Whether you're hoping to adopt your first Saint Bernard furbaby or find homes for your dog's new batch of little rascals, the minimum age for puppy adoption is a matter not only of good sense but also of the laws in your state.
Letter of the Law
At least 20 states have laws that specifically govern the minimum age for separating puppies from their mothers. These make sale of an underage puppy a criminal offense (usually a misdemeanor) punishable by fines and up to 30 days in jail. A perpetrator trafficking in underage pooches is also liable in civil suits, should the pup's adoptive family have future issues.
In most states, the barest minimum for rehoming a puppy is 8 weeks AND weaned entirely onto solid food. This means that if you have a 10-week-old puppy who's still nursing, for example, it's illegal to sell this dog, even though he's over 8 weeks old.
Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania require that puppies of all breeds be at least 8 weeks old before sale or adoption.
Nebraska has an 8-week minimum unless the puppy is sold with the mom. In Michigan, the puppy must have baby teeth clearly visible or be at least 8 weeks old. Virginia and Wisconsin forbid sale or adoption of puppies under 7 weeks.
Exceptions to the Rule
Some states only apply these laws to licensed commercial breeders and pet stores. Others apply them to anyone selling a dog, but not to people who give dogs away. Most do not apply them to private rescues or public animal shelters. Some apply them to everyone, whether you're receiving money for your pups or not, and some go even further and make separating an underage puppy from its mom in any way whatsoever a criminal offense.
If you're giving an "oops" litter away ("free to good home") or trying to adopt a very young puppy from a rescue or shelter, check with the specific laws in your state. You may be exempt from underage puppy rules.
These laws and veterinary guidelines apply to all breeds, including Saint Bernards. All dog breeds are the same species and develop at pretty much the same rate. There is nothing that sets Saint Bernards apart from the pack when it comes to being ready to leave Mommy behind.
First 8 Weeks
During the first 4 weeks of life your puppy's food should be his mommy's milk exclusively. They don't need water, treats, canned food or kibble, and these can be extremely dangerous to them. Orphaned newborn pups must be fed a canine milk replacer, not cow's milk or human infant formula. If you find yourself acting as a foster mother, consult a vet for guidance.
Between 4 and 8 weeks, puppies can be offered kibble or canned puppy food soaked in puppy formula. As their baby teeth come in, their food can be gradually dried out until they're chowing down on plain kibble (at no earlier than 8 weeks of age).
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.