A position statement on early socialization in puppies released in July by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior encourages veterinarians to recommend puppies be socialized before the vaccine series is complete.
The guidelines state puppies can start socialization classes as early as 7 to 8 weeks of age. In general, they should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class as well as a first deworming.
Additionally, puppies should show no signs of illness during the classes and should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.
While veterinarians are appropriately concerned about infectious disease in young puppies, the fact is that behavioral issues—not infectious diseases—are the number one cause of death for dogs under 3 years of age, according to the AVSAB. Veterinarians contribute to these behavioral issues when recommending pets be kept away from possible germs until their vaccine series is complete, the AVSAB stated.
"Puppies go through a sensitive period of socialization when they are uniquely prepared to benefit from exposure to social opportunities. From the time the owner adopts the puppy until 3 to 4 months of age, it is critical that the owner get the puppy out to meet other animals and people, and experience many different kinds of environments," said AVSAB president, Dr. E. Kathryn Meyer.
"These (unsocialized) puppies may also fail to develop coping mechanisms and grow up into dogs that are unable to adapt to new situations. This can severely inhibit the dog's quality of life as well as the owner's enjoyment of the pet," Dr. Meyer added.
To veterinarians who refrain from recommending early socialization because of the threat of infectious disease, Dr. Meyer suggested taking control of the situation.
"Have the puppy classes in your lobby where you know you can disinfect and you know who has entered," Dr. Meyer said. Doing so will greatly enhance the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. The pet is happier, and when the owners see this, they are more compliant, she explained.
To view a copy of the AVSAB puppy position statement, go to www.AVSABonline.org and click on Position Statements.