Allowing your dog to interact with other dogs can provide good opportunities for exercise and socialization that can help your dog's mental and physical well-being. However, these situations are also associated with some risk to dogs and their owners. By using good common sense, you can minimize the risks while still providing for your dog's well-being.
A note about puppy socialization and the risk of disease
The socialization period for puppies, which takes place from 3-14 weeks of age, is critical for a dog's behavioral development. During this time positive experiences with other dogs, people, noises and activities can reduce the likelihood of fearful behaviors, such as aggression and phobias, later in the dog's life. Puppies that are not properly socialized are more likely to develop behavioral problems that can make them unsuitable pets and increase the chances their owners will relinquish them to shelters.
This socialization period overlaps a period of vulnerability to disease, including canine parvovirus and canine distemper virus infection. Puppies need socialization with other dogs, but those dogs must be well vaccinated and healthy.
To fully protect your puppy from canine parvovirus, the last dose of the parvovirus vaccine must be at 14-16 weeks of age, regardless of the number of doses given at an earlier age. Until your puppy is fully protected, avoid taking it to dog parks or other areas where it has uncontrolled exposure to dogs with questionable or unknown vaccination histories.
Having a puppy take part in socialization classes can offer excellent opportunities to properly socialize puppies but there is a disease risk. To reduce the risk, puppies in the classes should be of similar age and vaccination history and should be examined and found to be healthy by a veterinarian prior to starting classes. Proper sanitation (including immediate cleanup of 'accidents') during the classes helps provide additional protection from infection. The puppies' first vaccine should be administered at least 7 days prior to the first class. Puppies with signs of illness (diarrhea, coughing, fever, etc.) should not attend puppy socialization classes until they have recovered from their illness.
If you allow your puppy to interact with dogs belonging to family or friends, make sure the dogs have been appropriately vaccinated and are adequately socialized to avoid bad experiences that could have negative long-term consequences to your puppy's behavior. Similarly, if you own an older dog and plan to introduce a puppy into your house, make sure the older dog is adequately vaccinated.
It is important to understand that it is not until 7-10 days after the last vaccination at 14-16 weeks of age that the risk of infection is very low and you can increase the puppy's introduction and socialization with all dogs.
The AVMA would like to thank the Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Robert Belden, Dr. Ron Schultz, the American College of Veterinary Behavior, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior for their roles in developing this document.