Puppy Socialization Before Full Vaccination

The most common advice given at a new puppy owner’s first appointment is to keep the puppy away from all other dogs as well as not walk the pup on the street until their series of 5 in 1 vaccines are finished and they have received their Rabies vaccine at least 16 or even 20 weeks of age. It is during this time that antibodies that the puppy has from the mother are diminishing and before the vaccines have taken full effect leaving a window of vulnerability. This was the protocol that I and many other veterinarians were taught in Vet school. However, this is bad advice for the social and behavioral development of the puppy.

Advances in behavior research have shown that there is a sensitive window called the socialization period that occurs from approximately 3-4 weeks to 20 weeks during which socialization of your puppy is critical in order to minimize behavioral problems later in life. Your puppy should be exposed to as many people, dogs, and environments as possible in a positive way during this time frame. Failure to socialize your puppy properly during this time can lead to behavioral problems like fear, avoidance and aggression. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), a dog under 3 years old is more likely to die because of a behavioral problem than an infectious disease.

Originally, the concern for young puppies was for contracting deadly diseases like canine parvovirus (CPV). CPV first emerged in Europe in 1976 and became a worldwide epidemic by 1978. Until there was an effective vaccine, many puppies and dogs died from this devastating virus. The frequency with which we see parvovirus infections has dropped dramatically even over my career span of 16 years. As a result, the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine website states on their CPV page that you should avoid taking your puppy to public places that are LIKELY to have high levels of virus.

A study published in The journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, showed that the chances of a puppy contracting CPV from attending a well run puppy socialization class was the same as for a puppy that did not attend puppy socialization class. In fact, out of 279 puppies in the study that attended socialization classes, none were suspected or diagnosed with CPV. Socialization then becomes the priority for owners of new puppies if they are looking to do what is in the best interest of the dog and their family.

Many veterinarians still recommend keeping your puppy isolated until fully vaccinated. This advice is with good intentions as they feel its better to be safe than sorry when keeping puppies from getting deadly diseases. But many veterinarians, as I was, are unaware of the change that has occurred based on a few of the studies that I have cited here. Keep in mind, when it comes to your puppies health and safety, you still want to take precautions. The AVSAB recommends that you start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age, but they should have had their first set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class, and they need to stay up to date with the vaccines until the series is finished.

It is also important to remember,  with socialization, positive experiences still rule the day. If you expose your puppy to negative stimuli during this period of time, then they will develop under these negative influences and may develop behavioral problems.  Having your puppy interact with dogs that are aggressive towards other dogs would be negative. Training using punishment would also be a negative experience. Puppies should also be exposed to weird surfaces, funny shaped objects, out of the ordinary experiences, and loud noises, like thunderstorms, during this time and have these experiences associated with playtime and treats.

We all want our puppies to grow up happy and healthy. Always follow the advice of your veterinarian but always seek out additional information on your own. Talk to a variety of dog trainers and behaviorist in addition to your veterinarian to figure out what is best for your puppy. If possible seek out trainers and training facilities like The Martial ARFS that have veterinarian advisors or a working relationship with a veterinarian.  For more information about The Martial ARFS puppy socialization & obedience class .

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