TL;DR Patience is the best quality a family can bring to the puppy search process. Expect to wait 4-5 months from conception, or 8-12 weeks from birth for “the one” to be born, raised, and ready to come home.
It’s a magical time - you have found a responsible breeder, and are on a waitlist for a puppy. Your breeder has a glimmer in their eyes and hope in their hearts for the possibility of puppies, and a tentative due date. For those who are not familiar with the process, I want to give you the typical timeline you can expect while waiting for your perfect pup to be born and ready to go home. Good things take time, and you can prepare yourself for the wait and not be tempted to make a less responsible impulse purchase.
I know time is never slower than when you have puppy fever and are dying to bring a new family member into your life. Driven by puppy fever, I frequently see people who have unrealistic expectations for when “Gotcha Day” will arrive. The most common requests are for a puppy for Christmas, or for a surprise gift to a family member with an imminent birthday. I have even seen someone looking for a puppy to be picked up the same weekend. The reality of dog reproduction means a person must be patient.
Here are some numbers to help you put that wait into perspective. For this example, let’s use January 1st as the starting point, meaning that is the first day a dam comes into heat. A bitch will be fertile sometime between day 5-12 from the start of her heat. A breeder can guess when that time is, or they can be more precise by testing the blood for the hormone progesterone. A dam might also have multiple breeding sessions, which makes the exact due date a little fuzzier.
Let’s assume the dam is successfully bred on January 8th. Bitches gestate for approximately 63 days, so if all goes well, a happy, healthy litter of puppies would be born on March 12th. The bare minimum amount of time a puppy must stay with their dam is 8 weeks (and this is legally enforced in the majority of states). Best practice recommends puppies stay for 10 weeks, and some breeders wait as long as 12 weeks. So for this example litter, the absolute earliest a puppy could go to their new home would be May 7th. Waiting 10 weeks brings Gotcha Day May 21st, and waiting 12 weeks brings us to June 4th.
All told, that is a minimum of 119 days or 4 months from conception to Gotcha Day. If you happen to find a breeder who has puppies “on the ground” (meaning, already born), the wait will be between 8-12 weeks.
To complicate this calculation, there is always the possibility that the dam does not get pregnant, and then the clock starts over entirely. Using our January 1 example, if the breeder knows by day 45 that the dam isn’t pregnant, they have to wait for the dam to come back into heat, approximately 6 months.
I understand that it can be shocking and disappointing to realize the seasons will change at least once before you can get a puppy in your hands. And that is only if everything goes according to plan; for example, a dam might not conceive, or if they do, they may not have many puppies to go around. Mother nature doesn’t always agree with our plans, and our dams don’t read the textbooks or check their calendars.
However, some people have concrete deadlines in terms of when they can bring home a puppy. Having that requirement is not unreasonable (for example, I understand how a teacher would want their summer to raise a puppy). The good news is, it’s not uncommon for a puppy to suddenly become available. Perhaps a dam was blessed with a large litter, and a breeder can accept more applications to find homes for all of them. Perhaps a person was on the waitlist, but their situation changed and they are no longer able to take a puppy home, making an open spot for another interested family. This could happen soon after a puppy is born (making the wait 8-10 weeks); or, a family may back out from the waitlist late in the process, and a puppy is ready to go to their new home immediately.
The most important thing you can do for your future is to research and commit to a responsible breeder, and stick with them. Be honest and open with them so they learn about your wants and needs. When you build that relationship, they can be on the lookout and refer you to a different responsible breeder, or share other opportunities to buy a puppy. I have my fingers and paws crossed that when you’re ready to buy a puppy, they will swiftly find their way to you. If swiftness isn’t possible, I wish you the strength and patience to wait for “the one”.