By Jeff Stallings
I realize that many of my blog posts concern puppy socialization. This is in part because so many of the problem behaviors I am hired to address could have been avoided or mitigated had a rich socialization program been provided for the dog. (Incidentally, I came across an informative and readable chart outlining the stages of socialization, which you can read here.)
Recently, several clients have adopted puppies towards the end of or beyond the crucial first 12-week period, during which rapid learning occurs that will have significant impact on future social behaviors. Puppies that are at or over 12-weeks of age are nearing the end of the window of opportunity for easily becoming comfortable with new things, including other dogs. Here’s what I tell them: If your puppy has had at least the first set of shots, by all means, immediately get him into socialization groups. The risk of your puppy maturing into a dog with stunted social skills due to the lack of early socialization far exceeds the risk of him contracting a communicable disease because of it.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) concurs with this practice. Their official statement on the subject reads: “…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.” You can read the entire statement here.
Unfortunately for the puppies and their owners alike, and despite the position of the AVSAB, I am sometimes at odds with veterinarians who continue to insist on all three sets of shots before starting socialization, even though a late adoption sometimes means no interaction with other puppies until 16 weeks of age or later, after which him becoming comfortable with other members of his own species is more problematic.
I do not at all mean to downplay the risk of canine parvovirus (CPV) infection; I believe every possible step should be taken to otherwise reduce the risk of infection, including not taking your puppy to grassy areas and ensuring that he only interact with other canines known to be (at least partially) vaccinated. But if your puppy has had at least one set of shots, seek out and attend as many indoor socialization groups as you can!