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Health risks of early puppy socialization

Posted by k.mcclean on March 27, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Many people still recommend delaying socialization activities that include contact with other dogs until puppies immunizations are complete even though there is increasing evidence that the risk of infectious disease is low, and that more dogs are surrendered and even euthanized as a result of poor socialization than die from infectious diseases.

"Socialization" includes a broad range of exposures and activities, much more than just learning how to get along with people and other dogs.  A well socialized puppy is confident, resilient and gregarious - the kind of dog most of us are striving for.  Socialization should begin LONG before you get your puppy - the key socialization period is from week 3 to week 16.  The breeder's role in socialization is critically important - and when getting a new puppy you should pay particular attention to what the breeder has already done to socialize her puppies to a broad range of things that they will experience later in life. When you get your puppy, ideally not before week 10, you will need to continue those activities.  It is a good idea to plan ahead as those first couple of weeks with your puppy go by all too quickly.  Line up a puppy class before you get him so that you can start classes right away.  FInd a puppy class that allows you to start immediately if you can.  If you have to wait 6 weeks for a new set of classes to begin, you will have lost important time.  Make sure the class uses postivie reinforcement principles in their training.  When puppy play is part of the class make sure the following principles are applied: play periods should be brief so that no one gets overaroused, play should be carefully supervised to make sure that no puppies are behaving inappropriately and no one is overwhelmed, and play should take place between appropriate puppies - not all puppies are appropriate to play together. Ideally, the trainer should help you learn what is and is not appropriate play and how to read the body language of your and other puppies as they play.  Puppy classes should NOT be a free-for-all of puppy interaction

When should puppies start classes?  Puppies can start going to group classes as early as one week following their first vaccinations. Choose a class that requires all puppies to be immunized and a dedicated young puppy class if possible.

The benefits of early socialization are undeniable but what about the infectious disease risk?  Below are several links that describe some of the evidence that suggests that the infectious risks are low - and possibly no higher than risks for puppies that do not go to classes.

http://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/dr-ian-dunbar/puppy-classes-and-canine-parvovirus

http://abrionline.org/article.php?id=75

http://avsabonline.org/resources/position-statements ; (scroll down to puppy socialization statement)

http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/vetmed/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=646902

A well socialized puppy is a happy puppy - and will make it possible for you and your puppy to take advantage of many opportunities and activities that will be difficult or impossible if your puppy is not well socialized. 

And just to close on a personal perspective - there is a huge difference in each of my dogs.  My oldest dog did not go to puppy classes until after she completed immunizations - and it shows.  She is often stressed around other dogs and has a rough & tough play style that can be intimidating. She is wonderful around people, but I am always very vigilant around other dogs and alert to any possible negative interactions.  My second dog is a rescue who came to me after 6 months of age.  He is not aggressive but he does become easily stressed around dogs and I need to be careful to not ask too much of him.  My third dog went to agility trials, dog shows and classes with me from day one and she is very comfortable around other dogs and often serves as my 'assistant trainer'.  My recent litter of puppies, who started puppy classes at 7 weeks are amazing around other dogs -  gregarious and relaxed with great play styles.  What a difference a few weeks can make!






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