During Covid, the myth (and frankly, dangerous, outdated “advice”) that breeders, rescues and even some vets were giving to new owners that puppies couldn’t go outside until all their vaccines were complete, reared its ugly head again. (Note: I am not a vet, so perhaps there are rare cases when this applies.). Years later, I’m still seeing the effects of this with adult dogs presenting with stranger danger, separation anxiety and other serious behavioral issues.
Vets, rescues and breeders who are clinging to the outdated belief that dogs should be prevented from socialization until fully vaccinated are not keeping up with the current research, literature and recommendations from behavior professionals.
Looking at current position statements from organizations like AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior), who are the leaders on veterinary care and behavior, are abundantly clear that this outdated belief has no place in current standards. Read their complete position statement here.
“The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the *standard of care* for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.”
The main point conveyed is puppies as young as 7 WEEKS OLD can begin socialization training, even in group classes, as long as they’ve had one round of vaccines and have been dewormed. Puppies have a finite, time sensitive window for socialization – for learning the world, novelty, people and places are safe. This is also the window they have to learn how to appropriately use their mouths and learn bite inhibition. Once this window closes, it cannot be reopened.
“Veterinarians specializing in behavior recommend that owners take advantage of every safe opportunity to expose young puppies to the great variety of stimuli that they will experience in their lives.”
Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age. We need to shift the focus away from fear mongering that puppies will get sick or die if they go outside and instead focus on socialization as prevention for later behavioral issues, which is a much greater risk of dogs being surrendered or euthanized.
“Because the first three months are the period when sociability outweighs fear, this is the primary window of opportunity for puppies to adapt to new people, animals, and experiences. Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression. Behavioral problems are the greatest threat to the owner-dog bond. In fact, behavioral problems are the number one cause of relinquishment to shelters.”
This doesn’t mean you should take your unvaccinated puppy to the dog park or a giant pet store where there have been hundreds of unknown, potentially unhealthy dogs traipsing through. But you can make responsible choices, allowing your puppy to interact with healthy, known dogs, puppies on the same vaccine schedule and neighborhood walks. Or you can always carry your puppy if you really don’t want feet on the ground. If you wait until your puppy is full vaccinated, you’ve missed their critical socialization period. Opting to keep your puppy locked in your home, not being socialized during this critical window is the worst decision you can make for your puppy’s future behavioral health.
I have a lot of socialization videos on YouTube but here’s one of Bruno learning lawnmowers and landscapers are safe. He wasn’t sure at first but then you see him looking to me for food, because socialization isn’t just exposure to things – it is ensuring the dog has a positive association with those things.
If you have a puppy under 16 weeks of age, schedule your new puppy and socialization consult now before time runs out and you miss the window to do all the important things to help set your puppy up for success as a happy, well-adjusted adult dog.