There is a lot of conflicting information out there on when and how to socialize a young puppy. It used to be common advice that puppies should not leave their home environment until they are fully vaccinated, which is generally around 4 months of age. The problem is, most dog professionals agree that the critical socialization period for puppies takes place between birth and about 3 to 4 months of age. This period is the time when the world has the highest effect on a puppies acceptance of new stimuli (environmentals, dogs, people, livestock, noises, etc). This means that if puppies don’t leave the home before they are fully vaccinated, they are missing out on a critical socialization window and are at a higher risk of major behavioral concerns as they mature into adult dogs. Prior to being fully vaccinated, the biggest health concern for a young puppy is parvovirus. Parvo is a highly contagious virus that, if left untreated, is fatal. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and lethargy.
Although parvovirus is serious, so is socialization. Your puppy is going to be a long-term part of your family, and an improperly socialized puppy can grow into a fearful and even unstable dog. We recommend beginning to expose your new puppy to new places, people, and things as soon as they arrive at their new home. It is important to take precautions when socializing a new puppy by:
• Avoiding high traffic areas where unvaccinated dogs congregate, such as dog parks and pet stores
• Practicing good hygiene, such as asking guests to wash their hands before handling your puppy and disinfecting shoes if you’ve stepped in dog feces out in the world.
• Preventing your puppy from sharing water bowls and toys with other dogs, such as communal water bowls at your local shops
• Avoiding puppy play groups with unknown/unvaccinated puppies
• Carrying your puppy at the veterinarian so they don’t walk on potentially contaminated flooring
• Understanding that socialization does NOT equal interaction, and that creating neutral situations can be done with lower risk
Despite best efforts, there are risks in simply bringing parvo home on your shoe if you or anyone else in the household leaves the house, as parvo survives in the environment for an extremely long time. No matter how much effort we put into keeping dogs happy and healthy, there will always be a risk of parvo, kennel cough, and other illnesses, just as there would be for a child going to school. It is simply up to us to do the best we can while also nurturing a well-behaved, properly socialized pup. Waiting until your puppy is fully vaccinated to begin socialization is, in our opinion, much riskier than thoughtfully exposing your puppy to new things… as long as we are careful. We highly recommend getting your new puppy on health insurance as soon as possible so that financial considerations do not affect your ability to treat your new puppy if illness occurs. You can get pet insurance started as young as six weeks with some companies (8 weeks for others), so don’t delay. All insurance companies have waiting periods after enrollment for injury and illness, so putting it off may result in your puppies insurance policy not covering an incident should it occur before those waiting periods end.
In order to enroll in puppy training at Dog Dynamix, we require all puppies to be up to date on vaccinations for their age and have a clean fecal examination showing they are free of intestinal parasites. We power wash the outdoor runs with 256 Disinfectant every day, all dogs each have their own water and food dishes (that are washed in a dishwasher daily), and the training center floor is cleaned with an industrial-grade scrubber that also spreads a disinfectant. Additionally, every morning we remove bedding from the crates of dogs that stayed overnight, replace them if they seem at all dirty, vacuum the crates out and disinfect them, and disinfect the lobby, hallways, kitchen, bathroom and common areas. We rotate between 256 disinfectant and bleach, to kill off anything that one may have missed. We pride ourselves in the cleanliness of our facility, and the inspectors for our Department of Agriculture certification often comment how our facility is one of the cleanest they ever visit. We try to keep dogs outside in fresh air as much as possible and keep doors open for ventilation, weather permitting. While parvovirus is a common and logical concern, we want puppy owners to rest assured that we do our absolute best to keep their new family members as safe and healthy as possible, while also setting them up for future behavioral success.