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I realize that a dog can never be too old to adopt, my parents just adopted a fairly senior citizen schnauzer. However, how young is too young to adopt a puppy? It's been a while, but I think we adopted our dachshund whenever he was about 8 to 10 weeks (maybe earlier).

Is there is a suggested age, what are some of the ramifications or reasons behind it?

Consider the answer to How can I find out if a dog I am considering is from a puppy mill? which mentions:

If you're selling a puppy in less than 8 weeks you're damaging the overall health of the puppy.

  • 8-10 weeks isn't wrong, but the real question is what stages of development and training need to be passed? I wouldn't get too hung up on a specific number of weeks, you want the puppy to be mentally at a stage that is appropriate for the adoption. If someone doesn't beat me to it, I'll try to provide a real answer tomorrow. – John Cavan Jul 4 '14 at 3:18
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As I commented, I think this is more of a developmental milestone issue as opposed to specific ages but there is a reasonable rule of thumb. As with all of us, maturation may happen at different rates and it's really more important for you to know when a given puppy is ready for adoption.

So, some milestones periods to consider:

  • Separation of a puppy from litter mates and mother before or at 6 weeks of age can lead to recidivism in behaviour (Elliot and Scott, 1961) and tend to show negative effects on health and weight (Slabbert and Rasa, 1993).
  • Separation from mother at time of weaning can lead to significantly increased vocalization behaviours (Elliot and Scott, 1961).
  • Stress during the house training phase can lead to poor learning behavior. Puppies start forming preferences for elimination by 8.5 weeks (Fuller, 1967) and up until they do, they tend to just go anywhere as they need to go.
  • Leash training is best between 5 - 9 weeks (Scott and Fuller, 1965)

General source: Manual of Clinical and Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats by Karen L. Overall.

What that means, and the book goes into a lot more detail, is that there is some variation by dog, but that 8 weeks is really a minimum for a puppy and a bit longer is probably better. A good breeder should take the proper time to socialize, house train, and accustom the puppy to leashes and other restraint objects and if done for at least 8-9 weeks (or longer, which is better) the dog will be much better suited for adoption and have far less issues for their human companions in the future.

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The primary concern about adopting a puppy that is too young is more of a training issue. You'd need to keep a younger puppy in an area with "pee pads" or newspapers since they are not physiologically able to retain urine or bowel movements.

Why Puppies You Thought Were Housetrained Might Have Accidents

  • Too Young to Be Fully House Trained

  • Some puppies, especially those under 12 weeks of age, haven’t developed bladder or bowel control yet.

From ASPCA (bullets added)

I tried looking in the primary research to find out if this was at the level of the internal sphincter muscles (which are under the control of the autonomic nervous system), the external ones (which are under volitional control and what humans use to "hold"), or a combination of the two. I did not find anything conclusive, though.

  • So there's not any sort of problem where separation from the puppies mother might be a concern? That was the main thing that I was thinking of. But in terms of bathroom expectations, you make a good point. – zero298 Jul 4 '14 at 6:42
  • @zero298 Do you mean behaviorally or something like the puppy being weaned too early? I don't know much about the weaning process, but I thought that happens fairly early on in the development. – jonsca Jul 4 '14 at 6:45
  • I mean everything. Are there any potential health risks to a dog by adopting them too early. Consider this answer that "If you're selling a puppy in less than 8 weeks you're damaging the overall health of the puppy" – zero298 Jul 4 '14 at 6:50
  • @zero298 I don't really know. That particular answer doesn't have any references. Aside from the nutrients and possibly antibodies in the mother's milk, what other influences on the health would be kept in check by keeping the puppy with its mother? – jonsca Jul 4 '14 at 6:59
  • As with everything, a knowledgeable and reputable breeder will be more likely to let you know when the puppies are ready to leave the nest, so to speak. – jonsca Jul 4 '14 at 7:04

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