You have been planning for this day and are finally bringing your new puppy home. You make arrangements with your veterinarian and she gives your puppy his first checkup and stresses that you don’t dare take your puppy out of the house until he or she has had all series of vaccinations completed.
”When will that be?” you ask.
“Not until at least 16 weeks of age” is the typical reply.
Now, if you are like most people, you don’t question the advice of your veterinary professional who is charged with maintaining the health of your puppy.
Enter your new dog trainer / behaviorist. At your first meeting you tell her you want to start out on the right paw and have that well-trained dog everyone wishes for. The first thing your trainer suggests is to make sure you socialize your puppy, and you gasp in horror! “But my vet insists I don’t take him out until after all vaccinations.”
Who is right?
I will do my best to straighten all this out for you. The answer is: They are both mostly right but with conditions.
In the training and behavior world, studies and science now tell us that the key to a well adjusted and reliable dog lies primarily in the first 100 days of a puppies life experience. During that period, puppies are the most receptive to new things and the more experiences they have during that period, the more “worldly” they become and therefore less likely to have a negative response to something new such as dogs, strangers, or new sights and sounds.
If they’ve had lot’s of “new” experiences early, they get used to “new” as no-big-deal. By waiting past 12-16 weeks to begin the process, you will be at a disadvantage. Depending the individual puppy, this could lead to a lifetime of irrational fears or aggression that could have been avoided.
Now, back to the veterinarians advice warning your puppy could get sick and die. I will try to give you some variables.
Where you live geographically can determine how many illnesses are lurking. Moist environments tend to foster the most vector-borne illnesses (ticks, fleas, mosquitoes). Other illness such as parvovirus are highly contagious and can be transmitted dog-to-dog through the mouth from feces. So I would avoid grassy areas where dogs frequent. In high-density cities where dogs have to do their business on the public streets would be another area of caution. Cities with larger populations of stray, unaltered and un-vaccinated dog populations will tend to carry a higher risk for parvovirus, leptospirosis and others.
Rabies is most likely to be transmitted from the bite of other small animals to your puppy, than from dog to dog, so even rural locations carry some risk.
What you can do
If I haven’t yet scared you out of socializing your new puppy, let me explain my version of socialization.
People, places, things: Environmental conditions are things that won’t make your puppy ill, but are essential to building your puppies self-confidence and key to your success. Your puppy needs to learn not to fear tall men in dark hats, trash truck noise, or children running and screaming for example. These things can be achieved while still keeping your puppy away from grass frequented by lots of other dogs, or woodsy areas. Try to keep your puppy inside from dusk to dawn. Take your puppy to different (paved) shopping areas to meet, watch and listen to people carrying on their business. Observe some traffic and different types of noises. To release some energy, find an empty parking lot to run around in with your puppy. Support your puppy if he or she spooks or becomes insecure with recommended training techniques.
Dog to dog: Only your closest family and friends dogs that you KNOW are healthy, vaccinated and friendly. Keep it brief, two to five minutes is plenty! You can branch out once all shots are completed.
Finally, because I see so many dogs with unfounded fears, and some that have grown into outright aggression, I am passionate about a puppies first 100 days. By striking the right balance for your comfort, combined with the strategies suggested, I am confident you can achieve a well adjusted family member that will bring you many years of joy!
Disclaimer; this is not veterinary advice. These opinions may not be for everyone since dogs play such varying roles in society. This advice is for people who are intending to include their dog in their social activities such as going to work, lunch, soccer games etc. This type of puppy training prepares dogs to be a good neighbor on walks, weekend socializer and traveling companion.