Why Reputable Shih Tzu Breeders Do No Sell Their Puppies Prior to 12 Weeks

By Carol Page

The American Shih Tzu Club Code of Ethics states that members should not allow puppies to go to their new homes until they are at least 12 weeks of age except under unusual circumstances. Most members interpret “exceptional circumstances” to mean homes where their new owners are extremely experienced in raising and socializing very young Shih Tzu puppies. There are many reasons breeders prefer to keep Shih Tzu puppies until they reach 12 weeks.

Reputable breeders should be committed to breeding quality representations of the breed. Providing a clean and safe environment for mom and babies, weighing and handling puppies, and constant observation is a daily routine for the first six to seven weeks. Mom bears the brunt of all the hard work during this time, by nursing, cleaning, and protecting her babies until they are weaned.

Approximately 25 states have laws or administrative regulations that state how old a puppy must be before it is offered for sale. Of those states, all but 3 require that the puppy be at least 8 weeks old. If weaning were our only requirement, the puppies would be ready at 8 weeks old for their forever homes. However, I believe that our jobs as responsible breeders have just begun when puppies reach the age of eight weeks! Below, is a comparison of Labrador Retriever and Shih Tzu puppies from 3 weeks to eight weeks old.
Weeks Labrador Retriever Puppies Shih Tzu Puppies
3 Up on legs, playing and maneuvering fairly well. Getting their teeth & eating moist food. Usually weigh 3 lbs. or more. Just starting to try & use their legs, with very little coordination. Totally dependent on mother’s milk. Usually weigh 1.3 lbs.
4 Are almost weaned. Coordination has improved. Trying to get up and move, but have the coordination of very drunken sailors. Are still totally dependent on nourishment from mom.
8 Have teeth and are eating dry puppy food. Appear to be mentally mature and physically ready to go to their forever homes. Weigh 12-18 lbs. Barely have little needle teeth, poking through gums. Going from nursing to eating moist food. Are not mentally mature or physically ready. Still fragile. Weigh 3.5 lbs.

With the comparison above, how could anyone put a Shih Tzu in the same category as a Labrador Retriever when trying to calculate when they are ready for their forever homes!

Then another question arises. Is our only job to wean the puppies? Or is it our responsibility, as good breeders, to also make sure our puppies have refined their physical ability and mental maturity. The 8-12 week period is when puppies learn social skills with people, littermates, and other dogs. They explore hierarchy and social boundaries and learn things like bite inhibition. They need lots of positive human interaction daily.

Puppies especially need safe-guarding from any traumatic event between 8-12 weeks. They can go through fear stages during these weeks, and one bad experience can make a lifelong impression, called fear imprinting, on the puppy. During this same time, mom is their mentor. She will give them their first introduction to canine good manners. All of this just doesn’t happen – it is planned. Special care must always taken to make sure puppies have ONLY GOOD EXPERIENCES!

It would, of course, be a lot easier for breeders to let puppies leave as soon as they are weaned. From 8-12 weeks, puppies are a lot of work. You are not only cleaning up the puppies and their enclosure, but are spending a tremendous amount of time socializing them. There should be a lot of interaction with humans, plus daily playtime with littermates and individually outside of their kennel environment. This gives them time to explore and experience lots of new things. Exposure to a variety of sounds, surfaces, and environments conditions them to accept other unfamiliar experiences they will have later in their new homes and in the outside world. Special attention needs to be paid to more reticent puppies, so all will adapt well to almost any situation in the future. This is also the time to begin basic training—good things (including LOTS of praise) happen if a puppy comes when called, walks on a lead, uses the papers or goes potty outside or in a pen, and behaves when being brushed and bathed and having its nails trimmed.

I truly believe that the puppy that stays with mom and his/her litter for twelve weeks, with lots of positive experiences and socialization and some basic training, ends up being a very mentally stable and grounded dog. That extra month really does make a difference.

Taking care of a litter of Shih Tzu puppies from eight to twelve weeks is a full-time job and a lot of effort. But when you get feedback like: “He is perfect!” “So far, this guy is amazing! We are over the moon!” “Thank you! she is the best!” “Thank you so much for the training and everything else! We are in love!” you know that you did right by your puppies and their new forever Mom’s & Dad’s.