Nothing we do as veterinarians is risk-free. And we routinely make medical and surgical recommendations that carry much higher
risks than that of infectious disease transmission in puppy class. A good example is the up to 20% chance that hormone-responsive
urinary incontinence will occur at some point after ovariohysterectomy.5 And we often make these recommendations without even discussing associated risks with clients because we think the benefits
grossly outweigh any downside. Vaccine administration in general is another good example of a procedure that we carry out
with little to no discussion of risks to the dog, and which carries a much higher risk of deleterious medical consequences
than that of infectious disease transmission in puppy class.
Given the fact that behavior problems are the No. 1 cause of relinquishment to shelters,4
along with the fact that 56% of dogs that enter shelters in the United States are euthanized,6 and that puppy classes help prevent behavior problems and increase the likelihood of retention in the home, there must be
evidence of phenomenal risk of infectious disease transmission associated with early socialization classes to warrant holding
puppies back. And there is no such evidence to date. In fact, renowned behaviorist Dr. R. K. Anderson, a longtime advocate
for early socialization, has more than a decade of experience and data supporting the relative safety and lack of disease
transmission in puppy socialization classes in many parts of the United States.7
It's unfortunate that the behavioral gains from puppy class are under such tight age constraints. The most sound advice we
can give clients is to acknowledge the small risk of infectious disease transmission and recommend well-run puppy socialization
classes on the grounds that the relative risk is so low. Puppies, owners, and society stand to benefit enormously at the cost
of a relatively small risk of exposure to a treatable infection.
Dr. Griffin: Lack of proper socialization can lead to fearfulness and the inability to cope with environmental change. Pets may be unable
to habituate, especially in novel environments, and may display fear aggression. This can make them more difficult to handle
for owners and veterinarians alike, and also make them more likely to be relinquished to shelters.
Dr. Brenda Griffin
Severely under-socialized dogs often remain fearful for life, suffering from generalized anxiety, and are generally not suitable
Studies show that 40% of relinquished dogs have at least one problem behavior. Of those relinquished, two of the top three
classes of behaviors included aggression and destructiveness. Both of these classes of behavior are sometimes associated with
or motivated by fear and anxiety that result from improper socialization.8,9