Picking a Puppy: Part 4 – Buying Long Distance, Socialization

Did you miss the previous installments?
Picking a Puppy, Part 1: Timing & Picking a Puppy, Part 2: Meet the Parents, Boy or Girl
Picking a Puppy, Part 2: Meet the Parents, Boy or Girl
Picking a Puppy, Part 3: Personality Testing

Picking and Shipping a Puppy Long-distance

If you cannot find a litter of the breed you want anywhere near where you live, you might want to consider buying a puppy long-distance and letting the breeder ship the pooch. This is especially true of less-popular breeds, where you really don’t have many options, unless you have the time and money to fly or drive to wherever the breeder is located. It is certainly preferable to deal with a reputable breeder sight-unseen than to deal with someone closer who is less impressive just for the geographic convenience.


Although it would be nice to just take the breeder’s advice on which puppy to get from his litter, the more prudent choice would be to ask him to videotape the puppies at play. Choosing a puppy is so subjective, and you may not even be able to say what it is that draws you to one puppy or another. But you could make a decision based on watching a video.


Before any long-distance transaction is complete you’ll need all the documentation for the puppy and especially the results of any OFA or CERF tests recommended for that dog’s breed.

Shipping can be expensive, it takes coordination, and there is some risk for the puppy, due to the mechanical problems that can arise with airplanes and the emotional effect on the dog of losing his littermates and the breeder’s human family.

What the breeder will do is put the puppy into a shipping crate and put him on a plane, contacting you with the luggage tab number so you can meet the plane on the other end. You often can make an arrangement so that if the puppy doesn’t work out—especially if you have other dog( s) to introduce him to—you are free to ship him back.

Stages of Puppy Development

You will find that several of the following stages in the puppy’s growth will overlap, which reflects the different ways that individual dogs mature. The information is a roughly chronological look at the stages that puppies go through and the issues they experience as they grow.


Learns how to regulate strength of bite, how to socialize with other dogs and establish a pecking order—and has a positive experience with human contact.

Teeth cannot yet be used for tearing meat, chewing bones or any adult activity—but they are needle-sharp and can get her in trouble with other dogs.

Play, play-fighting and biting teach a pup how hard to bite to cause pain. Hearing a littermate’s yelp of pain when she bites his ear teaches her she has bitten too hard. Getting bitten in return teaches a puppy what that pain feels like. A puppy’s jaw muscles are weak and underdeveloped at this stage, and this period is when she learns how to regulate her strength of bite.

Puppies need to stay with littermates during this period to become well-balanced dogs. By the fifth week, they move together as a group. This is the beginning of pack behavior as adults.

Dominance and Submission During the Learning Stage

During the socialization period, a puppy learns how to display dominant characteristics—and also how to show submission—with his littermates. He experiments with both in discovering his own personality. The list of these behaviors can be useful to you in understanding—and not misinterpreting—these activities when you see them.

Learning Dominant Activities

  • Chasing, ambushing and pouncing on littermates
  • Stalking other puppies with lowered head and tail
  • Circling another pup with stiffly wagging tail
  • Standing over littermate with neck arched, head and tail high
  • Hackles up, hair erect on shoulders or along backbone
  • Displaying teeth and growling
  • Biting around face and neck
  • Shoulder slams
  • Front paws on other pup’s back or shoulders
  • Direct penetrating stare
  • Mounting from behind with or without pelvic thrusts
  • Standing on hind legs, boxing with front legs

Learning to Display Submissive Behavior

  • Staying still while dominant puppy circles
  • Accepting another pup putting paws on shoulders
  • Not moving while another pup mounts
  • Tail tucked between legs
  • Head held low, ears down, eyes averted
  • Submissive grin, with lips pulled back to show teeth
  • Licking lips, yawning, sneezing, sometimes showing incisor teeth at same time
  • Rolling onto back
  • Lying on side, lifting uppermost leg to expose belly and genitals
  • Urinating, defecating

Between Four and Seven Weeks the Puppy’s Brain Is Growing.

At an incredible rate. By seven weeks the brain is transmitting adult brain waves and a puppy is capable of learning by example, and will often mimic its mother and littermates.

Weaning Starts in the Sixth Week.

By the sixth week weaning begins: the mother refuses to let the puppies near her breasts and threatens them when they try to nurse. To back the puppies off, the mother usually gives a low warning growl. If a puppy does not respond to her warning, she snarls at him and makes piercing eye contact. She may stand over the puppy, who by now is usually lying on his back, squealing. The next time she growls, he’ll respond immediately. This is how a puppy learns the meaning of discipline. Especially with a puppy of dominant character, the mother needs to discipline him properly at this point or he’ll grow up to be a nightmare for his future owners. By the seventh week, the puppy is weaned. It is at this critical point that humans need to enter the picture and “socialize” the puppies (see below).

Puppies Taken Away Early from Their Mothers

“Puppy mill breeders” are guilty of removing pups from their litters sometimes as early as four and five weeks of age in order to send them to the brokers who handle their dispersal to pet shops all over the country. These little creatures are subjected to stressful transportation conditions and at least two changes of environment when they are shipped first to dog dealers and then to a pet shop. The unsuspecting buyer does not stop to realize that in order for them to find that puppy in a pet store at eight weeks of age the little pup had to be taken away from his mother and litter at a much-too-young age. And what the buyer does not know is that these dogs have never learned how to be dogs— that by leaving the litter so young they’ve missed out on the essential canine socialization period. This means they often can’t get along with other dogs; they can also be hard to train because they didn’t receive their mother’s discipline in the critical early weeks.

Sick Puppies Up to Sixteen Weeks Old Also Suffer. If a puppy gets ill between birth and the fourth month he can wind up with some of the negative behavioral changes associated with restricted early socialization. Puppies that are sick in their early development, especially during the normal socialization period of ten to twelve weeks, show more aggression, fear of strangers and children and separation-related barking than dogs who remain healthy.

Some Breeders Sell Puppies at Six Weeks— a Big Mistake! The puppy at six weeks still needs time with her mother to learn how to respect authority, and time with littermates to learn how to interact appropriately with other dogs. It is disturbing to informed dog enthusiasts to learn of supposedly responsible breeders letting puppies go immediately after weaning. The assumption is that they must be doing this for economic reasons (they want the money sooner) or for their own convenience (to have two fewer weeks of feeding, cleaning up and dealing with inoculations and other medical issues). In any case, information about the developmental growth of puppies has been around long enough that a professional breeder should know better than to send puppies out of the nest at six weeks— and they should know that they are doing the puppy and its new owners a disservice.

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Copyright © Tracie Hotchner – Originally appeared in The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know by Tracie Hotchner