5 Week Puppy Syndrome by Maryna Ozuna
A few years ago, I began receiving calls and observing troubling behavioral characteristics in puppies. The first few calls I got were all from owners who reported excessive biting and mouthing in the pups, to the point of feeling frightened of their 10 or 12 week old puppies. Over the top, frantic mouthiness, and with those sharp, baby teeth, thoroughly capable of doing damage. I began sharing this information with our national network of trainers, and other dog pros around the country. As we exchanged information over a three year period of time, a very distinct profile began to emerge, which I dubbed Five \Week Puppy Syndrome, the reason being that all of the puppies who had characteristics of this developmental behavioral syndrome had been removed from mom and/or the siblings, prior to 8 weeks of age.
Five Week Puppy Syndrome Profile
The profile continues to emerge, but here is a rough characterization of what we have seen, with the commonality in all the behaviors being their persistent quality. A caveat: Not all dogs who exhibit these behaviors are "Five week puppy syndrome" puppies or dogs, but ALL DOGS REMOVED FROM THE LITTER AT FIVE WEEKS OF AGE absent extraordinary intervention will experience behavioral problems. Nothing we can do will ever totally make up the lack of what nature does during those developmental weeks.
▪ excessive mouthiness
▪ Lack of bite inhibition
▪ Hard biting at extraordinarily young ages
▪ Slowness of learning
▪ Highly vocal when upset
▪ High startle response (startles easily and extremely at low stimuli)
THE WHY OF IT
Let’s take a look at why these deficits happen in pups removed too early from the litter. Around 5 weeks of age, pups have a mouthful of sharp teeth pressing down on Mom’s increasingly sore teats. If the pup bites too hard, Mom corrects the pup very swiftly. She may grab the pup by the nape of the neck, she may growl, she may stand up and dump the pup on his cute little bottom, she might even snap at a persistent pup. These are NOT signs of a bad mother. Quite the contrary. These are fundamental necessary ingredients for a pup to learn bite inhibition. This is nature doing her best work. The pups will literally learn how to pull their lips down so that they are sucking with their lips, not grabbing and biting with their teeth. Persistently biting pups will soon find themselves missing meals. Hunger is a great learning tool. Pups rapidly learn that if they want mother's milk, they had better lighten up their mouth. Pups who don't have the opportunity to be corrected by mom will lack the same level of bite inhibition as a "normal" pup. These are the pups with the mouth issues from frantic mouthiness to nipping to downright hard biting. Similarly, sibling pups begin to teach each other in their play. As puppies grow, they begin to play and interact with each other in increasingly rough and boisterous ways.. It is common to hear a litter of six week old pups tumbling and growling and shrieking at each other if they get nipped too hard. Again a pup that plays too hard, learns that either they get attacked back and harder by the others, or that no one will play with them. Ostracism is the ultimate penalty for a dog. Puppies in particular don't like to be ostracized, so will alter their behavior when playing with the sibling pack so as to be more successful in the pack group. Pups lacking sibling interactions can have issues with bite inhibition, sensory sensitivity, and overall tolerance. Rigorous puppy interactions (within reason) teach pups give and take, social organizing of the pack, tolerance to touch, and the ability to bounce back from an encounter.
**If you are looking at adding a new puppy to your family and suspect the breeder has removed the puppies from their mother prior to 7 weeks, I urge you to continue your search. These puppies will more than likely have serious behavioral and social issues that even with excellent training may persist for a lifetime. If you have already added one of these puppies to your family, please seek professional help as soon as possible. With proper training, you can help minimize the effects of having been removed from the mother too soon.