all together had the puppy been allowed to remain with his mom and sibling group a few extra weeks.


In closing, you and your new fur baby deserve to get off on the very best paw. So, before choosing that 6-8 week-old puppy based on a cute, but very short, season of its life— please consider the points above and take the time to honestly assess your current lifestyle and skill set. While it’s right for a few families, it certainly isn’t ideal for everyone. Educating yourself about the pros and cons of early versus late adoption helps ensure a successful lifetime match.

The gold standard for perfect placement is still all about temperament testing:

Thanks for reading. I wish you and your new pet the very best! And remember, I am always here to help you with putting your best paw forward.

Ledonna Scalf

Certified AKC Evaluator, Dog Trainer

Every home deserves


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a well-trained puppy!

For more reading on this subject, I recommend this article originally published in Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DogWatch newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group.

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