Pet parents are now aware of the necessity of providing dog/dog socialization opportunities for their puppies. Nevertheless, when and how to do it is still misunderstood largely because many veterinarians, as well as breeders and pet-store owners, advise new pet parents to avoid socializing their new puppy with other dogs until the age of four to six months in order to avoid exposure to illnesses that vaccines protect against.
Veterinarian experts in animal behavior, however, caution that the risk of developing behavioral problems—especially aggression—outweighs the risk of developing disease in otherwise healthy puppies. As early as 2004, renowned veterinarian, RK Anderson, proclaimed this in an open letter to his veterinary colleagues; Puppy Vaccination and Early Socialization Should Go Together!
Dr. Lynn Honeckman, DVM, tells us, “There is a very small window of opportunity during which it is our job to teach our puppies that the world is a safe place.” So, exactly how do you plan for the “lifetime of happiness” approach to puppy-raising?
When Should You Socialize Your Puppy?
Dr. Ian Dunbar, veterinarian and Animal Behavior PhD, a pioneer in puppy training, tells us that safe socialization during the first few weeks at home is of “extreme urgency.” Indeed, Dunbar has launched the Puppy Raising Initiative explaining socialization imperatives for puppies in the short “critical period” of social development—between four and twelve weeks of age. This applies to socialization with people too. “Puppies must be safely socialized to people; otherwise, during adolescence they will likely become wary and fearful and may be aggressive towards people.”
How to Socialize and Protect Your Puppy
Dr. Lee Harris, a San Diegan veterinarian who studies canine behavior, wisely counsels, “Some common sense needs to be exerted about providing well-chosen socialization.” The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Position Statement on Puppy Socialization advises that socialization in the first three months of life, before puppies are fully vaccinated, should be the standard of care. The organization Operation Socialization: Just Add Puppy offers easy to follow socialization safety guidelines when socializing your puppy. The American Veterinary Medical Association website provides guidance as well. It states that, “Puppies need socialization with other dogs, but those dogs must be well vaccinated and healthy.” Socializing with litter-mates or in-house dogs is not sufficient.
What Happens to Dogs who are Not Socialized Early?
After the 4 to 12 week “critical period” window closes, the friendly socializing puppy that was open to accepting the wide and wonderful world, enters into a fear-acquiring developmental period. So… unless you and your dog plan to live in the woods and need to protect yourselves from other dogs, preparing your pup to live in a domesticated, dog-filled environment makes better sense!
Failure to properly socialize early often results in aggression that is resistant to treatment, dogfights, embarrassing and stressful barking/lunging walks, heartache and pet abandonment.
Education is the Key
Dr. Karen Overall, Veterinarian, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB) PhD, CAAB, explains, “Worldwide, it’s exceptional that
veterinary specialists in behavior are on faculty at veterinary schools, and yet the single biggest killer of pet dogs is behavior problems. People need to realize that vets don’t know that much about problematic behavior, or maybe even normal behavior. The single biggest reason people relinquish animals to a shelter is a behavioral problem.”
Work closely with your veterinarian to keep your puppy current on her vaccinations, or better yet, titer testing, but be proactive about your puppy’s socialization requirements. Discuss the current scientific literature and work out a medically safe but early socialization plan with your vet and a private trainer or puppy class instructor, or ask your positive reinforcement behavioral consultant for a veterinary referral.
Originally published in the Natural Awakenings Pet Magazine, San Diego Edition.
Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com