This is an open letter from Dr. R.K. Anderson, who encourages veterinarians and puppy guardians
to make puppy socialization a first priority.
Sad news: RK Anderson passed away on Oct 19, 2012, he was 90.
Puppy Vaccination and Socialization Should Go Together
TO: My Colleagues in Veterinary Medicine:
Common questions I receive from puppy owners, dog trainers and veterinarians concern: 1) what is the most favorable age or period of time when puppies learn best? 2) What are the health implications of my advice that veterinarians and trainers should offer socialization programs for puppies starting at 8 to 9 weeks of age.
Puppies begin learning at birth and their brains appear to be particularly responsive to learning and retaining experiences that
are encountered during the first 13 to 16 weeks after birth [Dr. Anderson is saying that the prime time for puppy socialization
stops somewhere between 13 and 16 weeks, although more socialization occurs after that time]. This means that breeders,
new puppy owners, veterinarians, trainers and behaviorists have a responsibility to assist in providing these learning/socialization experiences with other puppies/dogs, with children/adults and with various environmental situations during this optimal period
from birth to 16 weeks.
Many veterinarians are making this early socialization and learning program part of a total wellness plan for breeders and new owners of puppies during the first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life -- the first 7-8 weeks with the breeder and the next 8 weeks with the new owners. This socialization program should enroll puppies from 8 to 12 weeks of age as a key part of any preventive medicine program to improve the bond between pets and their people and keep dogs as valued members of the family for 12 to 18 years.
To take full advantage of this early special learning period, many veterinarians recommend that new owners take their puppies to puppy socialization classes, beginning at 8 to 9 weeks of age. At this age they should have (and can be required to have) received a minimum of their first series of vaccines for protection against infectious diseases. This provides the basis for increasing immunity by further repeated exposure to these antigens either through natural exposure in small doses or artificial exposure with vaccines during the next 8 to 12 weeks. In addition the owner and people offering puppy socialization should take precautions to have the environment and the participating puppies as free of natural exposure as possible by good hygiene and caring by careful instructors and owners.
Experience and epidemiologic data support the relative safety and lack of transmission of disease in these puppy socialization classes over the past 10 years in many parts of the United States. In fact; the risk of a dog dying because of infection with distemper or parvo disease is far less than the much higher risk of a dog dying (euthanasia) because of a behavior problem. Many veterinarians are now offering new puppy owners puppy socialization classes in their hospitals or nearby training facilities in conjunction with trainers and behaviorists because they want socialization and training to be very important parts of a wellness plan for every puppy. We need to recognize that this special sensitive period for learning is the best opportunity we have to influence behavior for dogs and the most important and longest lasting part of a total wellness plan.
Are there risks? Yes. But 10 years of good experience and data, with few exceptions, offers veterinarians the opportunity to generally recommend early socialization and training classes, beginning when puppies are 8 to 9 weeks of age. However, we always follow a veterinarian’s professional judgment, in individual cases or situations, where special circumstances warrant further immunization for a special puppy before starting such classes. During any period of delay for puppy classes, owners should begin a program of socialization with children and adults, outside their family, to take advantage of this special period in a puppy’s life.
- Robert K. Anderson DVM, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and Diplomate of American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
Puppy Socialization: Final Thoughts
We’d like to conclude by making it clear that not all forms of puppy socialization are created equal. It should be clear that early puppy socialization is critical for puppy wellness; however, that does not mean you should take your puppy to the dog park, walks in the woods, or any other high traffic, uncontrolled environment where the health status of the other dogs is not well known to you.
Unleashed! hopes that by providing our Puppy Play School class in a safe, clean, environment, under the supervision of a professional dog trainer, and in the company of other puppy owners who, like you, have been required to demonstrate evidence of their puppy’s vaccination records, we can play a small part in improving puppy wellness.
We would much rather meet you in PPS than later on down the road in a series of private dog training classes engineered to correcting your dog’s behavioral issues. If you have a newly acquired puppy whose life is just starting out in your kind hands, we don’t want you to have to agonize over a decision of whether or not to seek out early puppy socialization experiences. So please feel free to call us, and speak with your Veterinarian, about the right course for you and your pup.
Whether it’s at Unleashed! Dog Training or another qualified training facility we strongly encourage you to socialize your puppy safely, starting after his or her second round of vaccines, around the age of 10 weeks. There’s a whole wonderful world out there that just can’t wait to meet your new pup.
Some Of The Ways We Socialiaze Our Pups
Go to a favorite place, such as Petaluma Coffee, Aqus or Java Amor (in Penngrove), order breakfast or coffee, get a blanket and your pup and sit outside. Remember to bring something for your pup to chew on or his breakfast in a Kong, and lots of yummy treats for when people come to say "hi".
Go to Leghorn Park (great for those of us who don't have kids). Once again, get a blanket and your pup, and set up the blanket about 40-50 feet away from the playground. Bring his breakfast in a Kong, and lots of yummy treats. Reward puppy for just being calm and whether he shows interest in the kids. If for any reason he seems worried or concerned about the kids or noise level, move away and try again.
Remember to keep these sessions short -- only 10-15 mins -- and end on a good note. I try to do this at least once or twice a week.
(*** If at any time your pup seems very concerned, or is showing any signs of aggression, stop immediately and contact us for help.