GUN DOG Q&A: How to Properly Wean Puppies

GUN DOG Q&A: How to Properly Wean Puppies

Reader Question

"We enjoyed your article in last year's March/April/May issue but are very confused about how to go about weaning our female Lab of her seven, 8-week-old puppies. Our vet suggested we pick a day to wean the pups. We decided on seven weeks.

At six weeks we began decreasing mom's puppy chow and switched her back to regular adult food. The pups were seven weeks old on Monday, August 26.  She nursed the pups two times that day, once on Tuesday, then none on Wednesday. But she still wants to get with her pups. How does this "dog language" work if mom isn't with the pups?"


You really don't need to wean mom. She will wean the pups when she is ready. This is usually around the late sixth and early seventh week. All you need to do is start supplemental feeding of the pups when they are 5 to 6 weeks old. Start with a pablum-type baby food mixed well with warm water or warm milk or dog substitute milk.

By the end of the sixth week mom's hormone picture is considerably changed from the first week after the pups arrived. Estrogen is way down, progesterone is dropping off and prolactin is diminishing. These are the hormones essential for lactation.

This change in the hormone picture is why mom starts to wean. You should not totally separate mom from the pups until week 10 when the pups should go to their new owners. Both mom and the siblings are essential for primary socialization.

In wild canids like foxes and coyotes, mom and dad bring food in their stomachs in a semi-digested form and regurgitate it for the pups from the fifth week on. Supplemental feeding of a gruel-like food to the pups simulates regurgitated food.

In domestic dogs, dad is not there to bring a stomach load of partly digested sustenance for the pups or a dead rabbit for mom to convert to partly digested food, so you, the breeder, must intervene with soaked up and mashed puppy chow.

Pups should be held in a whelping box with sides high enough to keep them in but allow mom to enter and leave the box as she pleases while the pups remain contained. By seven or eight weeks or earlier, some of the pups may be clambering out of the box. Then you can start paper training them to keep the whelping box cleaner.

Depending on the weather, mom and the pups can be outside. However, you can forget about a flower garden and other decorative or food-producing vegetation. They will surely destroy it.

Gradually, mom will spend more time away from the pups so that by 10 weeks when pups are ready for their new homes, they will have learned all they need to know from their mom and even more from their siblings. You can read or download four articles I wrote for GUN DOG: "The Forty-ninth Day," "Producing Behaviorally Sound Pups," "Giving Pups a Head Start," and "New Pup Coming, Now What?"

Another excellent source of information on puppy rearing is Puppy's First Steps, a Proven Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, Well-behaved Companion, written by veterinarians of Tufts University and edited by Nicholas Dodman with Lawrence Lindner. The articles and book should give you the information and insight you need for rearing puppies.

Reader Question

"I am expecting a litter of pups from my English cocker, and was wondering if you could answer a few questions. What are the best conditions, both physical and mental? What should the environment be like?

How much should pups be handled at birth, at one week, at two weeks, and so on? When is the best time to wean, and how? What kind of training and at what age? When is the set time to sell the pups to interested buyers (8 weeks, 10 weeks)? What books, DVDs, etc., should I look into?"


Rather than trying to give you specific answers to your first five questions, which would require several hundred pages, I will provide some suggestions to address questions six and seven, which will address your other questions. Please refer to the solution in the previous problem regarding the four articles I wrote for GUN DOG.

These articles were intended as a sequence and the first three will answer most of your questions.

If you have more questions, email me ( and I will get answers right back to you.

Another very good source is the excellent book referred to before, which you should be able to purchase online or from a major bookseller. It is the best book I have ever seen on puppy care and rearing.

Recommended for You


Best Gun Dog Training Tools of 2019

Tyler Shoberg - July 03, 2019

These 8 products are the best of the best for getting your pup into hunting shape.


Grooming Tips for Gun Dogs

Dave Carty

A few common tools will keep your pup clean and comfortable in the field.


Read & React: Dog Owners Voice Concerns Over Minnesota Trapping Regulations

David Hart - January 21, 2014

John Reynolds thought the death of his Springer spaniel Penni was a rare accident, a stroke of...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Hand Signals, Part 1

There are four basic hand signals that are used in training your gun dog. James B. Spencer goes over what these signals are and why and when you should use them.

Steadying Your Gun Dog

Many retrievers have a natural instinct to break their heel or steady position once a bird is in the air or a gun has been fired. Here's a training technique that will help keep your dog steady until you're ready for it to retrieve.

Teaching Your Gun Dog Whoa

Whoa is perhaps the most important command that your gun dog will learn. Here's a training process designed to help your dog learn this important step.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Shotguns & Ammo

New Upland Shotguns for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

From the 2019 SHOT Show, here are a several new upland shotguns that caught our attention.

Shotguns & Ammo

9 Great Left-Handed Shotguns

David Hart - May 24, 2014

David Hart gives you the rundown on the best left-handed shotguns available right now.


How To Build the Perfect Dog Kennel

Jerry Thoms

Whether you're building or buying a new dog kennel, following these simple guidelines will...

See More Stories

More Puppies


GUN DOG Q&A: How to Properly Wean Puppies

Ed Bailey - March 16, 2014

Reader Question "We enjoyed your article in last year's March/April/May issue but are very...


Puppy Training: How to build a solid foundation

Gun Dog Online Staff

Knowing how to introduce your pup to its new environment then establishing a proper training...


Gun Dog: Best Puppy Photos in 2017

Gun Dog Online Staff - June 13, 2017

Gun Dog readers love to share puppy photos. And our annual reader Gun Dog puppy photo essay is...

See More Puppies

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.