Recently I’ve been getting more and more enquiries from new puppy parents who are having difficulties when they take their pups outside into the big bad world for the first time – they are terrified of traffic, people, other dogs or the environment in general. The one thing that they have in common is that the puppy has not been out and about experiencing the world during their critical socialisation period – prior to 16 weeks of age or sooner. Habituation to the world is a vital component of puppy development and is achieved through positive exposure to lots of different stimuli – people, friendly dogs, traffic, places … the list goes on and as such can take time. Time which is limited at this period.
The reasons for this lack of exposure can be due to all sorts of unavoidable things such as puppy or family illness. But, increasingly I am finding it’s due to avoidable complications with vaccines. The veterinary advice is not to expose your puppy to other dogs or places they frequent until they are fully vaccinated and that is very important advice to reduce the risk of exposure to life threatening illnesses or diseases. Ideally a puppy will be re-homed at around 8 weeks, receive their first vaccine immediately or within a few days and then their second vaccine around 2 weeks later – depending upon the type used. A week or so after the second vaccination puppies are normally allowed out to explore the world. They are now around 11-12 weeks of age and although the socialisation window is starting to close, there is still time to have lots of fun and for them to learn that the world is not such a scary place.
Unfortunately there are a number of breeders that are administering the first vaccine on the day that the puppy is picked up by their new puppy parents thinking they are being very helpful – but instead they can be contributing to problems with the puppy’s behavioural development.
When a puppy has been vaccinated without any record of the vaccine, or when the vaccine has not been administered by a registered vet, your vet will most likely want to start the vaccines again and rightly so to ensure your puppy remains safe and healthy. Not only does starting again delay the procedure, but they will often have to wait a couple of weeks before they begin because they are unsure what vaccine was previously administered by the breeder.
If the puppy is 10 weeks old when you pick them up and have been provided with an unknown vaccine by a breeder, then you may have to wait a couple of weeks before they can start their vaccination programme with your vet meaning they will not be fully vaccinated and ready to explore the world until almost 16 weeks of age!
So why is this important? You only get one chance with socialisation and it is so important for a dog’s behavioural development – much of the work I do with problematic dog behaviour, especially those motivated by fears or anxiety tend to be influenced by ineffective socialisation. My advice is simply to say no when your breeder offers to vaccinate your puppy and instead take them straight to your vet for a health check and to start their vaccination programme as soon as possible. That way, as well as reducing the risk of infection you will maximise their opportunity for behavioural development through effective socialisation.
For full details on health and vaccines you should always consult with your vet.
If your puppy is fearful or has missed out on effective socialisation, please feel free to get in touch as there is still much that can be done.