By Reese Odenwelder, DVM
Getting a new puppy is a very exciting time! There is so much fresh love and happiness with adding a new furry friend to the family. Certainly we want what is best for our new pet and during this novel period we often focus on the “now”. This typically includes potty training, nutrition, vaccines, or even grooming and obedience. As we try to master these goals as quick as possible we can often overlook important life steps for these furry kids.
Early socializing is crucial for proper development and hopes of normal behavior as an adult canine. It is easy to postpone socializing because we do not see the problem until later in life. The critical socializing period for puppies is 6-16 weeks of age. This is when our puppies are most receptive to accepting new and strange stimuli with no reservation. Whatever they see and encounter at this age will be considered a normal part of life. After this small window our furry friends may have a more difficult time accepting unfamiliar events without suspicion. If not addressed, these feelings of doubt can develop into fear. Obvious signs of fear or aggression typically go unnoticed until adolescent age or even adulthood.
We know we cannot wait on socializing. So how do we work on it at such a young age? A good read before you even bring your puppy home is a book called “Perfect Puppy in 7 days” by Sophia Yin. Your puppy needs exposure to other dogs and new environments however we also need to limit risks of contracting an illness. It is recommended to avoid high traffic dog areas and dog parks until your puppy is completely vaccinated, but we encourage interactions with other dogs that we know are vaccinated and healthy and in controlled situations.
Involve your veterinarian with a socializing plan for your puppy. The animal hospital is frequently a very stressful and scary place for many pets. This can be frustrating for the family and care providers. Every puppy should be involved in some form of puppy preschool to ensure normal behavioral development. While you work on socializing your pet at home, it is our job to help your pet become familiar with the hospital environment and handling. It is important for your dog to be comfortable with the veterinarian to ensure he or she receives quality medical attention without the need of sedation. This young age is the best time to do this. Our goal in preventive medicine is to avoid illness and foster development of happy and healthy dogs. Puppy socialization classes should be considered a form of vaccine against behavioral problems!