There are eight or nine of the cute little things. You’re thinking maybe the big-boned black and white male with the long ears and domed head, perfect for braving the cattail thickets and a foot of snow on a raw December morning. Your daughter, a little small for her age, wants the tiny little liver and white female. She calls it the ‘runt’ and holds it tight to her face as it struggles to get free. Your son wants the light-boned male with short, high-set ears that yips and whines while jumping up and down attempting to lick his face off. Mom would prefer that almost all-white female with the big blaze because she loved a stuffed animal once that looked similar, and contrary to your beliefs, she sure that females are quieter and sweeter than males and won’t be so inclined to make and leave messes.
No one can agree, least of all the kids, and like a fool, you promised them they could pick out the new puppy. What were you thinking? So, desperate, you seize control of the situation by giving in to the old adage. You close your eyes, reach in, and pull one out, the one that is to become your “perfect puppy”. What a crapshoot!
As a professional dog breeder my job is to try and take some of the crap out of the crapshoot. The first and most important aspect to this is being intimately familiar with the sire and dam, and hopefully with their ancestors. To produce a great pup there should obviously be great breeding behind it.
Assuming good breeding then, what if I told you that I could virtually guarantee that the brand new puppy, whether male or female, will be everything the family hopes for: well-socialized, happy, confident, smart, and biddable. Excited by gunfire it will do your bidding in the field whatever the quarry or conditions, while laying quiet and content around the house until the command ‘let’s go!
Would you want that pup with my guarantee? If the answer is yes, then there is only one thing I would ask of you and your family. Wait three weeks. That’s it. Give me three more weeks with the little dudes. It can’t be done by the 49th day or even the 56th. Give it at least ten weeks, and better yet twelve to fourteen weeks. By then, with proper socialization and incorporating no-pressure training, it’ll be the dog it is to become, not the puppy it used to be.
But what about bonding to the family you ask? No worries. Between 10 and 12 weeks the pup’s bonding response is still going strong and it’s important to understand that this ‘bonding’ has to do with humans in general, not necessarily with an individual. During this period if the breeder is spending quality time with the pups, playing with and handling them; and yes, performing some rudimentary training exercises to stimulate the pup’s learning processes, the pup will make a quick and happy transition from one human to the next. This means you.
But, your kids protest, they are so cute at seven weeks. We’ll miss out on three weeks of cuteness! Yes, you will miss it, the only downside to waiting. But pups are cuddly and cute for many months to come. The upside of waiting will reveal itself when you realize that the pup coming home with you is ready and willing for the experience. The wait is worth it.
So what about this theory that the 49th day is the day of days to separate your pup from mom and its siblings? Why does it persist? As a breeder I think I know why, but I’ll get into that later. For now, let me refer you to an excellent article titled, ‘Another Look at the 49th Day’ published in
Gundog Magazine back in 1994 by PhD animal behaviorist Dr. Ed Bailey. This should have put the kibosh, once and for all to the 49th day theory, and really any other day save the period between ten and twelve weeks. Bailey, who is Professor Emeritus at the highly respected University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada is also a gun dog owner and avid hunter. Well-grounded in pain-staking research his piece caused quite a stir among breeders and their clients, running against so much grain. Sixteen years later it is still somewhat revolutionary-as born out by the fact that I am referencing it here as somewhat new news long after the fact. Here are a few pertinent excerpts.
‘One finding extremely important to the 49-day time frame was that pups (upon birth) in a single litter can vary in developmental age by a week in each direction, though all are born within a few hours.
This has to do with when the individual egg was fertilized during estrus, blood flow to the individual embryos, changes in diet, external stresses to the female and a host of other factors. Bailey continues:
There is also differential post partum development, especially during the firstfew weeks. This means that by the time the pup reaches 49 days since birth, it can be anywhere between 42 and 56 days old. And it is the neural, physiological, and physical development, not the exact chronological age …that is important in the behavioral stability or lack of it in pups, and later, in adult dogs.
So while your pup has been on the ground for 49 days, developmentally it can be anywhere from six to eight weeks old. 49 days is the average developmental age of all pups born on that day, But has nothing to do with the individual pup being ready to leave mom and the litter and take on the world. It is important to remember that it is the individual we are concerned with here. Not some average.
The socialization period begins at three weeks and extends to week 14. During this period pups learn to be dogs… Dog-on-dog, or primary socialization, begins during the late gestation stages and continues through juvenile into sub-adult stage. People socialization or what I have called secondary socialization…starts with the basic associations formed from handling shortly after birth until six or seven weeks, before the fear response escalates… The period of human acceptance begins at five weeks with the improvement in pup mobility and peaks at eight and nine weeks, but will continue on for another five to six weeks.
A couple of interesting points here, ‘Human acceptance’ continues until the pup is thirteen to sixteen weeks old. Remember when we are talking about bonding, socialization, and ‘human acceptance, we are talking about pups becoming comfortable with humans in general, not necessarily with you as an individual. I regularly receive well-socialized client dogs of all ages for training and after a very short time with them, you’d think I had raised them from pups myself. Dogs are remarkable this way. If you treat them well, and most significantly feed them, bonding will happen regardless of age. Bailey’s reference to a pup’s increasing fear response is another strong argument for delaying separation on the 49th day. During this stage of the pup’s life, it is becoming increasingly aware of the cold, cruel world out there. I think that everyone should agree that this is the time to keep the stress to a minimum, not to put the pup through the trauma of separation from its mother and littermates. Premature separation is the main reason for the howling puppy down in the laundry room that only settles once it’s curled up next to you in your bed. Waiting until after the fear response period has peaked and leveled off, means a pup will make the adjustment to his new surroundings much more easily, happily taking to the bed you’ve prepared for it, for example. In most cases the dog should be potty-trained to the pen or crate as well. I’ll bet your spouse will appreciate that.
With so much science speaking against it, why does the 49th day persist? Perhaps some of it is practical, and perpetuated by breeders themselves. Not coincidentally, seven weeks is a profitable age for a breeder to place his dogs. By seven weeks these little critters are becoming highly mobile and costing a lot more money with food intake, a second round of vaccinations approaching, along with the added expense of maintaining healthy and clean shelter and grounds. So there is motivation on the part of some breeders to perpetuate the myth and get those doggies out of there ASAP. So be it. The simple solution for a breeder is to charge a little more for his pups to offset the added expense. Again, is it worth it? That’s for you to answer, but believe me, I believe it is and we aren’t shy about making these claims. At Absolute kennels we call a dog placed at ten weeks a ‘Select Puppy’ and a dog that is placed at thirteen or fourteen weeks a ‘Super Puppy.’ My guarantee of assuring a happy, confident dog for you doesn’t involve some dog-whispering clairvoyance, although, if you thought so, it would probably be, better for business. After proper socialization and a thoughtful introduction to the ways of the world the facts of the dog’s character are right there in front of you and me, panting and wagging, waiting for their next worldly adventure.
Having said all of the above, many adult dogs have left the litter at seven weeks and made the transition into fantastic companions in the field and the home. But as mentioned at the top of the article it can be a crapshoot, and a bit of an uphill battle from day 49. If the dice come up double sixes, one should consider themselves fortunate. My point is you can make the process easier on everyone involved, simply by waiting. For me, when it comes to inviting a pup into your home who you hope to be a trusted hunting companion and dear friend for a decade and more to come, why gamble at all? Assuming proper socialization on the breeders part, give them a month or more beyond seven weeks before you bring them home. You, your family, and the pup, will be much better off for it. As to how the cat might react, well, that’s beyond the scope of this article.