Tuesday, July 1, 2014


The paradox is that the most critically sensitive developmental weeks in a puppy’s life—when some say it is best to introduce him to places and things—are the very weeks when others recommend keeping your puppy physically isolated because he is most vulnerable to getting illnesses from other dogs.
Standard medical advice suggests that a puppy should not be exposed to other pups until two weeks after the puppy vaccine is given. The earliest that shot is given is at twelve weeks. But what becomes of a puppy who is isolated for that long at such a crucial period? How is his development stunted? Generally speaking, dogs with this isolation grow up oriented and attached to people much more than to other dogs. For most people this is an acceptable outcome, since a dog that is more responsive to them is easier to train and relate to—even if he may be awkward around other dogs, or downright antisocial to them.
Your puppy isn’t fully immunized until sixteen weeks, but the critical socialization period ends around week twelve or thirteen. Some experts would tell you to keep puppies away from all other dogs and public places until their puppy shots are finished at sixteen weeks; others claim that  your puppy will be emotionally stunted unless she meets lots of dogs and experiences loads of social situations by the time she reaches her sixteenth week. As noted earlier, you can never recapture that super-sensitive period; many canine behaviorists believe you need to expose the young dog to lots of experiences, protecting her health as best you can but not being so protective that she misses out on the interactions. It’s a risk/reward decision you have to make for yourself, and there are suggestions later in this section on how to walk that line.
  What’s the Worst That Can Happen, Medically Speaking?
Most of the infectious diseases that puppies are vaccinated against have fortunately become rare, or even extinct (in good part because of aggressive vaccination programs in the past). Parvovirus and distemper are two of the most common and dangerous diseases that can affect puppies: distemper has been almost entirely wiped out, and parvovirus (“parvo”) doesn’t occur often. Rabies is rare, and “canine infectious hepatitis” is practically unheard-of, although it can be deadly to an entire litter.
Kennel cough (also called Bordatella) is probably the most dangerous illness that’s out there for all dogs, which means it can be even more serious for little puppies. It is a highly infectious airborne disease that a dog can spread by coughing or even just breathing—and it’s an illness that is contagious before the carrier dog even has symptoms himself.
Veterinarians’ waiting rooms are notorious places for the disease to spread—certainly never let a small puppy down on the floor at the vet’s. Do not let him sniff or play with any other dog in there. Puppies are physically vulnerable and their immune systems are not fully up and running yet. It doesn’t matter whether people tell you their dog has had vaccinations or is in good health—that dog can be carrying an infectious disease that does not bother his strong, adult constitution, but could lay your little puppy flat.
  So Should Your Puppy Socialize or Be a Hermit?
What is the truth? Which side of this issue is “right”—or more right? As with so many black-or-white controversies, both sides have a point, but the gray area is where the answer lies.
How to resolve this dilemma for yourself? How precise are those critical weeks in a puppy’s emotional development? How essential is it for her to get out and about—and on the other hand, is the physical risk of mingling with other dogs that great?
Talk to your vet about it, but understand that there are doctors who may know less about the social development of dogs than they do about “disease process,” so their point of view may be skewed toward the physical health considerations. This conservative approach on the part of some vets may be weighed in favor of safeguarding puppies from infectious disease, but it disregards the importance of how a dog can suffer lifelong damage from early social isolation.

For most people the answer will be moderation: don’t live locked away but do be careful where you take the puppy. That doesn’t just mean choosing a puppy kindergarten carefully, it means you need to think twice about taking the puppy into any public place where other dogs will be or have been. Avoiding heavily dog-trafficked areas like parks and sidewalks, doggie-day-care facilities and the vet’s office (unless medically necessary, obviously) will go a long way toward lowering your risk.
Copyright © Tracie Hotchner – Originally appeared in The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know by Tracie Hotchner

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