Weening Process & Age of Separation from Mom
Weening a pup sooner than 7 weeks is highly controversial according to many online articles. While many online articles villify breeders for weening pups before 7 weeks in age, these articles are based on opinion and ideologies, not real life. While there are some breeders that unnaturally ween their litters, we do not take that approach. We take an all natural, supportive approach in order to achieve the best outcome for all parties involved: The mom, the pups, and future families/owners. The only other option is to lock up the mom in the same pen as her pups to force her to feed them, which we would never do.
Weening is the mom's choice
After having successfully raised & homed more than 200 pups, I can confidently state that weening is entirely up to the mother and begins to happen as soon as 3-4 weeks in age. Weening is a process that takes anywhere from 1 - 3 weeks and depends on the mom.
Signs of Weening
The first sign is the mom standing up to feed her pups. This is when we'll begin to supplement the pup's food with either formula or puppy food, depending on the litters development. Usually no later than 5 weeks in age, the moms will only feed them for very brief periods of time (sometimes only for a few seconds at a time!!) to relieve the pressure from her mammary glands, allowing her milk supply to dry up.
Doing what we can to support mom & her pups
What we can control is giving the mom access to her pups at all times, the quality of her food, and her environment. For the first several weeks, the pups remain in the puppy nursery with their litter mates - mom has full access to her pups at all times and the freedom to go outside and swim. As mom weens them more aggressively, in an attempt to follow their mom around to try to suckle, usually a pup or 2 will learn how to climb out of their pen. Once 1 pup can climb over the puppy pen, for the safety of the pups, we must move the mom and her litter to our puppy grad space. Otherwise, if a pup suckles from another mom, the other mom could and likely will injure the pup. Most moms only want to feed their own kin and will become aggressive towards a pup that is not theirs if they try to suckle. Our puppy rooms are designed to give the moms the freedom the are looking for - to run and play outside and be a free dog again. It's a similar set up to our puppy nursery except the space is larger - 45' x 25' room with separate, larger pens for the graduated pups. The pens are bigger & taller than before - mom can jump over but the pups can't climb out. In an ideal world, we would let the pups run freely outdoors with their moms, but it's proven to be unsafe. Coyotes, owls, hawks, thiefs, rattlesnakes, and deadly diseases present risks that we are not willing to take. Trying to construct the perfect set up and routine takes a lot of time, energy, effort, space, and money yet we are still restricted by having to keep them safe from the outside world as they are so vulnerable at this stage.
High Quality Food
Moms are mainly fed a high quality raw food diet consisting of a variety of raw meats and vegetables, supplemented with a "free feed" approach of adult dog & puppy foods that they can graze on whenever they want to. Pups are either fed a high quality puppy formula or super premium puppy food. As time goes on, we are careful to study the mom, her mammary glands, how often she is feeding her pups, and the pup's weights to make sure they are steadily gaining. We increase their food supplement as the mom more aggressively weens her pups.
Maintaining a pleasing environment
Whether the pups are in the puppy nursery or our puppy grad space, all indoor areas are temperature controlled to make it more attractive than the outside temps to entice the mom to want to hang around with her pups.
Once they go home, they are obviously forever weened. In real life, most of the time, the pups are completely & naturally weened by 6 weeks in age. If you are concerned about the development of your pup and want to give him/her every chance possible to potentially suck and spend time with their mom, other pups, and litter mates, I recommend opting for training. In doing so, the pups will get to potentially enjoy spending time with the mom and any remaining litter mates. The pups will only spend time with the mom if she chooses to go into the pup's pen - she is never forced.