I want to get the message out there that you can socialise your puppy before they have completed their course of vaccinations, in fact, you must socialise your puppy as soon as you bring him home. Too many people are keeping their puppies completely shut off from the outside world because they are receiving incomplete information. Part of being a responsible dog owner is to educate ourselves on disease prevention and socialisation to make an informed decision.
Most of us bring our puppy home at eight weeks of age. When a pup is eight weeks old his immune system is not adequately prepared for the diseases that are out in the world, this is why we vaccinate our dogs to stop diseases spreading and protect dogs from becoming sick or dying. Diseases spread through both direct and indirect contact with contaminated material and often the first person you will see after adopting your puppy will be your vet who will pass on this information to you. Your vet’s primary concern is your puppy’s physical health so you are only receiving advice based on half of what your puppy needs to grow and develop. Your puppy is also developing behaviourally.
When a pup is eight weeks old his mind is more open than ever for the new experiences that are out in the world, this is why early socialisation is so important, it builds resilience, confidence and protects our dogs from fear which can lead to aggression. Thousands of dogs are euthanised each year because of behavioural issues. Your trainer will often give you this information (forming the other half of the equation) but many people only speak with a trainer after their puppy has received his vaccinations by which time the puppy mind has started to close off to new experiences. The open-mindedness of an 8-12 week old puppy can not be replicated later so socialisation becomes a game of life long catch up.
In 2013 the RSPCA released reasons for euthanasia of dogs in Australia. 460 dogs were euthanised due to infections while 6,819 were euthanised due to behavioural issues. It would seem that vet’s are doing a wonderful job at keeping our dogs physically healthy but trainers are falling behind in educating people on dogs’ mental health. A shift in mentality is required by owners, as soon as you bring your puppy home book an appointment to see your vet AND your trainer. The numbers don’t lie, dogs are more susceptible to die from behavioural issues than infectious diseases. Vets can also help, and would not have to euthanise so many dogs if they were to educate new owners on how to balance disease prevention and socialisation.
Socialisation and disease prevention does not have to be an either/or mindset, here’s how you can start the socialisation process without compromising your dogs’ physical health.
- Take your puppy for lots of car rides so he can see and hear the greater world.
- Take your puppy to friends homes with other calm/healthy/well-socialised animals.
- Sit outside on your front yard or driveway with your puppy so they can experience the world.
- Invite lots of people of all ages over to your home to meet the puppy.
- Find healthy, calm and well-socialised dogs in your street who are passing by to meet your puppy.
- Take your puppy to the vet for weigh-ins and to get to know the staff.
- Find a well-managed puppy school.
- Set new things up in and around your home for your puppy to explore, open umbrellas, wheelie bins, vacuum cleaner (turned off at first), skateboards, bikes, prams.
- Wear ‘unusual’ clothes around your puppy e.g. sunglasses and hats.
Taking care of your puppy is about providing for his physical needs as well as his behavioural needs. If you take a balanced approach to disease prevention and early socialisation you will be immunising your puppy in a much more holistic way.