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Puppy Socialization Addendum

My recent article about the pros and cons of early puppyhood socialization solicited some wonderful comments, many of which were from trainers and breeders. Thanks to all of you who responded. Here are some take home messages from our conversation:

– We are all in agreement that socialization for puppies less than four months of age is a “must-do”.

– Greta and two Laura’s voiced their belief that inadequate socialization is far more likely than infectious diseases to result in canine unhappy endings (rehoming, relinquishment to shelters, euthanasia). I believe this is often, but not always the case. Infectious disease prevalence varies depending on the level of canine health education within a community. As Susan suggested in her comments, find out what the risk for disease is in your neighborhood (check in on this with your veterinarian) before determining how best to socialize your pup.

– Several readers made a good case for the argument that the “sensible socialization” I recommended was not enough for puppies to become adult dogs with calm demeanors and good manners. Kat suggested exposing youngsters to the sights, sounds, and smells of the big wide world. Greta and Gail recommended baby strollers, puppy packs, baby slings, and/or shopping carts as ways of transporting puppies out and about for socialization without ever letting their feet touch the ground. I think that this makes great sense as long as one realizes this is not a foolproof means of disease prevention.

– We are all in agreement that public venues frequented by dogs of unknown vaccination status, such as dog parks and pet stores are to be avoided.

– Laura directed me to a position statement on puppy socialization crafted by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. The statement reads as follows: “In general, puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.”

– A 2013 study in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association reported on almost 300 puppies attending puppy socialization classes before 16 weeks of age. The data was collected from four different cities. Results demonstrated that vaccinated pups attending early socialization classes (before four months of age) had no greater risk of developing canine parvovirus infection than vaccinated pups who did not attend those classes. Thank you Greta and Dr. Melissa Bain, one of the coauthors of this study, for bringing this information to my attention.

– Certified dog behavior consultant, Caryl Wolff turned me onto her recently published book, Puppy Socialization: An Insider’s Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness. She is in advocate of puppy socialization classes and provides her readers with tools to find just the right one.

– All of this information has nudged me retract my earlier comments advising against socialization classes for pups under four months of age. While I can now encourage them, I cannot overemphasize the importance of performing due diligence to learn how conscientiously the trainer is screening the pups allowed into the class and disinfecting the environment. I encourage you to read the description of dog trainer Jill Kessler Miller’s puppy socialization class as it appeared in the Spring, 2014 edition of the IACP Safe Hands Journal.

Thanks to all of you who contributed your comments. You’ve re-proven the theory that, indeed, you can teach an old dog (vet) new tricks!

Nancy Kay D.V.M.
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Spot’s Blog: http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog
Email: dr.kay@speakingforspot.com

Written by

Dr. Nancy Kay wanted to become a veterinarian for just about as long as she can remember. Her veterinary degree is from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and she completed her residency training in small animal internal medicine at the University of California-Davis Veterinary School. Dr. Kay is a board certified specialist in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and published in several professional journals and textbooks. She lectures professionally to regional and national audiences, and one of her favorite lecture topics is communication between veterinarians and their clients. Since the release of her book, Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, Dr. Kay has lectured extensively and written numerous magazine articles on the topic of medical advocacy and veterinarian/client communication. She was a featured guest on the popular National Public Radio show, Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Dr. Kay's newest book is called, Your Dog's Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet. Her award winning blog, "Spot Speaks" is posted weekly (www.speakingforspot.com/blog). Dr. Kay was selected by the American Animal Hospital Association to receive the 2009 Hill’s Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award. This award is given annually to a veterinarian or nonveterinarian who has advanced animal welfare through extraordinary service or by furthering humane principles, education, and understanding. Dr. Kay was selected as the 2011 Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year, an award presented every year by the American Veterinary Medical Association to a veterinarian whose work exemplifies and promotes the human animal bond. Dr. Kay has received several awards from the Dog Writer’s Association of America. Dr. Kay's personal life revolves around her husband (also a veterinarian), her three children (none of whom aspire to be veterinarians) and their menagerie of four-legged family members. When she's not writing, she spends her spare moments in the garden or riding atop her favorite horse. Dr. Kay and her husband reside in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
  • Pam August 5, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    I would still be very leery of exposing any puppy to outside germs before 16 weeks of age, no matter how many vaccines they have had, since all the research is showing its not HOW MANY, it’s WHEN they are administered.

  • Sue Conklin August 6, 2014 at 4:50 AM

    If a breeder is staunchly against taking puppies to any public place before 4 months, the it is, in my opinion imperative that they do a LOT of socialization at home. Beginning with ENS, an easy program that may really help puppies handle stress. Toys and obstacle courses that are new and different every few days. Stairs, vacuum cleaners, TV sounds, music, in short, novel sounds and things.

    I have been teaching puppy classes for over 15 years. Well over 100 puppies a year. I have never had a pup develop Parvo from puppy class (and not at all as far as I know), and I explain to my puppy clients what are safe environments, and what are not,

    My real issue is the breeder who does no socialization with pups, keeps a few until they are 4-6 months old, for any reason, then sends them off to an unsuspecting pet home. I have worked with far too many pups that are fearful of anything new.

    Responsible breeders are becoming more aware that good, early socialization begins at 3-4 weeks of age. I applaud those breeders. There is so much that one can do before those pups go to new homes that will result in a much happier adult dog, and happier pet owners.

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