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When Can Puppies Be Without Their Mother?

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Puppies should not be separated from their mother until they are at least 8 weeks old.
  • The AKC and UKC recommend that puppies should not be sold at less than 8 weeks old.
  • In the US, 28 states have laws or regulations stating that puppies must be at least 8 weeks old to be sold.
  • In the UK, it is illegal to sell or permanently separate a puppy under 8 weeks old from its biological mother, except for health and welfare reasons.
  • Rehoming puppies between 8 to 12 weeks is recommended for proper socialization and development.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Thursday 3 September 2020
Last updated on
Monday 6 November 2023
when can puppies be without their mother
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As a beginner breeder or new owner, you might be wondering: when can a puppy be away from its mother? Can puppies be without their mother at 8 weeks? Research shows that. Early separation disrupts a puppy’s physiological and psychological development.

Most responsible breeders agree that puppies should not be separated from their mother until they are ready and not just sold as soon as it is legal to do so. But when can a puppy be away from its mother? The AKC and UKC both recognize this and recommend that puppies should not be sold at less than 8 weeks old.

When Can Puppies Live Without Their Mother?

Puppies can leave their mothers at 6 weeks old since they no longer depend on milk, but this doesn’t mean that they should. There are a lot of risks involved with early separation. Through interactions with their mother and litter-mates, 6 week old puppies are only just starting to learn appropriate play behaviors and rudimentary impulse control. For these reasons, it’s widely recommended that puppies are not separated until they are at least 8 weeks of age.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Kennel Club (UKC) both recommend that puppies should be over 8 weeks of age when they are rehomed.

when can puppies live without their mother
There are a lot of risks involved with early separation.

AKC Recommendations

The American Kennel Club recommends that a puppy should not be separated from their mother until they are in the 8 to 12 week old age range. Toy breeds should stay with their breeder past 8 weeks. In the early weeks of a puppy’s life, they are completely dependent on their mother. It is during this time that the pups learn social skills. Proper socialization with other puppies will give your pup a head start they need to be behaviorally healthy in the field, show ring, and in your home. Laws regarding the selling age of puppies vary between states.

KC Recommendations

The UK Kennel Club advises that puppies should not be rehomed any younger than 8 weeks of age, but also adds that in very rare cases they may be rehomed at a minimum of 6 weeks of age. If your new puppy is younger than the ideal age of 8 weeks, the UKC asks that you double-check that the puppy’s breeder has written confirmation from the vet that this is acceptable. In the UK it is currently illegal to sell or permanently separate a puppy under 8 weeks old from its biological mother. This law does not apply if separating the puppy from its biological mother is necessary for the health and welfare of the animals.

In the USA, 28 states have laws or regulations that govern how old a puppy must be to be sold or rehomed. Of the states with laws, all but three of them (Virginia, Wisconsin, and D.C.) state that a puppy must be 8 weeks old to be sold.

Other states focus more on separating the puppy from its mother as well as specifying a minimum age. For example, Nevada’s law states that a dealer should not separate a puppy from its mother until 8 weeks, or accustomed to taking nourishment other than by nursing – “whichever is later.”


Most state laws state that a puppy must be at least 8 weeks of age to be sold or distributed for selling. In Arizona, the law covers any “pet dealer” meaning a person who owns a pet store. Puppies less than 8 weeks old cannot be offered for sale. California’s laws apply to any dog breeder and person who sells unless approved by a licensed veterinarian. Breeders cannot sell any puppy under 8 weeks old. The Colorado law applies to any person or entity and states that puppies cannot be sold under 8 weeks old. This includes selling, transfer, and adoption. Similar laws apply to more states including Connecticut and Kansas.

However, a few states set different minimum ages. For example, in D.C., the law applies to “a person” and states that puppies must be at least 6 weeks of age to be sold unless the puppy’s mother is given to or sold to the same person. The law does not apply in cases where the mother poses a danger to her offspring. Virginia’s laws state that a puppy cannot be sold, raffled, or given away if it is under 7 weeks of age without its dam. Finally, Wisconsin’s laws apply to any person licensed as a dog breeder or dealer and any animal shelter. No puppy may be transferred to a buyer under 7 weeks old.

Some states currently have no laws in place to regulate how old a puppy must be to be sold. These states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

What happens in these states without laws protecting puppies? The answer is unclear. A retailer who sells a puppy who is not yet weaned is not acting in the puppy’s best interests. Should the puppy go on to suffer or die because of the seller’s reckless conduct, they could face charges of animal cruelty. In states that have pet purchaser protection laws, it could be possible to claim against the breeder for violation of an implied warranty.

According to UK law, no puppy under 8 weeks old may be sold or permanently separated from its biological mother. This does not apply if separating the dam and the puppy is for welfare reasons. In addition, no puppy aged under 8 weeks may be transported without its dam. This does not apply in cases where a vet agrees for health or welfare reasons that the puppy should be transported alone or if it is an emergency. These regulations are set out under The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018, which can be read here.

Why is it Important to Rehome Puppies After 8 Weeks of Age?

Most breeders agree that rehoming puppies between 8 to 12 weeks is the best policy. This is because this four-week window is a critical human socialization period. This is the time in which your puppy must be socialized with new people and experiences. Lack of socialization during this period results in frightened dogs. From 8 to 11 weeks, your puppy will also be going through another critical period. This period is known as the “fear stage”, and your puppy will experience two of these. During the fear period, puppies are sensitive to traumatic experiences. A single scary event can be enough to traumatize your puppy for life.

Rehoming a puppy during these two periods helps to ensure that they gain some human socialization, whilst also exposing them to new situations. It’s crucial that you, as a responsible owner, make the effort to keep your puppy’s environment calm and as non-threatening as possible. Introduce any new situations in an upbeat and positive manner to avoid causing more fear. You must also practice handling your happy to get them used to being touched and held.

Risks Involved if Puppies Leave Their Mother Before 8 Weeks

While puppies may be able to eat solid food at an early age, they will continue to learn behaviors that are critical to their development during this time. Between 3 to 6 weeks of age, your puppies will engage in social play with their litter-mates, learn behaviors related to bite inhibition, and learn preferences for surfaces to urinate and defecate on. Puppies separated from their dams too early bite harder and more readily than those who are separated at 8 weeks. They also develop other behavioral problems such as anxiety, attachment-related problems, and inter-dog aggression.

puppies learning behaviors
A puppy may develop behavioral problems if separated from its mother at an early age.

Physiological Development

Your puppy may not be fully weaned if sold before 8 weeks of age. During weaning, digestive upsets can occur and the stress of the transition can lower their immune function. Abrupt weaning or interruptions in the gradual process can be detrimental to your puppy because of this. Furthermore, puppies under 8 weeks of age have a very immature digestive system and will be more vulnerable to stomach upsets. The psychological stress of leaving their dam and litter-mates too soon can also cause stomach upsets. Emotional distress is a common cause of diarrhea and nausea in puppies.

Social and Psychological Development

Puppies learn through play and this playtime lays the foundation for solid, independent behavior later in life. If your puppy is not well socialized with others in their early weeks they may lack independence. Because they have not been allowed to socialize properly with their dam and litter-mates, young puppies can develop problems with anxiety, attachment, and potentially fear aggression later on. They have not learned the appropriate skills and will be less able to psychologically cope with hardships later in life.


Before 8 weeks of age your puppy will learn bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is a behavior in which the animal learns to moderate the strength of its own bite. This behavior is learned as part of juvenile play when the puppy is in the company of the dam and litter-mates. By biting each other during play, a puppy learns that biting too strongly leads to the end of play. The litter-mate might whine or yelp as a signal that the bite is too painful to count as play. A puppy who hasn’t learned bite inhibition yet is unlikely to know when to stop. They might bite their human companions too hard or misinterpret fear behaviors as play.

When Can Puppies Be Without Their Mother – FAQs

Do you have any questions or concerns about keeping puppies without their mother? Please refer to our Frequently Asked Questions for more details.

Can a Puppy Leave its Mother at 6 Weeks?

A puppy should not leave its mother at 6 weeks. While a 6 week old puppy might be fully weaned, they will not have all the necessary skills and behaviors to function properly as adults. A 6 week old puppy needs a lot of play and will learn bite inhibition during this time. They will also be learning to urinate and defecate away from their resting quarters.

If a breeder tells you to take your puppy home at 6 weeks, be very cautious. Only in the most dire circumstances should a responsible breeder sell a puppy at this age. This does not include the death of the dam. Your 6 week old puppy should stay with their litter-mates until they are 8 weeks of age.

So, what can you do during the 2 week wait? The days don’t need to drag. You can keep busy by getting prepared for your new pup! Make sure that you have your puppy’s supplies, toys, and bedding prepared. You will also need to puppy-proof your home.

How Long Should a Puppy Stay with its Mother?

To ensure that your puppy is healthy and happy, they should stay with their mother and litter-mates from 8 to 12 weeks. Playtime with siblings is key to healthy puppy development. The mother also teaches normal behavior, encourages her pups to explore and limits their exploration when they are dangerous.

When puppies are taken too early, they often struggle with behavioral problems later in life. These include anxiety, attachment problems, and lack of bite inhibition. Responsible breeders will not sell a puppy under 8 weeks of age for these reasons. If a breeder attempts to sell you a puppy younger than 8 weeks, be very cautious.

how long should a puppy stay with its mother
Sibling playtime is essential to healthy puppy development!

Do Puppies get Sad when they Leave their Mom?

They do get sad and it’s normal for your new puppy to cry in the first few days of coming home. Your puppy’s litter-mates and mother have been their whole world for their entire short life. When your pup leaves their family, they will need a few days to adjust and come to terms with what has happened. This is where you come in – you need to give your new fur baby plenty of attention and contact in the first few days. After the introduction phase you can start to leave your puppy alone. Most owners find that their new puppy settles down in the first 3 to 4 days.

Research suggests that mother dogs do remember the smell of their puppies even after 10 years. But do they miss their puppies? This question is harder to answer. So far, there is no conclusive research to answer this. Anecdotal evidence can point either way. Some mother dogs become aggressive towards puppies who continue to stay with them. Some will immediately “adopt” plush toys or foster puppies when their own pups are taken away. When reunited, some mothers and pups show no significant behaviors to suggest that they have missed each other. What we can conclude is this – even if they stop missing each other, mother and pup certainly don’t forget each other.

Is it Better to get a Puppy at 8 or 12 Weeks?

There are benefits in getting your puppy at 12 weeks instead of 8 weeks. While it’s perfectly acceptable to get your new puppy at 8 weeks, a 12 week old puppy has more time to socialize with their litter-mates and will begin their housebreaking training whilst still with their breeder. This means that when you take your pup home, housebreaking should be easier. Your 12 week old puppy should also have better bite inhibition than an 8 week old puppy.

The potential drawback is a lack of socialization. If your pup’s breeder is reputable, they should make efforts to socialize your puppy with people, sights, smells, and sounds before passing them on to you. If you have any worries about your pup’s development, check with your breeder!

Early separation from the mother disrupts a puppy’s physiological and psychological development. If rehomed too young, puppies may grow up to struggle with anxiety, poor bite inhibition, and attachment issues. For these reasons, reputable breeders will not sell puppies under 8 weeks of age.

2 comments on “When Can Puppies Be Without Their Mother?”

  1. Jeremy

    8 weeks old is when pups should be rehomed! No earlier than 8 weeks! I learned the hard way my very first litter I let pups go at 6 weeks I kept in contact with some of my buyers! The pup was not socialized properly with his litter mates and mom! I had a playdate with Bo.! I kept a puppy from that litter his name is Jr. He was socialized with the litter! Omg during the playdate I could genuinely tell the difference Bo. Was more timid and scary than Jr. Was Jr. Is more confident than Bo and ready to take on the world Not Bo. Fault or his owner it was mine! Lesson learned never will I rehome a puppy before 8 weeks again!


    My daughter brought puppies home at 4wks. I told her to take them back til they are at least 8wks. She won’t. Will they be alright

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