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  • Writer's pictureHeather Brendle

The Value of Socialization

I am not a veterinarian, but I am going to talk to you about puppy socialization from the perspective of a dog owner and dog behavior consultant. If you look around on the internet, you will find conflicting information about the subject of puppy socialization. You will find different time periods you have to complete it, different methods, and different points when it is safe to take your puppy out for socialization. I am going to tell you how I handle the socialization of my personal puppies and why I choose the methods I do and send you off to weigh all of the information you see and make the right decision for your family.

Thiago was 9.5 weeks when I brought him home. He was bred by a breeder in New York and I am in Arizona, so as you can imagine, I could not zap him from NY to AZ with a snap of my fingers. He had 1 set of vaccinations under his belt at this time. He traveled through 3 airports with me to get to our home. WHAT?!?! He didn't get sick? Weren't you worried about the risk? I did not worry. I made a plan, I made smart choices, and I avoided high-risk areas. I kept him in his travel bag for the majority of the trip or carried him. I never took him to any potty areas or outdoor areas where it is convenient for people to potty their dogs. I took him to a human bathroom and put down a puppy pad to allow him the opportunity to relieve himself. I allowed people to say hello to him, I mean, he was adorable. I did not go near any other animals or people with animals.

Once home, and after Thiago had his second round of vaccines, I set out on my mission to get him as many safe exposures as possible. Again, I made a plan, I weighed the risks, and I made smart choices. I never socialize my puppies at stores or locations that people commonly take their dogs. This includes, but is not limited to, Petsmart, Petco, feed stores, parks, dog parks, etc. I do socialize my puppies where they are allowed to be, but most people don't think of as dog friendly. This can vary city to city, but here are a few examples I use: Lowes, Home Depot, Old Navy, Michaels, Cabella's, your local oil change shop, car dealership. If I am unsure if my puppy is allowed to go somewhere, I call and politely ask permission. If your puppy has only had 2 rounds of shots, this does not mean you go to these places and let them walk around! You carry them or place them in a cart (preferably on a blanket), you pull them in a wagon, use a sling or a backpack. You plan the trip so that it is highly unlikely that your puppy will need to potty, or you carry them to the back of a parking lot that is not frequently used to go. Remember, you are already choosing spots that are not frequently used by dogs. Be smart, think about risks, and weigh everything carefully. You can clean your puppy's feet with baby wipes each time you leave a store or location, as an added precaution.

Don't forget to also socialize them with adult dogs once round 2 of their shots is complete. You can mitigate risk by doing this at your own home and making sure the adult dog/dogs are healthy and up to date on vaccinations. Do not choose someone that you don't trust, it isn't worth the risk. I would absolutely choose adult dogs for socialization, provided that adult actually enjoys puppies!

Regardless of the website you choose to follow, your socialization window is short, but what you gain from your puppy having new experiences during that time, is broad and important. There is always a risk, it is why we recommend vaccinations. Parvo and distemper are SCARY, highly contagious, and life-threatening, not to mention, extremely expensive to try to treat. At the same time, the value of even passive socialization for puppies is crucial and most of that time window is gone by the time they get round 3 or 4 of their shots. It isn't something I am willing to skip so I keep myself educated, look for safe opportunities, weigh the risks and get them out into the world.

Thiago at Cabella's as a puppy, getting some Western style socialization.

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