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
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