The word is out that early puppy socialization is one of the best things you can do for your pup! Recent studies indicate that under-socialized dogs are at greater risk of developing behavioral problems such as aggression, anxiety, and reactivity towards other animals and unfamiliar people. Unfortunately, these problems often end up with the dog unnecessarily discarded. However, most Veterinarians now recommend enrolling your new furry family member in an early socialization class. But what are the important components of a good socialization class? Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.
1. The Earlier the Better
There is a small window of opportunity, typically between 4 to 14 weeks of age, when puppies are developmentally open to new experiences. Remember that dogs age faster than humans and if you wait until 6 months, your pup is practically a teenager in human terms. Imagine a human child who has never been to school or exposed to other kids until 12 years of age! Behaviors that are cute in puppies can become destructive and dangerous in a fully grown dog. A well-constructed puppy class will recognize the importance of early socialization and often allow enrollment as early as 8 weeks of age. Of course, this should be contingent on a recent physical exam by a veterinarian, proof of current vaccination and appropriate parasite prevention protocol.
2. Not Just Play
As fun as it is to watch, puppy socialization classes should not just be about puppies chasing, racing and wrestling with each other. Controlled, off leash social interaction is great way for puppies to learn to communicate with other puppies but a well-rounded class curriculum is also important. This should include socialization to novelty items and different people, foundation training and prevention topics such as potty and crate training.
3. Think Safety First
How safe from disease can classes be if the puppies are not fully vaccinated? Safer than you think! A recent study published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association found that “puppies vaccinated at least once prior to starting puppy classes at less than 16 weeks of age were at no more risk of being diagnosed with Canine Parvovirus infection than vaccinated puppies that did not attend classes”. That being said, scope out the class location before you arrive with your pup. Things to be on the lookout for are a tidy training area that is cleaned before and after with a parvocidal disinfectant, toy & novelty items that are cleaned thoroughly after each use, and potty accidents that are immediately cleaned up. Veterinary hospitals are most often the best venue for hosting puppy socialization classes. Veterinary hospitals serve as a safe and clean location, hold easy access to vaccination records and have the added benefit of creating an initial positive association between your pup and the hospital so your puppy learns to enjoy future visits.