When you get a new puppy, you want to do everything right to keep your best buddy healthy and get started off in the right direction. The first thing you should do when bringing a new pup into your home is to make an appointment at your vet. At the veterinarian, your pup will get a thorough exam, checked for parasites and get up to date on vaccines. Puppies receive Distemper/Parvo vaccines every 3-4 weeks until they are 16 weeks old because their maternal antibodies interfere with long-term immunity.
Aside from physical health another important and perhaps overlooked aspect of your puppy’s health is socialization. Many people are familiar with the idea of socializing a puppy (which means exposing your new puppy to new people, places, objects, surfaces etc). The prime period of socialization when dogs are most impressionable and when sociability outweighs fear is during the first three months of life.
One of the most common questions I get from people inquiring about Puppy Classes is “shouldn’t I wait until they are finished with all of their vaccines before starting class?” My answer is a resounding “NO!” This is one of the most common misconceptions I get from new puppy owners. They believe they should wait until a puppy has completed their vaccine series before focusing on socializing them. This is done in an effort to protect them from contracting a contagious illness.
The problem with this is that by the time a puppy finishes their vaccine series they are about 4 months old, well past the end of the prime social period in dogs. It is not impossible to socialize a dog past this “window of opportunity” but opinions for the most part have already been formed. As far as socialization is concerned non-exposure can be just as harmful as bad exposure. For example: If you never take your puppy out of your house until 16 weeks old, and you have no children, it is possible for your puppy to have a fear of children. Even if you have children in your household and your puppy is not exposed to all different types of children (boys, girls , loud, quiet) your puppy may still develop a fear of children. This is why socialization is so important. Dogs do not generalize, and we only have a small “window of opportunity” to expose them to as many things as possible.
Poor/incomplete socialization can lead to behavior problems later in life such as aggression and fear. Behavior problems, not medical problems, are the number one reason that dogs are relinquished to shelters. Behavior problems are a common reason why dogs owners euthanize their dogs as well. The benefits of early socialization far outweigh the risk of disease when you follow a few simple rules:
1-Keep your puppy up to date on vaccines.
2-Don’t bring your puppy to places to socialize with dogs of unknown vaccination status (ie dog parks)
3-Don’t let your puppy play with dogs of unknown vaccine status (random dogs encountered on walks)
Puppy Kindergarten/Puppy Class is a great way to socialize your puppy. It is a safe environment where all puppies must have proof that they are up to date on their vaccination schedule. My favorite part of puppy class is seeing how the puppies progress from week to week. All the exposure that they get in these classes to different dogs and people is so important. In my experience the most reactive puppies entering the class the first day are usually the puppies who have been sheltered at home. I can usually tell immediately who has been out, and about getting exposure to the world around them. The best thing you can do for your puppy is to get them started socializing early and if you can, find a Puppy Class around you and sign them up!!