Some of the most common signs that your dog was weaned too early include aggression, possession, destruction, separation anxiety, excessive play, or biting. In addition to behavioral issues, a puppy can develop health issues such as malnutrition and a weakened immune system.
You and Fido have been best friends for a while. You have always noticed his aggression towards other dogs and extreme possession over his toys, but you believed that these were behaviors that would have ended after puppyhood. Now he is two years old and still showing the same behaviors, you may wonder if this is just “who he is.”
When adult dogs have behavioral issues that are typically reserved for puppies, it could be one of the many signs that they were weaned too early.
In this guide, we will talk about what the weaning process is and how to tell if your dog was weaned too early as a puppy. Then we will go over a few ways to fix the unwanted behavioral issues.
What You'll Learn
What is Weaning?
Weaning is the gradual process of removing a puppy away from the dependency of their mother’s milk. This process can begin at 4 weeks and last up to 8 weeks. During this time, the puppy will gradually learn how to eat more solid foods and become more independent from his litter.
We know that you may want to take your puppy home as soon as possible, but you must realize that this process is essential to your new furry friend’s development. Therefore, it is important that this is a gradual process, and not a sudden one as weaning too early can cause more harm than good. Patience is key.
The relationship between a puppy, their mother, and their litter is significant. Puppies learn essential survival and social skills during this period. Like their human counterparts, puppies are also helpless when they are born.
Their mother will guard, nurture, and police them if they get out of hand with the litter. When they are nursing, they are nurturing themselves and gaining comfort and security from their mother. This can be a developmental reason for why your dog may have separation anxiety.
Apart from learning from their mother, they learn a lot from their brothers and sisters as well. They learn how to interact with other dogs by being exposed to different behaviors and body languages from their siblings.
The most important lesson they learn is how to play. They learn that their bites pack a punch no matter how old they are. Your puppy and their siblings will experiment nipping and play biting with each other. During this time, they will not be shy to express how it feels to be hurt and learn how to play nicer.
Signs That Your Dog Was Weaned Too Early.
Did you know that it’s illegal to sell a puppy who has been weaned too early in some states? This is for a good reason too. A dog that has been weaned too early from their litter can develop behavioral problems into adulthood. Some of the signs that your dog has been weaned too early are:
- Separation anxiety
- Excessive play or biting
You may also see a slower development when learning and potty training. Apart from behavioral problems, some studies show that your dog can develop health problems as well. These health problems include weight loss and a weakened immune system.
The Biggest Issue With Weaning Too Early
There are several issues with weaning too early, but the biggest by far is the refusal to eat. Newborn puppies don’t want to eat anything except their mother’s milk. When weaned too early, they may refuse to eat the replacement you have for them.
If the puppy refuses to eat, it’s important to try various puppy milk replacements until you find one they’ll consume. Stores like Petsmart and Petco now sell replacement that has actual mother’s milk in it.
If the puppy still refuses to eat, you may have to force-feed them with a syringe until they’re old enough to eat solid food.
Is There a Solution For These Behavioral Problems?
Behavioral problems instilled from birth can be hard to reverse or change. It is important to notice these signs sooner than later. If you see that your puppy is developing some unwanted behaviors that could stem from being weaned too early, we suggest acting as soon as possible.
The training process will take a lot of patience, dedication, and effort. You will have to be the leader of your dog. You will essentially take their mother’s place, as the mother will teach her puppies how to be submissive at a young age.
You will have to expose and socialize your dog with other dogs. Though it may be delayed, this is crucial to their social health as it will teach them how to interact with other pups that they missed out on with their littermates.
If you believe that your dog is experiencing behavioral issues from being weaned too early, we recommend speaking to your personal vet. They can recommend a reputable training school for your dog. This is where a professional behaviorist can guide you in training your dog.
They can also recommend some tips and tricks that you can practice at home with your dog.
If you would rather train the dog yourself, we have seen great success with clicker training on dogs weaned too early.
The biggest problem most dogs have is that they bite too hard. When newborn puppies play with each other, they let each other know how hard an acceptable “play bite” is. Since your dog didn’t have the opportunity to learn that from other puppies, it’s now your job.
Make sure you have your clicker and treats ready to go before starting this training.
Take a fist and put it close to the puppy’s nose. If the puppy doesn’t bite your hand, use the clicker, and immediately give a treat. If the puppy nips at your fist, say “no,” and pull the fist away. Continue repeating until they don’t nip.
It may take a few weeks of consistent work until your puppy stops biting your hand too hard when playing, but if you stay consistent with the training, they’ll pick up on the fact that they get rewarded and praised when they don’t bite you.
How Can I Prevent Getting a Dog Weaned Too Early?
Sometimes getting a dog that was weaned too early will be forced upon you. For example, finding a litter on the side of the road, or taking in a pup who was abandoned by their mother. There’s nothing you can do in situations like this.
But if possible, you want to make sure the pup you take home has been with their momma for at least eight weeks.
Here are some tips to ensure you get a dog that was properly weaned.
Adopt. Don’t Shop
Recent studies show that puppy mills are notorious for selling underage dogs as fast as possible to pet shops. Though it is illegal in some states to sell underaged puppies, some unethical puppy mills or breeders will sell puppies at any age if the customer is willing (it’s all about the money for them).
It is important to do your research, especially if you are buying from a pet store or breeder. We want to encourage breeders of all experiences to wean puppies properly.
If you are looking to adopt, it is important to know as much information about the dog as you can. Most dogs are usually abandoned or given up at shelters. Due to this, it may be difficult to find any additional information on their background.
If this is the case, it is important to research the shelter or rescue organization that you are adopting your dog from. In most cases, good shelters or rescue organizations have taken all the proper steps to get their dogs ready for adoption. This means that their dogs have been trained and nurtured to join a new family.
We want to encourage asking many questions as you can think of when considering a pup.
You can ask about the dog’s weaning period. You can ask how long it lasted, the mother’s behaviors, and their social skills with their littermates. You can ask the breeder of their home environment and their exposure to specific experiences.
A puppy’s upbringing is very important when deciding to bring them into a forever home.
The Weaning Stage is Crucial
We hope that this article has taught you the importance of how crucial the weaning stage is for a puppy’s developmental growth. We understand that behavioral problems can be overwhelming, but it is important to understand the root cause. If you are unsure of any information, we recommend speaking to your vet for the best solution and treatment for your four-legged friend.
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