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Ask an Expert – Socializing a puppy

By: Ian Dunbar

Last Updated:


Q: I’ve been told that its crucial to socialize my
puppy, Sal, at an early age but also that she
shouldn’t play with other dogs until she’s had all her
shots. I don’t want her to miss the crucial early socialization
window. What do I do?
—Lonely in Louisville

A:The Critical
Period of
optimal time to socialize
puppies—begins to
close at 13 weeks of
age. Consequently, you
want to make sure that
Sal is fully socialized
by 3 months of age, so
that she can continue to socialize in puppy class and dog parks and
on walks. However, socializing Sal to people is far more important
than socializing her to other dogs.

Most puppies have spent sufficient time socializing with their
mother and litter-mates to tide them over during the social doggy
vacuum in their new home until they have had sufficient shots to
visit areas frequented by other dogs. Puppies should avoid high-risk
areas until they have had at least two series of shots and are at least
3 months of age. The most hazardous areas for young puppies are:
1. the sidewalk and car parking areas immediately outside veterinary
clinics; 2. veterinary clinic waiting room floors. (veterinary
clinics are the go-to place for diseased dogs and waiting room floors
are seldom cleaned more than once a day, while sidewalks and clinic
car parks are rarely sterilized at all. Keep your puppy in the car
until time for your appointment and then carry your puppy to the
examination table and do not put it on the ground anywhere outside
or inside the veterinary clinic.) 3. dog parks; and 4. sidewalks.

However, socializing Sal to people cannot be put on hold. Hopefully,
the breeder introduced her to at least a hundred people, especially
children, men, and strangers. Now it is your job to introduce her to at
least another one hundred people while she is between 8 and 12 weeks
of age. Socialize her to people in the safety of your own home, with, of
course, the precaution that outdoor shoes remain outdoors (to prevent
fomitic infection). Once Sal is 10 to 12 weeks old and has had at least
one full series of puppy shots, it is urgent that you attend puppy class.
Puppy class venues are usually relatively safe areas.

Puppy classes are essential for learning bite inhibition (via dog-dog
play-fighting), continued socialization with people (during off-leash
play), handling by strangers, and for you to learn how to train your
pup in a controlled yet extremely distracting setting. By integrating
training interludes into play, rather than being a distraction to training,
play with other dogs now becomes a reward for training. And of
course, puppy classes are a fun night out for you and your gal Sal.

Last Updated:

By: Ian Dunbar
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