TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
We are bringing home an 8-week-old puppy next week. When I told my sister we were planning to attend a class designed for young pups, she said when they got their puppy, the veterinarian told them not to go to puppy class until their pup was fully vaccinated. Can you recommend any good sources of information on this topic? We want to make an informed decision.
Excited New Puppy Parents
Dear Puppy Parents,
An excellent resource for information is the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB). This is a group of veterinarians and research professionals who share an interest in understanding behavior in animals. It is comprised of graduates of colleges and schools of veterinary medicine and individuals with a doctoral (PhD) degree in animal behavior or a related discipline from an accredited college or university. There are position papers on many topics on their website www.avsabonline.org, including one on puppy socialization. I’m reprinting this position statement in answer to your question.
AVSAB ON PUPPY SOCIALIZATION
The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing overstimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior. For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.
Because the first three months are the period when sociability outweighs fear, this is the primary window of opportunity for puppies to adapt to new people, animals, and experiences. Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression. Behavioral problems are the greatest threat to the owner-dog bond. In fact, behavioral problems are the number one cause of relinquishment to shelters. Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under 3 years of age.
While puppies’ immune systems are still developing during these early months, the combination of maternal immunity, primary vaccination, and appropriate care makes the risk of infection relatively small compared to the chance of death from a behavior problem.
Veterinarians specializing in behavior recommend that owners take advantage of every safe opportunity to expose young puppies to the great variety of stimuli that they will experience in their lives. Enrolling in puppy classes prior to 3 months of age can be an excellent means of improving training, strengthening the human-animal bond, and socializing puppies in an environment where risk of illness can be minimized.
For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.
In general, puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7 to 8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class and a first de-worming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.