Your furry baby is home. Like any new parent you are getting to know your puppy and hoping their growth and development is normal.
But what exactly is “normal” when it comes to your new pup’s behavior?
Is your puppy’s pee all over the house driving you barking mad?
Their uncontrollable eating habits of anything dead, alive or unanimated, driving you to the end of your leash?
Is your pup’s insistence on destroying everything putting him in the dog-house?
Is your pup’s excited pouncing on everyone wagging you off?
Then congratulations! You have a healthy, happy puppy.
But when should you start worrying that your puppy’s behavior is a sign that they were weaned too early?
And if you do have cause for concern, what can you, as their parents do?
To understand what causes your puppy to show unwanted behavior, and how certain solutions can help, let’s first look at how important weaning is as part of your puppy’s healthy development.
The Weaning Phase
The weaning phase of your puppy’s life is an important one. It marks the time in their life where they stop relying on their mothers’ milk for nutrition and start to eat solid foods.
During this time your puppy learns invaluable life lessons that will help them to adapt to the big wide world with you, their new parent.
Dr Sally Foote, founder of Foote & Friends, states that your puppy should be 7-8 weeks old when they are weaned. If weaned earlier, your new pup may miss out on guidance in playing fair, play-biting and impulse control. A puppy should be fully weaned by 12-14 weeks but leaving them with their mother for the full period is not recommended.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior says that puppies between 6-12 weeks of age should be experiencing as many different stimuli as possible. They should be exposed to different dogs, people and environments. This is to reduce the shock they may experience when they are placed in a forever home like yours.
Weaning a pup during this golden 6-12 week period will have a big effect on their confidence and their behavior. If weaning is not done at the correct time, your puppy could be left with psychological and physical effects.
Dr Sally Foote has published guidance on the progression of impulsive behaviors of puppies, time lines and solutions here. She states that most unwanted puppy behaviors should have come to a stop at around 8 months.
If your puppy is nearing or has reached this age and you are still seeing behaviors they should have grown out of, then you are in the right place to find solutions.
What signs should you look for that weaning didn’t occur during the golden period?
Loss of Appetite
Your new puppy will experience some stress in their new home. You may struggle to get them to eat in the first few days. Try as many different brands of food and milk, until you find one your puppy likes. Some puppies are fussier than others.
Have you tried every brand you can find and your puppy still refuses to eat? This could be a sign that your puppy has been weaned too early.
You expect your puppy to be playful and to be testing the boundaries with their play-biting. But if the biting never seems to stop, it may be time to take action.
Puppies are learning the rules of engagement with people and other dogs, so some displaced aggression is to be expected.
But if this keeps happening and causing you and your pup distress, then it may be time to seek professional help.
Puppies are renowned for chewing and destroying anything they find. Your favorite shoes, sofa and even carpet are all up for grabs.
But when is destructive behavior a sign that your dog is not doing so well? When the destructiveness becomes less “cute puppy behavior” and more “angry dog on a rampage”.
A friend of mine has a Doberman. Marco. Lovely dog. She got him from a rescue center so expected there to be some issues.
The destruction began but never ended. The final straw was coming home to find 6 yoga mats chewed to pulp, plants and their pots scattered throughout her house, and toilet rolls confettied in every room. That was the end of her leash. So I guess you need to decide if you have reached yours yet.
Excessive Separation Anxiety
When your puppy is nursing, they are gaining security and comfort from the mother. If taken away too early, your puppy may show signs of separation anxiety. They may whine and bark to excess when left alone. This is perfectly normal.
Cesar Millan, a trainer and dog behavioral expert, points out that dogs are always following. They follow their mother and siblings, and when they go home with you, you become their leader. Dogs never want to be alone. If you have already been crate training your puppy at night, this will not be news to you. But if your puppy’s separation anxiety is causing you to cancel your evening plans, or you’re receiving complaints from neighbors, then it is probably time to seek advice and help.
If your puppy has not been shown how to share with his siblings, then it’s no surprise that he shows extreme possessiveness over his toys and food.
If your new pup is showing 3 of these signs, then it is likely they are suffering the effects of weaning done too soon. If your puppy is showing more than 3, then it is likely you are suffering from exhaustion, frustration and a decline in mental health!
Genetics and learned behavior also play a part in your puppy’s development. If you purchased your dog as an adult or rescued them from a shelter, then there will be a lot of history you may not be aware of.
Check with the seller or shelter for any important information on your new pup.
What can you do to help you and your dog through this tough time?
Training your dog is really the only way.
Dogs learn by example and will always take your lead. You will need to be patient throughout the process and show your pup a lot of love and kindness. Remember, you are now their parent so they will look to you for guidance.
Socialization may be what your dog has been missing . Group dog training can be an excellent source of socialization. Taking your dog to the park is also a great way for your puppy and you to meet others like them, and share lessons and experiences.
Before embarking on a training program, talk to your vet. They will have a wealth of recommendations and may be able to point you to a good local training service.
Here are 5 training methods that can help you and your dog overcome behavioral issues associated with early weaning.
This tried and tested method works on the simple principle that your pup will repeat behavior if it is rewarded.
If your pup shows wanted behavior, you reward them with a treat. But any unwanted behavior is ignored and unrewarded.
If behavior correction is the goal, then removal of rewards such as treats, or their favorite toy should be used.
Any treat should be given immediately following the wanted behavior. Any negative consequences for unwanted behavior should also be done immediately. In this way, the behavior is associated with either positive reinforcement or negative consequences.
The Clicker Method
This method also uses positive reinforcement. A device that makes a loud clicking sound is used.
The goal here is for your pup to associate the clicking sound with the treat that follows next.
If your pup is showing behavior that is unwanted, you can use the clicker to stop it. If your pup stops the behavior on the click, then they receive a reward. Dog Focus provides great guidance on how to get started here.
The model Rival Method
This works on the principle that your pup will model or mimic behaviors they see, or behave in a certain way when presented with a rival they must compete for resources with. Patricia McConnell, a leading animal behaviorist, provides her expert opinion and real life examples of this training method being used successfully here.
Alpha Dog or Dominance Training
Cesar Millan popularized this type of dog training. This method uses your pups pack mentality to show them who’s boss. It is often used alongside other training methods. If you would like to find out more information about this method, read this article on Cesar’s page, Cesar’s Way.com.
Relationship Based Training
This method relies on you learning your pup’s body language, motivations and basic needs.
In relationship training, the focus is on creating a strong bond between you and your pup. It also focuses a lot more on the psychological reasons why your pup behaves the way they do. If you would like more information on this type of training and it’s benefits click here.
What happens if puppies are weaned too early?
Puppies separated from their mothers too early tend to bite more and harder than those that are weaned at the correct time. They may also develop other behavioral problems such as oversensitivity, anxiety, separation anxiety and aggression.
Can puppies be weaned at 7 weeks?
The Kennel Club (UK) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) recommend that puppies be over 8 weeks old before being rehomed.
What happens if you take a puppy at 6 weeks old?
The Labrador Site.com does not recommend taking a puppy at 6 weeks. At this age they still have valuable lessons to learn from their mother and siblings. Rehoming a puppy at 6 weeks old can lead to socialization and adjustment issues.
Dogs are good at showing us when they are not happy, or something is not right. If your dog is:
- Not eating
- Biting excessively
- Showing signs of aggression
- Experiencing separation anxiety
- Overly possessive over toys and food
Then it could indicate your pup has been weaned too early.
The good news is that you as their parent can regain control and have the relationship you intended with your new pup.
Without a doubt, patience, love and kindness are key.
Just like you, your new pup is learning. There are training methods available to help both of you get through this tough time.
You will find that once you put a training program in place, slowly but surely your bond will develop and grow. The rewards for the effort and care are a happy you and a happy pup.