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!

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

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
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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6 Comments on “Puppy Socialization Addendum

  1. Thank you so much for reconsidering your position! Puppy socialization is so important, and I was pleased to see your links to the AVSAB position statement and other useful resources in this week’s email.

    I’ve created a socialization infographic with the help of the talented Lili Chin, which contains advice for dogs of any age. Feel free to share it with your clients and readers. If you would like a PDF file for ease of printing, just let me know and I would be happy to send you such. The web version can be found at http://paws4udogs.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/socializing-your-dog-an-illustrated-guide/

    Thanks for listening, and for promoting the very best healthcare for puppies and their people!

  2. My husband and I publicly respond to those disgruntled expert breeders and dog trainers that caused Dr. Kay to retract her first article.

    Even though we were anxious to bring them home, we were patient and requested the breeders to keep the dachshund puppies for us until they were ten weeks old to allow them to be with their mom and siblings. A puppy needs to be with its mother and siblings because that’s the way nature made it.

    We were always against taking them to puppy training class to avoid any potential illnesses or infections or fleas. We trained them ourselves. And they were already fully trained by 6 months of age. They were also socialied and very friendly. But we never took them to dog parks or other places where other dogs were present.

    We support Dr. Kay’s first article on all points, and common sense taught us to do it that way. Just common sense.

  3. I am glad for the retraction. Puppy socialization is very important at early age, so it is great to have this respectful conversation going and achieve the highest quality socialization experiences with the least risk.

  4. Thanks for the update! And thanks for listening. It’s great to find that the comments really are a conversation. :-) We’re all working together for the puppies’ benefit!

  5. Dear Dr. Kay,

    I am pleased that you have changed your position on puppy socialization — and delighted that you mentioned my book, Puppy Socialization: An Insider’s Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness. Not only is there information on puppy classes, but it is divided into three parts — one for Breeders, one for Owners/Guardians, and one for Rescue Organizations.

    It has contributions from Dr. Ian Dunbar, Dr. Carmen Battaglia, Dr. Ed Bailey, Dr. Michael Fox and many others as well as hundreds of easy and practical suggestions, especially for owners/guardians.

    I received an email just this morning from someone who had gotten a Mastiff at 9 months, worked with a trainer, and ended up euthanizing this dog. It is a every sad but, unfortunately, not uncommon story. I applaud this woman who is determined to “get it right” this time with her new puppy.

  6. Dear Dr. Kay,
    Thank you for retracting your previous article on puppy socialization. I am a long time reader and regularly recommend your site to my students. I was very disappointed when I read your article and that you did not mention the AVSAB position statement or the article by Dr Bain et al. Thank you considering the information and revising your recommendations.

    As a former animal shelter manager and a dog trainer with over 27 years experience I am very concerned with disease control and the behavioral wellness of puppies. In all the years of teaching puppy kindergarten I have never had a puppy have parvo or distemper in one of my classes. I have had lots of young dogs come to beginner class who, never attended puppy class, have shown shyness, poor bite inhibition, resource guarding issues etc.

    Just yesterday I had a couple come to puppy kindergarten with a 16 week old Mastiff. They got her at 11 weeks but didn’t come to class until this week because “she hadn’t had all her shots”. She is a beautiful puppy but is already showing signs of being timid and tentative (not something you want in any dog and certainly not one who will be 180 lbs). We’ve got a lot of work to do with this girl and I think of the 5 weeks we’ve lost to critical socialization because of the recommendation from their vet.