By Stephane Bennett, BelieveInDogTraining.com

Photo by Kem Coan

Way back in 2008, The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior released a position statement on early puppy socialization in which they stated:

“The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life […] it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive […] socialization before they are fully vaccinated.” 

Although socialization should continue throughout a dog’s life, the first 16 weeks of life affords a special window in a puppy’s development in which the interactions with their world have huge, lasting impacts on their future behavior. Once that window is closed, it never comes back. The clock is literally ticking. 

As a result, over the past 15 years, early puppy socialization protocols have been embraced, practiced, and preached by thousands of trainers, breeders, and veterinarians. Many trainers began specializing in training puppies and worked to spread the word about the cruciality of safely socializing puppies. 

Even veterinarians who once advised against socializing before fully vaccinating changed their views and recognized that the critical socialization period is the best opportunity we have to influence our dog’s behavior. Deficiencies in early development can have adverse effects on a dog’s behavior and disposition later in life. 

According to the AVSAB, “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 three years of age.”  When we compare the risk factor of a puppy contracting a disease due to responsible early socialization to the risk factor of a dog being euthanized due to behavior problems, the benefits far outweigh the risks.  

Unfortunately, the debate continues as to whether puppies should be socialized before being fully vaccinated. There are several reasons dog owners and even some veterinarians continue to advise against it. 

Parvovirus and Distemper

The biggest concern has always been the danger of contracting one of the undeniably horrible puppy diseases, Parvo or Distemper. It is understandable why anyone who has had experiences with these diseases would be extremely cautious. It is traumatizing for everyone. However, after receiving their first vaccination, puppies begin building up a resistance to parvovirus. Once your puppy receives their second vaccination, exposure to the outside world should not be ruled out but should be carefully considered. 

Consider a well-run and organized puppy class, as well as homes of relatives and friends whose dogs are demonstrably healthy, vaccinated, and friendly. Avoid places that are commonly used by unknown dogs. 

How Many Rounds of Shots Does My Puppy Need?

To further complicate the matter, some vets are now suggesting a series of four puppy vaccines, as opposed to three. The reason being they want the last DHPP shot to be given at or after 18 weeks to prevent possible maternal antibody interference. 

Remember, the critical socialization period closes somewhere between 12-16 weeks of age and puppy shots are usually given approximately three weeks apart. If no socialization or exposure to the outside world is permitted until four rounds are given, they won’t be complete until the puppies are 16-20 weeks old! By week 20, puppyhood has ended and adolescence has begun. 

To any certified professional dog trainer who has worked with both puppies and adult dogs with behavioral issues, the thought of not socializing or exposing a puppy to the outside world for their entire puppyhood is not just distressing, it’s dangerous. 

Mysterious Canine Respiratory Illness

In recent months, the news about an outbreak of a mysterious canine respiratory illness first identified in Oregon, which had evidently traveled to other states. At the time of this writing, no known cases had been confirmed in Texas. Still, any “mysterious” illness that has apparently been deadly is frightening and obviously magnifies every puppy owner’s trepidation and hesitancy. 

The current advice given regarding the new respiratory illness and keeping dogs safe mirrors advice on safely socializing young puppies: avoid public areas where there are (or have been) dogs of unknown vaccination status, like dog parks, box stores, veterinarian parking lots, etc. Ensure your puppy school or class has established intake protocols, including verifying vaccines are up to date; conducting snout-to-tail examinations to check for visible symptoms of coughing, sneezing, or discharge from the eyes or nose; or unusual lethargy. All facilities that cater to puppies and dogs of any age should have established rigorous cleaning and sanitizing protocols. 

Seeking Advice on Social Media It would be remiss not to mention the trend of asking for guidance on social media. On any given day, it’s easy to find someone any social media platform, asking about how soon they should begin socializing and training their new puppy. Turning to random strangers on the internet instead of seeking out an actual expert in the field causes a sea of confusion and misinformation. Unfortunately, outdated puppy training instructions (potty training advice is especially alarming) and downright dangerous recommendations about vaccines is more common than not. Social media is a place where everybody’s opinion is ‘right’, and everyone who has ever owned a dog is an expert. As a result, the debate as to whether puppies should be socialized before being fully vaccinated is as hot and heated as ever.