Early puppy socialization classes: Weighing the risks vs. benefits - Veterinary Medicine
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Early puppy socialization classes: Weighing the risks vs. benefits
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recently released a position paper outlining the importance of early puppy socialization, preferably before the puppy reaches 12 to 16 weeks old. Four veterinarians with extensive experience discuss early puppy socialization in a roundtable format.



Dr. Meyer: What are the requirements for participating in your puppy classes?

Dr. Seksel: Initial vaccinations must have been administered at least one week before classes start as recommended by the manufacturer and per local conditions. Because the socialization period in dogs is between 3 and 12 weeks old, I recommend that puppies be at least 8 weeks and preferably less than 13 weeks of age when they begin classes. Classes run for four or five weeks, so a puppy that is 16 weeks when it starts will be 20 to 21 weeks old when it finishes. Juvenile puppies (4 to 6 months of age) have very different mental and motor skills than younger puppies. We want them in a class with pups their own age.

Dr. Griffin: I recommend that puppies start class as soon as possible, ideally between 8 and 12 weeks old. The puppies should be receiving their distemper-hepatitis-parvovirus vaccinations, and vaccination against bordetellosis and parainfluenza is recommended. I also recommend deworming according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council guidelines.

Generally, the first class meeting would just be for the owners, who should be given basic information on housetraining, collars, leashes, positive reinforcement, socialization, and how to start training at home. We would also verify vaccination records and cover class rules. Owners are not allowed to bring their puppies to class if the pets have any signs of illness.

Depending on the puppy's origin, we may take other precautions. For example, if the pup came from a high-risk shelter environment where parvovirus infections are known to be common, we may keep the puppy out for two weeks since viruses may be shed before clinical signs appear. These owners can attend classes without their puppies. In the meantime, if these puppies are not showing signs of illness, they can still be exposed to older, vaccinated dogs and a variety of people and other reasonable novel stimuli to ensure proper socialization.

Dr. Dunbar: We require puppies to be between 10 and 18 weeks of age and to have had two distemper combination vaccines administered after 7 weeks, with the second one at least one week before class. Thus, to start class at 10 weeks of age, a puppy must have had vaccinations at 7 and 9 weeks. Deworming is encouraged but not required.

Keep in mind that socialization is an ongoing process. Breeders must never forget that by 8 weeks, the sensitive period of socialization is two-thirds over, and they must expose the puppies to a variety of people before adoption. Likewise, owners need to introduce their young puppies to people in their homes. We also encourage owners to participate in additional training classes after they've completed the first course. To remain socialized, we recommend that adolescent dogs continue to meet and interact with at least three unfamiliar people and three unfamiliar dogs a day until they are 3 years old.

Dr. Jennifer Messer
Dr. Messer: All puppies attending our classes must be at least 8 weeks old. They must have had at least one distemper combination vaccination administered by a veterinarian at 6 weeks of age or older and at least 10 days before the first class. Instructors verify the vaccination record at the start of the session, and all owners are required to commit to completing their puppies' vaccination series as recommended by their veterinarians.

We recommend but do not require deworming and vaccination against kennel cough. Owners are clearly instructed to not bring a puppy to class if the puppy is sick and especially if there is any vomiting or diarrhea, unless the puppy is deemed free of infectious disease by its veterinarian.


Dr. Meyer: All of you have basic health protocols designed to protect puppies. Do you take any other precautions?

Dr. Griffin: If an animal shelter is known to have frequent cases of parvovirus infection, which is not uncommon in the southeastern United States, we don't advise holding puppy classes on the shelter grounds. Parvovirus can survive in soil for months to years.

I prefer holding classes indoors. If an animal eliminates, the area can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with a 1:30 bleach-water solution. In addition, just use common sense, wash your hands, and don't bring sick puppies to class. Owners should report any illness to the pup's veterinarian and class instructor immediately.

When pups appear healthy and are vaccinated and dewormed, and when classes are conducted in a clean environment, the risk of contracting an infectious disease is extremely low.

Dr. Messer: We take many precautions. Puppy classes are held indoors and conducted before adult classes each evening. The floor is sanitized with a 1:30 bleach solution at the end of the night. We only teach on nonporous surfaces we can sanitize. Owners may help clean up urine during class, but only instructors are permitted to clean up feces. Any fecal matter deposited in class is cleaned in two stages: First a paper towel is used to remove all visible fecal matter, and then the area is disinfected with bleach solution. Instructors must either wear gloves or wash their hands thoroughly afterward.

We are in a university city with a veterinary college. So the level of pet care is quite good, and parvovirus infection is rare. If we were in a higher-risk area, we might consider removing shoes at the door, asking owners to carry their puppies from the car to the classroom, and asking that owners not walk their puppies on public property the day of class to further reduce risk.

Dr. Seksel: Ideally, puppy classes are run in a veterinary hospital so the disease status is known and problems can be effectively managed. And the veterinarian or veterinary technician can health-check puppies before each class. Floors are always appropriately cleaned and all people handling the puppies should wash their hands beforehand.

Dr. Dunbar: All of our 25 indoor facilities have impermeable, easy-to-clean floors. Any urine or fecal deposits are cleaned up immediately, and the area is heavily bleached. We ask owners to remove puppies from the course if they have bloody diarrhea or a cough.


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