time for puppy socialization is the first 16 weeks of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, well socialized animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely. 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 most common cause of relinquishment to shelters. Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age. 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.
Puppies should be handled from birth, learning to accept gentle manipulation of all body parts. Puppies should be encouraged to explore, investigate,and play in their environment. Interactive toys and games, a variety of surfaces, tunnels, steps, chutes, and other stimuli can enrich the puppy’s environment. Puppies should accompany their breeders/owners on as many car trips as possible. These exposures should continue into adulthood to maintain an outgoing and sociable dog.
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.
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.
Puppy socialization classes can offer a safe and organized means of socializing puppies and more quickly improve their responsiveness to commands. Classes and at-home training should be based on positive reinforcement with frequent rewards praise, petting, play and/ or treats. Positive and consistent training is associated with fewer behavioral problems and greater obedience than methods that involve punishment and/or encourage human dominance.
Time must be scheduled for puppies to play alone with their favorite toys (such as stuffed food toys) or take naps in safe places such as crates or puppy pens. This teaches puppies to amuse themselves, and may help to prevent problems of over attachment to the owners. Continuing to offer dogs a wide variety of experiences during their first year of life is also helpful in preventing separation-related behavior.
Proper confinement training using pens or crates helps to ensure that puppies have safe and secure places for rest and confinement. Puppies that are used to being crated will be less stressed if they must be hospitalized or be confined for travel by plane or car. Crates should serve as comfort or play areas.
Early and adequate socialization and programs of positive training can go a long way to preventing behavior problems and improving the bond between humans and dogs.
Pleasant Valley Veterinary Services strongly supports early socialization of puppies. We are happy to provide you with names and locations of trainers and facilities that offer a multitude of classes for you and your puppy!
Dr. Mary and the staff at Pleasant Valley Veterinary Services are the most accommodating, knowledgeable, and caring professionals I could have ever met in a busy veterinarian office.
- Beth B.